Our reporter shares some important things to know if you’ll be applying for a vaccine passport within Japan.

Residents of Japan became eligible to apply for COVID-19 vaccine passports (ワクチンパスポート), also called vaccination certificates, on July 26. At the start, many municipalities required that you apply for one in person at a city hall, but mailed-in applications are becoming more and more common now.

Our Japanese-language correspondent Ikuna Kamezawa previously shared her experience of getting vaccinated at a large-scale vaccination center in Tokyo. This time, she’d like to share a bit about the process of applying for a vaccine passport, beginning with some common misconceptions that she’s encountered.

Many folks seem to misunderstand the meaning of the passport, thinking that they can’t go abroad without one or, conversely, that they can go if they have one. To make it clear, the possession of a vaccine passport from Japan does not have any influence on your ability or inability to enter a particular country.

At this time, many countries around the world are not accepting any foreign visitors. On the other hand, there are also many countries that are. Within that group, there are some that may ease their entry restrictions if you display a vaccine passport upon arrival. It’s good to note, however, that even travelers who don’t have a vaccine passport can still enter many countries if they undergo standard procedures such as a fixed quarantine period. On a side note, in order to enter Japan right now from abroad (regardless of possession of a vaccine passport or whether you’re a Japanese citizen), anyone entering the country must present results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before departure and subsequently quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Ikuna also stresses that the benefits of a vaccine passport will vary from location to location. For example, you may be exempt from having to take a PCR test for COVID-19 before your departure or after your arrival elsewhere. Alternately, any quarantine period after your arrival might be shortened or eliminated entirely. These entry policies can change without warning, however, so it’s definitely a good idea to check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s homepage for the most up-to-date information.

OK, now let’s take a look at the procedure for obtaining a vaccine passport in Japan.

First, you must apply for a passport through the same local governing body that issued your vaccine voucher. There are no exceptions to this rule and it includes even those who were vaccinated at large-scale sites, at work, or who have recently moved.

Second, please note that at this current time vaccine passports are only being issued to those with plans to travel overseas. The number of countries that accept them is also expected to increase over time, so it’s probably smart for anyone with upcoming travel plans abroad to apply for one regardless. There’s a spot on the application form to indicate your travel destination but a copy of your plane ticket is not actually necessary.

Third, you must submit the following required documents. They may vary slightly depending on your municipality, so be sure to ask about any local differences.

  • An application form for vaccination certificate of COVID-19
  • A copy of your passport
  • Proof of vaccination or a copy of your vaccination record
  • A copy of personal ID (e.g. license)
  • A self-addressed, stamped envelope

It’s expected that you’ll print out the application form yourself, which may unfortunately present a bit of a challenge for older folks or those who are technologically challenged.

Ikuna got all of her application documents ready and decided to call her local municipal office to confirm a few things before mailing them off.

As soon as she said that she was calling with questions about a vaccine passport, the person on the line almost apologetically mentioned that the number of countries that would accept one was still very low and asked if she were still interested. It occurred to Ikuna that they must be fielding lots of calls from people who simply don’t understand what a vaccine passport is supposed to be used for as well.

She also learned that as of August 12, there were 18 national governments in which a Japan-issued vaccine passport would have some sort of benefit:

  • Austria
  • Belize
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Germany
  • Honduras
  • Hong Kong
  • Italy
  • Lithuania
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • South Korea
  • Sri Lanka
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Thailand (Phuket Island, Samui Island, Pha Ngan Island, Tao Island only)
  • Turkey

Ikuna also recommends leaving plenty of time for bureaucratic processing. As someone who lives in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, her vaccine passport would be mailed to her approximately 10 days after receipt of her completed application documents. She was a little nervous about this timeframe because she was planning to travel abroad on August 15. In an effort to see if someone in the office would take pity on her and hasten the process, she had plastered her application form with sticky notes such as “Thank you very much” and “I really, really appreciate it.”

Thankfully, after mailing the documents by special express on July 28 (the date of her second Moderna inoculation), she got her self-addressed envelope back on August 10.

The contents appeared to be smaller than she expecting, so she was a little hesitant to open the envelope.

The first thing she saw was a general cover letter explaining the contents…

…which was followed by her official vaccine passport! WHOO-HOO!

The passport was a simple folded sheet of A4-sized paper. It clearly detailed her vaccine manufacturer, vaccination dates, and other basic information in both Japanese and English.

It was somehow comforting to have an official “Certificate ID” as well.

Upon closer inspection, she noticed that the passport was printed on special paper designed to prevent unauthorized copies. Ikuna decided that she would always carry it on her person like a protective charm for the time being.

Hopefully the application form will become available for online submission and the vaccine passport itself will also offer more benefits for domestic purposes before long. Until then, if you’re looking for something to do within Japan, might we suggest taking a figurative journey to the past in Kyushu–before even the 1918 pandemic came about?

Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
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