Since the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions were imposed at the start of April 2020, international arrivals into Japan have plunged. Foreign tourists have been blocked from entry and, more controversially, foreigners with legal residence in Japan—including permanent residents—were barred from re-entry. Although there are still restrictions, legal foreign residents wanting to return are now being permitted to do so—under strict testing and quarantine procedures. So what exactly are the requirements?

Disclaimer

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. Also, the situation is changing from day to day and week to week; already the procedures are quite different to what they were in April. If you are concerned about anything regarding your arrival, do not rely on this article, contact your nearest Japanese consulate or embassy.

No, this is not Narita Airport after hours. | Photo by Friend of TC

Getting permission to enter Japan

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) previously cited the need to stop the spread of COVID-19 infections as the reason for blocking the return of Japan’s legal foreign residents who left the country after travel bans were put in place beginning April 3rd. (There are no restrictions on Japanese citizens who are currently abroad wishing to return to Japan.)

Thankfully, as of September 1st, many of these restrictions have been relaxed, although the regime is still much more restrictive than it is for Japanese citizens.

The official policy is that all foreign nationals with the status of residence who departed Japan before 31st August 2020 with a valid re-entry permit are now eligible to re-enter Japan. Note that right of re-entry is not automatic (see procedures below) and if you are a legal resident in Japan who leaves Japan after September 1st, 2020, new rules for exiting the country apply. Even if you leave Japan after September 1st, the procedures before returning to Japan are the same.

Inside of a plane
With luck, your flight will be as empty as this one. | Photo by Friend of TC

Getting a re-entry confirmation letter

Before you can get “landing permission” (basically the process to get on the plane and travel to Japan), you need to acquire a Re-entry Confirmation Letter (official name: Letter of Confirmation of Submitting Required Documentation for Re-entry into Japan) from a Japanese consulate or embassy.

Make sure you contact your nearest consulate at least two weeks prior to departure as they may not be able to issue the letter immediately. Remember, consulates may observe both local and Japanese public holidays. MOFA has a list of all Japanese embassies and consulates on their website.

To get the Re-entry Confirmation Letter, you need to provide your passport, your residence card, and fill out an application form. There is more information on the procedures here, including the PDF application form. Also, check your local consulate as they may require extra measures. For example, the New York Consulate asks for photocopies of different documents and pages in your passport.

Before leaving Japan

As of September 1st, before your departure from Japan, you need to get approval to re-enter. To get this, you need to send an email containing the basic details of your trip (dates, destination, etc.) to the official Ministry of Justice (MOJ) email for re-entry. See the MOJ PDF for an example of the required information in the email and the current email addresses. Note that you can’t do this after you leave.

Once approved, you’ll receive a “receipt” email confirming you can return to Japan. You need to print out this email and present it at immigration upon departure.

Important things to note:

  • You can only use the “receipt” for one re-entry.
  • You can’t apply for multiple people at the same time; it’s one email per application.
  • You can’t apply more than one month in advance of departure.
  • The number of receipts issued may be limited depending on airport COVID-19 testing capacity.

Predeparture testing

From August 5th, you are required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure and bring your certificate of negative test result with you during your travels. You can print out a form on the MOFA website that must be signed by the medical professional providing the test result. Not all testing centers will be able to comply with this requirement—for example some send results by email. Contact your airline or your nearest Japanese consulate or embassy to find out if the provided certificate will be sufficient.

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 nasal swab. This article on a Chinese woman who had to return to her country from the airport has more on this topic.

Even if told that you don’t need a pre-departure COVID-19 test, to be on the safe side, you should get a test. Prior to the September 1st rules, some returnees were told by Japan consulates that they didn’t need pre-departure tests, only to be asked to produce their negative test result on arrival in Japan.

Arranging quarantine accommodation and transport to your place of quarantine

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-quarantine 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 closer to the airport.

Booking accommodation

If you don’t plan to or can’t do your 14 days of self-isolation at home, you need to book accommodation.

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.

Although we haven’t had confirmation one way or the other, you may be able to take advantage of the Go To Travel campaign to cover the cost of your accommodation and maybe even the costs of transport. Tokyo residents and Tokyo accommodation are excluded from the campaign. Additionally, you can’t use Go To Travel for stays in the prefecture in which you usually reside.

Arranging transport

As returnees are not permitted to take public transport (there are reports of officials following passengers into the arrival hall to make sure they don’t board buses), there are really only three options for getting to your place of quarantine.

These are:

  • Private vehicle (we don’t have any info on motorcycles)
  • Rental car
  • A so-called “corona taxi”, which is usually a van with the driver isolated by plastic barriers from the passengers

Another consideration when arranging transport is that the testing, processing, customs and immigration process may take up to 5 hours (see below). It is possible to arrange transport on arrival, but it doesn’t hurt to know all the options first.

Private vehicle requirements

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 at anywhere along the way.

Rental car booking and cost

If you decide to book a rental car to get home, make sure the company has a depot within walking distance of your house 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.

Corona taxi private driver service

The usual prices quoted are from 22,000 yen to 25,000 yen from Narita to central Tokyo, and about 12,000 yen from Haneda to central Tokyo.

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.

Alternatively, two services recommended by other returnees are Diolabs Car Service and Rakuraku Taxi.

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 and 5 hours. The most common reported time for everything to be completed is about 3 hours.

Before arrival

On the airplane, before arrival, you will be asked to fill out a detailed health questionnaire, report on where you will be isolating and the transport you intend to use, and consent for a PCR COVID-19 test.

Testing and procedures on arrival

Don’t be in a hurry to get up and grab your bags after you land. 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 for up to 3 hours.

Queue for testing at Narita Airport | Photo by Friend of TC

When it’s your turn, passengers will be allowed to disembark and proceed to a waiting area where you will be seated. You will then proceed to individual interviews during which medical staff will ask about your movements, any symptoms and about the answers you gave on the health questionnaire.

Next, you will fill a small vial with spit for a saliva COVID-19 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.

The waiting area for receiving test results. | Photo by Friend of TC

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. After your negative test result is confirmed, you will be permitted to proceed—in groups—to immigration, baggage collection, and customs.

Where can I get more information?

Aside from the consular services section of the MOFA 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.

Social distancing sign at the bus stop in terminal 3 of Narita International Airport with a shuttle bus
You can’t use these shuttle buses—they’re for departing passengers only. | Photo by iStock.com/kuremo

This article was first published on August 21st, 2020 and was updated on Septemeber 4th, 2020.

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