Before I left for my adventures abroad, there was a lot of preparation materials and questions I had, one of the most pressing was: What is the best plan for my cell phone?
Naturally, all IES Abroad students are required to have working cell phones while abroad; and for good reason. Not only is everything going to be unfamiliar, but Google Maps will be your friend when it comes to navigating the public transport systems at the beginning of the semester.
However, depending on your provider, more often than not, international plans through American cell phone companies can be extremely expensive, and the Nagoya program lasts for 5 months. Luckily, there is a special meeting held during orientation with a company called Sun Net where IES Abroad students are given the choice between purchasing either a SIM card or pocket wifi (as mentioned in the pre-departure information provided by IES Abroad), and this is where choosing gets hard.
The prices Sun Net offers for each option are well priced, and obviously the more gigabytes you want to purchase, the higher the price. A majority of us purchased somewhere around 3 to 5 GB, which worked perfectly because we were often connected to the wifi provided by Nanzan University, the dorms, or host family. But if you find out within the first month or so that you wrongly underestimated your data use, Sun Net does not cut you off from having any service because they recognize this can be a dangerous situation for students to be in, and instead gradually slows down the service from LTE to 3G. If you find this happens to you, you can contact Sun Net and ask about buying a larger GB package. Everyone’s cell phone usage is different, but most of found we were fine with our original packages because another great thing about Sun Net: your unused data rolls over!
But which is better, the pocket wifi or the SIM card? Of course, it varies from person to person so I’m going to weigh the pros and cons of each. For the record, a majority of people do choose the SIM card. I chose the pocket wifi for the number one reason for it having stronger and better connection almost everywhere I went, the exclusion being the mountains. I also knew I would want to connect my laptop to it while I was en route during my travels to make the most of my time and get work done without having the distraction of my phone. This actually turned out to be more useful than I initially anticipated because there were times when I couldn’t connect my laptop to Nanzan’s wifi on campus (there is a computer center on campus to help with these problems, but I also noticed students who used Apple laptops usually had no problems connecting). My pocket wifi also prevented me from being pulled into my phone and social media constantly, encouraging me to interact and make new friends in situations that may be awkward or to sit, reflect, and live in the moment because you have to turn the device on and off when you want to use it. Of course, this can be one of the biggest inconveniences of having a pocket wifi; it’s just an extra device to carry around and you have to turn it on when you want to use it. On my way to school in the mornings and sometimes on my way home in the afternoon I would keep it off because even if someone needed to call me, in Japan people aren’t supposed to take calls on public transportation to avoid disturbing others. The biggest inconvenience is you don’t only have to keep your phone charged, but the device as well, which can be really inconvenient when you’re traveling and have to carry around your portable charger, phone charger, and pocket wifi charger. The good news is that you can still use the device while it’s charging at the same time.
The SIM card, on the other hand, has a lot of conveniences. At the end of the semester, you have to mail the pocket wifi device back to Sun Net (which only costs about 800 yen or $8.00), while you can keep the SIM card. Obviously, since the SIM is always in your phone, you only have to worry about keeping a charge on your phone and can access it instantly. It’s a minor issue, but the connection can be a bit slow when riding the subway or in the station, and it’s easier to go over on data because you have instant access and your phone will default to data when the wifi is spotty. You also have to remember to unlock your phone so it is able to accept a different SIM card and keep track of your SIM for when you come home. I’m not sure how common this problem is, but I traveled with a friend who used a SIM and on the way home during a layover he changed out his SIM card and it took a couple hours for his service to come back. Luckily, we were traveling together and my phone service was fine so I could check up on our flight for delays and gate changes (which did happen).
Despite that situation, I would probably recommend getting a SIM card for the overall convenience. The only situation in which I would recommend renting both a SIM card and a pocket wifi is if you know you will have friends or family coming to visit you during the semester and this way they can all connect to the pocket wifi and explore on their own, especially if you happen to be in class at some point during their visit.
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<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:9.65pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I grew up in a small farm town but was bitten by the travel-bug shortly after leaving for undergrad. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas, and can often be found searching for the best treats life has to offer.</span></p>