Alarmed by the possibility of a new COVID-19 variant wreaking havoc around the world, Japan earlier this week re-imposed strict restrictions on travelers from overseas, barring most nonresident foreign nationals from entering the country.

Almost all countries worldwide are introducing travel restrictions to a certain extent on arrivals from outside their borders.

While the new restrictions have been imposed as a temporary measure until the end of January, technicalities in the revised policy have sparked confusion among new visa applicants and residents of Japan over whether they need to scrap plans to head out from or return to the nation.

Here we aim to clarify the conditions for entry and re-entry to Japan under the new directive.

Who is prohibited from entering Japan?

Under the new directive, nonresident foreign nationals who have yet to obtain landing permission — in the form of either a visa or a certificate of eligibility typically used to obtain a visa — will not be able to enter Japan until after the end of January.

As arrivals under business travel agreements Japan has reached with individual countries are already subject to strict controls, they are not affected by this change.

The government stopped issuing new visas and certificates of eligibility Monday and does not plan to resume until the start of February.

Almost no passengers can be seen in the departures lobby at Narita Airport on Monday. The government imposed new travel restrictions the same day. | KYODO
Almost no passengers can be seen in the departures lobby at Narita Airport on Monday. The government imposed new travel restrictions the same day. | KYODO

Amid concerns over the new variant of the novel coronavirus, which is said to be up to 70% more transmissible, nonresident foreign nationals who have stayed in the U.K. or South Africa within 14 days will also be barred from entering Japan, even if they would otherwise be exempt under a business travel agreement.

Who can enter Japan under the new restrictions?

Foreign nationals arriving under business travel agreements or who had already obtained landing permission before Monday will be allowed to enter the country, providing they have not visited the U.K. or South Africa within 14 days. However, those who have obtained landing permission and who are coming from any of the 152 countries or territories covered by the entry restrictions that have been updated since April 2 can enter only until Jan. 3.

Japanese nationals and foreign nationals with valid residence permits will be able to enter Japan whether or not they have visited those countries.

Will arrivals go through more rigorous entry procedures?

Yes. Previously, Japan restricted travel from 152 countries and territories that had been designated at Level 3, the second-highest classification under the nation’s travel advisory system and under which all travel to those locations from Japan is warned against.

With the most recent change, Japan has temporarily expanded that policy and imposed additional quarantine measures on travelers from all countries and regions.

From Dec. 25, all foreign nationals entering from countries and territories that have reported cases of infection with the new strain of the novel coronavirus have also been required to submit a certificate confirming they tested negative for the virus before departing for Japan.

The list of applicable countries has been growing by the day as more report infections involving the new strain. From this week, this condition applies to arrivals from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, as well as the province of Ontario in Canada. The latest detailed information on regions subject to the new quarantine measures will be published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

What about business travelers from countries with which Japan had reached business travel agreements?

The restrictions on issuing new landing permission do not apply to travelers arriving under specific business travel agreements Japan has reached with 11 countries and territories to relax travel restrictions. These are: Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

An airport staffer talks to a passenger from Europe on Monday at Narita Airport. | KYODO
An airport staffer talks to a passenger from Europe on Monday at Narita Airport. | KYODO

But with the change, Japan has temporarily halted its relaxation of quarantine measures for short-term business travelers returning from areas covered by the travel restrictions.

On Nov. 1, Japan began to conditionally exempt residents of Japan who were traveling for work purposes and were planning to spend no more than seven days at their overseas destinations from the 14-day quarantine policy. This regulation will be put on hold until the end of January.

Are foreign residents re-entering Japan subject to tighter entry restrictions than before? And what about Japanese nationals?

Entry restrictions for returning foreign residents have not been tightened. Foreign residents were already subject to strict restrictions upon entry.

Resident foreign nationals seeking to re-enter Japan will continue to be allowed entry under the condition that they undergo a test for the novel coronavirus within 72 hours of their departure for Japan and submit the certification confirming they tested negative when they arrive.

Under the revised policy, the requirement for pre-departure tests for COVID-19 will, for the time being, also apply to Japanese nationals returning from areas where the new variant of the virus has been found. Japanese returnees who are unable to comply will be asked to self-isolate at a designated location for 14 days.

In addition, all returnees from the U.K. and South Africa will need to self-isolate for three days at a designated location, after which they will be required to undergo a test for COVID-19.

Those who test negative will be still required to self-isolate at home for the remaining 11 days of any 14-day quarantine period after arriving in Japan. Returnees from abroad are not allowed to use public transport during the 14-day quarantine period.

Additionally, all returnees who have traveled to the U.K. or South Africa within 14 days of their travel to Japan will be asked to submit a written pledge that they will adhere to quarantine measures during the 14 day period after their return to Japan. The returnees will be required to keep records of their location during that time.

DEC 30. UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect cautionary points in the revised policy that may affect travelers to Japan. In the original article we failed to include information that travelers who have newly obtained landing permission to enter Japan but who will be traveling from regions designated at Level 3, the second highest classification under the nation’s travel advisory system, will only be allowed to enter up until the end of Jan. 3.

For detailed and up-to-date information about the restrictions, consult the Ministry of Foreign Affairs special page.

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