Great news for Japan lovers, with the news we’ve been eagerly anticipating – the popular destination is relaxing its border restrictions to allow tourists to enter visa-free and restriction-free from 11th October 2022, allowing proper two-way quarantine-free trips for the first time in over two-and-a-half years.
Singapore citizens and those holding passports issued in 67 other countries are set to benefit, which will see the vast majority of Lion City residents eligible to make a long-awaited trip to “the land of the rising sun” once again.
This relaxation, announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a news conference in New York, will allow travellers to visit Japan without the need to make travel agency bookings in advance, nor apply for a visa in most cases.
To be eligible, you must be fully vaccinated and boosted with one of Japan’s recognised vaccines, or simply have a negative pre-departure PCR test if you are unvaccinated or your jabs don’t comply (e.g. Sinovac / Sinopharm).
The loosening of restrictions comes ahead of both the autumn travel season and the winter ski season, also paving the way for the first truly “free and easy” opportunity for four years to visit Japan during the upcoming sakura (cherry blossom) period, which runs from March to May 2023.
The weak Japanese yen will also stretch your cash on a Japan trip in the short-term, with your Singapore dollar going 25% further than it did in pre-COVID times, though actually getting to and from the country looks set to be an expensive affair, with flight capacity remaining limited in the months ahead.
Japan’s reopening will come just a few days before Taiwan also intends to allow free and easy travel once again, with Hong Kong also set to remove quarantine sometime in October.
Japan’s tourism reopening
Under the latest move, from 11th October 2022 Japan will:
- scrap its requirement for most travellers to obtain an entry visa
- ditch the idea that you must enter under a North-Korea-style guided tour format, or with a pre-arranged travel agent booking, and
- do away with its 50,000 person daily limit on overseas entries.
In most cases, that means you will be able to visit just like you could during pre-pandemic times, organising your own flights and hotel accommodation independently.
Japan already removed pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated travellers in early September 2022.
Who’s eligible: Nationalities
As with before COVID-19, Japan will once again allow those with one of 68 nationalities to enter visa-free for visits of up to 90 days, including Singapore Citizens.
The full list of eligible nationalities for visa-free entry into Japan from 11th October 2022 is outlined below (click to expand).
Stays of up to 90 days permitted (except where stated) for those holding the following nationalities.
* Stays of up to six months, under bilateral agreement.
Who’s eligible: Vaccination or testing
To be eligible you’ll typically need to be fully vaccinated and have received a booster dose, in both cases from a relatively selective list of vaccines, with Sinopharm and Sinovac unfortunately not on the list.
That means having had either two or three vaccine doses, depending on which brand you received.
Japan “fully vaccinated” requirement
|AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) / Covishield||2 doses||1 dose||3 doses|
|Bharat Biotech (Covaxin)||2 doses||1 dose||3 doses|
|Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)||1 dose||1 dose||2 doses|
|Moderna (Spikevax)||2 doses||1 dose||3 doses|
|Novavax (Nuvaxovid) / Covovax||2 doses||1 dose||3 doses|
|Pfizer (Comirnaty)||2 doses||1 dose||3 doses|
Vaccine doses from different brands on the above list received in combination are also acceptable, provided you have completed the primary course (any combination) and had a booster dose (of the same or a different vaccine).
- 1st dose AstraZeneca, 2nd dose Pfizer, 3rd dose Moderna (3 doses) is acceptable
- 1st dose J&J, 2nd dose Novavax (2 doses) is acceptable
- 1st dose Pfizer, 2nd dose Pfizer (2 doses) is not acceptable
Note in particular that the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines are not recognised by Japan.
Update 26 September: Japan’s Government has announced that from 11th October 2022, three doses of any WHO-approved vaccine will be regarded as acceptable for entry, including China-made Sinopharm, Sinovac and Convidecia.
All is not lost if you don’t meet the vaccination criteria though.
A negative pre-departure PCR test result within 72 hours of departure will also suffice in place of fully vaccinated and boosted status.
These tests now start at only S$50 in Singapore, a fraction of the early 2021 rates of ~S$200! There are also a wide range of options in the S$68-80 range, plus home testing from S$98.
Singapore is on the ‘Blue List’
Good news for those looking forward to a trip to Japan – Singapore is on the country’s ‘Blue List’, whereby no testing or quarantine is required, regardless of your vaccination status.
Japan entry requirements by country category
|No||PCR||PCR||3 days at home|
|Red||Yes||Nil||PCR||3 days at home|
|No||PCR||PCR||3 days in facility|
* Pre-departure test
^ On-arrival test
Your travel history in the last 14 days prior to entry into Japan determines the category you must adhere to, with the strictest being enforced.
The full list of countries by category is available here.
There are currently no countries on the Red List at the time of writing, but do be aware that Yellow List countries include India, Fiji, Turkey, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
That has potential implications if you don’t meet Japan’s strict vaccination criteria and you returned to Singapore from one of these countries in the last 14 days before a Japan trip, since you will then be subject to on-arrival PCR testing and quarantine.
What about children?
Children aged under 18 entering Japan can follow the same rules as their parent(s), even if they are not fully vaccinated, provided they are accompanied by fully vaccinated and boosted parent(s).
Japan’s reopening has been painfully slow
Japan closed its borders to non-nationals back in March 2020, with only Japanese citizens and residents eligible to enter the country for a period of over two years.
Since then it’s been a piecemeal reopening, including the following ‘milestones’, if you can call them that:
- November 2021: Business visitors and students allowed to enter with three days of quarantine, instead of 10 days.
- April 2022: Entry ban lifted for foreigners from over 100 countries, but they were still required to apply for a visa, which would not be granted for tourism purposes.
- May 2022: Small groups of tourists, totalling just 50, from Singapore, Australia, Thailand and the USA, were invited to visit on prearranged package tours.
- June 2022: Daily arrival cap doubled from 10,000 to 20,000, including returning citizens and residents. Removal of on-arrival testing and quarantine in most cases.
- June 2022: International visitors permitted on prearranged guided package tours.
- September 2022: Pre-departure testing removed for fully vaccinated travellers, primarily helping Japanese citizens return from overseas more easily.
- September 2022: Daily arrival cap increased to 50,000, foreigners allowed to book non-guided tours through a travel agent (visa still required).
- 11th October 2022: Visa-free tourist travel restarts for 68 nationalities, no daily arrival cap, fully vaccinated and boosted travellers welcome to make free and easy travel arrangements, or have a pre-departure PCR test if vaccination criteria is not met.
As you can imagine, opening to guided tour groups and travel agent itineraries with visa approval required didn’t even move the needle on inbound tourist numbers, but this latest relaxation will be a serious shift-change.
Thousands per day will now descend on Japan once the restrictions cease from 11th October, and that is already ensuring that ticket prices are sky-high and flight award space is nearly non-existent.
Prepare to be flexible with dates or part with plenty of cash just to reach Japan and return home again in the coming months.
Japan didn’t need tourists back in a hurry
Prior to the pandemic Japan welcomed over 2.6 million foreign tourists per month, prompting many to wonder why it has been so slow to reopen its borders.
However, as a rich country with a large affluent population, tourism spend only accounted for 0.8% of Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) pre-pandemic, significantly eclipsed by its huge services and manufacturing sectors.
Even with the broader impact of tourism estimated to be around 2.2% of GDP, border reopening wasn’t a high priority for Japan like it was for countries such as Thailand, for example, where the industry drives a quarter of the economy.
In some senses it’s therefore not surprising that Japan has taken a slow and cautious approach to welcoming tourists again, despite the obvious frustration it’s caused for many of our readers eager to return!
Singapore – Japan flights (October 2022)
Japan was linked to Singapore Changi Airport by over 190 direct weekly flights prior to the pandemic, including the major cities like Tokyo and Osaka through to less-well-trodden locations like Hiroshima and Okinawa.
In October 2022 it’s a far cry from those kind of flight volumes, with only 79 direct weekly flights on offer, which means years of pent-up demand will inevitably be funnelled on less than half the number of services previously available.
Here’s how the schedule looks.
|Airline / Flight Number||To / From||Aircraft||Days|