Landing in Japan: Moving Sleekly through Arrival, Immigration and Customs Procedures

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On January 31, 2018
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Photo by Becca Takano

As most of us jet off abroad to see family or friends over the winter break, an unpleasant surprise can often await us on our return. No, I’m not talking about that bottle of wine that you put in your suitcase and has now stained your clothes a deep rouge, instead I’m talking about getting through Japanese 税関ぜいかん (customs).

Almost immediately upon reaching the 到着とうちゃくロビー (arrival hall), it can be hard to work out where to go. While the signs will likely be sufficient, it’s always worth learning the words 乗り継のりつぐ (to transfer) / 乗り継のりつぎ (to connect), 手荷物受取所てにもつうけとりしょ (baggage claim) and 税関 just in case you need them to ask for directions in a hurry.

As you make your way through the airport towards 入国審査にゅうこくしんさ (passport control), you will want to use the earliest opportunity to fill out the 入国カード (entry card). As well as this, of course, the staff will ask to see your パスポート and ask if you have a ビザ. Beware that sometimes the smaller, less tourist-friendly airports may use the word 査証さしょう for visa — which throws many visitors off the first time they hear it.

… it’s always worth learning the Japanese terms since there is no guarantee that an English speaker will be readily found.

A similar word that can confuse visitors is the word 滞在たいざい or 滞在期間きかん (length of stay) as this is a common word at airports that most visitors otherwise don’t encounter. Even trickier is that this may be found in the form 滞在 (place of residence).

Another tricky phrase that you may encounter is たび目的もくてき (purpose of your trip). The major answers are 仕事しごと for work (although the Japanese word ビジネス is becoming increasingly common) and 観光かんこう for sightseeing.

After that, the only major hurdle is customs itself. Here, you will have to choose between 課税かぜい (tax to be paid) and 免税めんぜい (duty free). You may also hear the verb 申告しんこくする, which is another uncommon word meaning “to declare.” A typical question at customs is: “申告するものはありますか?” (“Do you have anything to declare?”)

While big cities often have English-speaking staff, with increasing numbers of smaller airports handling international flights, it’s always worth learning the Japanese terms since there is no guarantee that an English speaker will be readily found. Armed with these expressions, you can breeze through customs and be home as soon as possible with the only problem being what to do with your claret-stained clothes.

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