Who can travel to Japan in 2021?
In the continuous flow of unclear, biased, and sometimes contradictory or confusing information provided in the media, it can be difficult to understand which category of travelers is really authorized to enter the Japanese territory at the moment.
Additionally, several airlines continue to run weekly round trips between Japan and the other continents. For example, three of the main companies (Air France, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways) have maintained direct flights ✈️ between Paris and Tokyo, every two to three days on average.
As a complement to our article "When and how to travel in japan with looming coronavirus 🦠" (see below), we thought necessary to take stock on the gradual reopening of Japanese borders according to the visa type. This article will naturally be updated following new announcements by the Japanese government.
🛂 Temporary visitors (tourists)
The gradual reopening of Japanese frontiers is expected from autumn 🍁 2021.
Tourists from all countries are currently barred entry in Japan. As far as Kanpai’s readers are concerned, the list includes Western Europe, Canada, the United States, and all developed countries, inter alia.
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More precisely, the official temporary rule states that travelers cannot enter Japan if they stayed in one of these countries during the last 14 days. However, Japanese immigration implements a quite different interpretation of the law: the citizenship is considered above all else and entrance can be denied (although rarely) even if the traveler is abiding to the law.
In early October 2020, the Japanese government announced the finalization of an access protocol for tourists in 2021 in view of a gradual reopening from the Olympic Games 🏅 (it has been delayed since). The conditions considered were:
- Negative PCR-Test made before arrival,
- No 14-days quarantine and free travel,
- No mandatory vaccine,
- Downloading of a smartphone app with GPS tracking to report daily temperature during the 14 first days of the stay.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared shortly after his election in August 2020, that it was "necessary to resume international travels to revive the [Japanese] economy." In mid-October 2020, the 60 million travelers by 2030 goal remained.
🏡 Permanent residents (expatriates) or not
Coming back to Japan or going to live in Japan is possible under conditions since September 2020.
Foreign expatriates in Japan were "stuck" in or outside the country between late March and the end of August: if they left, the probability was high that they could not return, notwithstanding their situation in Japan. About ~90,000 foreign residents (on a total of 2,6 million) were affected by the impossibility to return to Japan.
Since September 1, expatriates who left Japan are finally authorized to come back, regardless of their departure date, under the following conditions:
- Proof in English of a negative PCR test made less than 72h before leaving their country,
- Negative salivary test when landing at the airport (about 2h wait),
- Immigration permission delivered by their countries’ Embassy; and,
- A fourteen-day self-isolation after landing and not using public transportation during this period.
New expatriates from the following countries are allowed to come live in Japan (with a 1,600 persons / day quota):
- Since September 8, from the 9 following countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar; Singapore (since September 30), Brunei (Since October 8), and,
- From 7 other Asia-Pacific area's countries, including China, South Korea, Hong-Kong, Macao, Mongolia, Australia, and New-Zealand.
Note however that the Japanese government reserves the right to cancel the resident status to anyone who will not observe the 14-days self-isolation.
🧳 Long term visas (3 months or more)
Reopening on 2020, October 1, with a daily quota (suspended during the state of emergency in early 2021).
Starting 2020, October 1, the Japanese borders reopened to all countries in the world, provided a limited daily quota and PCR test + 14-days quarantine upon arrival, for all holders of 3 month-length or more visas, such as:
- Student visa,
- Work visa,
- Cultural activities visa,
- New expatriates,
However, on December 26, in the wake of contaminations by the new Coronavirus variant from the UK, Japan closed its borders to all non-resident foreigners until 2021,January 31 included (in Tokyo it was extended to March 21, the end of the state of emergency). Those who received their visa before December 28 were however authorized entry until January 3 included.
Several smartphone 📱 apps are necessary for the quarantine:
- A geolocation app (such as Google Maps).
It is thus strongly recommended to book a Pocket Wifi 📶 before departure.
🚶♂️ Working Holiday Visa (WHV)
Reopening on 2020, October 27, with a required recommendation letter (suspended during the early 2021 state of emergency).
The Working Holiday Visa application was been suspended since 2020, March 20. The WHV grants the right to travel and work in Japan during 1 year to young people between 18 and 30 years old. The WHV application are now opened again.
However, in addition to the usual conditions (especially the financial ones), when applying for a WHV at the end of 2020 one must provide a 誓約書 seiyakusho (or "written pledge"). It is a sponsoring letter provided by the hosting structure: host family, employer, association, language school, etc.
The host structures endorse the responsibility to enforce sanitary measures in Japan to avoid the spreading of Covid-19. If they fail to comply, the risks are:
- Being expelled from Japan for the WHV holder, and,
- Being forbidden to issue future seiyakusho for the sponsoring structure.
Make sure to contact the Embassy of Japan’s services in your area to confirm the terms and conditions of the Working Holiday Visa application in your country.
Important notice: if you had been granted a WHV shortly before the closing of borders in early spring 🌸 2020, the WHV is not valid anymore as you now need a seiyakusho.
Gradual reopening according to nationalities since September 2020.
On July 14, the Japanese minister of Foreign Affairs announced a coming reopening for European and American businesspersons landing in Japan with private jet.
The usual business travels were also authorized again, under the condition of a PCR test, but without 14-day self-isolation at arrival:
- Since September 18 for the Singaporeans,
- Since October 8 for the South-Koreans (310,000 business travelers in 2019),
- Since November for the Chinese and Vietnamese,
- By the end of 2020 for the Indonesians, Australians, New Zealanders, Thais and Taiwanese.
Business travelers must download and activate Cocoa (the Japanese Covid-tracking app) on their smartphone.
On 2020, December 23, British citizens were prohibited entry in Japan until further notice due to a new, more virulent strain of the Covid identified in the south of the UK.
On 2021, January 13, this measure was extended to all foreigners until the end of the state of emergency at least (2021, March 21).
👨🎓 Foreign students and teachers
Going to Japan for studying is possible since August 2020 under specific conditions (suspended during early 2021 state of emergency).
On August 22, in a surprise announcement, we learnt that foreign students will be authorized to enter Japan as soon as possible, and probably from early September. The first students concerned are Japanese government sponsored / MEXT students (with the condition of taking a PCR test at arrival and observe a 14-day self-isolation), and the measure were extended to all the students from October 1 (provided arrival quotas).
Moreover, teachers in international schools in Japan were authorized reentry since August 4.
From October, they benefited from the long-term visas opening described above.
🏅 Visitors in connection to Tokyo 2021 Olympics
Gradual reopening since September 2020 (suspended during early 2021 state of emergency).
Vaccine is not mandatory but two PCR tests must be conducted (72 hours before departure and at the airport upon landing) and a 14-day quarantine is required. However, they will be allowed to travel during these first two weeks and they must state their places of residence and training. Generally speaking, they must not take public transports during their quarantine, except for the Shinkansen 🚅 or domestic flights to reach their training places. They are not allowed to go to touristic places, shops, restaurants or bars.
During the Games in summer 2021, the athletes will be allowed in the Olympic Village 7 days before and leave 2 days after their competitions. They will be tested at least every 3 days and possibly more, and if they test positive they will not be able to take part in the competition. Wearing a face mask 😷 will be mandatory any time (except during training, sport event, meal, to sleep, and outdoor with a 2 meters social distance between athletes). Kissing, hugging or shaking hands with anyone will be prohibited. Failure to comply may result in a cancellation of the permission to stay.
Naturally, members of International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organizing parties of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are authorized to enter Japan, without quarantine.
A total of 70,000 foreigners are expected in Japan for the Games, including athletes, coaches and their staff, and journalists and Medias.
On 2021, March 9, it was announced that foreign spectators, even owning tickets for the Olympic Games, will not be authorized to enter Japan to attend to the sport event.
🇯🇵 Japanese citizens
No restriction (even with a Covid-positive test!).
And for a simple and logical reason: as in most of the countries in the world, the Japanese constitution does not allow to forbid one of their citizens to come back in their own country.
For instance, holders of several passports and nationalities can enter Japan with their Japanese passport, regardless of their country of origin and their health condition.
However, since late December 2020, Japanese citizens must also take a PCR test, in addition to the 14-day quarantine.