Japan’s eased entry restrictions: What incoming travelers need to know

Japan’s recent move to relax restrictions for new entries by foreign nationals is a welcome development for those who have been anxious about when they can travel to the country.

Although Japan has basically imposed a ban on such arrivals since January, the government has now decided to open the border to mainly business travelers, international students and technical interns.

But since the government began accepting necessary documents for entries Monday, it has emerged that the process is not that smooth, as companies and organizations responsible for visitors have to jump through a lot of hoops.

But on an individual level, what should travelers be aware of or prepare for?

Here is what you need to know:

Who can come to Japan?

Business travelers staying for less than three months and long-term residents, such as international students and technical interns, can now come to the country.

They will not be allowed to travel unless they belong to a company, organization or school, which is required to take responsibility for their trip.

The government is not accepting those arriving for sightseeing purposes yet. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said the government will consider accepting group tourists after inspecting the practicality of monitoring their activities by year-end.

Also, those wishing to see their families and friends are unable to visit for that purpose unless it is an urgent humanitarian need.

Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday | AFP-JIJI
Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday | AFP-JIJI

Do individuals need to apply for entry by themselves?

No, companies or organizations that are accepting visitors need to apply, but travelers will need to prepare some documents, such as a copy of their passport, certificate of a negative COVID-19 test result and proof of vaccination if they have been inoculated.

Is it necessary to provide a COVID-19 test result?

Proof of a negative test result taken within 72 hours before departure is required. After arrival, the traveler will be tested again.

Is it necessary to be vaccinated to visit Japan?

No, but unvaccinated travelers will need to quarantine for 14 days in principle after their arrival.

To be treated as vaccinated, travelers need to be inoculated with vaccines approved by the government: Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca.

Original proof of vaccination is not needed, but a copy or electronic version is required. Whether it is an app, digital image or photo, the document is acceptable as long as it meets the government’s criteria, such as the certificate having been issued by a designated government or region and it showing that the individual has been inoculated at least twice. The details can be checked here.

How long is the quarantine period for vaccinated travelers?

The period can be as short as three days if approval is granted by the relevant ministries examining the application.

The three-day quarantine will only be granted to short-term business travelers and returning Japanese and foreign residents whose travel is backed by a company.

Foreign students and technical interns will need to undergo a 14-day isolation period. If they are vaccinated, it can be shortened to 10 days.

Are there nations and areas with specific quarantine periods?

Yes. Depending on the point of departure, the government has set specific quarantine periods at designated facilities.

A passenger arriving from overseas is welcomed by a quarantine agent at the arrivals hall of Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI
A passenger arriving from overseas is welcomed by a quarantine agent at the arrivals hall of Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI

If the three-day quarantine is granted, will the travelers be completely free after the third day?

Not exactly. If they test negative on the third day, the quarantine period will be over, but they will still need to follow their activity plans for the next seven days, which are submitted beforehand to the government.

During those seven days, their activities will still be limited.

For instance, they will be allowed to use public transportation only if they purchase a reserved seat or private room and take a COVID-19 test beforehand. Also, if they want to eat at a restaurant, in principle they need to use a private room.

They will be able to work in an office if their workplace prepares proper infection prevention measures.

Once they test negative on the final day of the quasi-isolation period, the 10th day after arrival, they will be free.

Will it still take some time to actually go to Japan even after an entry application is approved?

Most likely. This is because Japan is currently accepting up to 3,500 travelers — both Japanese and foreign nationals — a day.

There are about 370,000 foreign nationals who have already received their residence permit but are stuck in their home country due to the entry ban. About 70% of these people are international students and technical trainees.

Although the government is considering bumping up the daily maximum number to 5,000, many will still have to wait for months to apply and fly to Japan.

The government has set time frames for foreign students and technical interns to apply for new entries.

International students who received residence permits between January and March 2020 will be allowed to apply this month. Technical interns who obtained permits from January through June 2020 can also apply this month.

Those with permits issued at a later date will have to wait until December or later.

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