So You’ve Landed in Japan – Customs and Immigration

February 2020: I have updated the information in this article in a new post called So You’ve Landed in Japan – Arrival Procedures. Please refer to the new post for the most up-to-date information. 

This post will be left up for the time being for historical purposes, but comments are now disabled.


Original post from 2014 follows:

Today I wanted to offer a brief overview of what you can expect when you land in Japan, mostly in the form of customs and immigration procedures. No matter what International airport you land at in Japan, the arrival procedures will be the same. This applies for all foreign visitors to Japan.

Of course, you will want to ensure that you do not need a visa to enter the country, and for many travelers this is the case. Those coming from 66 countries, including the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union countries can stay visa free in Japan for up to 15, 30 or 90 days. The law states that the visa period is the “shortest period long enough to cover the purpose of stay of the foreign national”… though in my three trips to Japan, each of which were two weeks in duration, I was given 90 days every time. Any stay over 90 days will require some sort of visa application beforehand.

Prior to landing, the flight attendants on your flight will hand out two (possibly three) forms to fill out. One is the Embarkation/Disembarkation Card, a rectangular document with a detachment in the middle. This form is for the immigration authorities. Another is the Declaration Form for Japanese customs authorities that has the words “Customs Declaration” at the top. Some travelers on certain flights, or arriving from certain countries, must also fill out a yellow Quarantine Form from the Ministry of Health and submit it upon arrival. In this article, I’ll just write about the first two in this article.

Once you step out of the airplane, you will walk down the designated corridor to begin the immigration procedures. Along the way, you will pass an international connection counter. If you are connecting through the airport to another international flight, you would check in here and then go to security to connect to your international flight. Most people arriving in Japan, though, will proceed to the immigration/customs procedures directly.

There have been a few instances in the past where those transferring to domestic flights at certain airports would go through the International connection counter to connect to the domestic flight – in those instances, their domestic flights would be considered “international”. For example, if memory serves me right Japan Airlines used to have connecting flights from Narita in Tokyo to Nagoya designated for international passengers…. in which case, customs procedures would be carried out in Nagoya, not Tokyo. These days, though, I don’t think they exist, so if you are connecting to any domestic flight you will have to go through immigration/customs at your first airport.

Now let’s look at the embarkation/disembarkation card. It’s a pretty straightforward form to fill out, but I’ll go over the key points.

japanimmigrationFirst, there is ONE FORM PER PASSENGER, so each person fills out their own card. You should NOT detach the form yourself. Immigration authorities will detach and keep the “disembarkation” part, and staple the “embarkation” part to your passport. The “embarkation” part is collected by immigration when you depart Japan.

Your NAME on the form is written in the form of Last Name, then any Given Names.

DATE OF BIRTH is written down on this form as DAY, MONTH, YEAR. So, March 1, 1980 would be written 01/03/80.

LAST FLIGHT NO./VESSEL should be the airline flight that you are flying into Japan on. So if you were, for example, flying in on United Airlines Flight 79 from Newark, NJ, you would write in United 79 or UA 79 (the two-letter designation for United).

INTENDED ADDRESS IN JAPAN should be the location of your first place of lodging. So it should be the name of your first hotel, or the address of where you are staying if it’s a residence.

On the back, you will have to answer some immigration questions – including the amount of cash in your possession upon landing – and sign the form.

You can fill out the “embarkation” part right away, if you wish, with the flight you plan to leave Japan on. It’s probably best to fill this out at the same time as “disembarkation” so as to not worry about it later. As stated before, the “embarkation” part will be collected by immigration when you depart.

Now let’s move on to the Customs Form. A direct link to the customs form can be found here, on the Japan Customs site. There is ONE CUSTOMS FORM PER FAMILY, so if you have a family of three on the trip you only have to fill out one form for everybody.

At the top of the form, you’re asked again for your Flight number/vessel, and also for your point of embarkation. This is the city from which your flight to Japan departed. So, if you were on United Flight 79, for example, you would write in Newark in this section.

Read both sides of the customs form and answer the questions. Pay close attention to the duty-free allowances. If you are carrying anything in excess of the duty-free allowance you have to declare it.

Now let’s review the procedures for arrival.

First up is QUARANTINE. Most passengers will just walk through Quarantine, but if you were given a yellow quarantine form to fill out you should surrender it here. Next to the Quarantine Area is a Health Consultation Room. You should check in here if you think you feel ill or sick upon arrival – you can be checked out by a doctor here. A few years back, passengers from North America had to fill out quarantine forms during the H1N1 epidemic.

Next up is IMMIGRATION, where you will go to the line for foreigners and turn in your passport and the filled out embarkation/disembarkation card. Only one person at a time should visit the immigration officer. The officer will take a photo of you, and scan your index fingers from both hands. This is part of recently-introduced anti-terrorism laws, and a growing number of countries – including the United States – are instituting these procedures for foreigners.

After that you will claim your baggage and go to CUSTOMS. As in many countries, there is a Green Channel and a Red Channel. If you have nothing to declare, go to the green channel. If you have items to declare or are not sure, go to the red channel. In any case, you will present your passport and the customs declaration form to the officer, who will conduct an interview with you on the spot with questions such as “Where are you from”, “How long are you visiting”, and “Do you have anything to declare.” One time, a female customs officer at Narita kept me for a few minutes asking about my precise itinerary… “So you will take the shinkansen on this date to go to Osaka?” , etc.

If you have any duties to pay, you have to pay them to the cashier next to customs before leaving. Also, Japanese airports have quarantine stations for plants and animals, including pets and meat products. You will have check in at one of these stations before proceeding through the main customs area. If bringing animals, you will have to make arrangements in advance with Japanese Customs – though many visitors, of course, should not bring their pets unless they are intending to stay for quite a while.

Congratulations, you have completed the arrival procedures! That means it’s time to either connect to your domestic flight or move on to your first destination in the Japanese city that you are arriving at. I will probably tackle some arrival tips in future posts. In the meantime, here are a few more sources of information to look at concerning Arrival and Departure procedures in Japan.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Guide to Visas
Japan Customs for Passengers
Japan Airlines has a page with the videos shown to their arriving passengers at Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai and Nagoya airports.
Tokyo Narita Airport Arrival and Departure Procedures (click the correct terminal for more information)
Tokyo Haneda Airport Guide to Departures and Arrivals (International departures/arrivals, and terminal transfers)
Osaka Kansai Airport Arrivals and Departures
Nagoya Centrair Airport Arrival/Departure Procedures
Fukuoka Airport English Website – Click on the procedures appropriate for your flight
Mount Fuji Shizuoka Airport Boarding and Arrival Procedures
Ibaraki Airport Boarding and Arrival Procedures (International Flights)

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog does not offer advice or answers on detailed questions concerning immigration status, visas, etc. It is my policy NOT to address these questions, which are best answered by your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Thank you.

31 thoughts on “So You’ve Landed in Japan – Customs and Immigration

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  3. Sarah

    I have never understood why the customs officer interviews people? We have already been allowed into the country by the immigration official. So the customs officers should have no need to interview us. Do you know why they do? I have to say Japan is the only country where this has happened to me. I think it’s quite rude. Would appreciate your opinion!

    1. Immigration and customs are two separate agencies and they carry out different functions. Immigration focuses on whether or not people are allowed into the country, while customs ensures that items that are prohibited or restricted do not enter the country. This is why customs interviews are carried out.

  4. Sangbin Tsai

    I’m going to arrive at OKA from Taipei, then transit (ANA) to NRT, then (United) to IAD.
    What should I put for “Flight No./Vessel” in embarkation card?
    ANA####+UA### or just UA###?
    Also, on disembarkation card,
    I can leave “Intended address in Japan” and “TEL” blank since my “Purpose of visit” is “transit”, right?

    1. Hello! On the embarkation card you will want to put the UA flight number – which is the actual flight you will use to leave Japan.
      If your transit includes a hotel stay then you will have to put your hotel information on the card.
      Otherwise I suggest getting in touch with your Japanese consulate regarding your transit questions.

  5. Kelly Nicole

    I have already been to Japan on two tourist visas this year, first from April-July and got approved for an extension from July – October. My fiancé whom I will be marrying in December is stationed at kadena Air base there. I wasn’t to come there and do my paperwork to get put on his orders so I can live there with SOFA because if I do the process here it will take months. My question is, if I try to come there around mid-December would I be allowed back in?

    1. My guess is that you would be ok for another 90 days if you enter as a tourist, but I think this question would best be answered by someone at the Japanese embassy or your local Japanese consulate.

      1. Kelly Nicole

        You don’t think I would get denied? And I I have ask immigration and they said that It would depend on if I had a good enough reason. My reason is to visit my family and hopefully get my paperwork done while there but the most important reason is to spend Christmas with my 6 and 9 year old daughters so we don’t have to be aprt for the holidays. I was just wondering if anyone or if you knew anyone who has been through this and if they had been able to enter or gotten denied.

      2. Kelly Nicole

        But you do believe I wouldn’t have a problem entering for a third time? I will have my departure itinerary as well.

  6. Catalina

    Hello! I will travel in February to New Zealand. I will have a stop over about max 10 hours in Narita airport, Japan. I am intending to exit for max 5 hours to visit Narita town. From your experience, please be kind and help me with some answers to following:
    1. how easy is to go out for some hours and how hard is to came back to continue my travel with destination NZ?
    2. it is enough time to do this short visit? My arriving day will be Sunday.
    3. is easy to travel without a guide for the first time? I know that in the cities everything is written in Japanese language, so how easy is to manage yourself
    I am thanking you in advance for your tip and trick advises.

    1. Hi Catalina! Thank you for visiting my blog!
      I’ve never done transit at Narita (my arrivals have always been to stay for 2 weeks!) but if you have 10 hours during the daytime, and your flights are on time, you can easily make a trip out to enjoy a slice of Japanese lifestyle. It’s easier to travel around Narita for something more traditional, but you CAN go out as far as Tokyo if you think you have enough time. (Allow 60-90 minutes to go between Narita Airport and Tokyo in that case)
      If you are interested in a tour around Narita City, closer to Narita Airport, there are desks in the arrival concourse where TRANSFER TOURS can be arranged. There are several places you can visit in the city, like Narita-san temple, and possibly the AEON mall and outlets as well.
      Here is a website for the official Narita transit program:
      If you need to leave luggage, you should be able to go to one of the luggage delivery counters and they will hold your luggage for a small charge.
      Just remember to get back to the airport in time for your continuing flight!
      Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks again!

      1. Catalina

        Good morning and many thanks for your reply.
        I will think what will be the best possibility for me to do, in this short time that I will spend in the airport.

        good luck and enjoy life 🙂 🙂

  7. Noe

    I will travel in early May to Japan, i wanna know whats the different between “Flights no/ vessel” in the left side and “Last flight no/ vessel” in the right?

    1. Hello Noe!
      The last flight no/vessel on the form to the right is for the flight number or boat that you use to enter Japan. It is written on the disembarkation card that you hand in to immigration upon entering Japan.

      The flight no/vessel on the form to the left is for the flight number or boat that you will use to leave Japan. It is written on the embarkation card that you hand in to immigration when you leave Japan. (When you enter Japan this paper will be stapled to your passport)

      Hope this helps!

  8. Hitan

    Hi, do they search your bags again during immigration? Also I have legal prescription drugs on me and I was wondering if they would give me a problem with that in my carry on. Thanks

    1. Hello,
      Your bags are subject to inspection at any time during the arrival process, in immigration or customs.
      Unfortunately, I cannot answer any specific questions with regards to immigration or customs.
      Please direct any inquiries to your local Japanese embassy or consulate.

    1. I can’t expand on what you can expect beyond the scope of the article, but I would guess you’d be subject to the same procedures as everyone else.

  9. Jane

    Hello Jose, My 14 and 12 year old children will arrive in Narita Airport in a couple of weeks. There is no “unaccompanied minor” service I can pay for because they are older than 11, so they will have to go through immigration and customs alone. One is a US citizen and thus doesn’t have a visa. The other is a Chinese citizen and has a visa. Do you know if they can go through the same line in immigration? Also, do you think I’m insane for letting them do this alone? Their uncle will meet them as soon as they get through immigration and customs. Thank you!!

    1. Hi Jane,
      Normally it is my policy not to address immigration and customs questions on my blog, as I am not very knowledgeable on these subjects. What I can tell you is that as long as your children are in Japan for the SHORT TERM, they can go through immigration but they will need to be processed one at a time. They *should* be able to go through customs together after claiming baggage.
      I am not well versed on situations concerning unaccompanied minors either, but regardless I would suggest contacting your airline to let them know about your children’s needs. You might also want to contact the departure airport, OR the arrival airport in Japan, to see what sort of assistance they may be able to provide.
      Sorry I can’t offer much help here, but thanks for visiting my blog and good luck!

  10. Jane

    Thank you, Jose. I understand you can’t speak to immigration and customs issues with certainty but your answer gave me a sense of how things will probably work. I guess this is a time when I will put my faith in humanity and hope everyone treats them well! Thanks again, Jane

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  13. Karen Hall

    I’m flying into Haneda from Indonesia and will have a four hour layover before my flight to the US. A friend of mine lives in Tokyo and I was hoping to just pop out have a meal (maybe 1 hour) then leave for my flight. IS this possible with the limited time? I’ve flown through Narita before and I remember the process of immigration and security being relatively quick, but wanted a second opinion.

    1. 4 hours is an awfully-tight connection to head on out from the airport to be honest. If you were to give it a shot then I would suggest asking your friend to meet you at Haneda. There’s no shortage of food options in the International terminal. You might want to give your carrier a heads up about your plan… you definitely need to make sure you have your boarding pass for the US-bound flight and that your luggage is checked all the way through.

  14. Fabiano

    Hey Jose, in the embarkation card, even if I stay in multiple hotels in japan, the address of the first one is enough? Thanks!

  15. Pingback: So You’ve Landed In Japan – Arrival Procedures – Jose's Japan Tips

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