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Question: My husband surprised me with an anniversary present of a trip to Japan next month. We're only going for a week but I need to stay in touch with family during that period and I'm worried that it will cost me a fortune. Is there any clever way of avoiding exorbitant costs? Also, is there any fancy plug adaptor I need to bring? I have or a worldwide adaptor from a previous trip abroad - will that suffice?
You have a couple of options. Some Irish mobile operators will let you use your phone abroad to a reasonable degree for a daily fee. For example, Vodafone does this, letting you use 0.2 gigabytes of data and voice calls and texts in Japan (and other non-EU countries) for €5 per day if you opt into its 'Red Roaming' service.
Whether 0.2GB per day is enough for you will depend on your normal phone habits. For example, if it's just WhatsApp messages, Facebook Messenger or SMS text messages, you'll probably be fine. However, if you like to use Facebook a bit, you'll need to be careful.
Most people's Facebook news feeds are now full of auto-playing videos, which can use up a lot of data. You need to be similarly careful if you're sending or receiving short video clips over messaging services as these can use a lot of data also.
And do remember that you need to opt in to this service - if you have just landed in Japan and use your Vodafone smartphone, you'll be crucified on roaming charges.
However, this is still a good option to have. And seeing as you'll only be there for seven days, it's somewhat affordable at €35. But if you're with either Three or Eir, you'll have to consider another option because neither operator offers an affordable way to use your phone in Japan unless you're on a specialist business plan. For example, for that 0.2GB per day I referenced with Vodafone's roaming offer, Three would charge you a daily rate of €1,000 (yes, you read that right) if you used all of it, while Eir is even worse, charging almost €1,700 per day (or €8.46 per megabyte).
It's possibly different if you're on a business tariff with either operator, but from the sounds of your query, this isn't your situation.
And to be clear - both operators would give you a text messaging warning as to your data usage as it escalated (after about two minutes).
If either of those services - or one of the operators using Three's network, such as Tesco Mobile or Virgin Mobile - is your network, you'll need to get a local sim card.
This isn't that difficult to do but often takes some advance planning. When I travelled to Japan, I ordered a local sim card when I was booking a weekly rail pass for Japan's bullet trains. It cost me €17 and offered unlimited data for eight days. For me, this was a great deal as I use messaging and social media services a lot on my smartphone. It also included the ability to make FaceTime voice calls between iPhones. However, it came with one limitation - it was data only. In other words, you couldn't make traditional network calls or send (or receive) traditional SMS texts using it. For me, that wasn't a problem as if anyone wanted to contact me, they'd likely send me a WhatsApp message, email or direct message on one of the social networks (like Messenger on Facebook or a direct message on Twitter). However, this may not suit everyone. If you also need to be able to receive phone calls, you can get a tourist SIM card when you arrive at the airport. These typically cost between €20 and €30 for a week. However, even here, I'd caution on using them for voice calls. Most people now have access to voice calls using online messaging systems like FaceTime (between iPhones), WhatsApp calls or Skype. And many of us now use WhatsApp as a text messaging service. So unless you're dealing with someone very elderly who may not be capable of using a system like WhatsApp, you and your family members back in Ireland are much better off financially staying away from the traditional network calls and using the free online calling and texting services instead.
Of course, it also goes without saying that you should take advantage of Wi-Fi when you're there. If you're staying in a hotel, this is usually free. If you're staying in an Airbnb, it's common for the host to leave a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot that you can bring about with you. You can use this to connect to 4G mobile Wi-Fi, which effectively gives you access to all the data you need on your phone.
As for the plugs, yes your worldwide adaptor should work fine, as long as it includes a two-prong plug-in bit. I found that I could use my two-pronged US plug adaptors there without any problem. These are easy and cheap to get at electronics stores or at Dublin Airport. Although Japan uses a different voltage system to Ireland (or the US), I recharged phones, tablets and cameras without any problem.
Recommendation: Vodafone Red Roaming (€5 per day for 0.2GB, available from Vodafone)
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