Okinawa cell phones


**Update 7/6/18**

**Communication with your family and friends while on Okinawa is a very important topic. Most of the major Okinawa cell phone companies ( AU, Soft-Bank, Docomo) are have offices on base now and they are standing by to offer you 2 year contract plans. This is not so bad lately since Iphones can now be unlocked, but many people still find their rotation date out of sync with their contracts and are left paying fees or asking others to carry on their contracts for them. So before you jump into a contract please weigh your options. Think about how many devices your family will need, How much talk time will be used inside and outside of your family, and how much data will each device need.

Seems like more and more people are using their U.S cell phone with international plans here in Okinawa as well. I think some will even offer you a Japanese number as well, which is huge if you need to connect with locals.  You can also get a contract with smaller companies, like Y mobile or UQ, that use major cell phone towers for lower monthly prices, though they usually also make you sign a contract as well.


  1. About to PCS to Okinawa & have questions about cell phones. Heard it was recently updated so that you can just swap a stateside SIM out of your iPhone and replace it with one from there. Is this true? What’s my best bet?

  2. It is time for the military community to stand up and ask the commands why is there no cell phone antenna base stations constructed on base?

    Currently your signal is bleed over from off base antennas for all 3 providers , a lot of the issues people are complaining about are antenna capacity issues, in saying that military housing will have issue, look at the way the structures are built, they are like bomb shelters not good for signal penetration.

    A particular provider has been trying for near on 5 Years to construct antennas on military facilities in Okinawa to improve signal to the end user ,but when it looks like going in the right direction another piece of red tape is thrown up, however recently this provider was approved and completed construction on Camp Schwab, that doesn’t help Kadena and Foster users.

    A cell phone these days is a small investment, particularly smart phones you shouldn’t have to put up with port signal at premium prices , antennas on base would go along way to improving the current poor service, and I beleive all 3 providers have their weak spots and it is confirmed in comments above.

    It is time the Okinawa commands looked at the CFAY (Command Fleet Activties Yokosuka) example last year they invited all providers on base under one project to construct antennas to improve signal to end users, going by reports end users have seen major improvment.

  3. I am PCSing to okinawa and have an International version Galaxy S4 (model GT-I9505). I wanted to know if it will work on any of the networks out there and if you can do like a lot of other contries and just buy a sim card and get voice or data via pay as you go recharge?

    • Docomo off-base will probably be your only option… the JP companies want you to buy your cell phone through them, so if you have an existing one, we found that an off-base Docomo was pretty much the only one that supported this. You cant just buy a SIM like in other countries, unfortunately.

  4. Arrived here friday DEC.6,2013,and after talking to all the service providers about iPhone 5s plans,service and Sim cards I have come to this conclusion,hold up a little background i was also told I could unlock me and my wife’s AT&T GSM phones,So i did that 2 days before I left NY,however after arrival it was explained to me by a rep at DOCOMO after 3 days of searching for a true answer of why i could not purchase a sim card,that all of the iPhones have been created with world zone agreements and while unlocked gsm phones will work here it is illegal to sell Americans a Sim card from a different zone,currently american iPhones can only have purchased sims in US,Canada and Europe-to look this up go into Settings,General,About,Legal,and then Regulatory.

    So my conclusion:most people in my shop on Kadena have AU,so that is who I will be purchasing today.The plans between Softbank,AU and Docomo are similar but it should all depend on who you will need to talk to,as well Skype,Magic Jack,What’s app,and Text now can be used to keep in touch with Family in th US.

    Good luck to you all

  5. I am really surprised to hear all the things being said about Softbank. We have been here since January and my husband and I both got iPhones from Softbank. We have zero problem with our reception and we go all over the island. Occasionally we will lose service briefly if we are at an isolated beach but that is it. We use our phones every day without any problems.

  6. I hate my android with a passion for the sole reason that I cannot understand half the language that came preloaded on it. I went with softbank, which I haven’t had an issue with. (Considering my expectations for service here was already extremely low.) I miss my iPhone I had back in the states, which is currently unlocked, but I’d like to know how much it would be just to cancel my phone and maybe go with Fadtech or a sim from DoCoMo?

  7. Arrived here last week with unlocked iPhone from Sprint. (Sprint was very helpful, as was the Apple store.) We’ve spoken with SoftBank and AU, neither of which was willing to let us use our unlocked iPhone. We were told about FadTech, but have not yet been in to talk with them. It is worth noting that pretty much all of the cell phone companies offer free calling to other customers with the same service (ie SoftBank to SoftBank), but charge fees to call people with service from other companies (ie AU to SoftBank). We have talked with several people here so far, and everyone says that SoftBank has terrible reception. A few people have recommended Docomo, and we understand that all USMC government phones are now Docomo. Lots to think about and consider, but worth researching, because everyone requires a two-year contract. Also note, during the last month of your two-year contract, you can ask to be changed to month-to-month billing, but once you hit your two year mark, you will be automatically renewed for two years, and you will have to pay an early cancellation fee if you cancel prior to the end of your new two-year contract, which will be upwards of $100. We will check into FadTech, but right now leaning towards Docomo…

  8. Hi again! Arrived on island a week ago and just HAD to get a cellphone. Went to AU because a lot of people told me it was really good, but once we got to the kiosk at Kadena, the customer service rep was NOT interested in helping us at all (the store wasn’t even that busy). She seemed more interested in making sales than representing her company. Hubby and I went to Softbank and the girl there was very helpful. I don’t know how AU or Docomo is with reception, but I can’t get reception in my house unless I’m by a window (preferably open) or in the kitchen. I’ve had missed calls even though there were a 3 bars. We got the basic phones (read: free). Haven’t been off base much, so I don’t know how it would be off base. I’m kicking myself for not signing up with AU. Oh well, live and learn. We both have the Double White plan with voicemail, so we’re paying about $45-50/month.

    Didn’t seem to need a smartphone like I originally thought since we have internet at the house and can call family back in the states with Skype, Viber, or Facetime. So if you’re strapped for cash, that seems the best way to go: basic cell phone and Internet calls back home.

  9. We went phone shopping almost two years ago and ended up with AU. Why? Because the girls at SoftBank were honest enough to tell us flat out that we wouldn’t have reception at our house if we went with them. (We live off base)
    There have been some bumps along the way but for the most part, we’ve been good. We have iPhones and I love being able to Viber, or Voxer my family stateside when I want… I can also text family at home who have iPhones because iMessage is free.

  10. has anyone tried using an unlocked phone with a prepaid service? Are there any prepaid plans?

    I dont want to sign up and get a iPhone 5 next month only to have apple come out with a new one in fall and was thinking about just brining my unlocked iPhone and holding out on getting a contract until the 5s or whatever the new model is.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this idea?

  11. Maria,

    Here is how my plan works (I have a basic phone, not a smart phone): My husband and I both have phones with AU. We can text and call each other at any time for free. We have minutes to call other people and we share those minutes. We do not normally go over those minutes. If I used my cell to talk to family back home or something than we probably would. I use Skype at home to talk to family. We also are each allowed to unlimited text and call 2 other AU customers so my husband chose 2 people at his work that have AU phones that he has to talk to about work issues and I chose 2 girlfriends that I have here that have AU phones. Our bill for BOTH phones each month is 4,600 yen. I had a Blackberry in the States and loved it and thought I could never do without a smart phone, but honestly I am doing just fine and love the fact that by not doing the smart phone thing we can build up our savings even more than we already do. If you have any questions, just ask.

    • Thanks for the reply. We both want to keept the iPhone since we use many of the apps multiple times a day and my husband uses his as his music source when he works out. So even though it took my a looong time to move to an iPhone, now that we have one, we don’t want to give it up. No one has talked to us about buying minutes, it’s all charge by 30 seconds of a call to someone that is not with the same service provider.

  12. We just arrived in Oki last week, we talked to SoftBank and AU – neither of them will take a phone, even an unlocked iPhone, unless it was purchased from their respective companies. And they only have the iPhone 5 available, no 4’s – we are looking at to get a used iPhone. Neither of them will sell you simply a SIM card. We have not talked to Docomo. I have heard from a couple of people that AU has better coverage than SoftBank. We have been without a phone for several days and still haven’t made a decision. It all seems like a big racket – you pay money for every 30 seconds that you call a phone that is not the same service provider you use. Otherwise it’s free from 0100 to 2100 to call someone with the same cell provider. You can pay more money to call free to the same provider 24 hours a day.

  13. Hello everyone. My wife and I will be moving to Okinawa in July. She will be stationed at Foster and I will be at Courtney/Hansen. I am not sure if we will be living around Foster of towards the northern camps. Is the reception better toward camp Foster since it is less remote?

    • Maybe some customers of other cell companies like Softbank and DoCoMo will comment but I will give you my opinion as an AU customer. My husband works on Foster and has GREAT reception there and in the surrounding area. He travels to the northern camps for work related issues and never has a problem up there with reception either. I’ve been in caves here and on mountains here and have always had a signal. The only place that I could not get a signal was on the 2nd floor of the BX. That has changed though and I now get one or two bars of signal in there. So, so pleased with AU! Hope that helps.

  14. Hey everyone, a lot of good information here concerning cell phones. I”ll be getting there the first week of June and I was just wondering who has the good plans as of right now? I heard a lot of good things about AU. I have 2 iphones right now for myself and my wife and we’d like to get iphone 5s over there. Does AU have those? And what are the prices like? for the phones and plans….

  15. Hi everyone! My husband is currently stationed in Okinawa and we will be moving there in June. I’m just worried about getting a cellphone (unlike him, I NEED it). I recently purchased an iPhone 5 at the Apple store here in the states with an AT&T 2-year contract (which will definitely be suspended; it was done before we got his orders). I already spoke with someone and she told me I could have my iPhone unlocked and purchase a SIM card when we get there so I can still use my iPhone. A representative from the Apple store said SoftBank and AU don’t sell standalone SIM cards, especially to gaijin. Has anyone been successful? I would hate to have to give up my new toy–er, phone! I was leaning toward AU (my friend who teaches there recommended it). Any suggestions or input is greatly appreciated!

    • Do combo carries SIM card, I’m not certain if they have prepaid setup. Likely a postpaid service. You must have you phone unlocked by AT&T first to use it from abroad.
      Most android are unlocked when purchased in Asia. They all should work.

  16. We got here and immediately got AU smartphones. I am seriously kicking myself for it right now. My husband has an iPhone 5, his pride and joy. I have a Galaxy 3. In the states he had an iPhone and I had a Galaxy 2, I knew what to expect and I like my android phones. A) His iPhone is set up so that it thinks he’s in the US, we just chose US as the country and BAM – it’s done. My galaxy came loaded with so much bloatware that I can’t get it set up properly because I can’t read the instructions. When I ask questions, no one can answer me. I’m not sure if it’s the language barrier or they just don’t understand the phones. Anyway, I have other messaging apps, skype, talkatone for google voice, and textfree so that we can communicate with the states for free. But I cannot bypass their SMS application because they’ve deleted (or hidden or something) the native messaging app on the phone and theirs does not have conversation bubbles so you have to go into each message separately. I’m currently using 3 messaging apps and it’s so frustrating. If I could take the phone back and switch, I would but I don’t even think that’s a possibility and I generally despise iPhones. Oh and I have no minutes! Hah. Their new plans come with free tethering, but no minute plans so we are literally paying every single time we have to call a base number.

  17. We’ve lived on Okinawa for years and have tried AU, Docomo, and Softbank. They all stink. The few people I know who have Docomo raved about the reception, so we switched to Docomo when our contract with AU was up. We couldn’t get service in our house. I had to stand on the front porch to get a couple of bars. What’s even worse is how much money I was paying to stand on the front porch because Docomo was by far the priciest carrier we’ve tried. Once we switched from smart phones to regular cell phones, our bill when down by two-thirds and we get reception everywhere, even in the middle of the BX.

  18. I like how NO ONE answered the ladies question about which phone service and went on a tangent about unlocked phones. I will sum it up, my wife brought here iPhone 4S from the states (unlocked) popped in DoCoMo SIM – got service immedatiely. (Had to pay an extra 1,000 yen because it was an Iphone. I bought, and brought an UNLOCKED iphone 4S from Korea, SAME result. Paid extra, and got service. Right now for 300 minutes for each phone, with unlimited DATA I am paying about 22,000 yen a month WITH roll over minutes (L Plan). Only sucks part is that the roll over minutes are only good for three months, then gets erased and you start all over again. COVERAGE, I work close to the flightline on Kadena, and in a building with NO WINDOWS, four bars ALL DAY long. DoCoMo is the way to go. Screw Softbank. AU is good, and would have probably went with them if I didn’t already have my unlocked phones from other places. Hope this helps, Mallory Carter.

  19. I will be Okinawa for short stay at Navy Hospital. My Blackberry phone has correct frequency coverage and is unlocked with sim card which I am using here in Philippines.

    Is it possible to just buy a sim card for use there and not have to sign up for a contractual use?? If so, what would be the price.

    Also, can one use wi-fi and Skype there?

    Thanks, Tom

  20. Softbank, honestly, shouldn’t be allowed to sell phones on any of the bases here. I just returned a soft bank iphone due to extremely poor reception. It is basically unusable in most buildings unless you are close to the windows. If you live in the barracks, towers at Kinser, you’ll ONLY get reception by the windows. Don’t let the convenience fool you into getting softbank. You will absolutely regret the terrible reception for 8500 yen you pay monthly for a new iphone. Go for AU, it’s a night and day difference in reception quality.

  21. I’m thinking about buying a smartphone here in Okinawa… and I would like to use in the states when I PCS back. Which phones can I use in the states? I would like to purchase iPhone5 from AU or the “unlocked” Samsung Galaxy S3 (version Alpha) from Docomo (Docomo will charge extra for unlocking this phone, and will keep the warranty.) Does the Japanese version of iPhone 5 work in the states? Thanks!

  22. Hey all – I am trying to authorize my recently purchased Japanese iPhone 4s, but iTunes won’t let me because it’s not a US number. I can’t create a Japanese account because it won’t let me use an FPO. How did you all access the app store?? Thanks.

  23. Can anyone here explain the same issues for Android phones? Can you bring your phone over and either drop a local SIM for pay-as-you-go voice/data, or add a plan with a local carrier? I’m coming over in a few weeks, and just want to make sure I don’t waste a purchase on a Galaxy III S – I’ve used my jailbroken iPhone in multiple countries with a local SIM and a prepaid plan, but I’m getting the feeling that Japan isn’t like most other countries 🙂

  24. Corey-I have AU and LOVE it. I do not have a smartphone. My girlfriend has an iPhone with Softbank and we can literally be standing next to each other in many places all over the island and I will have full signal and she will have no signal. I had a smartphone in the States and wanted one over here, but decided against it. I have a basic cell phone with a camera that has a family plan with texting. Incoming calls are free and calls to a limited number of other AU customers are free. It works well for me and the best part is that it is 2,400 yen a month (at current yen rate=$29.00) Oh, I was in the AU store the other day and they do carry the iPhone now. Good luck with your move!

  25. As for the iPhone questions, I have been doing a lot of research myself as my wife and I are moving to Okinawa in about 2weeks. Everything I have found says no you won’t be able to use an unlocked iPhone in Japan. For AT&T iPhones; while they can be unlocked and have a sim card replaced, the work on GSM technology and everything in Japan is CDMA. For Verizon; while they work on the CDMA platform, they do not have a removable SIM card.

    I am not a technology guru, just doing some research and this is what I found. If I am wrong, please some let me know. I would love to use my AT&T iPhone 4 if possible.

    Can someone please let me know how bad the SoftBank coverage really is? They seem to be the only one with the iPhone and I really don’t want to get anything else:(.

    See everyone soon!

  26. Can somebody please let me know (for sure) if we could use an UNLOCKED iPhone 4S in Okinawa with AU?? I’m already thinking of buying the unlocked iphone before we pcs to Kadena in July 2012 but I want to make sure that AU will let me do a “sim-only” plan for an iPhone 4s…

    • Hello, I plan to have my iPhone 5 unlocked by verizon before we leave (I”ve already got the okay from the store) and would like to switch out my SIM card and use it in Oki come August. I also did this when we were in Israel. AT&T unlocked my iPhone 4 and I used it with an Israel SIM card. So you say this is doable in Japan too? What service provider was able to help you with this? Thanks.

  27. –> A. Hoke…
    No, you can not bring your US iPhone and switch SIM cards. We got here last week and we both have had iPhones for years in the US and recently upgraded to the 4S phones… we tried at all 3 major companies to have them switch SIM cards with no luck. Don’t dispair… good news is that the up-front costs of iPhones (and other smart phones) is very different here than in the US. You basically walk out with the phone of your choice, your plan, and a reacurring bill (no money down if you choose). So… it was not that bad. Also, we at AT&T in the US for both our cell plans, internet at home, and U-verse cable so it was a big bill. We got the biggest package and unlimited data from AU (and the service is GREAT so far… even faster than US) and it is a bit less than we pay for just the phone portion of our bill in the US. So, for us it was a wash… only bad thing is now we have 4 iPhones.
    As far as service, a lot of people have SoftBank but it is because they are on base. If you go off base go to an AU (or other) store. The big AU by American Village has a lot of workers that are great english speakers. The entire experience was pretty easy. 🙂

    • In my research, a U.S. iPhone cannot be used in Japan. First, it would need to be unlocked, which voids the warranty… Second, it would need to operate at a different frequency than U.S. iPhones.

      Not sure about other phones, but I thought I would share.

      • Unlocking a phone does not necessarily void a warranty, but do it through the cell phone company. And, most important… your cell phone must be able to work on the Japan cellphone network, because a different band is used there even though the frequencies may be similar.

        • AT&T here in the states will carrier-unlock your iphone (or other smartphone) if you provide them with orders–TDY orders, PCS orders, they seem to treat them the same as long as you give them something with some other country on it.

          I don’t have the personal experience with other carriers to say for certain that they offer a similar service, but they might.

  28. We have AU and just a basic flip phone. I was not going to pay the crazy prices for an iPhone. AU does have wonderful service and does have smart phones (still can be pricey). I am happy with the service we have.

  29. I signed up for Softbank when I first got here because they were the only ones to offer the iphone (or any smart phone). We absolutely hated the service. Data speeds are horrible and reception around base was spotty at best. Our contract recently ran out and we switched to DOCOMO and could not be happier. Their service is always great and data speeds are awesome. They offer the latest smart phones (minust the iphone) and have stores everywhere on island. I highly, highly, recommend DOCOMO.

  30. I also have an iphone from Softbank. This is my first smartphone ever and it’s really become quite invaluable to me. I agree with all the things Jen said about it. I’d also like to add that the iphone has been a lifesaver when I’m driving around lost. I’m still figuring this out, but you can click on the map ap and sort of figure out exactly where you are so you can eventually get to your intended destination. This really helps on this Island of Unnamed Streets! I have not had much trouble with dead zones, but I think this might depend on where you live and mostly use the phone. I’m also suspicious that some of the phones might some interesting quirks. My friend was over at my house and we both took out our phones, and mine worked just fine but her’s did not. Hmmmm……

    I’d say that the biggest negative is the Softbank customer service and the billing. The account is set up so that every month our credit card is billed automatically. Well, this is the second month that the card has been “declined” by Softbank (although it hasn’t been declined anywhere else.) This just means that you have to go in and pay the bill in person (in yen) but it’s kind of a pain. Also, I hate that I can’t read the bill since 95% of it is in Japanese. I think this is probably the same no matter what phone service you use, but I wish I could see exactly what my usage was. Like I said, the customer service at the store is not all that helpful either.

    Finally, I’ve just heard that AU is now offering the iphone as well….so if that’s what you’d like then now there is another option. I’ve heard the AU service is better throughout the island, but that it’s also a lot more expensive.

  31. i have softbank and hate it. i love my iphone but the lack of service compared to friends that have the other companies is rediculous. I live on Foster so i really dont see the reason why there are so many dead zones in such a heavy populated area. even in Naha i dont have service most of the time.

  32. I use Softbank and have an iPhone 4. As far as convenience goes – I absolutely *love it. The price may be a little steep for some: a 1 person plan with unlimited data ranges from $80+ and the 2 person plan ranges from $180+ — all of course, dependent on call use. However, it has made life so much easier. With one touch, I can call using the 3G network to the States using Skype, check my email, get directions, google directions from OkinawaHai for a certain restaurant, and “drop a pin” to a friend to let them know where to go to meet up with me. I moved here in 2009 and initially bought the cheapest phone I could find thinking to myself, “I don’t need it”. And yes, when it comes to want vs. need, I really don’t. But if you’re like me, I’m an instant gratification kinda gal, I would recommend considering all options thoroughly.

    Down sides–
    First, phone calls are charged by the 30 second marks here, not minutes. I believe this goes for the other companies as well. It has been a while since I have actually had to review the plans. This charge applies to non-Softbank users and DSNs. If you’ve ever been put on hold, either the vet or the clinics, you know the wait can be long. I usually hang up after more than a couple minutes and try my call again later to see if someone will answer me immediately the next time around. Those 30 seconds add up really fast.

    Second, if your original method of payment expires – they won’t notify you. I received 2 late payment bills via the mail (of which 80% was in kanji) and I had to go to the store and make both payments in full – yen only. If you don’t, they will allow you to continue making calls, but eventually I had a coworker max out at about $500 phone bill and they cut that person off.

    Third, if you know your spouse will be gone frequently, make sure you have a POA prior to leaving or that you are the primary account holder to the phones. If an issue comes up with bills, they defer you and won’t allow you to do anything with the account. A friend wasn’t allowed to close an account bc their spouse was the primary and they did not have a POA to present to the Softbank rep. A POA had to be mailed from the States before they were allowed to do anything. Very inconvenient.

    And lastly, cell phone service is pretty sketchy out here. I’ve had voicemails pop up but never receive the call but I have full service/bars. If you go to certain areas, you get no service at all. I’ve had a few dropped calls, but nothing I’ve really had too much of an issue with – I had the equivalent to dropped calls in the States.

    Overall though, having a smartphone out here has definitely trumped having a regular phone. I don’t have to wait to get home to contact friends from home or send emails to loved ones. It has definitely made me feel like I’m still “in the loop” with their lives, and I can’t put a price on that.

    • I arrived on island a little over two weeks ago and we immediately signed up with Softbank because as you can see, most people have softbank. I have the Iphone 4 and the service is ok. The softbank that we signed up with had ran out of the black iphone so they delivered it to our hotel, fully charged ready to go within three hours. I thought that was pretty good customer service. I have not gotten the first bill yet…..