Customs – What can I bring to Japan with me?

Customs - What can I bring to Japan with me?

Finally moving to Japan – but what to bring and what to leave behind?
Even for a two-week trip, making due with one suitcase can be a daunting task. Let alone if you plan to stay long term. Clothes and shoes for multiple seasons, favorite products and other things you are worried might not be available in Japan. Everyone I know has at least a hand-full of items from home they like to stock up on.

But what about customs? Value or piece limits? What about medicine? Will I get into trouble if I bring multiples of the same item?
After a long trip by plane, I doubt anyone wants to start their new life in Japan with trouble at immigration or a hefty fee that wasn’t in the budget.
So let me explain all the regulations you need to be aware of to prevent any trouble with Customs in Japan.

Baggage – do I have to carry everything with me?

The answer is no.
When coming to Japan the baggage you carry with you AND unaccompanied baggage will be free of duty and taxes. That is if you keep in mind a few rules.

If you have more things than what fits in your suitcase – don’t worry. You can bring in more items from your country into Japan as “unaccompanied baggage.”

The conditions:

  • ■ Fill out two custom declarations forms.
    One form for the things you carry with you on the plane and one for whatever will enter the country at another time.

  • ■ If you send your item by post write “unaccompanied baggage” on the parcel, so Customs can identify it as such and forward it to your address.
    You must receive unaccompanied baggage within 6 months of your arrival. Since sending it before you leave might be a hassle if you don’t have a place in Japan yet, maybe you can ask someone to send it after you settled in.

Sending things as unaccompanied doesn’t increase the amount you are legally allowed to take into the country.

Duty-free allowance: ¥200.000 per adult

Again, the maximum amounts listed below applies to all your baggage (carry-on, unaccompanied, everything) in total!

Your limit: ¥200.000
As an adult, you will be allowed to bring belongings within a total value of ¥200,000 into the country (that’s for all your stuff, not just duty-free.) This amount does NOT include any items whose market value in your home country is LESS then ¥10.000, as they will be free of duty and tax anyway. (Yay!) So, if you are anything like me, you might bring your camera, laptop, … and not much more that falls under this calculation.

I would recommend sticking the ¥200,000 limit for all items of ¥10,000 or more. It gives peace of mind and protects against a whole avalanche of potential troubles.
If you exceed ¥200,000 you will lose your duty-free allowance and all items will be taxed. If you exceed ¥300,000 your belongings will be judged as commercial… so unless you DO plan to start a business just avoid that.

Included: Things for personal and professional use

Free of charge
This includes: clothes, toiletries, “portable professional equipment” and other items for personal use. The condition to be allowed to carry these into the country free of duty is that everything is “quantitively appropriate” and not for sale (think “up to two-months’ worth” as a rule of thumb).

The above rather vague definition of “appropriate” amounts is further specified for cosmetics and semi-drugs, drugs. (Yes, this does include body soap, shampoo, contact lenses, toothpaste etc.)

In this case, the general rule is:

  • ■ An amount for up to 2-months for drugs, and quasi-drugs (1 months in case of drugs, prescription drugs, etc.)
  • ■ 24 pieces (this seems to mean single-use items) in case of cosmetics and medicines for external use.
  • ■ 1 unit (or the minimal amount) in the case of medical equipment intended for home use
  • ■ Disposable contact lenses are also limited to a two-months amount. (These same limitations apply when importing such items from outside of Japan in general.)

Included: Household effects

Skip if you are staying short term or have no car, boat, or furniture to import!

Free of charge if you meet the following conditions:

  • ■ stay for more than 1 year
  • ■ deemed reasonable
  • ■ for use by you or members of your family.

In this case registration certificates or sales receipts are necessary to prove that automobiles and boats are used and have been in use for more than one year prior to arriving in Japan.

If you now think – wait a second! Above it states that I can only bring things up to a total value of ¥200.000 into the country – then you are right.
Here a special rule applies, that cars etc. are temporarily free of duty, provided that they will eventually be exported again.

Alcoholic Beverages, Tobacco and Perfume (adults only!)

These items are counted separately from your usual belonging and are not part of the above allowance. (Yay, additional stuff!)

You can bring:

  • ■ Alcoholic Beverages: 3 bottles (1 bottle is defined as around 0,76l)
  • ■ Tobacco products: 100 cigars or 400 Japanese cigarettes or 400 foreign cigarettes or 500 gram of other tobacco products or 500-gram total of various tobacco products. Half of this, if you are a resident of Japan.
  • ■ Perfume: 2ounces (around 60ml)

If you exceed these limits, expect to pay ¥150-450 per 0.75 bottle of alcohol (price varies by type), around ¥11,5 per cigarette, or 15% on anything else that goes beyond your duty-free allowance.

“Carry-on” Money

Keep your cash or “means of payment” (Not your credit card, relax. Only checks and Co.) below ¥1million and you don’t have to declare it.
Otherwise, you will need to fill in another form. I never had the pleasure, and global banking should make this extra paperwork easily avoidable.

What to best leave at home

Prohibited articles

Here is the official list of what you absolutely must not bring into the country.
(Self-explanatory, really.)

  1. Drugs: Heroin, cocaine, MDMA, opium, cannabis, stimulants, psychotropic substances, and other narcotic drugs (there are a few exceptions, mostly for medical purposes)
  2. Firearms (pistols, etc.), ammunition (bullets) thereof, and pistol parts
  3. Explosives (dynamite, gunpowder, etc.)
  4. Precursor materials for chemical weapons
  5. Counterfeit, altered, or imitation coins, paper money, bank notes, or securities, and forged credit cards
  6. Books, drawings, carvings, and any other article which may harm public safety or morals (obscene or immoral materials, e.g., pornography)
  7. Child pornography; and
  8. Articles which infringe upon intellectual property rights.

Restricted articles

If something that falls under this category is deemed not admissible, it will be thrown away, so consider this before packing.

The trickiest part for most is to find out what food they are allowed to bring into Japan. All plants and animals and the various products including them have to go through quarantine inspection before you head on to the Customs examination. Whether something can be brought into Japan varies by the product, packaging, and country of origin.

Let’s break this down a little further.

Animals

“Animals” here includes any animal products like meat products, milk, eggs, etc.
Are they worried your cat has rabies?
Yes! But they worry just as much about what diseases might hide in your meat products.

What you can bring without inspection:
Dairy products that you import in your own baggage (best to not overdo it on this one, think some cheese maybe), leather goods and woolen sweaters.

Fresh meat is not admissible at all.
All else is subject to animal quarantine, even the smallest amounts for personal consumption, so you need to go through inspection and get a certificate.
Just as a warning, inspection on meat is tough. Even with other meat products like salami and ham, many have tried and repeatedly failed, so maybe consider meat out altogether. With beef jerky you hear mixed reports.

I never wanted any trouble (or stand in yet another line) so I do not have any first-hand experience regarding meat, but I had no trouble bringing some vacuum sealed cheese.

Plants

The category “plants” includes fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Fresh fruits are generally not allowed in.

Does it mean you are not allowed to bring any meat or fruits into the country?
No, but it might end up in the airport trash. Normally you will be allowed to bring in nuts, seeds, grains, beans etc, given you pass the inspection. But be aware that some categorizing might seem strange (“fresh fruit” also includes cashews) and ultimately it’s up to the customs officer to make the final decision.

Highly processed food, think tea, bottled and canned products are not subject to inspection. Also in this category, wooden furniture and chocolate – they really think extremely processed.

Medication and Cosmetics

Restrictions on the import of medicine and cosmetics apply, as mentioned above.

Weapons

If you absolutely must bring hunting guns, air guns, swords, etc. into Japan, make sure you carry your permit to possess with you. (In Japan the police will bring you in for anything sharp exceeding 6cm in length, so regulations are strict to say it mildly.)

Final word of advise

After all these words of warning above, no one is likely to bother counting how many contact lenses or deodorants you bring into the country as long as your overall luggage is reasonable.
Me, for instance, I brought almost a year’s worth of my favorite shampoo and creme in my 30kg bag when coming here, and nobody minded.

I would caution you against bringing a banana (or other restricted smelly items) into the country, unless you want to get barked at by an airport dog.
In this sense, safe travels and please share your experiences with Customs in Japan in the comments for the next reader who worries about what they can bring into Japan without problems.

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Madelaine

After traveling around for a while, I found my home in Tokyo. Now working in Shinjuku and discovering something new about Japan every day.