One of the most common mistakes that foreigners make is waltzing into a phone shop and expecting to get a phone only a few days after their arrival. Until recently, this was theoretically possible, but thanks to the Improper Mobile Phone Usage Prevention Law (携帯電話不正利用防止法 keitai denwa fusei riyo boshiho)—another law passed with the excuse of cracking down on all those terrorists just waiting to get their filthy hands on phones in Japan—you have to present valid ID to prove you are who you say you are.

According to the Telecommunication Carriers Association (TCA), there are several generally acceptable IDs which I will list below:

a)      A Japanese driver’s license (international licenses aren’t valid in this case)
b)      A Japanese passport
c)      A Japanese health insurance certificate plus one of the following:
I.                 a copy of your address register (住民票 jyuminhyo) or Certificate of Registered Matters if you are a foreigner (外国人登録原票記載事項証明書 gaikokujin toroku genpyo jisai jiko shomeisho),
II.               a public utility receipt in your name and with your address,
III.            an official printed document with your name and address (tax form, etc).
All of the above must be no older the 3 months.
d)      A credit card and a health insurance certificate
e)      A school ID card (from a domestic university or vocational school) and a Japanese health insurance certificate
f)        A mentally or physically disabled person passbook (障害者手帳 shogaisha techo)
g)      An alien registration card (外国人登録証明書 gaikokujin toroku shomiesho) and foreign passport

Keep in mind the legal age for signing a contract is 20, so if you are younger then you may find yourself in a bind as your parents have to co-sign and present one of the above ID combinations. If your parents aren’t Japanese then you had better start begging and/or giving sad gaijin eyes. Despite the basic ID requirements some less scrupulous shops have been known to bend this rule or simply forge signatures, although this is certainly not a regular practice.

The biggest problem with this is that after application the alien registration card generally take 2 weeks to get printed, although you can get a Certificate of Registered Maters for about 300 yen the day of your registration. So unless you are good at smooth talking or find a shop willing to bend the rules (a difficult proposition since the shop usually has to ask the main company for approval), then you are out of luck. Also, if you are here for only a few months, chances are you don’t have a visa and don’t have an alien card. Although tourists who are here for 90 days or more are obliged to get a card, it is all but worthless unless you have a status of residence (在留資格 zairyu shikaku) such as worker, spouse, etc. However, it is possible to rent a cell phone at major airports. These short-term agreements will be handled in a future entry.

The law makes no distinction between pre and post paid phones but in practice it is much easier to get a prepaid phone with a passport and a receipt that shows where you are staying. Since prepaid service is a lot less risky for the phone company if you choose to skip out on your bill and head back home, many shops will be less strict with the ID process, although different shops and different areas often yield vastly different results.

Now that you know what you need to buy yourself a nice shiny phone stay tuned for our next feature on the pre-paid versus post-paid mobile phone breakdown!




Other posts in this series:
Part #1: The Basics
Part #3: Pre-Paid Phones
Part #4: Post-Paid Phones 
Part #5: Paying Your Bills

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