Japan’s vaccine passports: Here’s what you need to know

Starting Monday, Japan will begin accepting applications for so-called vaccine passports from people who have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, enabling them to travel internationally to certain destinations without having to quarantine.

From Israel to Europe, many countries have already issued vaccine passports that exempt people who have been vaccinated from lengthy quarantines and other travel restrictions.

But Japan’s announcement has raised concerns and questions among the public about the issuing of vaccine passports in the country.

How will Japan’s vaccine passports be used and what kind of information will they contain?

Available in both Japanese and English, the vaccination passports are aimed at helping residents of Japan avoid strict travel restrictions abroad as more nations worldwide introduce similar systems to aid the resumption of business travel and tourism.

A Japanese vaccination passport will include the following information:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number
  • Type of vaccine
  • Date of inoculation
  • The municipality where it was issued

Normally, government documents are available only in Japanese, but the information will also be shown in English so that the passports can be used easily outside of Japan, too.

The documents will initially be issued on paper, but the government is considering introducing a digital version at a later date.

A screenshot of a vaccine passport | THE HEALTH, LABOR AND WELFARE MINISTRY
A screenshot of a vaccine passport | THE HEALTH, LABOR AND WELFARE MINISTRY

How can the document be obtained?

People who have been fully inoculated can apply for vaccine passports at the municipal office where their residency is registered, and they are advised to apply when they plan to travel abroad.

Applicants can apply for vaccine passports in person or by mail, and the government is considering introducing a digital application system at a later date. The documents will be available free of charge, and the government is making arrangements for them to be issued the same day.

According to government officials, the application process will initially differ depending on the municipality. For instance, Setagaya Ward in Tokyo is preparing to accept applications by mail, meaning applicants will have to wait a few days to obtain their vaccine passport.

The following documents are required for application:

  • Vaccine passport application form
  • Passport
  • Vaccination voucher (if the applicant has lost their vaccine voucher, a document that shows an individual’s My Number or their address can be submitted instead)
  • Proof of vaccination

The information included in vaccine passports will be based on vaccination records registered at local municipalities.

Those applying by mail will be required to include a copy of documents confirming their postal address and an envelope with a postal stamp to be used to mail back the vaccine passport.

But given that municipal officials have their hands tied with the vaccine rollout, some local governments may not be sufficiently prepared to issue vaccine passports from the first day. Currently, around 20% of people in Japan eligible for COVID-19 shots have been fully inoculated.

Will there be an expiration date for the vaccine passports?

No. The government says it’s up to destination countries to decide how to treat the information given in the vaccine passport.

Are there measures taken to prevent forgery?

Yes. The government plans to implement the same copy protection technology used for residence registration documents.

Which nations will accept Japan’s vaccine passports?

On Wednesday, the government announced that holders of the passport will be exempted from entry restrictions in Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and Turkey. Meanwhile, Estonia has been added to the Foreign Ministry’s list of nations that accept the document, although it does not currently require any travelers to self-isolate upon entry.

Vaccinated travelers to South Korea, who have specific business, academic and humanitarian reasons to visit the country, will also be exempt from a 14-day quarantine if they have proof of vaccination, such as a vaccine passport.

The government reportedly aims to expand the number of countries to around 30. The government is still negotiating with other nations and will add the countries to the list once they come to an agreement.

China and the United States, key destinations and departure points for Japan, are not yet on the list of countries, as the government is still negotiating with them.

Travelers at Haneda airport on Thursday | KYODO
Travelers at Haneda airport on Thursday | KYODO

Which countries have already introduced vaccine passports?

Many countries have already started using digital COVID-19 certificates to enable people to travel more easily. The European Union, for example, is issuing Digital COVID Certificates, which came into use across the EU from July 1.

Meanwhile, a similar Israeli system did not withstand the test of time. Israel, which had one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world, was in February among the first to introduce vaccine passports for domestic use, allowing holders — either those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 — to take part in leisure, sports and cultural activities.

The document also enabled Israeli residents to travel without entry restrictions to certain countries such as Cyprus and Greece. However, on June 1 it ended its so-called Green Pass program amid a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, leading to calls for caution regarding the use of such documents.

Nonetheless, given its convenience, the Israeli government is now weighing up whether to reinstate the system and is also seeking a reciprocal agreement with Japan on the use of the vaccination certificate program.

Would Japan’s vaccine passport holders be exempt from a 14-day quarantine when they return to Japan?

No. Japan’s maintains stringent border controls — with only citizens and foreign residents, as well as some foreign nationals under exceptional circumstances, being allowed entry — and holders of the Japanese document will still need to prepare for strict quarantine measures after re-entering the country.

Under Japan’s current border control measures, all people entering the country must submit negative results from coronavirus tests taken within 72 hours prior to their departure for Japan and observe a 14-day self-isolation period either at home or in part at government-designated facilities.

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