Japanese Foreign Residents – How to Leave and Return to the Airport Smoothly


At last, you’ve got your brand spanking new visa (1, 3 or maybe even the lucky 5 years) and you now want to leave Japan, whether it be for travel or just a visit home, there is a specific process for departing and re-entry. As a visa holder with resident status, the departure and re-entry process is a little different to that of normal Tourists, and so we hope this guide provides better clarity about the steps to follow.

The process to leave and return to Japan for foreign nationals has been streamlined since 2012. The old and cumbersome re-entry permit system required you to visit your local immigration office to receive re-entry permission, and this permission also came with an additional cost and potential wait (particularly at Shinagawa). However, now people can receive re-entry approval from the customs desk, as they depart from one of Japan’s international airport, which is a massive step forward and cost saving over the previous unwieldy system.

At the Airport

So, you have checked-in at the airport with your luggage, received your boarding pass, and you are now ready to go through customs. The first thing to locate in the customs area is a special section for foreign residents, there should be a clearly labelled area with a desk titled ‘re-entry permission for foreign nationals’ or something to that effect. There should be a number of forms in several different languages available here, similar to the ‘Embarkation and Disembarkation Card’ pictured in the diagram below:

After completing all sections on the Embarkation half of the card, the Disembarkation card is for arrivals, you are now ready to join the line for customs. You will be required to present your passport, resident card and the completed ‘Embarkation and Disembarkation card’ to the immigration official. Once they have completed their series of checks and assuming everything is in order, you should be allowed to go through to the departures lounge.

The customs official may, of course, ask you a few questions, especially if they feel there is something that needs to be clarified, but I find this is usually the exception rather than the general rule.

You may notice that there is now the Disembarkation portion of that card stapled inside your passport, this is the vital piece of paper you require to re-enter Japan upon your return, so I would recommend you ensure that is safe and secure at all times, and not removed from your passport.

Coming Back to Japan

When finally arriving back in Japan, at the customs gate you will again need to present your passport, with the attached and completed Disembarkation card, plus your resident card. At the gate, there is usually a distinct line each for tourists, Japanese citizens and Foreign National residents. From my experience, this line is usually empty or has very few people, so it should be a smooth and efficient process, especially when you compare it to the long line for travellers.

When leaving Japan, the re-entry permit stipulates a foreign national must return to Japan within 12 months, otherwise, they will lose their residence status. So please be careful to return within this time to ensure you can come back without any issues.

For more details about the process, rules or other immigration-related information, you can check the official Japan Immigration website regarding re-entry.


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