Since COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions were imposed at the start of April 2020, international visitors on temporary visas have been blocked from entering Japan. While foreign tourists are not expected to be permitted to enter Japan before mid-2022 at the earliest, legal foreign residents who want to return are permitted to do so. Additionally, as of March 1st, 2022, a limited entry of international students, technical trainees and business people has begun.

Depending on your citizenship, port of departure and SARS-Covi-2 vaccination status, strict testing and self-quarantine procedures are in place.

The main points for arriving in Japan:

  • Despite what you may have heard about Japan “reopening” its borders, currently the borders are closed to anyone who isn’t a citizen or a non-temporary visa holder
  • Business travellers are permitted with strict conditions and burdensome procedures for the company hosting them
  • All arrivals need to take a SARS-Cov-2 test (with a negative result) within 72 hours of their departure with the MOFA form signed by a nurse/doctor
  • You’ll need a smartphone and will be required to install apps that allow the government to monitor you during your period of self isolation
  • Quarantine requirements vary depending on the countries you have visited 14 days before departure and your vaccination status
  • As of February 2022, you are now permitted to use regular public transport after arrival from the airport
  • The Japan Digital Agency recently introduced the Visit Japan Web web application which streamlines arrival procedures

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, 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.

If you need some expert advice on visas and entry requirements, 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

Travel restrictions and quarantine by country and vaccination status

In recent months, the tiers of restrictions have been simplified so that there are basically just two.

If you are entering Japan from a “designated country” with no proof of vaccination, then you must spend three days in a designated quarantine hotel/facility. After a negative test on day 3, you’re free from any further self quarantine requirements

If you are entering from a designated country but you have a certificate showing proof of vaccination, then you can skip the enforced hotel stay and go straight to self quarantine at home.

If you are not entering from one of the designated countries, even if you don’t have proof of vaccination, you can proceed straight to home quarantine. If you have proof of vaccination and you’re entering from a non-designated country, you can skip the quarantine process completely.

Although most countries are on the designated list, the number has been constantly falling. As of March 3rd, Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America are NOT on the designated list. You can find the not very clear list here.

The period of self/home quarantine is currently 7 days, or 3 days if you get a negative test result on day 3. The catch is that you have to arrange and pay for the day 3 test yourself.

Your vaccination certificate must meet the following requirements:

  • Certificate issued by a public institution in a country or region on the approved list
  • Be one of the following vaccines
    • COMIRNATY by Pfizer
    • Vaxzevria by AstraZeneca
    • Spikevax by Moderna
  • Includes your name, date of birth, vaccine name/manufacturer, date of vaccination, and doses of vaccines administered
  • At least 14 days must have passed since your second vaccine dose

It seems that they can accept electronic certificates, but instructions just say to “ask the quarantine officer” so it’s probably a good idea to get a paper certificate if available. For more detail, including the list of approved countries and regions, see the latest information on proof of vaccination certificates from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

If you’re unlucky enough to be traveling from a designated country with no proof of vaccination, we have more about enforced hotel quarantine procedures below.

Current foreign residents: Do I need permission to re-enter Japan?

As of November 1st, 2020, legal foreign residents of Japan no longer needed 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.

For some time, the advice from the Immigration Services Agency (a department of the Ministry of Justice) has been to “cancel any short-term travel”. The Japanese government’s rules regarding travel and quarantine seem to change at a faster rate than mutations of COVID-19 appear, so there is no guarantee that you will be able to return if you decide to leave Japan at present.

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

International students

International students with eligible Certificates of Elegibility (COE) from Japanese immigration are now permitted to enter Japan.

Applications must be sent to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) by their educational institution. This means that even if you are eligible to travel to Japan, with the applications having to go through your educational institution, you will probably have to wait for your institution.

With each institution setting up their own procedures for collecting applications to forward to MEXT, there have been some reports of exploitative pricing. Even though making your own arrangments may be cheaper, you may be left with no option but to accept or reject the arrangement offered by your educational institution.

Business travelers

For a stay of up to three months, business travelers must apply for a visa at their nearest Japanese embassy or consulate. You can find the visa application documents here. In addition to the visa application, travelers must submit a copy of a screening certificate from the appropriate ministry/agency that oversees the area of business that the company receiving the business traveler is in—there may be more than one responsible government organization.

Additionally, the health monitoring requirements are extreme. We don’t have the space to cover all of them, but they include daily temperature checks for 14 days prior to entry, as well as daily temperature checks by an appointed staff member at the receiving company for 14 days after arrival. There are so many gotchas here that make it difficult to see how this could be implemented. For example, a fever in Japan is considered to be any temperature of 37.5 degrees celsius or over. However, Japan measures this in the armpit whereas residents of other countries may measure this in the mouth—which gives a higher reading.

Predeparture testing

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 PDF 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). However, not all countries and territories are able to comply with these requirements, so check this FAQ document to find what exceptions (if any) may be available for your country.

Passengers are routinely refused 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 methods: Nucleic acid amplification test(any of RT-PCR, LAMP, TMA, TRC, Smart Amp, or NEAR), Next-generation sequence test, or a quantitative antigen test (CLEIA/ECLIA). The way that the test is administered is also important—check the sample test certificate for details of the acceptable sampling methods. Some entrants were forced to return to their countries of origin after arrival because their test was administered incorrectly. Also, note that a Quantitative antigen test is NOT a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). A RAT is considered to be a qualitative test.

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 enforced/self-isolation requirements

Self-quarantine and monitoring

You can quarantine at home, at a hotel, with friends or relatives, in company housing or in a short-term rental apartment but you can’t move around between different quarantine locations.

During the self quarantine period, you will be monitored by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare through apps that you have to install on your phone. The apps track your location and ask about your health. You should expect at least one video call during the quarantine period to confirm that you are indeed at home and not having a picnic at a nearby park. Note that this is a one way video call—they can see you, but you can’t see them. Also, if you miss the call, you can’t call them back. See the required apps section below for more.

Enforced quarantine for high-risk countries without a proof of vaccination waiver

If you are from one of the high-risk countries and you don’t have a proof of vaccine certificate, you will be taken to a government-managed isolation facility for a period of 3 days. Most likely this will be one of the budget/business hotel chains in Tokyo/Yokohama. Upon leaving managed isolation, you will be returned to the airport at which you arived.

If you are required to complete the government enforced quarantine, you will be confined to your (small) room for the full period until you receive your last day negative test. You can’t leave your room to exercise, and you’ll receive three cold bento (with limited options for special diets e.g. vegan and Halal). You may be able order food (Uber Eats etc) or other items to be delivered to your room, but either way 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. The cost for enforced quarantine is covered by the Japanese government.

cold breakfast bento at APA hotel
Be sure to pause and salivate over your cold bento, just as you would an economy airplane meal.

Booking accommodation

If you don’t plan to or can’t do your 3 to 7 days of self-isolation at home, you should 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 arrived in Japan from overseas.

There are technically no restrictions on self-isolating at a hotel, but, practically, some 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 arriving 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 7-day cost to about 56,000 yen. You may want to carefully consider if you can handle the mental stress of being shut in a tiny room for seven days, though.

An alternative to hotels are private accommodation operators and Airbnb-type accommodation, both of which provide a much more comfortable environment. Some operators, such as Tokyo Family Stays are actively courting business from quarantiners, while others may refuse your booking.

Arranging transport

Until late February 2022, arrivals from overseas were not permitted to use any form of public transport. However, this has now changed. Unless you’re unvaccinated and from a designated country, you are permitted to use regularly scheduled trains, buses, and taxis. If you are required to self quarantine, the only requirement is that you “must take the shortest route and reach your home/accommodations within 24 hours of the test that was taken upon entering Japan”. Of course, if you are not from a designated country and you are fully vaccinated, there are no restrictions on your movement or modes of travel.

Since there is no specific mention of catching domestic flights, we assume that catching a domestic flight after arrival is permitted.
See our articles on how to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo and how to get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo for the various options available to you.

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.

Before arrival

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).

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 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.

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

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. Lastly, they’ll 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 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.

Written pledge

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

The required apps have changed a number of times, but recently they have been consolidated so you don’t require as many. The required apps are COCOA (COVID-19 Contact App), MySOS (Skype and Whatsapp are no longer used), Google Maps (or equivalent—may no longer be required), and a Health Questionnaire web app. To save you time and hassle on arrival, you should install all these apps before departure. The Health Questionnaire must be filled out on your day of arrival, and will give you a QR code to show when it is complete. The questionnaire cannot be retrieved, so you should take a screenshot of the QR code screen.

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.
  • MySOS: This is a video-calling application that the Health Monitoring Center for Overseas Entrants will use to contact you and to send you notifications to confirm your location. You need to give it permissions to use camera, microphone, and location services.
  • 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 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.

Visit Japan Web

One of the few bonuses of COVID-19 has been the improvement in digital services by the Japanese Government. One such service produced by the Digital Services Agency is Visit Japan Web. Visit Japan Web is a web based app (ie. you don’t need to install it, just open it in a web browser on your phone) that allows you to upload your pre-departure SARS-Covi-2 negative test result certificate, as well as input your information for customs and immigration. After you’ve input your info, you will be able to display certificates and QR codes to theoretically speed up procedures. As of writing, there doesn’t seem to be a function for uploading proof of vaccination certificates.

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 arrived or 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 21, 2020 and is regularly updated. Last update: March 9th, 2022.

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