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 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!
The Japan travel bubble: What and who?
Special alert! January 14, 2021: Entry to Japan will be suspended for all countries and regions, from January 14 to February 7, 2021, due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. This ban includes business travel.
Japanese citizens and foreign residents of Japan will be exempt from this measure, and in principle will still be able to return to Japan, subject to negative COVID-19 tests and a strict 14-day quarantine.
Additionally, if you already have a valid visa issued for Japan under the previously relaxed entry requirements, you will, in principle, still be allowed to enter Japan until midnight on January 21, 2021. This allowance does not apply to those who have stayed in the UK or South Africa, or countries and regions subject to denial of entry permission, within 14 days of arrival.
Note: All information below is overriden by the new travel bans detailed above. The Business and Residence Tracks have been temporarily suspended.
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.
Japan has created a limited “travel bubble” with the following other Asian countries:
- South Korea
November 1, 2020 update: In addition, Japan has relaxed entry restrictions for travelers from the following countries and regions, some of which you will recognize from the previous list:
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
The Japanese government has lowered its travel advisories for these countries and regions to Level 2 (out of 4), which effectively allows for more business travel. Citizens and residents are still asked to avoid non-essential trips, meaning that tourism is not yet an option for most people.
According to The Japan Times, from November 1, travelers from the countries and regions on the second list will not need to have a PCR test prior to entry or upon arrival in Japan, provided that they undergo a 14-day quarantine period (during which time they cannot use regular public transport). More info.
It seems that short-term business travelers from these countries and regions may be able to have a PCR test done if they need to request that the quarantine requirement be eased.
More countries and regions may be added to the Japan travel bubble in the coming months.
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, if your country is not on the list of those with relaxed travel advisories, 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: If you are coming into Japan, you might find our guide to arriving during COVID-19 helpful.
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 December 22, 2020, the Business Track framework for entry into Japan is only available for travelers between Japan and Singapore, Japan and South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, and Japan and China (from November 30). Note that entry requirements and procedures may differ between Singapore, South Korea, China and Vietnam. The information presented here is intended as a rough guide only.
Short business trips
Separate to the Business Track framework above, and regardless of their destination, business travelers from Japan (both citizens and legal residents) will, in principle, be exempt from the two-week quarantine upon returning to Japan, if their trip is seven days or shorter.
December 27, 2020 update: Note that this exemption measure is temporarily suspended.
According to The Japan Times, a PCR test will still be required on re-entry to Japan. If it is negative, the quarantine may be waived, provided that the business traveler submits an itinerary, avoids public transport for 14 days, and records their location data. It will also be necessary for an employer or sponsor to provide written confirmation that they will assume responsibility for the traveler’s actions.
The Japan Times reports that where business travelers from Japan need to undergo a mandatory quarantine at their destination, the quarantine period will not be counted as part of the business trip.
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.
Travel from Japan to Hawaii
While not a two-way corona corridor as such, Hawaii has started allowing travelers from Japan, including tourists, to enter without them needing to undergo a 14-day quarantine—provided, of course, that they have tested negative for COVID-19. This change came into effect from November 6.
However, it does not apply to travelers from Hawaii. And for residents of Japan who visit Hawaii, upon returning to Japan, they will still be required to go through all the standard tests and quarantine procedures—unless they qualify for an exemption under the relaxed requirements for business travelers, spending a maximum of seven days at their destination.
Travel from Japan to England
Travelers returning from Japan to England similarly may be exempt from a 14-day quarantine period. However, the reverse does not apply for travelers from the UK to Japan.
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.
Post first published October 15, 2020. Last updated January 14, 2021.