In typical Japanese fashion, LINE has combined cutting edge technology with cute, lovable characters, making it one of the most-used apps. LINE not only provides call and messaging services, it also has created popular cartoon characters that have their own merchandise.

LINE Friends store merchandise

What is LINE?

If you’ve never heard of LINE, it’s a FREE (yes, free) Voice Over Internet Protocol, more commonly called a Voice Over IP, or VoIP. LINE allows you to make free local and international calls, gives you free text messaging, and has in-app games. It is available for Android and Apple devices, and can also be used on your laptop. Because it’s free, it’s definitely a must-have for budget travelers.

Why is LINE So Popular?

With over 200 million users, LINE is the number one messaging app in Asia. And this is not just because it’s free. LINE is highly rated for its quality service, not to mention its cute animated characters, which both exploded its popularity. This popularity has also made LINE the top-grossing app in Asia. Adults and youth alike use LINE.

Left to right: LINE characters Moon, Brown and Cony

LINE Characters & Merchandise

LINE is not only a service, it has become a powerful brand. LINE characters are so popular that brick and mortar stores called LINE Friends were opened. These stores sell character merchandise and have mascots that pose for photos with fans. The LINE brand has expanded to include new characters, with the most recent being Choco, the little sister of the popular bear character named Brown. The characters even got their own animated television show in in 2013 called LINE Town.

Cool Features of LINE

  • In addition to free calls and messaging, LINE users can send photos. Using LINE to send photos prevents you from using data on your cellular phone plan and also allows you to send your travel photos instantly.
  • Photos can be saved in a Timeline your friends can see, giving it a social media feel.
  • LINE has an “Official Accounts” section (essentially, businesses and celebrities) that have downloadable coupons and offers. You can also see the most recent news for the accounts you choose to follow.
  • LINE has in-app games that you can play solo or with other LINE users.
  • LINE Maps for Indoor has helpful maps for areas like shopping malls, and can be accessed from your smart device.
LINE screenshot

Tips for Using LINE

  • You do need an internet connection to use LINE – whether it be 3G, 4G or Wifi.
  • While LINE is very easy to use, if you plan to use it abroad, it should be downloaded before you leave your home country
  • All users must have LINE downloaded to send and receive free calls, messages and photos (otherwise the service will not be free).
  • LINE can be used cross-platform (in other words, an Android user can call an iPhone user and vice versa).
  • You can call land lines and people not on LINE using a service called LINE Out, but there will be a fee after 5 minutes. Luckily, the rates are pretty cheap (i.e. 1 cent per minute in the U.S.), but rates do vary according to where you are calling.
LINE stickers, a major revenue source for the company

As LINE continues to grow in popularity, hopefully video calling services will be added. In the meantime, we can follow the antics of the LINE characters and continue to save money with its free call and messaging services.

To learn more about LINE and the best apps for travel in Japan, check out The Best Apps for Travel in Japan

Anime series, LINE Offline, which takes place in an office


All characters are the property of LINE.

Sources: LINE , LINE Friends

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