General Question

snowberry's avatar

My daughter will be living in Japan from May through December. We need to know the best cell phone plan to get.

Asked by snowberry (17061 points ) March 7th, 2010

We live in the USA, and are currently with Sprint, and it would be lovely to keep her on the same phone, but we’ve been told we’d have to sign up for international service for longer than her time in Japan, which means she’d be locked into $100 a month for a long time.

Someone suggested to us a Go-phone, one of those pay as you go deals, and I’m not even sure if that’s possible or practical. So what do you suggest?

What we’d really like is unlimited texting in addition to phone use.

We’re also planning to use Skype for talking to her in the evenings.

Suggestions?

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23 Answers

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Phones in the rest of the world work off SIM cards. She probably will not be able to use her current phone; we have Sprint, and none of our phones worked in France or China. We did have a plan with Mobal when my daughter was in China, that allowed us to charge phone calls to a credit card. The down side of this was, when she traveled to Hong Kong, the SIM for China didn’t work, so she had to purchase one for Hong Kong, and lost the China one. Not realizing it could be a problem, she never mentioned losing it, until someone who found it wracked up $1200 in calls to Canada on it, which we had to pay for.

She may do better waiting until she gets to Japan and purchasing a phone there.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@PandoraBoxx: I concur – it would probably work out cheaper to get a phone in Japan and then get a calling card.

Japan does not use the standard for mobile phones in much of the rest of the world – GSM, it uses CDMA. It’s worth noting that every Japanese cell-phone sends email that operates in a similar way to PUSH email used on business phones in the West like Blackberries.

Your daughter should wait until she gets to Japan and buy a phone there – she won’t pay $100/month for it, although she may be tied to a one year contract. Pay as youy go hpones are available there though.

plethora's avatar

Ok, this is going to sound crazy, but it works. You’ve probably seen MagicJack hyped on TV and on the net, but the darn thing actually works. MagicJack costs about $30 and that pays for the first year of use. You get a little device that plugs into the USB port on your computer (on one end) and a regular phone plugs into the other end. You can then make calls via the internet anywhere in the world. Calls in the US (if that’s where you are) are free. Calls to other countries are very low cost. Better, you can do two of them and give one to your daughter and she, via her computer can make free calls back to the US.

I have done this with my son who is in Germany. Checkout the link and see if it works in Japan too.

thriftymaid's avatar

The best way for her to be able to talk to people here in the USA is to get her a Magicjack. It’s cheap and will provide very good voice quality. All she needs is broadband internet, a computer, and a regular landline phone. magicjack.com

The_Idler's avatar

Good to know.

snowberry's avatar

@thriftymaid and @plethora I’ve looked at MagicJack’s website, and they only have two Countries, USA and Canada to call for free.

Their website says: “Call from your magicJack to another country, other than the U.S. or Canada, and you must prepay for international minutes.” That’s not much different than simply having a cell phone. Doesn’t sound like the best option for us.

thriftymaid's avatar

@snowberry You don’t understand how they work. The stated LD rates are for you (in the USA) calling a landline or cell phone in another country. If your daughter has a magicjack, she will take a USA phone number, possible one that is not even long distance for you to call from your landline or cell. Her magicjack will not be for communicating with people in Japan—only for communicating for people in the USA or Canada. Her magicjack will make it like she is still in the USA because it is inter VOIP service. This is absolutely the best way for people in the USA and your daughter to communicate. She will have to have something else to communicate with people there in Japan. Private message me if I have still not been clear. Bottom line though, the long distance rates listed on the MJ website are for calling numbers that actually are in other countries—not for calling a MJ number.

andrew's avatar

@thriftymaid Right, but that’s basically what they’re going to use Skype for. (right?)

They’re right—get a cell phone in japan. You’ll save money. Also, I’m 80% sure that incoming cell calls will be free for her.

What I did when I went to france—I set up a skype number in the US that people could call—that number then forwarded (via skype) to my French cell phone (which was a prepaid minutes phone). I ended up paying the monthly fee for the skype number, the price for the cell phone and the minutes (which was like 30 euros), and then the skype rate per-call (which was like 5 cents).

thriftymaid's avatar

@andrew That’s a lot of charges and services. The easiest thing to do is use magicjack for communication with USA and get a cell or land line in Japan to use for communication within Japan.

andrew's avatar

@thriftymaid Except you have to be home to use it—and if you’re home already, you can just call on skype and not pay anything.

plethora's avatar

Calls to Germany cost me via MJ, but at a very low rate, lower than my ATT cell intl package of 9 cents/min. Calls from Germany to me from my son using the MJ I gave them costs nothing. I will check out the exact charge this evening.

smileyfase's avatar

DON“T get the go-phone!!! :) They suck! Besides, the company usually wastes all the top-up money on ads they have. Trust me, I had a go-phone, and i lost it, then found it 2 weeks later, and it had no money left on it.

thriftymaid's avatar

@plethora If the person you are calling in Germany had a magicjack the call would cost you nothing.

snowberry's avatar

I’m still not finding any information about Magic Jack being in Japan. I didn’t find a customer service number either, so I’m sort of dead in the water. I’m not interested in signing up and finding out it isn’t going to work.

thriftymaid's avatar

@snowberry It has nothing to do with being in Japan. You buy the magicjack here in the USA. All ANYONE needs to be able to use it is broadband internet connection. As long as you (or anyone else) has a phone, a magicjack, a computer, and a broadband connection, the MJ allows calls (in and out) from/to USA and CAnada. It doesn’t matter where in the world you happen to be sitting as long as you have those things.

If you are here in the USA with a magicjack and want to call Japan (not a magicjack number, but a Japanese phone number) you will be charged a long distance charge.)

snowberry's avatar

OK. I have found the part that says you can call to any country for free. But what often happens is that if the call is from or to a cell phone, the cell phone gets charged for an international call regardless, which can get really expensive. That’s my main concern.

If we have to get a landline here and another one there for her room, that’s going to eat up a lot of money. How do I find this out? As I understand it, to get a cell phone that works there, you have to buy one there. Maybe we have to wait until she gets there and get her to talk to the cell phone companies? I’d much rather get it taken care of here, but I haven’t a clue how to go about it.

It would be nice to talk to the Magic Jack people. They might be able to shed some light on this for us.

thriftymaid's avatar

@snowberry The only number you want to call from your magicjack (here in the USA) or your USA landline is the magicjack number of the person who is located anywhere in the world. It will not be a call to another country. It will be a call to a USA number (your daughter’s MJ number). Your daughter will have a USA number to go with her magicjack. I don’t think I’m making this clear enough.

andrew's avatar

@snowberry I’m still pushing for getting a regular cell phone in Japan. Magic jack isn’t going to do anything that Skype doesn’t do for you already.

snowberry's avatar

Skype is a good option too. I’ll check to see if hubby can get skype on his cell phone. If so, we may have a fit. I’m calling the cell phone company to see if what they tell me is the same as what Magic Jack told me. Thanks I’ll let you all know how it’s going.

andrew's avatar

@snowberry My point is that magic jack is going to require both you and your daughter to be home to use it. If that’s the case, you might as well just use skype and get video as well.

snowberry's avatar

I just spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Sprint. They could not confirm that we’d have to be home to use Magic Jack. I told them my understanding is that M.J. would supply a US phone number which I would use to call my daughter. Verbally, the manager at Sprint that I talked to said if that was the case, it sounded OK. What I need at this point is to get that same thing in writing, which i doubt I’ll find. At this point it sounds like we’ll just have to try things out and see what happens (not my first choice).

I also managed to find a Magic Jack operator who told me how I can use M.J. to and from a cell phone internationally, specifically Japan. Whatever we end up doing, we’re going to have the details in writing. I’ve done a fair amount of research now, and the more I do, the more I see there are possible pitfalls or loopholes.

andrew's avatar

@snowberry The point of this is for you to call your daughter while she’s out and about in Japan, right?

Here’s how magic jack works: you plug it in to your computer, then you plug a normal phone into the magic jack. Instead of traveling along phone lines, your call is routed over the internet.

What this means is that your daughter would get a magic jack (in the US), and bring it to Japan. In japan, she would plug it in to her computer, and then plug a normal phone into the jack.

You call her ‘magic jack number’—a US number—from any US phone (your home phone or your cell phone). The call gets routed over the internet, to her computer, through her magic jack, and causes her normal phone to ring. Since you’re calling a “US number”, you don’t pay for long distance.

My point: she has to be at home in japan for that to work. You can’t call her cell, because her cell doesn’t plug into a regular phone line. She can call any phone in the US from japan (using her magic jack), but again, only when she’s home.

My feeling is that if she has to be at home, near her computer, you might as well just call her on Skype. For free.

You’re both at home: You can talk to her for free. You can call each other on the computer on skype. Done. No need for magic jack.

You’re away from home, she’s at home: You could use magic jack for this. You can also set up skype in the same way, so that you can call a US number and it rings her computer. If she wants to call you when she’s home, she can do that through her computer as well. All of this is is accomplished through her Skype Online Number which is $18 for 3 months.

She’s away from home: This is the tricky part (and the part that you really want, it seems). Magic jack won’t help you at all.

A better approach (IMHO) is to figure out the most cost effective way for her to:

1. Get a japanese cell phone so she can use it while she’s out and about. This also gives her a way to call local japanese numbers. Most likely, you can get a really cheap phone and a really cheap plan with low minutes, since in nearly every other country other than the US, you pay nothing for incoming calls and texts.

2. Figure out the cheapest way for you to contact her when she’s out and about. That means finding a cheap way of calling a Japanese cell phone. When I was calling abroad, Skype had fantastic rates.

Does this describe the problem you’re trying to solve?

snowberry's avatar

@andrew and @thriftymaid Thanks so much. We are going to look at these options and see what we can do. You have been very helpful. I’ll try to let you know.

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