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I am on the UK carrier Vodafone, and wish to upgrade my phone soon. I am going to Japan for five months next year, and would ideally like a phone which I can use out there, with a Japanese sim card.

Will an android phone I get here (e.g. the HTC Desire) work in Japan? Will it need to be unlocked?

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Is the Desire just an example, or is that the actual phone you intend to get? This is really more dependent on the phone's antenna hardware than anything else (although APNs might also be a factor, I don't travel internationally so I couldn't say). – eldarerathis Dec 15 '11 at 19:12

Sim-locked phones need to be unlocked for use on other carriers. Almost every phone you get will be sim-locked. The most easily unlocked phones I know of are the Galaxy S line.

The only other thing you need to check is the radio frequency bands used by the device and the carrier. If they match, you're in luck. "Quad-band" devices should work on every GSM network.

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Should be mentioned that you also need a carrier that will let you use unlocked phones on their network. For instance, in Canada many carriers such as Telus won't let you use a phone that hasn't been programmed for their network, and will refuse to program phones that they don't sell so that they will work on the network even if they operate on the correct radio frequency and are unlocked. Japan carriers may have similar issues. – Logos Dec 15 '11 at 22:21
@Logos Does that apply to GSM phones? I would have assumed it was only for iDEN and CDMA. – Matthew Read Dec 15 '11 at 22:47
Matthew: unfortunately yes, it also applies to GSM phones (at least in Canada). Unlike WIND or Mobilicity, I can't walk into a Telus or Rogers store, plug a SIM card into my phone, and walk out again all happy. Though if I was stuck on a Telus plan I doubt I'd be happy anyway :D – Logos Dec 18 '11 at 16:28

You will struggle to get a SIM card that's not on a contract in Japan. Even then, it's really hard if you don't have a Japanese passport.

The best option I'm aware of would be to get a SIM from Disable data on your phone and use wifi only. Data charges in Japan are really expensive.

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