Relaxed entry restrictions in Japan: what inbound travelers need to know

Japan’s recent move to ease restrictions on new entry of foreign nationals is a welcome development for those worried about when they can get to the country.

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

But since the government began accepting the necessary documents for entry on Monday, it has emerged that the process is not so straightforward, as businesses and organizations responsible for visitors face many hurdles.

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

Here’s 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 only be allowed to travel if they belong to a company, organization or school, which will be required to take responsibility for their travel.

The government does not yet accept those arriving for tourism purposes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government would consider accepting tour groups after inspecting the feasibility of monitoring their activities by the end of the year.

In addition, those who wish to see their families and friends cannot visit for this purpose, unless there is an urgent humanitarian need.

Haneda Airport in Tokyo Monday | AFP-JIJI

Do individuals have to apply for entry on their own?

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

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

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

Do you need to be vaccinated to visit Japan?

No, but unvaccinated travelers will normally need to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

To be treated as vaccinated, travelers must be vaccinated with government-approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca.

Original proof of vaccination is not required, but a copy or electronic version is required. Whether it is an application, digital image or photo, the document is acceptable as long as it meets government criteria, such as the certificate having been issued by a designated government or region and it shows that the person has been vaccinated at least twice. Details can be checked here.

How long is the quarantine period for vaccinated travelers?

The deadline can be as short as three days if approval is granted by the relevant ministries reviewing the request.

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

Foreign students and technical trainees will have 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. Depends on starting point, the government has set specific quarantine periods at designated facilities.

A passenger arriving from overseas is greeted Monday by a quarantine officer in the arrivals hall at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.  |  AFP-JIJI
A passenger arriving from overseas is greeted Monday by a quarantine officer in the arrivals hall at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI

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

Not exactly. If they are negative on the third day, the quarantine period will be over, but they will still have to follow their business plans for the next seven days, which are submitted to the government in advance.

During these seven days, their activities will always be limited.

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

They will be able to work in an office if their workplace has appropriate infection prevention measures in place.

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

Will it still take some time to visit Japan even after approval of an entry application?

Most likely. Indeed, Japan currently accepts up to 3,500 travelers, both Japanese and foreign, per day.

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

Although the government plans to raise the daily maximum to 5,000, many will still have to wait months to apply and travel to Japan.

The government has set deadlines for foreign students and technical trainees to apply for new entries.

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

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

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