Update on Japan’s Quarantine Measures

Updated on February 28, 2022 to reflect Japan’s definition of “fully vaccinated” for quarantine purposes, and rules on public transportation.

Following up on last week’s post regarding the opening of Japan’s borders to foreigners for purposes other than tourism, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted an update to their web page concerning Border measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you can fully read and understand all of the measures on that web page, you deserve an award. It’s extremely complicated with a myriad of rules and regulations that are both recently updated and left over since the onset of the pandemic.

What the page does specify, however, is how quarantine will be handled for arrivals starting next month.

Currently, all international arrivals are required to quarantine for seven days. Either three or six of those days, depending on where the traveler has stayed in the last two weeks, must be spent at a government quarantine facility while the remaining time is spent in self-isolation at a hotel or residence of the traveler’s choosing. These rules are regardless of whether or not someone is vaccinated.

Starting on March 1st, the Japanese government will change the quarantine rules based on two criteria:
* Where the traveler has been in the last two weeks, and
* Whether or not the traveler is fully vaccinated against COVID-19

IMPORTANT NOTE: Japan defines “fully vaccinated” as having received a full series of COVID-19 vaccinations AND a booster shot. For the full series, Japan recognizes the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson vaccines. For the booster, Japan recognizes Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

If a traveler is arriving from a country or territory that has been designated by the Japanese government as high risk for COVID-19 (or in the government documentation, at risk for the Omicron variant):
* If not fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend three days at a quarantine facility and must take a test after three days.
* If fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend seven days in home quarantine in principle, however quarantine can end after a minimum of three days and a negative COVID test result.

If a traveler is arriving from a country or territory that has been designated by the Japanese government as low risk for COVID-19:
* If not fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend seven days in home quarantine in principle, however quarantine can end after a minimum of three days and a negative COVID test result.
* If fully vaccinated, no quarantine is required.

Public transportation restrictions:
If quarantine IS NOT required, there are no restrictions on the use of public transportation.
If home quarantine is required, public transportation is allowed only to and from the location of quarantine using the most direct route. This applies for the duration of the quarantine.
If facility quarantine is required, I infer from the posted regulations that the use of public transportation will only be allowed after finishing the quarantine.

As always I’ll share more updates as they become available and understood!

Japan’s Revised Border Measures (No Tourists for now)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has officially announced the new border measures for foreigners who would like to enter Japan, which will take effect from March 1, 2022. Foreigners will be permitted to enter Japan for purposes except tourism (which is what many had expected).

Here’s what border measures will look like starting on March 1st:
– Daily arrival caps (Japanese citizens and foreigners alike) will be increased to 5,000 per day
– Foreign arrivals will be required to be under the supervision of a person or an organization responsible for the visit. Tourists will still be denied entry for the time being.
– Quarantine will remain at seven days, however, those who test negative for COVID-19 after three days and meet certain other conditions will be eligible to end their quarantine early
– Those who have received three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine AND are arriving from a location deemed low-risk for COVID by the Japanese government will not have to quarantine at all

Note: There will probably be some other requirements forthcoming that are not in the initial news reports. I will do my best to update this article as additional information becomes available.

It is a fine line that Prime Minister Kishida has been toeing with regard to the border issue. Public support for the strict border measures seems to be softening in Japan; 81% of respondents in a December NHK poll supported the border restrictions, but an NHK poll released earlier this week showed that number dropped to 57%.

A number of businesses and institutions have welcomed the eased border restrictions. Some have complained that the cap of 5,000 daily arrivals is too low, as there is a backlog of around 400,000 foreigners—including some 147,000 students—waiting to enter the country, according to government numbers. Some political observers were also quoted as saying that opening the borders to tourism before an Upper House election in July would be “difficult.”

I, for one, am happy and relieved that Japan is reopening the spigot slowly, and finally allowing those who absolutely need to travel to the country to do so – especially the students that will go on to help shape many futures. I am eagerly looking forward to more updates as the situation hopefully continues to improve.

As always, I’ll provide further updates on the border measures as necessary. Otherwise, I don’t anticipate writing many posts… especially about travel tips, as there is still no tourism to be had.

Thanks for your continued support of this blog!

Omicron: Japan Closes Borders Again

Not much to say in this update: Due to the discovery of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, Japan is immediately closing its borders to all foreigners once again, undoing an easing of measures that had been implemented almost a month ago.

This follows measures being implemented around the world to put the brakes on travel after the discovery of the new variant in South Africa. However, in Japan’s case, it’s not just restrictions on those coming from South Africa and surrounding countries… all foreigners are now denied entry once again, except arrivals due to special circumstances at the discretion of immigration authorities.

We await to find out in the coming weeks the impact of the omicron variant. Stay tuned…

Update: Japan Slowly Easing Quarantine

UPDATED November 6 with information announced by the Japanese Government

Hello blog readers! Today I am breaking the hiatus a bit to report on some good travel news coming out of Japan.

Per multiple news sources including Japan Times and Kyodo, later this month (November 2021) Japan is expected to ease quarantine for certain arrivals. Those who are entering Japan for business purposes, or staying in Japan for at least three months (i.e. students, technical work) will be allowed. Such arrivals will be asked to quarantine for 3-14 days upon arrival in the country, with fully vaccinated business travelers eligible for the reduced three-day quarantine.

This is wonderful news for those who have been wanting to visit Japan, especially those who have been wanting to go since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, Japan has virtually closed its borders to foreigners, save for a short period of time this past winter. Now, COVID cases within Japan are low and the vaccination rates are high: Over 75% of the population, according to estimates by Reuters.

Some of my friends and family have been asking when Japan might reopen its borders to vaccinated arrivals, given that some other countries are lifting travel restrictions. You may have seen in the news that other Asian nations, including Thailand and Singapore, are almost completely lifting the quarantine requirements for all foreign arrivals.

I expected that Japan would probably not make any changes until around now at the earliest, given that the Lower House election for the national government was just held. I also do not expect Japan to be as bold as their Asian neighbors. Rather, I expect them to take a “baby step” approach, in line with what they had attempted to do last winter before the borders were closed again. Given this slow turn of the spigot I predict that fully vaccinated tourists, or other similar short-term visitors, will be among the last to be permitted entry.

To recap: The new entry rules, as reported, will mean that fully vaccinated foreigners arriving for business purposes (staying three months or less) will be required to quarantine for three days after landing. Long term arrivals allowed into the country (staying at least three months) will need to quarantine for 14 days; those fully vaccinated can exit quarantine with a negative test result after 10 days. All other foreigners will still be banned in principle from entering Japan, except those allowed under exceptional circumstances. It’s also important to note that whereas some countries are permitting those with World Health Organization-approved vaccines to be eligible for reduced quarantines, in Japan’s case only vaccines approved by Japan will be eligible. As of this writing, these include the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Those with other vaccines such as Johnson & Johnson, Covishield, Sinopharm or Sinovac will not be eligible for the reduced quarantine.

Of course, once you are in Japan you’ll be expected to follow Japan’s health-related measures to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.

Foreigners with resident status returning to Japan will also be eligible for a reduced quarantine of three days if they are fully vaccinated as described above.

I hope to pass along further updates with regards to Japan’s travel and quarantine measures – hopefully good updates – when they come over the news wires or are officially announced.

As always, thank you for your support of this blog over so many years. Please reach out if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them.

So You’ve Landed In Japan – Arrival Procedures

Back in… 2014 (?!) I did a blog series called “So You’ve Landed in Japan.” One of the posts ended up turning into my most popular post on this entire blog. The post is with regards to Customs and Immigration and discussed the procedures a traveler faces when entering Japan from another international destination.

Looking back on that post, I feel as if the title of the post was a little misleading. Most of the comments on the post were specific questions about immigration status, visa inquiries, and that sort of thing. This blog is meant to offer advice on travel to Japan, but in no way am I qualified to handle specific immigration questions.

Based on this, and because arrival procedures and forms have changed in recent years, I’ve decided to renew this post and title it, more appropriately, Arrival Procedures.

At the outset, I wish to reiterate that if you have any specific questions about Japanese immigration or visas, please contact your local Japanese embassy or consulate. I will discuss this information in a very broad scope (as I did in the previous post) but, again, I am not equipped to answer specific questions on this. A great resource is on the web site of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The link to all of their consulates and embassies can be found here. Please contact them for all of your specific inquiries. I’ve updated the site-wide disclaimer with this information as well.

Prerequisites

Of course, before visiting Japan, you will need a Passport and, in certain circumstances, you will also need a visa. People visiting Japan from 68 countries and regions do not require a visa if visiting as a tourist, or if visiting relatives, attending conferences, etc. All but four of these are eligible for visa exemptions of 90 days. If you are engaging in paid work in Japan, or if you will be staying in the country longer than the amount of time granted for a visa exemption, you will have to apply for a visa.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a list of countries and regions eligible for visa exemptions.

Forms to fill out

Many international travelers are used to filling out immigration and/or customs forms to be submitted upon arrival to wherever they are going. Many countries are starting to phase out physical paperwork in favor of automatic kiosks. Japan, with some exceptions, still uses paperwork.

Visitors to Japan typically fill out two or three different forms prior to their arrival.

  • All visitors fill out a disembarkation form for immigration (one per person) and a customs form (one per family).
  • If you are bringing pets or plant/animal products into Japan, you will have to fill out a quarantine form. Visitors from certain parts of the world with health concerns may also have to fill out a quarantine form or questionnaire.

Unlike countries where one entity handles all entry procedures (such as Customs and Border Protection in the United States), Japan has separate ones:

  • Pet, Animal and Plant Quarantine is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Health Quarantine is under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
  • Immigration had been its own ministry until 2019, and is now under the Ministry of Justice
  • Customs is under the Ministry of Finance (which includes the Customs and Tariff Bureau).

Disembarkation Form (Immigration)

japanimmigrationform (2)Shown here is a photo of the new disembarkation card that Japan has been using since 2016. Each passenger should fill out their own disembarkation card.

Let’s go through each of the steps to fill out.

Fill out your family name and given names as they are listed on your passport, your date of birth (in the form of day, month and year) and the country and city where you currently reside. You do not need to enter a passport number, gender or nationality, which was the case with previous versions of the form.

Check the box next to the purpose of your visit. Most visitors will select the box for tourists.

Next to this, you’ll see Last Flight No./Vessel. Write down the flight number (or vessel if you arrive by boat) that you used to enter Japan. For example, if you were flying into Japan on United Airlines Flight 79 from Newark, New Jersey, you’d write down either United 79 or UA 79 in this box.

Below this, write down the number of days you plan to stay in Japan.

The next field asks for your intended address in Japan. The rule of thumb I’ve always used is to enter the first location that you plan to stay in when visiting the country. If you will go from the airport to a friend’s residence, enter their residence here and their telephone number. Otherwise, if you are going to a hotel, enter the hotel name, address and telephone number as best as you can. Even if you are staying in multiple locations, just write down the first one you will be using.

The last few questions must be asked to comply with the laws of Japan, so you have to answer them:

  • Have you ever been deported or refused entry into Japan?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime in Japan or another country?
  • Are you in possession of controlled substances, guns, bladed weapons or gunpowder?

Sign your disembarkation form, and that’s it!

Customs Form

japancustomsformHere is a photo of form C5360-B, otherwise known as the Declaration of Personal Effects and Unaccompanied Articles, or the Customs Declaration. Note that this is a double-sided form; both sides are shown here.

Here you will fill out some of the same details you entered on the immigration form, plus a few other particulars.

In addition to your flight or vessel number, you will need to write down the point of embarkation, or in other words, the location you departed from to enter Japan. For our example of United Flight 79, you’d write down Newark.

Here you must also enter your nationality, occupation, passport, and number of family members traveling with you. Remember that one customs declaration can be submitted per family.

Next, answer the questions about articles you are bringing into Japan. Follow the instructions to declare this information on the back of the form if necessary.

The back of the form will include the duty-free allowance per person for items being brought into Japan, along with a list of prohibited and restricted articles.

Once you have completed the form, all that’s left to do is to sign it.

Quarantine Form

If you are entering Japan with pets, or with plant/animal products, you will have to fill out specific quarantine forms. Please visit the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for more information on this type of quarantine.

Depending on health circumstances, some visitors may also be asked to fill out a health quarantine form or questionnaire. This varies depending on the situation. For example, as of this post (25 February 2020) there are concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, and some information published by the Japanese Embassy in New York suggests that quarantine forms are being circulated asking passengers if they have visited, or plan to visit, certain regions of China within 14 days of their arrival into Japan.

Entry Procedures

Now that all of the paperwork is done, let’s look into the steps of arriving into Japan.

When you step off of a plane or boat, your entry procedures will follow these basic steps:

  • Health Quarantine
  • Immigration
  • Baggage Claim
  • Pet / Animal / Plant Quarantine
  • Customs

The first step is health quarantine. Most passengers entering Japan will walk by an infrared scanner which checks your body temperature. If a quarantine officer notices anything amiss, you will be asked to enter the health consultation room and speak to a doctor. You can also voluntarily check in to this room if you feel sick or unwell for any reason. If you were handed a health quarantine form/questionnaire, you will probably be asked to submit it here.

Immigration is the next step. Step up when you are called, one person at a time, to the immigration officer. Submit your passport, your disembarkation form, and your visa if required. The immigration officer will check your documents, take your photo and collect your fingerprints. You might also be asked a few questions to determine your entry status. The officer will then stamp your passport and you can then proceed to baggage claim to collect your checked belongings. Note that in a few locations, you might be checked by a clerk before you arrive at the immigration desk to take your photograph and fingerprints… this happened to me at Narita during my last trip in 2017.

If you have pets, or plant/animal products, this is the point where you will check in to the respective quarantine desk to handle those procedures.

The last step is to go to customs. As with most countries, there will be a green channel if you have nothing to declare or within duty-free exemptions, and a red channel if you have items to declare or if you are not sure. Whatever the case, you will speak to another manned officer at customs. Here the officer will check your passport and review your customs declaration. Remember, customs has the right to search your belongings to ensure there are no prohibited or restricted articles. The officer may ask you some questions, such as where you are from, and if you have any items to declare. One time, I was asked about my precise itinerary when I was in the country. There is a cashier nearby if you need to pay any duty.

If you are in doubt about anything that you are bringing into Japan, visit the red channel.

acs-drugs-medications-infographic-1

On a side note, do remember that Japan has strict laws with regard to certain drugs and medications, as the above graphic from the U.S. Department of State indicates. For example, stimulants cannot be brought into Japan under any circumstances. Visitors to Japan may not be aware that certain over-the-counter or behind-the-counter medications use to treat pain, decongestion, cold/flu, ADHD and depression cannot be brought in to Japan. So leave your Sudafed, Actifed, NyQuil and Vicks inhalers at home, and don’t bring medicine containing things such as codeine, pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, dexamphetamine or anything with HCl (hydrochloride) in the name. Also, even though marijuana and CBD/THC oils are gaining popularity in a lot of places, these are also illegal in Japan. You could be detained by Customs (or worse) if you are caught with these drugs and medications.

Certain prescription medications may also have to be declared in advance… please consult your local Japanese embassy or consulate for more information. Alternatively, you can e-mail your inquiries directly to the Japanese government at this e-mail: yakkan@mhlw.go.jp.

You’ve arrived!

Congratulations, and welcome to Japan!

There are just a few more things you may want to be aware about when it comes to arrival procedures:

International Transit

If you are landing in an airport in Japan for the purpose of changing to another international flight, and you do not plan to leave the airport, you do not need to go through immigration and customs procedures in Japan. All that is required is another security check. Remember the restrictions on liquids… if you have any duty-free liquids on your person that are not in tamper evident bags, they will be confiscated at the transit security checkpoint.

If you are a connecting to a domestic flight, or if you are changing from one airport to another (i.e changing from a flight landing at Narita to a flight departing from Haneda), you’ll need to undergo customs and immigration.

Automated Immigration Kiosk

Japan’s major ports of entry (i.e. the major airports) have automated kiosks for entry into Japan. However, while major countries have some kind of automatic kiosks in place, Japan’s kiosks are not available for all foreigners. You must enroll in a special trusted traveler program and meet specific requirements, one of which states that you must have visited Japan at least twice in the last twelve months. Aside from this, only Japanese nationals and foreigners residing in Japan currently qualify to use the automated kiosks.

Videos on Arrival Procedures

Japan Airlines has some links on their website to videos about arrival procedures for JAL flights into Japan’s four major international airports of Haneda, Narita, Chubu Centrair and Kansai. Visit JAL’s excellent Guide to Japan, and from that page, click on “More Fun”, select “Travel Information” and scroll down to the Immigration Guidance section. Just don’t mind the (rather catchy) elevator music.

UPDATE April 3, 2020: Japan Airlines has recently updated their website, so the above link to the immigration guidance videos MIGHT be going away soon.

I hope this post answers your questions about arrival procedures in Japan.

Once again, if you have any detailed questions about immigration, customs, visas, etc., please contact your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Such questions will NOT be answered on this blog.

This article was written in February 2020 and is accurate at the time of publication, subject to the site-wide disclaimer.

Images of Japanese immigration and customs documentation are public domain pursuant to Article 13(ii) of the Copyright Law of Japan.

The graphic about prohibited drugs in Japan is from the United States Department of State and is public domain pursuant to Title 17, Section 105 of the United States Code.