Since COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions were imposed at the start of April 2020, international arrivals into Japan have plunged. Foreign tourists are still blocked from entry and, and even foreigners with legal residence in Japan were barred from re-entry until September, 2020. While foreign tourists are not expected to be permitted to enter Japan before Fall 2021, legal foreign residents who want to return are permitted to do so.
Irrespective of your citizenship and port of departure, strict testing and self-quarantine procedures are in place.
We try to be accurate, but we do not have all the facts about the requirements and procedures regarding re-entry to Japan. There may be different requirements depending on your circumstances, port of departure, port of arrival, etc. Also, the situation is changing from day to day and week to week. If you are concerned about anything regarding your arrival, do not rely on this article, contact your nearest Japanese consulate or embassy.
Travel restrictions by country
Due to the designation of certain countries as high risk due to the emergence of new variants, there are effectively two tiers of restriction based on country.
As of this update (April 14, 2021) most countries in the world are on Japan’s restricted travel list. Further, for an indefinite period, in an effort to stop the spread of the new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have appeared in countries throughout the world, entry of new visa holders from all countries has been paused. According to Nikkei, foreigners who have obtained an entry visa prior to the new ban coming into place, will be permitted to enter. The change that came into effect on December 28th, 2020 does not affect legal foreign residents of Japan.
If you are returning to Japan from a country on the restricted list, the regular testing and quarantine procedures explained below will apply.
If you are returning from one of the following high-risk countries, a more restrictive quarantine regime will be applied on your arrival. We will explain more about this in the quarantine section of this article.
- Canada (Ontario only)
- Czech Republic
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
For information about business travel (currently suspended), see our article on travel bubbles.
Do I need permission to re-enter Japan?
As of November 1st, 2020, legal foreign residents of Japan no longer need to submit travel plans before leaving or to request permission to return before boarding their flight back to Japan. This applies to all nationalities and all countries of departure for returning to Japan, whether or not that country is on the restricted travel list.
Everyone entering Japan (both Japanese citizens and foreign residents) is required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure and to bring the certificate of negative test result during their travels. You can print out a MS Word doc version of a form on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website that should be signed by the medical professional providing the test result. In many countries, the government runs free COVID-19 testing centers. Although “free” is great, we strongly recommend you look for a specialist “pre-departure testing” clinic that can comply with the requirements. The unavoidable downside of this, is that the fees are very expensive, although not as expensive as having to change all your travel plans. If the testing center can’t comply, the Ministry of Justice states that when the test result uses a different format, the written information should be the same as that on the document in the prescribed format (linked above). Note that this is a strict requirement. People are routinely refused to check-in by airlines if any information is missing from the test result certificate. According to an airline staff member, the most commonly ommitted detail (that results in people being sent home) is failure to fill out the sample collection date and time that proves the test was taken inside the 72 hour pre-departure window.
Depending on where you are, getting the test result may take 1 to 2 days. You should get tested as soon as the 72-hour window opens so that you aren’t scrambling to get the certificate right before departure.
The test can be one of the following three methods: PCR, LAMP or CLEIA (antigen test). The way that the test is administered is also important. Some returnees have been forced to return to their countries of origin from the airport because the test was administered with a throat swab instead of either saliva or a nasopharyngeal swab (the very long swab that goes right up into your sinuses, not a simple nasal swab). This article on a Chinese woman who had to return to her country from the airport has more on this topic.
Top tip: If you are flying in from London, see our guide on where to get a “Fit to Fly” COVID certificate before your departure.
Quarantine and managed/self-isolation requirements
You don’t have to arrange accommodation and transport before arriving, but the more organized that you are, and the more documentation that you have, the less likely that officials will put you on a flight back to where you came from. For example, if you plan to self-isolate in a hotel, you should have print-outs of the name and address of the hotel along with a booking confirmation.
All arrivals are required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. You can do this at home, at a hotel, with friends or relatives, in company housing or in a short-term rental apartment.
The big problem is you cannot use public transport to get there. Public transport includes trains, buses, regular taxis, and connecting domestic flights. So if you live in Aomori but you arrive at Narita, your options are to drive all the way to Aomori or quarantine somewhere close to the airport.
Managed isolation for high-risk countries
If you are from one of the aforementioned high-risk countries, you will be taken to a government managed isolation facility (probably a hotel near the airport) for a period of three days. As long as you return a negative PCR test on day 3, you will be permitted to continue your self-isolation either at home, at a hotel or other accommodation. Upon leaving managed isolation, the same rules apply in regard to transport—you can’t take a taxi or public transport (see the arranging transport section below for the few exceptions) to your next destination.
If you are required to complete the government managed isolation, you will be confined to your (small) room for the full three days until you receive your last day negative test. You can’t leave your room to exercise, you’ll receive three cold bento (with limited options for special diets), and you can’t order food or anything else to be delivered to your room. For this reason, it might be a good idea to pack a supply of food and snacks (be careful not to bring restricted items) with you before you leave for Japan.
If you don’t plan to or can’t do your 14 days of self-isolation at home, you need to book accommodation. Another reason to book accommodation is to avoid restrictions that may be placed on your family members. It’s not a government requirement that they isolate with you, but many schools and workplaces require their students or employees to stay home if a family member has recently returned to Japan.
There are technically no restrictions on self-isolating at a hotel, but, practically, many hotels may not permit guests to self-quarantine after returning from overseas. Although it may narrow your options, in the interests of protecting the hotel staff, other guests and the hotel’s business, it’s the ethical thing to disclose that you will be self-isolating after returning from overseas.
A small room in a business hotel will cost you about 5,000 yen/night, while basic meals (eaten in your room) will cost an additional 3,000 yen/day (on average), bringing the 14-day cost to about 112,000 yen. You may want to carefully consider if you can handle the mental stress of being shut in a tiny room for two weeks, though.
An alternative to hotels are private accommodation operators and Airbnb, both of which provide a much more comfortable environment. Some operators are actively courting business from returnees, while others may refuse your booking.
Returnees are not permitted to use public transport. However, recently very limited bus (from Narita or Haneda) and train travel (from Narita only) has been allowed.
Another consideration when arranging transport is that the testing, processing, customs and immigration process may take a few hours, but this has been getting faster (see following section). It is possible to arrange transport on arrival, but it doesn’t hurt to know all the options first.
1. Limousine Bus to specific hotels
From December 16th, there has been a very limited exception for arrivals at Narita and Haneda. There are now buses for the exclusive use of international arrivals that can take you directly to any of 12 hotels in central Tokyo. You must be staying at and planning to complete your quarantine at one of the (mostly expensive) hotels on the list. If you plan to quarantine at home, Airbnb, or a hotel not among the 12 listed, then you will be refused. Here is the list of available hotels and the booking procedure.
2. Skyliner trains from Narita Airport to Ueno Station
From December 28th, international arrivals have been permitted to catch designated Keisei Skyliner carriages from Narita Airport to Ueno Station.
On arrival at Ueno Station, passengers in the designated carriages will use a different exit than other passengers that keeps them separate from the general public. From the platform, they will be ushered to the basement where they can take a “corona taxi” private driver service (see below) or be picked up in a private vehicle. Keisei is offering a combined package with train ticket and hire car (corona taxi), which they have branded Keisei Smart Access Premium (link in Japanese only) which can be booked for ¥20,000. If you can arrange your own transport (ie. someone is picking you up) there is also a plain old Keisei Smart Access (link in Japanese only) package which includes the Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno, and one hour free parking voucher for the Keisei Ueno Station parking lot for ¥4,500. If you can’t prove that you have a ride from Ueno station (not a taxi) then you can’t use this option.
There are 15 services each day with designated carriages for international arrivals, with the first service departing Terminal 1 at 9:36am and the last service departing at 7pm. You can book the “Keisei Smart Access” ticket at the counter at Narita Airport or through the links above. The “Keisei Smart Access Premium” can’t be booked on the day of arrival—you need to book it at least one day in advance. Due to expected delays on arrival, Keisei recommends booking a train that departs from Narita Airport at least three hours after your scheduled arrival. However, “Keisei Smart Access Premium” is not available on the last service of the day. The last service with the Keisei Smart Access Premium option leaves Terminal 1 at 6:20pm and Terminal 2 at 6:25pm, so if your flight arrives after 3:20pm, you will need to choose a different transport option.
Diolabs—mentioned in the Corona Taxi section below—also offers pick ups from Ueno Station for ¥12,000, a saving of ¥3,500 over the premium option from Keisei.
3. Private vehicle
We can’t find any specific requirements for private vehicles except that quarantiners are requested to go straight to their place of self-quarantine without stopping off anywhere along the way. (We don’t have any info on motorcycles.)
4. Rental car
If you decide to book a rental car to get home, make sure the company has a depot within walking distance of your house or apartment at which you can drop the car off, as you still will not be permitted to take public transport.
Compact rental cars can cost as little as 5,500 yen, plus refueling costs and ETC charges for a day, which is much cheaper than the corona taxi.
5. “Corona taxi” private driver service
A so-called “corona taxi” is usually a van with the driver isolated by plastic barriers from the passengers
The usual prices quoted are from 25,000 yen to 30,000 yen from Narita to central Tokyo, and about 12,000 yen from Haneda to central Tokyo. There may be “night charges” if you are departing after 6pm.
To the best of our knowledge, this private transfer from Haneda and this private transfer from Narita should be acceptable to quarantine officials. However, it is recommended that you confirm directly with the transport company before finalizing your booking, just to make 100% sure.
The Haneda transfer can be booked on the same day, and has an overtime surcharge option, which is handy if the testing and other procedures at the airport end up taking longer than anticipated.
The Narita transfer needs to be booked a couple of days in advance, and specifies a maximum of 90 minutes of wait time should you run late. It’s a good idea to speak to the company in advance to confirm what to do in the event of a delay.
If you are staying in nearby Narita and you don’t mind walking with your luggage for a few kilometers, then this is actually an option!
Arrival, testing, and immigration procedures
Pre-COVID, arrival was a breeze, especially at Haneda Airport. Now, based on reports from arrivals who have recently been through the process, you should plan for it take between 2 to 3 hours. The most common reported time for everything to be completed is about 2 hours.
Depending on the airline, while on board, you may receive three forms—a health questionnaire, a Health Card (another paper questionnaire) and a pledge document. If you don’t receive them onboard, you will be given them on arrival. You’re also required to fill out an online health form, but we’ll go into more detail on that in the apps section below.
Testing and procedures on arrival
Depending on how many other flights need to be processed (each flight is processed separately so there is no mixing of passengers), you may need to stay seated on your plane (although recently this has improved a lot).
When it’s your turn, passengers will be allowed to disembark and proceed to a waiting area where you will be seated and the first passport and form check happens. If you haven’t got the forms from the plane, they’ll give them to you to fill out at this point—having a document holder and pen comes in very handy. You will then proceed to individual interviews during which medical staff will ask about your movements, any symptoms, answers you gave on the health questionnaire and they’ll also examine your certificate of negative COVID-19 test result that you took within 72 hours of departure.
Next, you will fill a small vial with spit for a saliva COVID-19 test. You aren’t supposed to have eaten or consumed any liquids for 30 minutes before the test. After spending hours in the dry cabin of a long haul flight, it is surprisingly difficult to produce the amount of saliva required for the test! If you can’t produce enough saliva, you will get a nasal swab instead. Babies too, who are unable to produce saliva on demand, will get a nasal swab test. The test is administered free of charge.
After your test, you will proceed to the area where they will check to see if you have the required apps on your phone (see apps section below). They’ll also dig into the settings to make sure you have turned on the required notifications and permissions. They’ll also send you a test email to make sure the email address you provided is working, so use an email account that you can access on your phone.
After apps are installed and email address confirmed, you will proceed to a results waiting area where staff will give you a number. When the number is announced, you can proceed to the final step in which you will be issued with a negative test result certificate. After this, immigration, baggage collection, and customs are the same as usual.
Results used to take 1 to 2 days, but with the newer saliva test, your result should be available from 30 minutes to 2 hours after it is administered.
In total, from arrival of your flight at the gate to exiting into the arrivals lounge, it will probably take you from 90 minutes to 2 hours, although this may vary depending on flight volume.
In an effort to reduce breaches of self-isolation and quarantine, as of January 14, 2021, both Japanese and foreign nationals have been required to sign a written pledge upon arrival stating that they will follow the quarantine rules. If a foreign national is deemed to have broken the pledge, their visa may be revoked—no matter what your status. The authorities can’t kick Japanese citizens out, so their punishment is to be named and shamed.
For new visa entrants (currently suspended) a pledge is also required from the employer or in the case of students, from the institution at which they will study.
Apps you must have on your mobile
All international arrivals are required to have or install five different apps on their phones. These are COCOA (COVID-19 Contact App), the Overseas Entrants Locator (OEL) app, Google Maps (or equivalent), MySOS (Skype and Whatapp are no longer used), and a Health Questionnaire web app. To save you time and hassle on arrival, you should install all these apps before departure.
- COCOA: Google Play / Apple App Store
- OEL: Google Play / Apple App Store
- MHLW Questionnaire app (this is a website but it can be installed as a web app)
Note that there are restrictions and requirements on the set-up and usage of each of the apps.
- COCOA: Can be installed while out of Japan, but you need to be in Japan to activate it.
- OEL: An app that tells health authorities your location. There is nothing to set up on this app, but after your arrival you’ll receive an email with login details so you can hit the “I’m here!” button when requested.
- MySOS: This is a video-calling application that the Health Monitoring Center for Overseas Entrants will use to contact you. You need to give it permissions to use camera and microphone.
- Google Maps: You need to have the location tracking switched on.
- MHLW Questionnaire app: Can only be filled out on the day of arrival. If you’re lucky enough that your flight departs on the same day as arriving in Japan, you can fill it out while waiting to board the plane.
If you don’t have an iPhone or Android smartphone, you’ll have to rent one for the two week duration of your self-isolation. If you need a Japanese SIM, you can get one delivered to you before departure wherever you are in the world through Mobal. There are other options, but they won’t deliver outside Japan and they probably won’t have a Japanese phone number attached.
Where can I get more information?
Aside from the consular services section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, and the Ministry of Justice, one of the best resources is the Return to Japan Facebook group. As mentioned, procedures and requirements are in a constant state of flux, so it is very useful to hear the experiences of those who have recently returned.
This article was first published on August 21, 2020 and is regularly updated. Last update: May 14, 2021.