Sep 12, 20224 min read
Japan has relaxed its entry rules again © Getty Images
This is how you can visit Japan as travel rules ease for fall
Sep 12, 20224 min read
Up until now, travel to Japan has been heavily restricted since borders snapped shut two-and-a-half years ago. It hasn't been easy for tourists to get there, with only organized group tours allowed into the country for much of 2022. But last week, the government announced that things are changing, and self-guided trips are back.
By self-guided trips, we mean that travelers no longer need to be accompanied by a guide during their trip. But in order to visit Japan they must book their flights and accommodation through a travel agency for now. Unrestricted tourism is still off the cards, though there are reports that Japan could remove the daily cap of 50,000 arrivals by the end of the month and return to visa-free and independent travel. 
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said this week the government is considering ways to ease the current pandemic restrictions while "maintaining a balance between preventing the spread of infection and promoting social and economic activities".
In the meantime, if you've long dreamed of visiting the neon-bright neighborhoods of Tokyo or the once-in-a-lifetime attractions of Kyoto, and you're keen to do it as soon as possible, here's what you need to know about entry and visa rules for visiting Japan as a tourist.
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Since June, tourists were only been allowed to enter Japan as part of an organized group tour whereby they had to be accompanied by a local guide for the duration of their trip. But that rule was scrapped on September 7 in favor of a more relaxed policy that allows self-guided trips.
But you can't rock up after booking a flight online. You must book your flight and accommodation through a registered travel agency, so the government has a point of contact for you. So it's package vacations only, for now, guided or self-guided – whatever your preference.
Tourists must wear masks and adhere to other COVID-19 measures. They'll also need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure date if they haven't been triple vaccinated and install the MySOS app, where they can register their test results.
Before the pandemic, Japan offered visa-free entry to visitors from some 68 countries,s including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, and Malaysia, but for now, "everyone needs a visa," according to the Foreign Ministry, regardless of where they are coming from.
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The visa exemption scheme for Japan remains on hold for now, which means that anyone who wishes to visit must apply for and obtain a tourist visa first. Visitors can apply for a certificate for registration to ERFS (Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System) through the travel agency they've booked their trip with. Once that's processed, they'll receive a document they can take to their local Japanese embassy or consulate to obtain a visa or apply for the visa directly with the tourism agency. The turnaround time is generally five working days after the documents are received and accepted.
A new eVisa scheme was introduced last month for US and Canadian citizens. The eVisa is available for tourist and business travelers and those visiting relatives. Applicants must hold a valid US or Canadian passport.
Before applying for the eVisa, applicants must obtain a certificate for registration to the ERFS through the travel agency they've booked their trip with. According to the Japanese embassy, those visiting relatives don't need to apply for an ERFS, but they must instead download marriage certificates or proof of kinship.
Once they have these forms in order, applicants can go ahead and complete the eVisa form online through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Applicants must have passport information, travel documents, and supporting documents like ERFS to hand. A processing fee will also apply. Once the application is completed and approved, the eVisa will be issued by email.
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Japan categorizes countries into blue, yellow, or red based on their COVID risk. Travelers from blue countries have the option to show proof of vaccination or take a test before traveling. Blue countries include the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, Mexico, and more. The complete list of countries can be viewed here.
Travelers from yellow and red countries are subject to additional entry requirements, such as testing upon arrival and quarantine.
This article was first published October 2020 and updated September 2022
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