How to Travel –> Japan from the United States During Covid-19

Please note that the following is written for informational purposes only. As the rules and requirements are always changing, I recommend each person do thorough research that pertains to their particular travel situation.

After a wonderful few weeks back in the US, it finally became time to make the journey across the Pacific Ocean once more.

In this post, I will share the process I went through to travel successfully from the United States to Japan. (To learn about traveling in the opposite direction, read here.)

While Japan’s borders are slowly reopening, they are still closed to most travelers including tourists. (I was able to travel to Japan since I currently hold an active visa.)

Seoul Korea Airport, ICN
Beautiful installation in Incheon Airport

Quick Travel Summary

  • Departure Date: April 6th, 2022
  • Airline: Asiana (United codeshare), Asiana
  • Route: San Francisco (SFO) –> Soeul (ICN) –> Fukuoka (FUK)
  • Required documents: MOFA Covid form, Certificate of Vaccinations, MySOS app, Residence Card, Reentry permit
  • Covid Test Issuing Company: City Health
  • Covid Test Type: Abbott ID Now SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Molecular-NAAT, $204, results after 1 hour.
  • Quarantine: 0 days

Pre Travel

Having a valid visa to travel back to Japan is only one-half of the puzzle. In addition to this, you will need to present a Negative Covid Certificate (taken no more than 72 hours before the first leg of your departure). For a smoother entry process, after landing in Japan, I also recommend applying for Fast Track on the My SOS App (discussed below).

Pre Travel: Covid Testing and MOFA Form

Unlike travel to the US, when you are headed to Japan, the Covid test can be taken up to 72 hours before departure. However, note that the accepted tests are different and strict documentation with a doctor’s signature is required. I highly recommend sticking to the format provided by this government MOFA form and finding a clinic that is knowledgeable in filling it out to avoid problems and possible denial of boarding at the airport.

I could not find a place as cheap as the Kinoshita Testing to get the correct test and paperwork done, so I used a service called City Health. City Health was extremely responsive to my emails confirming that they could complete my Japan documents correctly. I gave them a printed MOFA form and my NAAT test results were ready within an hour. Unfortunately, the test was very expensive at $204 since government-subsidized aid for testing ended a few days prior. 😞

Pre Travel: My SOS App and Fast Track

Recently Japan began rolling out a Fast Track system to help airports expedite the landing process. (A welcome improvement as it took me 6 hours to get out of Narita Airport when I arrived in December 2020!)

To apply for Fast Track you need to download the My SOS app using this QR Code or link. (Downloading from the app store will not prompt you with the correct information to be able to pre-register for Fast Track.)

MySOS - Apps on Google Play

Once you have downloaded the app, follow the instructions for “Pre-registration for quarantine procedures”.

My SOS Fast Track Pre Registration

As you fill out the different sections (questionnaire, vaccination status, etc), the home screen will change from red to yellow, to finally green. Everything can be filled out well in advance of your travels except for the negative covid certificate which you can only upload within the 72 hours before your departure.

My SOS Fast Track Green Screen

All documents must be uploaded within 16 hours of your flight, and the app displays a countdown timer to help you see the remaining time.

(To be honest, don’t think that the Fast Track at Fukuoka Airport helped expedite the process that much when I was there. However, in Tokyo, I have heard that Fast Track can cut hours off of your entry time.)

Boarding at the Airport

At the SFO Airport ticket counter, my negative covid test result, residence card, passport, and reentry slip were all thoroughly checked before I was given my boarding passes.

On the Plane

On the plane, I filled out a Written Pledge and customs declaration.

In Japan: Document Processing and Covid Testing

Flying from the US to Japan

Landing in Japan vs the US is like night and day. After landing in Fukuoka and deplaning, I had to navigate through three floors of document processing and covid testing. I showed my documents and Fast Track screen over and over. It took just under 2.5 hours to get out of the airport (which is considered fast).

If you have transfer flights, it’s important to keep hold of all your boarding passes as they are used to verify your country of origin and the validity of your covid test time.

From the time I deplaned, it took an hour to reach the point where my saliva was collected for the covid test. After giving your sample, you sit in the waiting area until your number is called. This is the first place where a bathroom is available.

The Covid results took 50 minutes to process. During this time I was able to use the airport wifi and do some work.

After receiving my negative result (woo!), I went through immigration and customs. In total it took 2.5 hours to exit the airport quarantine free. (Currently, quarantine is not necessary for those traveling from a non-designated country, who have received two rounds of vaccination plus a booster, and test negative at the airport.)

Final Thoughts

The most important thing for traveling back to Japan is to have your Negative Covid Certificate MOFA form filled out correctly. Additionally, it helps to have all your documents in order and easily accessible as you will need to show them over and over once you land in Japan.

This wasn’t an exciting Discover the Amazing-ness of Japan post that I usually write, but I hope that sharing my travel experience will help others who will be making this journey in the future!


For more about Travels in Japan, check out these blog posts!

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