Foreign iPhone fans, be aware of Softbank’s two-year visa rule


A pot pourri of topics this week. Later, we take a step back in time with two readers hoping to re-establish connections from the past. But first, a decidedly modern topic: upgrading to the iPhone 5 with Softbank.

“Softbank just rejected my friend, a customer that has used their phone and service for two whole years, from upgrading to a new iPhone 5,” writes an angry reader. “The reason was that her visa needed to be renewed in August 2014. (If she had a Japanese driver’s license they may have let her, but she does not drive.)

“When she signed up in 2011 she had a three-year visa. Now, after using their service and paying promptly for two years, with no problems, she wanted to get a newer phone.

“They said no! The only thing she could do was buy the phone [up front] for ¥40,000. She called the English helpline and the guy said [paying in installments was] ‘muri‘ [it’s impossible]. And the English help guy eventually escaped by asking to speak to the Softbank service guy at the store and then having the service guy hang up.

“Using their math, anyone who uses their service for two years on a three-year visa will now be rejected when trying to upgrade their phone.

“The system the service guy used was that he took her resident’s card and scanned it so that it was sent it in to their compliance system. The compliance section rejected it because of the expiry date.

“No thank you for the past two years. No service rewards. Nothing. Very racist, in my opinion.

“My question to you is, where are the more friendly Softbank stores that you talk about in the article ‘Softbank’s policies on foreign customers hard to pin down’ (Lifelines, Dec. 4, 2012)?”

As Ashley Thompson wrote in this previous column, Softbank officially requires that you have at least two years remaining on your visa if you wish to pay for a new handset in monthly installments rather than fork out for the whole lot up front — although experiences notoriously vary from store to store.

Have any readers been able to upgrade to the iPhone 5 and pay for the handset in installments despite having less than two years left on their visa?

Either way, please let us know about your experiences.

Clues from fatal flight wanted

Reader EL from Canada is looking for any information about CPA (Canadian Pacific Airlines) flight 402, which crashed and burned on landing at Haneda airport back on March 4, 1966. His father was among the 54 passengers and crew who lost their lives in the tragedy.

Being only 18 months old at the time, our reader never really knew his father but thinks about him often. “I am trying to find a passenger list or manifest and wondered if there are other surviving children of people killed on board that day. It has been very difficult for me to find information on the accident.”

American tribe’s lost son sought

Next we have AR, a teacher at Kingston High School in Washington state. She is hoping to find a gentleman born in 1921 with the last name of Webster. His father was Suquamish tribal member Lawrence Webster, who visited Japan as part of the Suquamish tribe’s baseball team from Seattle.

It is believed that Lawrence Webster’s Japanese girlfriend came from Yokohama. Their son made a visit to the U.S. many years ago but did not receive a particularly warm welcome from his father’s people.

Lawrence has a great-grandson currently attending Kingston High who recently came to Japan with AR as part of a visit to their sister school, Shimokitazawa Seitoku in Tokyo. “His family asked that I try to find this relative, as they are curious about him and want to welcome him.”

More about Lawrence Webster and the Suquamish tribe’s baseball team can be found here: www.kitsapsun.com/news/2008/apr/06/a-team-of-their-own/.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send all your comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Diane P.

    You don’t need to wanna upgrade, when we moved to Japan last year despite having a three year visa they made us pay up front for our Iphones and refused to let us pay in installments.

  • Ayman El-Sayed

    Another problem with softbank that I personally face is that I finished a 2-year contract with them and paid the full cost of my iPhone 4. After that I moved to Canada and asked them to unlock my phone but they refused. How can I pay for something and not be able to use it, specially that I moved to another country and not to a competitor for them!!!!!
    Softbank SUCKS!!!

  • Fynn

    It isn’t just SoftBank’s cell policy with foreigners, their internet services are lacking in any customer support as well. I applied for SoftBank BB back on August 9th, as the person who lived in my apartment before me was using their service and said it worked great. But when the modem finally arrived on September 3rd, I couldn’t connect. Instead of running diagnostics, I was told to just wait. Then a week later, they sent a new modem in the mail. Then they blamed NTT, and made them come out several times (which confused NTT since they said everything was fine). Then on September 20th, they called me, saying that they had to speak with me directly in Japanese (not my Japanese supervisor, it had to be me; according to them there is absolutely no one at SoftBank who speaks English) and just said, “Because of reasons we don’t want to explain, our internet will never work in your apartment. So we’re making you cancel your contract.” Even though their service worked before, they never sent anyone actually from SoftBank to check the modem or my computer or do anything. And it was a colossal waste of my time.

  • Geoff

    This article is effectively suggesting that Softbank should be happy to give their phones away for free?
    They need people to pay the whole 2 years on their phone contract, because the price of the phone is split up over the regular payments for that whole period, that’s why they have the minimum 2 year contract.
    If someone leaves Japan after just one year they’ve effectively only paid for half the phone. That puts Softbank in a difficult position, they have to either take the loss, or chase people internationally.
    Calling this racism is pretty poor IMO

  • Mike Wyckoff

    Everyone I have talked to hates Softbank, so I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly as I actually switched to Softbank when they first started carrying the iphone. Since, I have had no problems at all except for some dropped calls (which I also experienced with AU).

  • 思德

    I got an iPhone 5 on a special no money down deal with AU. I’m pretty sure my visa is only for 1 year. Sounds like people need to ditch Softbank for a better carrier. AU tacked on lots of little extra expenses that had to be cancelled afterwards, but aside from that they’ve been fairly good.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    I don’t get it.

    If what SB feared to be true, came true, they only stand to make more money, as the person would have to pay off the contract with a large fee, and then they would not longer have the burden of that data use on their system.

    I guess what they are admitting is that they don’t charge people enough for cancelling their contract? Or enough for their phones?

    I do not get how this situation works out economically.

    Anyway, I think Softbank should be free to discriminate as they wish, like this, and then bear all the bad publicity and feedback that comes with it.

  • SBSdroid

    Never ever ever ever ever under any circumstances use your ARC/zairyu card and passport as ID for a Softbank Mobile credit check. There are other allowable options besides the drivers license. You can use your health insurance card together with one of the following:

    1) Utility bill, 2) credit card (Foreign card is OK), or 3) student ID.

    (If you haven’t got health insurance, well, honestly, getting an iPhone is the very least of your worries ;))

    If you use your passport and alien card just once, depending on the shop, they will forever require you to use it when getting a new phone. The reason for variability between individual shops is because they are all franchises. Do you think Softbank corporate takes the hit when someone does a runner on a phone that’s not paid off? Or do you think the shop has to eat the loss?

    The idea that only foreigners have issues getting an iPhone is wrong. Type ソフトバンク 審査 in to a google search bar and 通らない will be one of the top autosuggestions. Yes, Japanese people also get forced to pay up front, and no one really knows why. The credit check for softbank is a totally opaque and ridiculous process, and you can easily be left wondering if there isn’t some sort of error somewhere. They don’t give any indication as to what the problem is. They just ask you to try again, this time with a drivers license, or with a utility bill, or with a credit card. Is my name in katakana somewhere and romaji somewhere else? Does one place lack my middle name? Did someone misspell something?

    It was reported two days ago that 63,133 people had their credit history temporarily fubared by a Softbank internal reporting error – they were incorrectly reported as delinquent to credit reporting agencies. People were declined lines of credit as a result.

    So I suspect that people that can’t pass the credit check were in some cases probably denied due to some internal inconsistency that could have been fixed if softbank were to be transparent.

    Don’t like it? Use a different carrier. Check my site Japan Mobile Tech for carrier and MVNO options.

  • JTCommentor

    “Very racist, in my opinion”. I think the author needs to check the definition of racist. That word gets thrown around a lot in the Japan expat community, and often misguided. The softbank policy is a business decision – in paying in installments, they are giving you 2 years of credit. If you dont have 2 years of right to stay in the country – why on earth would you expect the company to give you a loan for 2 years? This policy applies to all races, black, white, asian, even Japanese descendents without residency. Thus, its not racist. Its a strict control of giving credit – sure, but its not racist. Credit flows freely in the west, particularly in the pre financial crisis days. In fact, it was that free flowing of credit which was a major contributing facotr in the financial crisis. Be thankful for some companies showing restraint and protecting their balance sheets.

  • Hello Amber

    I just got a new 2 year contract with Softbank less than 2 weeks ago. I have just 6 months remaining on my visa, but I only showed my Japanese driving license for ID, and it’s valid for more than 2 years still. They didn’t make any mention of my Visa or anything. I didn’t have to pay for anything up front, and it was no different than when i started a phone contract in the US previously.

    My bank here is pretty small & only set up for basic checking or savings, so I gave my US credit card to get the contract started, and will change the payment once I get a Japanese bank account with some sort of debit card or the ability to do automatic payments from it.

    I didn’t have any problem starting the contract, and was on my own – the shop didn’t speak much english, and I don’t speak much Japanese but we worked together to understand each other & I found everyone to be great at my shop in Nagoya.

  • Teacher Tom

    I was a university student two and a half years ago in Japan. Our school had a very large international student program and many if not all the Chinese students had iPhones *Many on short term one year programs*… I talked with a few of them if they paid the full amount to Softbank “Two and ahalf years ago Softbank was the only Carrier with iPhones”

    One’s guys responces was “Oh I never pay. I’m so smart Hahaha “….

    I later found out that they would just leave and never pay and sell the phones to other students. Others would just use past students old Gaijin cards get the phone and never pay.

    I can fully understand why Softbank wants the money up front… I paid it.

    It’s a a lot of money to just spend just on a phone but, If you it all up front and a store like Yodobashi, You can get almost 10,000 Yen of points and get the money back via discount off your monthy bill..

    Please don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to bash Chinese people…. I’m half Chinese.

    Hope this helps other understand Softbanks problem with selling to foreigners

  • Nazonohito

    I’ve been a Softbank customer for five years. In that time, I have learned that there is no way to anticipate how they will react at any given time.

    My first Softbank phone, an iPhone 3G, was like pulling teeth to get. I heard every excuse in the book and finally had to pay for the phone upfront. The main problem, or so I was told, was the fact I only had a 1-year visa at the time. Understandable, as the main cost of the phones are actually paid off over the duration of a 2-year contract and giving that kind of credit to someone with a 1-year visa is a risky proposition.

    Two years later, I had a nice, brand-new 3-year visa and went in to upgrade to an iPhone 4. No go! Even though I had had been a perfect customer for the past two years and had >2.5 years left on my visa, I was told I couldn’t pay for the phone on an installment plan since I paid my bill by automatic bank-withdrawal rather than credit card. Once again I had to pay for the phone upfront.

    Another two years went by and, knowing the drill by now – not to mention only having 9 months left on my visa – I went to my local Softbank shop with cash in hand to buy an iPhone 5. As I signed the contracts and the clerk got the phone ready to take home, I asked how much I owed. “Oh, you don’t have to pay today. It’ll be added to your monthly bill.” Nothing had changed as far as my employment, billing, credit, health insurance, or any other status since the last time when I’d been required to pay upfront. In fact, the only thing that *had* changed was that now I had less than one year remaining on my (then) current visa – but, suddenly, they were more than happy to let me pay the phone off in installments. Go figure!

  • PatrickZiegler

    yeah, one of the first things I did when I moved here was to get a japanese drivers license so I had a form of ID that puts me on the same grounds as any other japanese person, regardless of my visa status or such. Since then I always use this, there is no service that can refuse this ID and say you have to show them your zairyu card so. Softbank told me first I needed to show passport or such but when I refused and told them that they had no legal grounds for this they backed down and hooked me up prompto.
    And as its pretty simple to convert a lot of countries licenses to japanese one it’s a no-brainer