It’s clear from the continuing spread of Covid-19 variants that we’ve still got a long way to go before overseas traveling returns to anything like it was pre-pandemic. But some countries are opening up and international travel is increasing.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. It usually requires Covid-19 tests before your flights and up to a two-week quarantine on either side—if not both—of the journey.
With the aim of making international travel somewhat easier for those who need to do it, a number of countries have begun to offer vaccine passports, which can make international travel during the pandemic a little easier.
Quite simply, a vaccine passport is a document that proves you have received your vaccination for Covid-19. Depending on the country that you’re traveling to while armed with a vaccine passport, you may be able to bypass the need for a negative PCR test before your flight, or reduce the length of your quarantine period upon arrival—and in some cases, do away with it entirely.
Over the past few months, countries have rolled out vaccine passports for various purposes, from being able to go to bars or nightclubs to using public transport. Japan began offering the document on July 26 and the number of countries that accept it has been increasing.
How to Apply
It is recommended that you apply for the passport when you know that you will be traveling, rather than just doing it in advance, and don’t have an immediate trip on the horizon. And local governments only recommend that you apply for the passport if you are traveling to a country where relaxed quarantine measures are in place for those who can show proof of vaccination.
Regardless of where you received your vaccination, you must apply for the passport through the city or ward that issued your vaccine coupon. Depending on the ward or city where you live, the application process can be done by mail, in person, or in some cases electronically. To see which method your ward or city is using, visit their website or call their information office.
For your application, you’ll need to submit the following four documents:
- Vaccine passport application form
- Your passport
- The vaccination coupon you received from your city or ward (if you don’t have this, a document showing your My Number or address will work)
- Proof that you have been vaccinated
If you are applying for the vaccine passport by mail:
- Note that some wards and city offices will request original versions of some documents, while copies can be accepted in other cases.
- Mail applications will also require a stamped, self-addressed envelope (or just a stamp, depending on your municipality) to mail back the passport and any documents.
If your ward or city of residence accepts electronic applications—this is currently rare—scanned versions of your documents will be accepted. Some wards or cities will also request proof of your upcoming travel. Make sure to check this when you start the application process.
The amount of time it takes to get your passport can vary from ward to ward and city to city, and how you apply. Some people have been able to get their passport on the same day when bringing all the materials to their local office. Others applying by mail have experienced waits on the order of days or weeks. Expect even more time in going back and forth with your ward or city office if you’re missing any documents.
Should you be in a hurry and applying by mail, it’s recommended that you use express shipping with your self-addressed envelope. If there’s a long delay with your mail application, you may need to follow up with your local office—either on your own or with the help of a Japanese speaker, if you’re not confident in handling it yourself.
The document is currently issued in paper form, but the Japanese government is looking into a digital version of the vaccine passport. You can find more details about the vaccine passport on Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare site (in Japanese).
Where You Can Use a Vaccine Passport
The number of countries accepting a Japanese vaccine passport has gone up since the document first started to be offered on July 26. As of August 26, these are the countries and areas that are offering eased entry restrictions for holders of Japanese vaccine passports:
Papua New Guinea
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Thailand (only the islands of Phuket, Koh Samui, Phangan, and Ko Tao)
United States (only the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam)
You’ll want to check the information sites for the countries and regions listed above to find out exactly how they relax entry conditions for vaccine passport holders.
There are significant absences on this list, of course, due in part to Japan’s own stringent entry policies at the moment. Aside from the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, the United States doesn’t yet recognize vaccine passports, and neither does China, so your quarantine period will still be dictated by local ordinances. And while South Korea does accept the passports, the country also requires additional documents to be able to reduce total quarantine time.
Also, on your return to Japan, remember that the country still has strict controls for citizens and foreign residents coming back from overseas travel. You will still need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken up to 72 hours before your flight, take a test upon arrival, and quarantine for up to 14 days.
We’ll add to the list of countries and regions that accept Japanese vaccine passports as we learn about them, but for the time being, safe travels!