Japan has finally opened its doors to international tourists, but there’s still an important question to ask… What happens if you get COVID-19 while traveling in Japan?
You’ve made plans to go-kart in Tokyo, hike up mountains, and see beautiful castles. You’ve booked your flights, sorted out your documents, and finally boarded your flight to Japan. But upon arrival, you test positive for COVID-19… Well, sh*t. That wasn’t part of the itinerary.
As someone who’s experienced COVID-19 and hotel quarantine in Japan, I’ll walk you through the experience and what tourists should expect in preparation for their travels.
What happens if I test positive at the airport?
Currently, all documents (including a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test) are to be submitted before you enter Japan and no test will be conducted at the airport. This is unless you are displaying obvious symptoms or you are suspected of coming into contact with someone who was infected. If they test and you’re positive, you will be taken to a designated quarantine hotel.
You can read more about arrival details here.
I spoke with a Japanese individual who’s living in Australia, who returned to Japan for a 3-week trip. They shared their experience of testing positive for COVID-19 at the airport (even with a negative test prior to boarding); “you are taken to a waiting area and asked further questions on your health, i.e – any symptoms, etc.”
“Following this, they double-check your travel documents and clear you for immigration. After waiting a while, you are then put on a shuttle bus and taken to your hotel facility for quarantine.”
What do I do if I’m feeling unwell during my trip?
You made it past the airport and now you’re exploring the streets of Akihabara. But you start feeling a scratch in your throat…
If you are sensing the onset of any symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, and certainly fever; it is recommended to first contact a local consultation center (in English and several languages) for advice. They may direct you for assessment and/or a PCR test, generally free of charge, at a designated clinic or hospital near you.
You should receive PCR test results in 24 hours or so, by phone, email, or text. While unlikely, if the caller only spoke in Japanese this is what you’d be listening for: “yousei desu” or “corona desu”, meaning “you’re positive for COVID”. If you would like this in writing or a medical certificate, it would be best to request this from the clinic (“shindansho kudasai”).
A few notes:
- There are also some free COVID-19 testing sites in Tokyo (but may not be free for tourists).
- If you have access to a rapid antigen test and test positive, you’ll likely still need to visit an approved clinic or hospital or as directed by the consultation center/health department.
- If a doctor prescribes medication for your symptoms, you may need to purchase these at a local pharmacy.
Do I have to quarantine if I test positive?
Yes, if you test positive for COVID-19 as a traveler (under 65 years and without a serious underlying illness), you’ll probably be required to quarantine at government-designated accommodation. Currently, ‘home quarantine’ is only available to those residing in Japan and who have the means of returning home without using public transportation.
The health department “hokensho” of the region you’re in (link in Japanese) will generally be responsible for arranging this, and you should be contacted with more instructions.
Do I have to pay for hotel quarantine?
Accommodation, food, testing, and transport have been free of charge for incoming Japanese citizens, foreign national workers, and those residing/ traveling within Japan. This could be subject to change with each facility and with the entry of tourists to Japan.
What is hotel quarantine like?
There’s not a lot to love about staying in a roughly 10m² box for a whole week. Here are a few things to expect about hotel quarantine in Japan.
- No alcohol and no cigarettes
- No cleaning service or washing machine. I had to hand-wash my clothes and find creative places to dry them!
- Wi-fi (generally should be available)
- Room phone to contact the hotel staff/nurse
- Private bathroom included
- May or may not have a window that opens
- Three meals a day, typically bento, with rice as a main, and stewed meat, fish, pickles etc. Drinks such as water, coffee and juice, and extras such as cup noodles may be provided. The meals may be delivered to your door, or there may be a pick-up system from an ‘amenity room’.
Does anyone speak English?
Generally, yes. There are certainly staff who can speak both English and Japanese at the airport (Narita, Haneda) and at hotels near the airport. However, communication can often be quite confusing and unclear, especially in terms of finding out when and where you will be designated for quarantine.
If you’re traveling in different regions of Japan, and end up needing to isolate in a smaller town, there may not be English available. This would be a good opportunity to contact a call center in your language for assistance.
Do I have to report my health?
Yes, a nurse should provide instructions but you’ll be given a thermometer to measure your temperature, and a pulse oximeter to monitor your heart rate and oxygen levels. You may also be given a self-reporting form or table to keep track of your symptoms, and you’ll fill out an online health questionnaire two times a day (e.g. morning, afternoon).
This was the daily routine I experienced during my hotel quarantine:
- 7:30am Breakfast
- 8:00am Health check report
- 12:00pm Lunch
- 1:30pm Health check report
- 6:00pm Dinner
How long do I have to stay in quarantine?
Currently, the requirement is 7-10 days, give or take, depending on your symptoms and/or negative COVID-19 test result. However, it seems this can differ depending on the quarantine facility you’re at.
How does hotel quarantine affect mental health?
Isolation can definitely take its toll on anyone. When I asked the Japanese traveler who needed to quarantine for roughly 10 days, they mentioned “these processes do not take into account personal mental wellbeing (and physical impacts) from being holed up in a 12m² shoe box room for 7+ days. It’s certainly stressful, disappointing, and frustrating.”
The hotel I stayed at provided an in-house number to call to discuss any concerns, but there are also some external support groups such as TELL Japan.
Do I need a proof-of-quarantine certificate?
No, but if you are traveling for work, you may want a document to show that you’ve just endured a week in quarantine! It is best to check with the health department of the area you’re in (link in Japanese) or a local consultation center.
How does COVID-19 affect travel plans?
Even with our best efforts to avoid it, getting COVID-19 is a real possibility. Due to quarantine, you may need to cancel booked activities, accommodation, transport, and potentially reschedule your return flights too. This is why it’s important to make sure you have suitable travel and health insurance (that explicitly covers COVID-19), as well as check for flexible booking/cancellation options where possible.
How can I prepare for travel in Japan?
- Do your research: This goes a long way, as everyone’s circumstances may be different. Two key government sites to check are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs border measures and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) site on COVID-19. Also, you can refer to this article for more on arriving in Japan and how to fast track airport quarantine procedures.
- Get travel/ health insurance: If you do unfortunately catch COVID-19, we hope it’s a quick recovery, but it’s better to be prepared for a rainy day. If your symptoms worsen you may need to recuperate at a hospital, and you’ll definitely want health coverage for this!
- Budget smart: We’re all about the Cheapo mindset, meaning we want to make the most of our money. It’s a good idea to budget for your trip with additional costs e.g. cancellation, health cover, etc, in mind.
- Pack smart: Here are a few items I recommend packing:
– Some form of iso-entertainment for a potential 1-week stint e.g. a small book/laptop
– Small bath/ face towel (as towels are generally not provided at hotel quarantine)
– Basic workout gear (sounds OTT, but it’s like playing a mind trick to do even the slightest exercise if you’re stuck in a hotel)
– A few extra pairs of undies and socks!
– Thermometer, extra masks (for travel), throat candies (can also be purchased at a local pharmacy)
- Get a SIM card with voice calling capability: We recommend getting one of these as soon as you can. You can save money with a data-only SIM, but if you need to call consultation centers, clinics, pharmacies, hotels, etc. you’ll have to borrow someone else’s phone or even try to figure out how to use a pay phone! Mobal is the only company that provides Japan SIM cards with voice calling capability that you can even purchase and get delivered prior to your trip.
- Make health a priority: Instead of packing too much into your schedule, it might be worth planning a more slow-paced and health-conscious travel itinerary!
- Be flexible: Easier said than done, but being open-minded can save you some extra stress from things that are out of your control.
There are certainly a few obstacles when it comes to travel with the ongoing risk of COVID-19, but I’ve been there, and can still say that the wonders of Japan are worth it!
MHLW Call Center (toll free)
- 0120-565-653 (for COVID-19 related queries, but not for medical advice.)
- Every day including weekends and holidays. English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish: 9:00-21:00, Thai: 9:00-18:00, Vietnamese: 10:00-19:00
City of Tokyo Hotel Recuperation Registration Helpdesk
- 03-5320-5997 (for discussing government-designated hotel quarantine, in English)
- 9:00-16:00 Mon – Fri
TELL (Tokyo English Lifeline)
- TELL website
- 03-5774-0992 (for support and counseling)
- 9:00-23:00 Mon – Thurs
- 9:00-2:00(AM) on Fri, Sat and Sun (but see here for weekly hours)