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

by Louise George Kittaka

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!!!

    • JTCommentor

      I thought every US carrier did the same thing.

      • computermacgyver

        AT&T unlocked my phone before I left the US. Don’t know about other carriers, however. I do think they should unlock once you’ve finished the contract. In the UK it’s mandatory to offer unlock services (although there is usually a fee)

  • 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.

    • 思德

      Colossal wastes of time happen often here!

    • pd1986

      you show a lack of understanding of the japanese internet system…
      You have the service providers (yahoo, asahi, softbank etc), then you have the line providers (NTT)…softbank have to go through NTT…
      Both softbank and NTT have english speaking lines (i have dealt with both…in fact when i cancelled my internet at one place i had to call NTT, they stayed on the phone with me while they patched in Asahi…legally, they have to inform you of legal stuff in japanese directly…they must hear you agree…after all, this is a japanese speaking country…you can have your phone on loud speaker with a translator there with you)

      • Fynn

        Let’s tone down the condescension, shall we? I understand how the line and service providers work, and NTT has been excellent in trying to resolve the issues I was having, while SoftBank dragged their feet. When I asked for the chance to have my supervisor be on loudspeaker they refused, saying that I was the only one they would talk to, alone. I’ve studied Japanese for years but specific technical terms aren’t exactly in my realm of expertise. Before the problems arose I had no issues talking to them myself in Japanese. Please stop assuming things.

  • 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

    • Steve Novosel

      No, it IS discrimination as every other carrier does not have this limitation. Docomo requires 90 days left on a visa, which is a reasonable term.

      Require someone to guarantee their phone contract with a credit card (as I believe they already do) and they have no worries. Requiring 2 years minimum on a visa is a particularly stupid requirement as 2 years visa doesn’t mean one needs to stay two years – someone could still just as easily run off after 6 months. So what’s the point?

      • hudsonstewart

        When I last signed a contract with Softbank a few years back, I wasn’t required to guarantee my phone contract with a credit card (I didn’t even own a credit card), I simply had to sign up for a monthly bank withdrawal. I find it hard to believe that they require a credit card when so many people don’t have credit cards in Japan.

        Softbank’s policy is ultimately backlash against the vast number of foreigners who leave Japan without paying their internet, phone, and utility bills. It is reasonable that they make some attempt to prevent what is basically theft.

        Saying this is racism (as someone in the article does), though, is just silly. Since when do visa holders comprise a race? As the article states, a foreigner with a Japanese driver’s license would be able to get the phone without any issues. Yes, they are discriminating against people (regardless of race) who have little time left on their visas, and in light of the likelihood of theft, it is unreasonable to expect Softbank to give their phones away to be “fair”.

      • Steve Novosel

        They certainly required a credit card when I first signed up (credit cards are hardly uncommon – I’m not sure I know anyone without one). Drivers license only without the 2 years remaining on your visa definitely do not cut it – I’ve had a Japanese driver’s license since just after I arrived and it made no difference at all with them. It was pay for the phone up front (and no monthly subsidy, either) or no phone. That’s pretty bad treatment for a good customer with a good credit rating.

        “Softbank’s policy is ultimately backlash against the vast number of foreigners who leave Japan without paying their internet, phone, and utility bills.”

        NO it’s not. This “vast number of foreigners” leaving with bills unpaid is a myth, and an offensive one. I had to listen to this junk from bank after bank when last trying to get a car loan since all the banks “heard so many left after 3/11″. Not that they had problems with foreigners had actually done this to them, just that they had HEARD it happened. This despite me being able to prove I had a 5 year employment contract and history of a paid-in-full car loan. So don’t go propagating these harmful myths.

        “It is reasonable that they make some attempt to prevent what is basically theft.”

        Then do it against all people. Don’t discriminate based on someone’s nationality. I can assure you there is more theft by Japanese nationals than there is by the foreigner community, who by nature of the requirements of their visas are a well-educated, usually professional group of people.

      • Geoff

        Foreigners leaving without paying bills isn’t a myth, and it’s not isolated to Japan. It’s not to say that most people on short visas would do it, but I know several people who thought it was hilarious to leave an unpaid rent/ tax etc bill unpaid on the assumption that they couldn’t be chased overseas. They were wrong as it turns out, and lawyers came after them, but still it happens often enough.
        It is undeniably discriminatory on the basis of not being Japanese, but that’s probably because a Japanese company can chase a Japanese national much more easily through the legal system. For them to chase someone from another country would probably require an agreement between the countries.

      • Steve Novosel

        I’m sure it DOES happen, I just doubt it happens with any more regularity than with your average Joe Tanaka, that’s all. And I would be surprised if the rate of foreigners doing such a thing were higher than with Japanese people, much like the crime rate in general is lower in the foreign community than with the population at large.

        My issues with the car loan were particularly stupid – there’s not any way to run off to another country with your car, is there? It’s built-in loan security.

      • Mark Garrett

        LOL. First it’s “a myth”, then you “doubt it happens”, finally you “would be surprised”. Is there anything you actually DO know?? How about doing a little research and getting the facts straight before tooting your horn?

      • Steve Novosel

        Mark. Are you stalking me now? Was it not enough that you insult me in another article’s comments, you needed to come to this one and insult me as well?

      • Mark Garrett

        “…who by nature of the requirements of their visas are a well-educated, usually professional group of people.”

        LOL!!! Now THAT’S funny!! Where exactly do you live in Japan?? The ethnocentric American in you is showing!
        Are you aware that there are less than 140,000 westerners living in Japan? That’s 0.1%. Out of about 2.5 million foreign residents, over half are asian. While some of them certainly are well-educated and have white collar jobs, the vast majority are either factory workers, various other blue collar workers, or office administrator types. How many of them do you honestly believe have credit cards??

        Last time I checked Softbank was a business, with an interest in being profitable. It is just nonsense to believe that they would deny customers solely because they are foreigners unless there are hard numbers to back it up. Masayoshi Son is the second richest man in Japan so he obviously knows what he’s doing.

      • Steve Novosel

        “LOL!!! Now THAT’S funny!! Where exactly do you live in Japan?? The ethnocentric American in you is showing!”

        Serious question – are you this rude and truculent in real life, or just online? Why are you consistently rude? Could you kindly stop being rude to me?

        “How many of them do you honestly believe have credit cards??”

        There’s your bias showing. You think lower income people don’t have credit cards? Of course they do.

        “It is just nonsense to believe that they would deny customers solely because they are foreigners unless there are hard numbers to back it up.”

        Docomo doesn’t. KDDI doesn’t. Just Softbank. I don’t know the numbers – neither do you – but if the two largest providers in the country don’t require onerous documentation but the third largest does, perhaps the third largest is doing something wrong.

      • dolphin888

        It is a free country and various companies have various policy. it is NOT discrimination just because other companies do something different. By the way its leader is local korean.

        “So what’s the point?”
        Legal and illegal after 1 year is very valid logical risk assignment point. Of course it is probably also due to profit too, since upgrade causes reduced profit since monthly subsidy cut into profit.
        Customer loyalty is not too valuable if visa is only one year too.

      • Steve Novosel

        “By the way its leader is local korean.”

        Son-san is ethnically Korean, but he’s a Japanese citizen. And I don’t see what his ethnicity has to do with the situation anyway.

        “Customer loyalty is not too valuable if visa is only one year too.”

        HUH? It’s not one year and gone, you can renew visas, you know. What a shortsighted viewpoint. I was here initially on a 1-year visa, now I’ve been here a lot longer than that. If you are a company, don’t you want to build relationships with customers for the long haul?

        Sure doesn’t seem like Softbank wants to.

    • 思德

      The statement that it was racist was a bit presumptive. I would describe Japanese institutions that mishandle, bungle or otherwise inconvenience foreigners as just incompetent or lacking in good ideas. The lady(ies) at JP bank who give me grief almost every month when I remit money aren’t racist; they’re just completely lacking in any understanding of what customer service is. Not the same thing!

      • Teacher Tom

        Have you tried Citibank?

  • 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.

    • hudsonstewart

      You really don’t get it!

      Here’s how it goes: I get an iPhone worth ¥40,000 that I agree to pay off in installments of ¥2,000 per month via automatic bank withdrawal (the way it’s done in Japan). A month later, I clear out my bank account and fly home, never to set foot in Japan again. Softbank has no way to collect overseas, so cancellation fees don’t apply. They are out ¥38,000, and I got an iPhone for ¥2,000.

      If someone only has one month left on their visa, would it really make sense to offer them a 2 year contract for a phone? The outcome is obvious.

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

        Ah thank you for clarifying. I can see now. If that is their reason, I wonder if it is based on fear, or if it is based on experience. I would love to see the numbers disclosed.

        I wanted to mention though, I believe those SoftBank iPhones would be mostly useless outside of Japan since there is no program that can root them.

      • pd1986

        i high percentage of foreigners leave without paying off the remaining amount of their contract and certainly avoid the cancellation fee…this is also the same with taxes too

        hence why, some places do not like foreigners…

        i live in a small town…ive been in a few times to my store…they are welcoming and polite and often call up the english helpline and we have a 3 way convo…

        my first iphone i used my credit card to tick the boxes to get the phone ‘free’…the second time i had a japanese driving licence (no need for any other ID)

        but the 2 year contract, cancellation fees etc – it is for everyone, not just foreigners… but companies are starting to refuse certain offers, such as ‘free’ phones

      • Guillaume Vares

        It would probably be a good idea to require a credit card for installment payment (like they do in some countries).

  • 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