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. While foreign tourists are not expected to be permitted to enter Japan before April, 2021, legal foreign residents who want to return are now permitted to do so and limited business travel and entry of new working visa holders from certain countries has begun.

If you are coming from a country that is still subject to travel restrictions, there are strict testing and quarantine procedures in place. If you’re from a country that has had travel restrictions lifted, then the pre-departure testing and post-arrival quarantine restrictions do not apply.

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.

If you need some expert advice on visas, we’ve teamed up with Japan immigration lawyers to answer your enquiries. This isn’t free, but if you fill out our form, they will give you professional advice. For more general, free arrival advice, try our community forum.
No, this is not Narita Airport after hours. | Photo by Friend of TC

Countries with and without travel restrictions

As of this update (November 6th, 2020) most countries in the world are on Japan’s restricted travel list. This means if you are returning to Japan from one of these countries, the testing and quarantine procedures explained below will apply. If you are returning from one of 11 countries and territories for which travel restrictions have been lifted, you do not need to be tested before returning to Japan nor are you required to self-isolate. There are a few restrictions though, so read on.

The countries and territories currently on the unrestricted travel list are:

  • Australia
  • China
  • Brunei
  • Hong Kong
  • Macao
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

The Japanese government has stated that the list of unrestricted countries (PDF) may change depending on the pandemic situation in each of these countries, so make sure you check the current status for the country you wish to return from. Note that this is not necessarily a reciprocal arrangement. Many of the above countries still restrict entry to their own citizens and visa holders, and they may still have strict quarantine or managed isolation systems in place.

For information about business travel, 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.

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

Predeparture testing

If you are from one of the restricted countries, you are required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure and to bring your certificate of negative test result with you during your travels. You can print out a MS Word doc version of a form on the MOFA website that should 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. In this case, 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).

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.

If you are unsure whether you need a pre-departure COVID-19 test, to be on the safe side, you should consider getting a test. Failing to meet conditions of entry means that you might be put straight back on a flight home, so it might be worth it.

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.

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 September 4th, and October 28th, 2020.

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