Star Wars plane at Japan airport

Author: J.J.

Vacationing outside of Japan… and how to get back

"Big ol' jet airliner..."

“Big ol’ jet airliner…”

Japan has many holidays. Several of which fall on Mondays or Fridays, and if a holiday falls on a Sunday the Japanese government declares Monday a compensatory holiday. For an American, this means more three-day weekends than I am accustomed. Golden Week and New Years also provide several additional days off.

Couple all this with a few vacation days and you can have yourself a couple weeks for traveling. And even with FaceTime, Skype, and texting your family, sometimes the best thing to do is meet up during these long breaks. If your family is geographically spread out like mine, chances are that means traveling out of country to a mutual meeting place… say Hawaii. To get to your destination and back there are a few hoops to jump through. If you are patient and stay calm you could be sitting by the pool sipping some pineapple juice under the palm trees.

The Re-Entry permit form is split in two: the embarkment (right) and the disembarkment (left) forms

The Re-Entry permit form is split in two:
the embarkment (right) and the disembarkment (left) forms

Leaving Japan

So you’ve called off work, paid the bills, and packed a suitcase full of clothes. Don’t forget your passport and residence card (在留カード, zairyu kaado). The Japanese residence card is important. In fact, it is your key back into the country, not the visa in your passport. Airport employees will ask to see your residence card as proof of living in Japan.

Once bags are checked, tickets are in hand, and you’ve passed security, the next step is to head to embarkment immigration control. Here is where they check passports and tickets. What is of the utmost importance to have here is a Re-Entry Permit (formally also known as the Embarkation and Disembarkation Card for Re-entrants). Copies of the Re-Entry Permit (再入国許可, sainyuukoku-kyoka) forms can be found near the line of people waiting to have their information checked, or at any of the paperwork stands spread across the large, open room. This paper tells the officer if you are coming back to Japan, and roughly how long you will be out of the country. If you have trouble finding it just ask the officer at the immigrations desk. Make sure you have all the correct boxes checked and upon inspection the Re-Entry Permit will be stamped and stapled in your passport. If you are leaving Japan permanently this is when you will have your residence card voided. Once that little ordeal is over, all that’s left is to catch your flight.

Getting Stopped by the TSA (United States)

This is fun. It happened to me once, right after I had renewed my American passport in Japan. Upon entering the US, the immigration control TSA agent took a long time checking, and double-checking, my very crisp looking passport. I was pulled over and detained for a little while. I was asked some of the basic questions like where I live and what I do for a living. Thankfully I had brought my expired passport with my Japanese work visa in it, which seemed to make things go a little smoother. This probably doesn’t happen to most people but sometimes it pays to pack some additional paperwork.

After being in the stuffy TSA office it was time for fun in the sun.

After being in the stuffy TSA office it was time for fun in the sun.

Returning from the foreign airport

If you are visiting your home country, or your passport’s country of origin, people will assume you are traveling to Japan as a visitor. When checking into your flight back to Japan, the ticket counter agent may assume that you will only be visiting Japan and ask to see your “return flight ticket” (back to the US, UK, etc.). If asked, the best approach is to not get flustered and explain that you live and work in Japan.

You might also be asked for your residence card to verify your Japanese residence. There was a time I had a lengthy back-and-forth with the airlines attendant, each time he asked for my return ticket and I kept saying, “this [ticket you’re printing out] is my return ticket”. It was like the Abbott & Costello skit “Who’s on First?

Arriving Back in Japan

If you make it back to Japan in one piece then this is the easiest, and last, leg of the journey. Upon arriving everybody will be herded to Immigration, which works very similar to immigration control leaving the country. Depending on the airport there may be a foreign residence line (I’ve dubbed it the “foreign fast pass line”) that will check people who have their Japanese residence card.

The immigration officer will check your Re-Entry permit, the one that you filled out when leaving Japan, along with your residence card. Oh, but there’s one more thing, same as the first time you arrived to Japan, you will get fingerprinted and photoed. And that’s it! All done!


Going abroad from Japan can sometimes be a series of “trials and tribulations”. I never once expected to be stopped and thoroughly questioned by the US TSA, nor being hassled by a US airlines employee , but making sure you have all the right paperwork and remaining cool will go a long way.

Shaka and mahalo!

By J.J.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.

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