You may have heard about the Japan travel bubble, and are wondering what it means for that trip you have been wanting to do. You might find yourself asking whether Japan’s borders have opened, and if 2020 or 2021 is a good time to travel to Japan.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what travel bubbles are—and whether Japan’s “bubble” applies to you at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are travel bubbles?

“Travel bubbles” are being formed around the world, based on mutual agreements among countries that perceive each other as being relatively low-risk when it comes to COVID-19.

In principle, residents of countries that agree to form a travel bubble (also known as a travel bridge, free travel zone or corona corridor) are allowed to travel between the bubble countries, in some cases without having to go through all the quarantine procedures upon arrival.

Travel bubbles make (some) travel a possibility again—particularly for businesses. However, it’s important to note that the bubbles are subject to being “popped” and agreements canceled if the COVID-19 situation deteriorates. So always check the latest travel advisories before making any plans!

airport, flights, travel, narita, haneda
Photo by iStock/winhorse

The Japan travel bubble: What and who?

Japan’s borders are not yet fully open. As of the time of writing, they remain closed to tourists and short-term visitors—and this is expected to continue to be the case until at least spring in 2021.

However, Japan has created a limited “travel bubble” with the following other Asian countries:

  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Brunei
  • Singapore* (see notes)
  • South Korea* (see notes)

More countries and regions may be added in the coming weeks and months, with Australia, New Zealand, the state of Hawaii, and Hong Kong, among others, reported to be in talks about joining the Japan travel bubble.

Important: New mid- to long-term residents from countries not on the above list are, in principle, also allowed to enter Japan. If that’s you, you’ll be following the same procedure as the “Residence Track” below.

otherwise empty haneda with one traveler covid 2020
Photo by Chris Kirkland

What kind of travel is allowed?

Essentially, the Japan travel bubble currently allows the following types of people to enter the country:

  • Business travelers
  • People coming to stay in Japan mid to long term (new residents)

Depending on which category you fall into, you will need to use either the Business Track or Residence Track procedures. In either case, you will need a valid visa for Japan.

Pro tip: These two entry tracks apply to new arrivals to Japan. If you are a long-term resident coming back to Japan, you might find our guide to arriving during COVID-19 helpful. It’s aimed at expats wanting to re-enter Japan.

Business Track

Intended for short-term business travelers, this track allows limited business activities to take place during the 14-day stay-at-home period after arrival in Japan. Examples of these activities include traveling between the office and accommodation. However, use of public transport and contact with other members of the public is not permitted.

One requirement for Business Track entry is that travelers submit a “Schedule of Activities in Japan”. Other requirements include a certificate of a negative PCR test result, as well as health monitoring for two weeks prior to departure. For a full list of requirements, see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Note: As of October 15, 2020, the Business Track framework for entry into Japan is only available for travelers between Japan and Singapore, and Japan and South Korea. Note that entry requirements and procedures may differ between Singapore and South Korea. The information presented here is intended as a rough guide only.

visa stamp
Photo by

Residence Track

This entry track is primarily intended to be used by new mid- to long-term residents. You’ll need a Certificate of Eligibility to apply for it.

A 14-day quarantine at home (your new home) or designated accommodation is required, in addition to a negative PCR test result and various other documents and checks.

Note: Despite the name, it seems that this track can also be used for some short-term business stays. Read more.

Important requirements for both the Business and Residence Track

Regardless of which track you use to enter Japan, you will be required to:

  • Monitor your health carefully for 14 days prior to departure for Japan
  • Buy private medical insurance (including travel insurance that covers medical expenses) before arrival
  • Use the designated LINE app to report your health for 14 days after arrival
  • Install the COVID-19 contact tracing app for Japan
  • Retain your location data for 14 days, using your phone

Airport officials may check that the necessary apps and settings have been installed and sorted out on your phone. It’s worth noting that lying about your health or whereabouts could see your host company or organization barred from inviting other people in the future, so do be honest!

For a full list of requirements and details on what you need to do prior to arrival, see the official government website.

Also, here is a handy diagram put together by the Japanese government, setting out the two tracks and their different flow and requirements.

Note: The number of new arrivals allowed into Japan each day will be limited.

Walking with luggage in an airport
Photo by iStock/izuseck

Other resources for travel to Japan during COVID-19

The situation is constantly evolving, so for the most up-to-date information, your best bet is to bookmark the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and check back often.

Pro tip: If you’re coming to Japan and are wondering how to get a Japanese phone number or get connected to the internet, our guides have you covered. We also have a comprehensive one on moving to Tokyo, if you’re not sure where to start.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This article is in no way intended as official advice. Consult your local Japanese embassy or consulate before making any travel plans.

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