Friday, July 3, 2009

Requirements for purchasing an iPhone 3G S without spending 70,000 yen upfront

A year ago, Japan Probe noted the severe restrictions placed on foreigners by Softbank for users wanting to purchase the iPhone 3G.
Live in Japan and want an iPhone? If you’re a foreigner, you’ll probably have to pay a huge sum of money.
This is because of the difficulty in qualifying to spread the price of the phone over the life of the 2-year contract, which has not changed with the release of the iPhone 3G S. In fact, the process appears to have gotten even more convoluted.

There is a large list of options for personal identification (listed in both English and Japanese) when starting a new contract. One of the following is required
  1. Japanese driver's license
  2. Japanese passport
  3. National health insurance card + address verification by a utility service bill
  4. National health insurance card + credit card
  5. National health insurance card + student picture ID
  6. Foreign registration + passport
  7. Disability certificate
So A foreign registration card and passport are not necessarily required, though without showing this, there is no way to verify that your period of stay is greater than 28 months and you will be required to pay for the phone with up front. and this apparently doesn't matter, making the visa requirement all the more bizarre.

Softbank accepts only two forms of payment:
  1. Credit card (obviously preferred by softbank)
  2. Electronic bank draft
Softbank is the only of the big three phone companies to not offer the ability to pay at a convenience store (conbini-barai). Docomo also does not allow conbini-barai for new contracts. As of December 2008, AU did allow it.

What is not listed anywhere on the softbank site in English or Japanese:

If you provide a passport and foreign registration card as identification you WILL NOT be allowed to pay your monthly bill by bank draft you will be required to pay by credit card. (I found this out on my first trip to the softbank store.)

Quoting directly from the Softbank Japanese page:
iPhone 3Gご利用料金のお支払い方法は、口座振替(ゆうちょ銀行含む)もしくはクレジットカードであることが必須条件となります。
  • 申込受付時には支払口座番号等が確認できるもの(通帳またはキャッシュカード)および口座届出印、またはクレジットカードが必要となります。申込受付時に店頭確認できない場合は申込受付はできません。
My translation of the first part:

Monthly payment is by bank draft (including the Postal Bank), or under certain circumstances, a credit card is required.

Softbank's translation of this on their English page:
Monthly payments may be made by bank transfer or credit card
  • Please present account details (number, passbook/cash card, seal/signature for account), or credit card. Application cannot be completed without payment document verification.
Perhaps my English Japanese is rusty, but these don't exactly say the same thing. I commend softbank for at least trying to put together an English page, but if it doesn't contain correct information, what is the point?

It would be nice if softbank just clearly explained when a credit card is and is not necessary.


  1. I spend 1h30 at Softbank store. After a thousand checks of my Gaijincard, passeport, japanese driving licence and my bank account, the cleck kept saying: you know Iphone are really popular those day, maybe you won"t be granted ..." I said: Stop, that's enough. Keep your Iphone and I stay a AU customer! Softbank really sucks!!!

  2. depends on the shop man...and your job. I only showed my national health insurance card, and then 30 minutes later I got the phone. smooth and painless. This was at Yodobashi camera in Osaka.

  3. I've also found out the hard way that Softbank doesn't seem to accept foreign credit cards. I was using a Japanese one then Citibank decided to purge all foreign customers and just voided all our contracts (happened to a friend of mine as well) so I had to switch to a different card.

    I first used my American credit card however every month my phone got turned off until I went in to the store and paid in cash as it seemed as though they couldn't process my credit card. No email, no letter in the mail, no SMS, no phone call about them not being able to process my card, nothing, just turned it off. So I tried a different American credit card but still the same problem. Oh and by the way, it takes two months for them to change your billing options so for almost half a year I had to walk in to the Softbank store once a month a pay cash to get my phone turned back on. I also couldn't go in and pay by cash until after they turned it off. So every month my phone would get turned off by their broken system.

    The bottom line is Softbank sucks, but I also have a Google phone and it sucks too. You can have a good phone and a bad provider, or a good provider and a bad phone. Just like everything in Japan, everything is a trade off, you just have to decide which is more important to you.

  4. Darin,

    Thank you for your comment. You story fills in a major piece of the puzzle. After being declined when not presenting a credit card, I used an American credit card. The staff said an American credit card could be used. If this is actually not the case, then that would provide a potential reason for being declined.

    Do you have a link to the story about citibank canceling foreign credit card holder's accounts?

    Also, can you expand on the the suckage of the Google phone? It is certainly not to the point in development that the iPhone is at. The iPhone, from a business perspective, is not yet as well developed as other mobile OSs.

    But if Android gains traction and ends up on other handsets, being open source, it could quickly mature. We'd like to see that.

  5. Are you kidding? Do you know any foreigner in Japan who's not either married to a Japanese person or already rolling in cash that HAS a Japanese credit card?

  6. Anecdotally, it appears difficult for a foreigner in Japan to get a domestic credit card. I have never attempted to apply for one, so I have no personal experience.

    But if indeed softbank cannot process foreign credit cards, then that would provide clarification as to what is going on softbank.

  7. first hand experience re: credit cards in Japan. Been here 6 years and work for one of the largest manufacturing companies in Japan... Have applied to upwards of 10 different credit cards with various lending institutions, have never been given a card. Even applied for various cards via my bank here, and even they denied me. If your name is in Katakana, just except that your will never be issued a card here.

  8. re: Credit cards. I'm not sure if I was just lucky, but I walked into Mizuho to open a bank account (I got sick of Mitsui Sumitomo). When I was opening the bank account they asked me if I would also like a credit card. I said "ok". Visa or Mastercard? I chose Visa.

    I didn't deposit any cash in the new account, account was opened ok. I had my new account (with passbook) and the ATM/credit card came within about 4 weeks.

    Been living in Japan 5 years.

  9. "I had my new account (with passbook) and the ATM/credit card came within about 4 weeks."

    I don't think this is a credit card. In the US, this card would be a debit/check card. Works as both a Visa and ATM card, but doesn't actually come with a line of credit attached. It drafts straight out of your bank account.

    In the US, you cannot use one of these cards when you rent a car for example.

  10. I too have a Mizuho bank account. I have applied for a credit card several times but have consistently be rejected. Speaking to others, it seems that the unofficial qualification is permanent residency.

    However, let me tell you how I was successful. As a long-term Docomo user, I applied for their DCMX Visa credit card. I received it with absolutely no problems. Perhaps not as useful as a real credit card from a bank, but our options are limited. It suits my needs which are generally limited to online purchases.

    DCMX webpage:

  11. Hi,

    I think the English translation on the softbank website is not a literal translation, but it is correct.

    The 必須条件 is referring to both of the payment methods. In other words you have to either pay with bank draft or credit card.

    Anyway, it sounds like you had a pretty bad experience! I think when I first got a softbank phone in 2004, I used a US credit card to qualify.

  12. "The 必須条件 is referring to both of the payment methods. In other words you have to either pay with bank draft or credit card."

    You know... you're right. Oh there goes my chance to be a MyGengo translator :-)

  13. As for the credit card,I didn't know generally it is so frustrating for foreigners to get one here in Japan,because I got mine very smoothly at the second year when I came to Japan.My wife never had the problem too : you know those malls and supermarkets like to issue their own credit cards which can also be used as their point cards, so my wife ends up having like 5 or 6 these kinds of credit cards.

    I only got rejected once when I tried to transfer my yodobashi point card to their credit card,but mysteriously they approved my application the next year.

    But I do have lots of foreigners friends who couldn't get a credit card, and I find it has nothing to do with the job and income(some of them are from the same company as me and earn much more than me) ... it is really a weird situation ...

    BTW I am Chinese.

  14. In fact, Apple Stores in the US have a similar rule. The requirement is (1) Social Security Number (2) Foreign passport and (3) VISA. US driver's license can be used on behalf of (2) and maybe (3). I don't know what kind of rule they have on VISA expiration date. Anyway, there's little point blaming Softbank and associating your experience with imaginary Japanese regulations. In sum, post-paid plans are credit. Plus, iPhone is subsidized. There may be a small difference in procuedures, but the basic idea behind the rules is the same.

  15. "Anyway, there's little point blaming Softbank and associating your experience with imaginary Japanese regulations."

    You're kidding right? Have you ever even been to Japan? Did you even read the post? Probably no on both counts.

    THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT is that these are NOT JAPANESE REGULATIONS you nitwit. It is softbank's policy. I've been a customer of j-phone (which became vodafone which became softbank), AU, and Docomo.

    The iphone is not (you may find it hard to believe) the world's first expensive phone. Other phones (like the android phone we have now) cost just as much for the carrier. Yet other Japanese carriers subsidize a phone for people (not just foreigners) without all of the BULLSHIT you get from softbank.

    That is the point. It is softbank, not "imaginary Japanese regulations"

    Get a brain.

  16. >THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT is that these are NOT JAPANESE REGULATIONS you nitwit. It is softbank's policy

    I know. I can say 'barriers' instead of regulations. I was going to say there is no point blaming Japan or Japanese companies for its barriers towards foreigners using your sucking "Softbank Sucks" nick name. Because US Apple actually adopts similar policy.

    I know the fact about subsidies you are telling. I am Japanese. You might have been able to get other subsidized phone easier, but it's not the point. The points are both post-paid and subsidies, as well as the comparison with Apple. Why does SB have to be the same as the past or other companies? I suspect there was an instruction by Apple to SB regarding sales conditions. Get a cool brain.

  17. hahaha, I like you. Nice comeback ;-)

    Apple dictates several things about the iPhone to the carrier, but who the carrier decides to subsidize is not one of these things because Apple gets paid for the phone by softbank. Only softbank stands to lose money.

    And so softbank is very picky about who it will subsidize. Softbank is more picky than AU or Docomo. (Maybe there is a reason that son-sama is the richest person in Japan.)

    And this isn't just a problem for foreigners - look at the 2ch posts for SBの審査を落ちた奴 or something like that. It is nearly 2000 comments long.

    If you are declined by AT&T for a subsidizes iPhone, you will be told why. You will also know in general what things AT&T considers when deciding to subsidize you or not.


    Though this is the case with Docomo.

    This is why softbank sucks.

    BTW, a foreigner in Japan can avoid the visa requirement by simply showing a utility bill and a national health card.

    What a stupid, meaningless policy softbank has. Can you not see this?

  18. Here, someone has condensed the discussion of softbanks credit examination, but this only is up to Aug. 6, 2009

    Here is just two random responses, pointing out that it is softbank, not apple's 審査.
    833 :iPhone774G:2009/10/25(日) 07:48:02 ID:eYnoSb2N0


    834 :iPhone774G:2009/10/25(日) 13:41:27 ID:jp0debQa0

  19. >And so softbank is very picky about who it will subsidize.

    According to your comments, this looks true compared with Japanese carriers. But in the US, it is not AT&T but Apple that has that strict policy. An AT&T store did not check my VISA, which is just stamped on my old passport.

  20. Can you describe the process you went through in the US? Are you sure that Apple is dictating to AT&T who to subsidize and who not to subsidize? Do you have a reference or link for this information?

    Apple's credit plan is a joke by the way. If you buy something in installments from the Apple store online (like a mac), you are actually applying for a high-interest rate credit card.

  21. When I arrived in Japan five years ago, I chose softbank (though it was still Vodafone back then!) I could have either (1) waited two weeks until I finally got my bank account set up, and then get my phone, setting billing up to be bank draft or (2) I could have gotten my phone that day, and paid with my Canadian credit card. That's what I did. A few months later, I tried to change my billing information from my credit card to draft from my Japanese bank account. They had trouble processing my bank draft registration, and since they'd gotten the message that I didn't want to use the credit card anymore, they sent me convini barai papers. That was in 2004, and that's how I still pay my bill.

    When I wanted an iPhone, after being a customer for 5 years, there was no trouble. "Ah, you have a ridiculous number of softbank bonus points. shall we apply them to the cost of your phone so your monthly payment is lower?" "Yes, please." No problems.

    When I tried to get a credit card (from citibank hoho) in 2005, after being here less than a year, I was rejected, and I assumed at the time it was because I hadn't been here very long. I tried again for a credit card with my bank earlier this year, at which time I'd been in the country nearly five years, and with the help of a lady at the bank to make sure I'd filled the form out properly, and though there was a delay because I chose the ETC-combined card, and EVERYONE WANTED ONE because of the highway ETC 1000yen discount, which made them backlogged, I got my card no sweat.

    So it's not a foreigner problem that they have, it's a foreigner-who-hasn't-proven-in-any-way-that-they-are-here-for-the-long-term-and-as-such-are-treated-as-poor-risks problem.

  22. As a foreigner I produced my Japanese Drivers License and my Japanese Credit Card. Walked out of the the Softbank Store in Harajuku, Tokyo under 45 mins with a new iPhone.

  23. Mullenkedheim:

    My first phone was on j-phone before it became vodafone. I should probably clarify this post so it accurately reflects that Japanese people tend to have as much difficulty getting an iphone as non-japanese.

    softbank points?


    Yes, any nj who has both a drivers license and a japanese credit card will have a higher chance of being accepted. But many do not have these.

  24. When my gf came to Japan not so long ago I tried to get her a sim (and contract) from AU & SB to use in her unlocked phone from o/seas. (we tested with my docomo sim first & it worked no problem) Both of them practically told me to f*** off & were borderline rude. Personally I don't really see the difference to geting a 0-yen phone, chcking it away and just using the sim in her old phone anyway to just buying the sim, but I may as well have been asking the au & sb staff permission to marry their eldest daughter, the way they looked at me.

    In the end we actually ended up just buying a docomo. Wasn't the latest series (one series back) but totally free & with Japanese sim. The thing that annoyed me at docomo was that they would not accept the document you receive when the ARC is still pending. Note: Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ bank did & offered her a credit card to boot! ...but it wasn't good enough for docomo.

    As an aside on the cr. card topic, I have a japanese card, 3 in fact. I was rejected at first as well, but I found that it was probably due to my working visa exp. date than anything sinister. At the time I was working 2 part-time teaching jobs, nothing spectacular, so you don't need to be rich or anything. After I got a 3 yr visa & applied soon after I got one from Tokyo Mitsubishi without any hassle.

    If you've been ejected by a bank, my advice would be to apply for one combined with another service, such as a dept. store crd, or even kombini, I got a family mart cr. card just recently. I've heard that in Japan Saison is very easy to get, but they rejected me back in the day so I never bothered to apply to them again.

    Almost anyone who comes from a right hand drive country can apply for a Japanese drivers license really easily, just an eye check & you're done. Translating your old license etc is a bit of a chore but once you have it, it really helps in smoothing out red tape. I derive great pleasure in showing it to people when they are itching to get their hands on my ARC instead.

    Lesson learnt: as much as I hate docomo, better the devil you know. Softbank & au were rude to me right from the start, who knows how they'd be later on...

  25. Thanks for the comment IIkun.

    Some thoughts on getting just a SIM card in Japan

    1) it is difficult
    2) it is not possible with AU because they use Qualcomm's CDMA and SIM cards are part of Nokia's GSM standard. Yes, CDMA does use an "IC card" that is apparently in principle the same thing as a SIM card, and when overseas if your AU phone is compatible with a GSM network for which you have a SIM card, you can put the GSM SIM in the AU phone to use your Japanese phone number abroad. But I am 99.99999% certain that an AU IC card in a GSM phone will not work in Japan because of AU's CDMA network
    3) Be very careful putting SIM cards from Docomo in a non-Docomo phone **IF** your phone is 3G and you will do any data tx/rx at all because Docomo does not release the biz-hodai APN settings (unless someone somewhere has figured out the exact settings). Only phones with an IMEI registered to Docomo can access the biz-hodai APN. Docomo will not register an non-Docomo branded phones IMEI. What this means is that even a week's worth of light data transmission on Docomo's 3G network can result in a 100,000 yen data bill since you can't access the all-you-can-eat data settings. Even if you subscribe to the biz-hodai plan but use the wrong APN, YOU WILL GET A HUGE DATA BILL.
    4) As much as I hate softbank, they are the only carrier that will allow you release the tiered APN information for a non softbank phone. So, if you happen to have a softbank smartphone and subscribe to the proper data plan, you can put the SIM in another smartphone and not get killed on data price.

    See here for details on getting proper data access on softbank with a non-softbank phone.

    "How not to get a 7 man phone bill with Softbank"

    As for AU, I was a customer for a number of years and only left because my phone broke down for the second time and I decided to get a new one, but AU had nothing compelling. As far as customer service, I had as good of experience with them as can be expected from a cell phone company (which isn't saying much since the customer service bar is set so low).

  26. @ iikun:

    Good news from Docomo about IMEI registration:

  27. @ iikun:

    Good news from Docomo about IMEI registration:

  28. first hand experience re: credit cards in Japan. Been here 6 years and work for one of the largest manufacturing companies in Japan... Have applied to upwards of 10 different credit cards with various lending institutions, have never been given a card. Even applied for various cards via my bank here, and even they denied me. If your name is in Katakana, just except that your will never be issued a card here.

  29. Yes, I know of many people. I am one of them. I am not married to a Japanese and I was just a student without income when I applied for my credit card from SMBC and JCB. Both were approved right away! Also, if you open a bank account at any Japanese bank, they automatically offer you a credit card. That's how I got my MUFJ credit card.