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The holiday season is coming up and with new COVID-19 cases at lows not seen since the summer of 2020, many Japan residents may be making plans to spend Christmas with family and friends abroad.

And with Japan easing entry restrictions, many in the country may be wondering how that will affect travel plans.

So how are the new rules different from before, and what do travelers need to prepare for?

In short, if you are a Japanese citizen or a foreign resident traveling abroad for pleasure, then the rules haven’t changed and a self-quarantine period of 10 to 14 days will be required upon your return. Instead, the new rules that took effect on Monday are geared toward short-term business travelers, foreign students, foreign technical interns and employees posted to Japan.

So what do travelers looking to spend the holidays abroad need to keep in mind? Below are some common questions to help you prepare for your trip.

Which documents should you prepare?

The entry paperwork varies for every country, so this explainer will focus on the documents necessary for a return to Japan regardless of nationality. You’ll need:

  • A negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure to Japan: It is strongly recommended that you use the form available on the health ministry website and take it to your doctor or testing facility to fill out. The form is available to download in a variety of languages. If you’re not using that form, then make sure that the test result includes how the sample was taken, the testing method, the date and the time of testing. Passengers cannot board a plane for Japan with incomplete documents, which airlines claim happens occasionally. It’s worth noting that vaccinated travelers also need to submit this document.
  • Written pledge: This is aimed at making sure that people abide by the entry and quarantine rules after arrival. This form is also made available during the flight. If you violate the rules, your name may be made public on the health ministry’s website. For foreign nationals, your residence status may be revoked.
  • Online questionnaire: Travelers can answer the questions beforehand and show a printout or a screenshot of the QR code to quarantine officials at the airport.
  • (Not mandatory) Copy of vaccine passport or record of vaccination: Vaccinated travelers, meaning those who are at least two weeks removed from their coronavirus shot, are eligible for a shorter quarantine period of 10 days instead of 14, provided that you are not traveling from countries deemed to be a COVID-19 hot spot. The only eligible vaccinations are those made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.
Haneda Airport on Monday | AFP-JIJI
Haneda Airport on Monday | AFP-JIJI

What happens after you arrive at the airport?

After you submit the necessary documents, you will take an antigen test and wait for one to three hours for the results in a designated waiting area.

If the test result is negative, you can move on to immigration. Officials will also check that you have the MySOS, Google Maps and COCOA apps downloaded on your smartphone. The apps will be used to check up on you daily during the quarantine period. Downloading the apps beforehand can help you save time at the airport. Travelers without a smartphone will need to rent one at the airport.

What happens once you’re ready to head home or to an accommodation facility of your choice?

For starters, you are not allowed to use public transportation, which includes regular trains, buses, taxis, domestic flights and passenger boats.

But transport operators are offering a variety of options for travelers. For passengers arriving at Narita Airport, Keisei Electric Railway’s Skyliner has a train car that can only be used by arriving passengers. Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Ueno Station, passengers can use a hired car to get home as part of the package. A limousine bus specifically for arriving passengers will take you to major hotels in central Tokyo.

Other approved methods include driving a rental car, having someone pick you up or calling for a hired car — essentially a high-end taxi service that passengers can use only if they made reservations beforehand. You could also drive yourself to the airport in Japan and leave your car parked there during your trip.

How many days do you need to quarantine?

In principle, arriving passengers must self-isolate for 14 days (or 10 days for fully vaccinated travelers), but where you quarantine depends on where you have traveled. If you have arrived from countries listed as COVID-19 hot spots, the government requires you to be quarantined at a designated facility where they can keep a closer eye on you to ensure you are following quarantine rules.

Arriving passengers will spend anywhere from zero to 10 days of their 14-day quarantine period at designated facilities, depending on the COVID-19 situation at their point of departure.

A quarantine agent waits for passengers arriving from overseas at the arrivals hall of Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI
A quarantine agent waits for passengers arriving from overseas at the arrivals hall of Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday.
| AFP-JIJI

The government’s most recent list, updated on Nov. 5, is as follows:

  • 10 days of quarantine at designated facilities and the remaining four days at home or at an accommodation of your choice, plus mandatory COVID-19 tests on days 3, 6 and 10: No countries listed at the time of writing.
  • Six days of quarantine at designated facilities, with the remaining eight days at home or at an accommodation of your choice, plus mandatory COVID-19 tests on days 3 and 6: Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Peru
  • Three days of quarantine at designated facilities, with the remaining 11 days at home or at an accommodation of your choice, plus a mandatory COVID-19 test on day 3: Argentina, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, United Kingdom, Ecuador, Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia, Suriname, Dominican Republic, Turkey, Nepal, Haiti, Pakistan, Philippines, Brazil, Morocco, Mongolia, Russia’s Primorsky Krai and Moscow
  • 14 days of quarantine at home or accommodation of your choice: All other locations not listed above.

The list of countries is updated periodically so be sure to check the latest information before traveling.

During the quarantine period, you will be required to send information on where you are via the MySOS smartphone app and answer calls from the authorities to make sure you’re abiding by the rules.

Do I still need to take a COVID-19 test if I’ve been fully vaccinated?

Yes. For those traveling from countries requiring a 10-day quarantine at a designated facility, you need to test negative via a PCR or antigen test on days 3, 6 and 10 of your isolation period. For those traveling from countries that require a six-day quarantine at a designated facility, you need to test negative on days 3 and 6 of your isolation period.

For vaccinated people traveling from countries requiring a three-day quarantine at a designated facility, you can quarantine at home or an accommodation of your choice for the entire 14 days with no need for testing, and even shorten the self-isolation to 10 days if you test negative at home in a test done at your own expense on day 10.

Finally, for those arriving from countries not on the list, you don’t need to take a test for the entire 14-day quarantine period at home or at an accommodation of your choice unless you want to shorten your quarantine period to 10 days. In that case, you need to take a test at your own expense on day 10 and test negative.

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