My Phone Setup

For Mister Griff.

As I prepared to move to Japan I maintained an ever-evolving checklist which I eventually published here, noting that my plan for maintaining connectivity was complex enough that it deserved its own post. Here is that post; may it help you, dear future reader aspiring to move to Japan.



  1. Still get SMS texts and voicemails to my old American number by porting it to Google Voice.
  2. Temporarily: use Mobal Narita for absolutely free incoming calls and texts to a Japanese number.
  3. Temporarily: use Let’s Internet for relatively cheap internet via pocket wifi, which my phone connects to.
  4. Use Skype for free internet-based calls to American toll-free numbers like my bank.
  5. Use Google Hangouts for 3¢/min calls to America and 11¢/min calls to Japan over the internet.
  6. Permanently: get an account with Softbank once settled in, send pocket wifi back, cancel Mobal Narita. I bought the sim from Mobal Narita so I cut it in half and threw it away.

Now for the details.

Before you leave & your first few months in Japan

  1. Cancel your American cellphone account by porting your number to Google Voice. This way you can still get SMS texts and voicemails at the same old number and it’s waiting on you when/if you come back.
  2. Rent a SIM card from Mobal Narita. Their deal is: free rental, free incoming calls, and free incoming SMS, ¥216/min outgoing calls and ¥135/msg outgoing SMS.
    • In other words, you have a free phone number in Japan if your phone is SIM unlocked and you only want to receive calls.
    • You pick it up at the airport and the lady at the counter spoke excellent English.
    • Not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open.
  3. Rent a portable wifi hotspot from Let’s Internet. Their deal is: ¥4250/month for unlimited cellular data coverage.
    • Minimum 3 months up front (¥12750).
    • They mail it to Narita post office, which is not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open. Comes with a prepaid envelope you mail it back in when you’re done.
    • The device may be a bit flakey and will eat up both its own battery and your phone’s (WiFi takes a lot of energy). Rent from them (or bring your own) spare travel battery. My hotspot had a Micro-B USB port.


Install the following on your smartphone before you leave America (this is very American & iPhone-centric):



  1. Skype so you can make American toll-free calls (800-, 888-, 877-, etc.) for free. Important when you need to talk to your bank, etc.
  2. Google Voice so you can easily get voicemails and SMS texts sent to your old number and check your Google Voice balance.
  3. Google Hangouts so you can spend your Google Voice balance making 3¢/minute calls to America and 11¢/minute calls to Japan (much cheaper than the Mobal Narita price).
  4. imiwa? so you can look up Japanese words and kanji even when you don’t have an Internet connection.

Long-term Solution

Softbank, plain and simple. Strong English support, even with stores guaranteed to speak English. A few notes, however:

  1. You can’t keep your non-Japanese iPhone. I tried hard. I had the technical conformity mark, I had the SIM unlocked Verizon phone, I know it supported all but 2 of the dozen or so 4G bands. Not gonna happen. So be prepared to sell your phone. The price of the Softbank phone is built into the contract monthly price.
  2. Early cancellation fee of the contract was around ¥9500. Not bad!
  3. You have to have an insurance card to prove you’re a legit resident. An alien residency card isn’t good enough. This may take a few weeks after you get a job.
  4. You do not have to have a bank account, but you will need a credit card at least.

PS: Boy, you can really tell I wrote this at 12:30am. Updated with a little bit of information I left off originally (especially the Google Voice porting bit).


Moving To Japan – a checklist

Apple Reminders App IconWhile planning to move to Japan, a dream whose fulfillment has taken a year and a half from inception to reality, I kept an ever-growing and morphing to-do list of things I knew I would have to eventually tackle.

Whenever thoughts came to mind like “I’m going to need a Japanese phone number, how is that going to work?” I’d put it down as a to-do item and then basically forget it. Later, I’d idly revisit and rearrange items on the list. When the time was right for me to address one, I did.

Here is the list I eventually ended up with, in chronological order of completion. Note: often items later in the list began much earlier and took a very long time to complete.

  1. Number crunch – start a budget
    • How much do I make now (both currencies)?
    • How much will rent be in Japan?
    • How much for expenses back home (storage, etc.)?
    • How much left over for fun/travel?
  2. What about USA taxes?
  3. Call 401(k) company, find out what happens to unvested employer contributions when I quit.
  4. What about Japan taxes?
  5. Get passport renewed
  6. Update music library
  7. Make copies of passport
    • Leave copies at home in USA
    • Leave copies in apartment in Japan
  8. Learn how to make Chipotle burrito bowls at home.
  9. Make sure iPhone will work in Japan
  10. Scan passport and other documents and send to Japanese employer to begin work on Certificate of Eligibility.
  11. Notify bank and credit card fraud protection departments that I’ll be going overseas.
  12. Find and secure a temporary place to stay while signing paperwork for permanent residence.
  13. Secure Airfare.
  14. Secure portable internet in Japan.
  15. Eat Little Caesar’s Italian Cheesy Bread one last time.
  16. Schedule all my remaining PTO up to the day before my plane leaves.
    • This way I can still be an official employee a little while after I’m gone. Easier transition.
  17. Web check-in to flights.
  18. Find and secure a place to live
    • Still have to sign paperwork when I get there.
  19. Get “vacation overrides” for prescriptions and pick up multiple months in advance.
  20. Telephone – arrange pick up of sim card
    • Went with Mobal Narita – Free rental, free incoming calls, free incoming SMS, ¥216/min outgoing calls, ¥135/msg outgoing SMS. Perfect.
    • My connectivity plan (deserves its own post). Basically: iPhone connected to mobile wifi from Let’s Internet (carried everywhere I go) + Mobal Narita SIM for phone calls to a Japanese number + Google Voice forwarding to my Japanese number so I keep my number in the States.
  21. Telephone – port number to Google Voice
  22. Telephone – cancel Verizon account
    • Early cancellation fee = $350 – ($10 x number of full months since contract signed)
  23. Setup blog and start blogging.
  24. Get Skyliner ticket from Narita terminal to Airbnb room.
    • Must purchase 20 or fewer days prior to flight date.
  25. See the dentist
  26. Send health check information to employer
    • Japanese Ministry of Health requires a very thorough health exam be submitted when onboarding new employees. Includes chest X-ray, ECG, vision, hearing, physical measurements, etc.
  27. Get omiyage from my hometown to take
  28. Give my car to my sister for safe-keeping and driving if she wants.
  29. As my friend Tony encouraged me, Turn risk and sacrifice into victory.