Japanese Docomo SIM cards

I’m posting onboard ship in the port of Otaru using a Japanese data SIM card I bought on eBay before leaving the U.S. I bought 2 of these cards which are by the Japanese company, Docomo, which my research showed to have the best coverage in Japan. The cards are for 8 days each, so we plan to use them back-to-back during our stay in Japan, using my Galaxy S7 phone as a hotspot for David’s Galaxy S7s and our laptop. Each card is described as “4G LTE, 3GB/8 days, unlimited.” The cards cannot be used with HTC, Blackberry, dual SIM phones or any smartphones made in China.

Approaching Otaru, Japan, this morning

The card starting working in the wee hours this morning, while we were at sea off the Japanese coast, but still some hours from the port of Otaru. The signal is strong and fast and both David’s Galaxy S7 Android phone and the laptop are connecting well with my phone’s hotspot.

I paid $26.98 for both cards, including shipping from Hong Kong. It took about 20 days for the cards to arrive, which was within the vendor’s estimated shipping time. He was very responsive to my questions and had good reviews, so I felt reasonably comfortable making the purchase. We might could have bought the cards in Japan and I read that visitor SIM cards are sold at Narita Airport. But, we are arriving by ship in Otaru where I could find no information about such SIMs and, even if we did find them, I had concerns about language issues. I also didn’t want to spend my limited time ashore looking for and waiting in a shop anyway if I didn’t have to. Given the reasonable price on eBay, it seemed a no-brainer to me.

I chose data-only SIM cards because we don’t really care about making calls–and should we need to, we can usually call for free using Google. The Internet, i.e., data, is what we really want and need for Google Maps, researching local sites, texting with home via WhatsApp, email, etc. Anyway, so far, so good!

UPDATE: I’ve been using the Docomo card for four days now and am generally happy. Sometimes, the connection is a little slow, but for the most part it’s been really good. Also, some of the sluggishness may be due to being offshore and to having other devices using my phone as a hotspot. Most impressive of all, not only did I retain connection when we were on a ship 15 miles off the Japanese coast, but I was even able to make a 30+ minute call to my son in the U.S. on WhatsApp with excellent quality…and for free!

Croatian SIM card: a bargain and a caveat

The trans-Atlantic cruise that launched our Balkan adventure stopped in Dubrovnik before dropping us off in Venice. I’d been to Dubrovnik before and we knew we’d return, so our priority on the cruise stop was to buy a visitor SIM card so we’d be ready to roll when we came back to Croatia 2.5 weeks later. I’d done some research and knew there were no phone stores selling SIM cards in Old Town Dubrovnik, but they are sold at the post office.

Browsing our options at the old town post office, I chose the “Vipme internet,” a fantastic bargain at 20 kuna ($3), including tax. For that price, I got a data SIM card with 2G worth of data at 1G/day (ie., two days’ worth of Internet). The system is set up perfectly for travelers: your gig allotment is in 24 hour increments that begin when you actually access the internet with your card. So, if you don’t need the card for a day, you don’t get charged. I figured we’d use the card that day and then on our first day back in Croatia later in the trip. After that, we could buy charge up slips at any phone store, post office or most convenience stores at a rate of about $1.50/day. What a deal!

The lady who sold me the card at the post office knew very little about them, but did agree to help me with activation since the instructions were in Croatian (a major downside) until you reached a certain web page with English. Unfortunately (and here comes the caveat), she mistakenly exited the page where we were to confirm the plan and activate. I saw what she was doing, but couldn’t stop her in time. I did not realize that a different plan was chosen by default. The result was that she mistakenly registered me for a plan which included other features (calls, texts, etc.) and charged at a much higher usage rate which quickly burned up my 2G credit. I didn’t realize her mistake until after we’d left and I had lost all access to the Internet.

When I did get wi-fi and tried to choose a different plan, I was never sure I’d done things correctly. This meant that when we returned to Dubrovnik we had to catch a short bus ride out of the Old Town to a phone shop and get the whole mess sorted out. The good news is that they did sort it out, and also credited me back for my lost $3; not much compensation for the hassle, but nice of them nonetheless. Thereafter, the SIM card worked perfectly and we had cheap, reliable internet virtually everywhere we went in Croatia at $1.50/day.

Vipme is now offering weekly packages for 80 kuna ($12) with a cheap daily rate option. http://www.vipnet.hr/tourist-offer/en If you activate correctly, the price and product are excellent.

[The post office in Old Town Dubrovnik is a block off the main avenue, Stradun, on the corner of Široka ulica and ulica od Puča. The VIP store is at Vukovarska ul. 7, 20000, Dubrovnik in an old bank building. The bus stop at the Tommy shopping center is the closest. You can ask a bus driver to alert you to the stop.]



Visitor SIM: get connected in Slovenia [also Predjama Castle & Piran]

SIM cards are always on my list of things to look into when I’m going to spend any time in a country. Overpriced roaming charges on my American AT&T account are out-of-the-question except for the occasional first text to a landlord, etc. (I absolutely detest being gouged.) I try to keep a French and a Belgian SIM card active, but with no non-roaming EU-wide SIM (yet), I often need a new SIM card when I’m in Europe. Options vary widely from country to country, but Eastern Europe can offer some great deals. Unfortunately, those great deals are often hard to take advantage of if you don’t know the language.

Slovenia has solved that problem with Visitor SIM. For a price, sure, but it’s not an unreasonable price, IMHO, given the convenience. https://www.visitorsim.si/default.aspx There are 3 options, and we chose the €20 for 15 days, 10GB data+ €5 of voice. You can use the data to make VoIP calls, Skype, etc., but we wanted a little easy talk time for local calls and it came in handy when we needed to rendezvous with our AirBnB landlord. The Visitor SIM cannot be mailed outside of Slovenia, so you need an address with someone present to receive the package. We weren’t sure we’d have that option with our AirBnB digs, so I opted for to have the card sent to the Ljubljana airport. I was told the card was would be waiting for us at Café Avioncek in the Arrivals area. While David checked out our Sixt rent car, I walked the 30 yards are so to the café, gave my name to someone behind the counter, and was back in no time with the SIM card. (You’re supposed  to provide ID, but no one asked.) The card installed, without problem, on my Android phone and we were up and running, Google Maps and all.

We spent the next days exploring Slovenia and found Internet coverage to be good in most places, if a little spotty in some very rural areas. I can’t say enough good things about Slovenia. I’d been wanting to visit for many years, and we found it to be beautiful, amazingly clean (Ljubljana has been named Green Capital of Europe for 2016), and very accessible. Lots of people spoke excellent English in Ljubljana and we found good English most places save for near the Eastern border with Croatia. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Lovely Ljubljana
Riverside café in Ljubljana. Slovenians love their cured meats!

One of the great advantages of a small country. You can visit a castle built into a mountain in the morning and be eating super-fresh seafood on the coast by lunch:

Predjama Castle
Piran, on Slovenia’s small coastline on the Gulf of Trieste
Piran bounty

On the drive back from Piran to Ljubljana, we made a quick detour out to see the salt-pans at Sečovlje Salina Nature Park. It’s only a short drive out of town and worth a look even if, like us, you don’t have the time or inclination to take a tour or visit the Lepa Vida thalasso spa located in the park. http://www.portoroz.si/en/experience/natural-attractions/secovlje-salt-pans Salt has been harvested from here since at least the Middle Ages.

Sečovlje salt-pans beyond the canal

March 30- April 1, 2016