Feb 05, 2024 · 7 min read

A fair review about Rakuten Mobile

If you are a foreign resident in Japan like me, and you haven't explored Rakuten Mobile yet: you are missing out! Find out why below, only takes you a minute or two to read 👇

DISCLAIMER: I've been one of their users for 4 years, since the one-year free plan, the bad connection fiasco, frustrated and left, on a cheapest possible plan on the market, and then came back. Among the skepticism and sentiments towards Rakuten mobile in the expat community in Japan (especially on r/japanlife where I see people unrealistically loving shitting on Rakuten and their products 🤨), I feel like they deserve a fair review for all their efforts so far, and I'm doing this out of my own volition.

Without further ado, here we go.

The pros

What goes without saying

Cheapest plan at 1078¥ tax included, boost points on rakuten.co.jp. Big cashback when joining as a new subscriber.

Free call within Japan

If you make the call via the Rakuten Link app, and the number you're calling isn't a "navi-dial" (call center with answering machine handler like those start with 0570 - the app will notify you beforehand if this is the case), then it's free with no ifs-buts or fine print.

I have a small kid, and I have to call various facilities throughout a day: daycare, clinic, ward office... and I'm paying for all that. Make it a year and you can see how much I've been saving. Totally feels like cheating ngl.

Call toll here could have been well over my data plan fee if it were another carrier
Call toll here could have been well over my data plan fee if it were another carrier

Free roaming data usage abroad, along with cheapest possible top up

This is freaking huge for foreigners in Japan and I don't know why they don't make this a big selling point tbh.

Basically, it provides 2GB roaming data abroad monthly, free of charge, regardless of destination country. Each additional 1GB top up costs only 500¥.

For reference, I'm evaluating two other most popular budget plans (Linemo and Povo) regarding international roaming when traveling to my home country Vietnam:

Hope you see the staggering difference here.

Voice mail included

This feature has been made a paid add-on by many other providers, but it's included with no additional charge in Rakuten Mobile.

I frequently miss calls, and used to have to google who the heck was this unknown number. If I couldn't find any info on google then I had no choice but to call them back to find out. Now if I miss a call, they can just leave me a voice mail indicating their need, and I just need to replay the voice mail inside Rakuten Link app or the default Phone app. No need to google phone number anymore, and I get to know if this is an important call I just missed.

Missing call alert message

If you miss a call while your phone is on airplane mode or out of signal coverage, a message notification will be delivered in Rakuten Link app (as well as the default Message app if it's allowed to receive messages)

I usually set my phone to airplane mode due to being paranoid that cellular signal can cause health issues, and thanks to this I know exactly when I just missed a call to turn off airplane mode to call back. Not to mention voice mail still works perfectly while in airplane mode or out of coverage.

Easy payment even when you leave Japan for good

Rakuten Mobile phone bill can be fully or partially paid using Rakuten points in the linked Rakuten account. You can top up the point balance using gift cards, and this can be done anywhere, even outside Japan.

I had helped one of my friend paying their last two months of Linemo phone bill when they left Japan and had to cancel their phone plan. It involved manual bank transfer with specific customized input transfer note, or else Linemo would be unable to process those payments and my friend would be wrongly blacklisted as delinquent. Horrifying and not so elegant.

Had they used Rakuten mobile, they could have paid the remaining bills themselves even after leaving Japan for good, easily, without needing my help.

Don't be a delinquent if you plan to come back to Japan in the future even if it's just one phone bill. It has serious consequences on your credit line afterwards.

English support for those who don't speak moonrunes

Yes, Rakuten mobile has English support on the website, service and customer support. Two other popular providers (Linemo and Povo) only offer the service in Japanese. If you don't understand Japanese, good luck with Google translate 😅

The cons

Signal strength

Let's be real: Rakuten mobile's signal strength has been improving A LOT over the 4 years of my usage, but if you want the peace of mind of choosing the seemingly best, then it would be better to stick with the incumbents.

Cheapest plan is capped at 3GB data usage

Yes, 1078¥ is for 3GB monthly data usage. If you accidentally go over 3GB then it will become 2078¥. There's no way to control the data usage so that it wouldn't go over the defined limit on the service website, as of the time I was writing this article 🥲

Rakuten Link app

I don't like having to use a separate app to be entitled to free calls. Hope they will figure out how to have this perk with the default Phone app.

How to mitigate the cons

Signal strength

Get a Povo plan as your second backup cellular plan. Povo is free of charge and as long as you buy a topping within the last 6 months (cheapest one at 330¥ will do), you can keep it free forever. This serves as an excellent backup when you accidentally have a spotty connection with Rakuten mobile.

My current carrier plans
My current carrier plans

Keeping data usage at 3GB

Android phones have this data usage capping feature built-in. For iPhone users, you would need to visit Settings > Cellular regularly, and turn off background fetching on data-hungry apps. This is at best a clunky stop-gap though and I sincerely hope they will offer data usage control inside the service app/website.

Is Rakuten Mobile for you?

If you have one of these traits below, then Rakuten Mobile might be suitable for you. If you tick all the boxes, it's undoubtedly the best fit, highest cost-performance solution out there!

  • A foreigner who has little Japanese literacy
  • Frequently traveling abroad
  • Frequently shopping on rakuten.co.jp
  • Making calls regularly
  • Tending to miss calls
  • Usually leaving your phone on airplane mode
  • Will leave Japan in the future

If you're new to Rakuten Mobile, you can sign up via this link. Both of us will receive 6000 points (half a year worth of phone bills assuming 3GB monthly usage). You can use the points to pay phone bills or do groceries (Rakuten point is supported by a lot of major supermarket chains), and I get the points to indulge in my peripheral hobbies. Win-win! 🙌 😉