COVID-19: Japan eases travel rules with unguided tours from 7 September
August has just ended on a high note with the latest series of announcements by Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, detailing further easing of border measures for travellers to Japan. The following measures have been announced and will come into effect from 7 September 2022.
- Daily visitor arrival cap will be raised from 20,000 to 50,000.
- Entry of tourists on non-escorted travel tours will be allowed.
- Pre-arrival PCR test is not required for travellers who have received at least 3 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
What does this mean for us non-Japanese people itching to go on holiday to Japan, you ask? Let me break down each point for you in our latest COVID-19 update article.
More passengers can fly in daily
Layovers are included towards the daily arrival cap. (Image credit: Pakutaso)
Perhaps the update received with the least fanfare this month was the increasing of the daily visitor arrival cap from 20,000 to 50,000. While the number jump may seem quite significant, this change will most likely have no immediate short-term effect on the current travel situation. For reference, according to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, approximately 144,500 visitors entered Japan in June 2022 alone, a number that falls comfortably within the previous 20,000 persons per day limit.
Mandatory PCR tests will no longer be required
Getting your booster shots is still very much mandatory, however. (Image credit: photoAC)
One more pre-flight requirement you may strike off your to-do list come 7 September is proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, as long as you possess a valid vaccination certificate showing that you’ve taken at least three doses of a recognised COVID-19 vaccine. This is welcoming news for the majority of us as it would greatly reduce the current hassle of making preparations for Japan at the moment, although we still have to install the mandated apps as required by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
You can travel to Japan without needing to follow an escorted tour! (Under certain conditions)
True free-and-easy travel lies just out of reach. (Image credit: photoAC)
Perhaps the biggest and most welcome update coming this September is the allowance of tourists in the country on non-guided package tours. To put it plainly, you can approach a travel agency, purchase or plan an itinerary with them, apply for your travel visa, and then fly over to Japan and enjoy your trip with their stamp of approval.
While this effectively means that you’ll be able to travel the country without being chaperoned by a tour guide or herded in a group of fellow tourists, participants in these non-guided package tours would still need to follow the rules and itineraries approved by their travel agencies, and will not be allowed to go off exploring on their own outside of their planned schedule. How these travel agencies plan to enforce these policies is up to them, but all of this is mainly to ensure that foreign travellers are continually monitored so that contact tracing can be done in the event that someone is infected with the coronavirus.
As fully-planned itineraries tend to not be popular with some travellers, some travel agencies have free-and-easy packages that allow travellers to plan and customise their own itineraries. Do not, however, expect the same level of freedom and cost-efficiency as you would normally have had when you planned your own itineraries pre-COVID-19. Many agencies would require you to follow their strict arrangements for air tickets, transportation, accommodation, and much more before giving your itinerary their stamp of approval.
…So should I start packing my bags?
My suitcase has been ready for the past year... (Image credit: Unsplash)
If all of the measures above come into effect without a hitch, it would certainly be a lot easier for more people to fly to Japan for holiday. Keep in mind, however, that we still have long ways to go before we can truly enjoy independent travel as we once did.
Perhaps the most time-consuming factor for travelling into Japan at the moment is the process to obtain a travel visa, as visa-free entry into Japan has been suspended since the early days of the pandemic. This would require you to prepare a variety of documents, as well as for you to have a sponsor in Japan (in this case, a travel agency) apply for you through the Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System (ERFS). The ERFS is an application process that is necessary for any foreign national applying for a short-term visa stay (less than 90 days) in Japan.
All this additional paperwork means that you may not be able to have your pre-travel requirements ready for a quick trip as soon as you’d like, as potential travellers will need to start planning 2-3 months in advance. But if you’re adamant on enjoying the breezy Japanese autumn season before the floodgates fully open and don’t mind the extra costs and caveats that come with the current system, I’d say go for it—you deserve the break after waiting for over two long years!
If your preferred style of holiday, however, is to save on costs or to freely roam as you please without a tight schedule weighing you down, then I’d suggest you hold on just a bit longer as it remains to be seen when true, independent travel to Japan will return.
Header image credit: photoAC