If you can’t imagine going to live in Japan without your dog or cat, you’re among a growing number of people! The procedures for bringing a pet to Japan are complex, helping to ensure the health of your animal and to keep Japan as a rabies-free country. However, with proper planning and filling out of paperwork, it’s very doable.
The guide below outlines the steps, requirements, and forms you need to import a pet dog or cat into Japan. It is based on the latest version of Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service’s detailed guide. We highly recommend you consult the official guide because it goes into great depth on specifics and special circumstances.
- Plan ahead at least 180 days
- Are you coming from a designated or non-designated region?
Steps for bringing your pet to Japan
- Microchip your pet
- Rabies vaccinations
- Rabies titer to confirm immunity
- Waiting period
- Submit advanced notification
- Inspection before departure to Japan
- Get endorsement of health certificate
- Import inspection
Are import rules different under COVID?
On its website, the Animal Quarantine Service says that the steps and regulations required to import a pet dog or cat into Japan have not changed as a result of COVID quarantine regulations.
However, since people entering Japan now have to take a COVID test and go through related procedures, it will take more time before you can take your dog or cat to the Animal Quarantine Service for inspection (Step 8 below).
Who will take care of your pet during the time that you are waiting for your COVID test results, etc.? The Animal Quarantine Service recommends that you contact your airline for more information on how to plan ahead for this. Once you complete your own procedures, you can then pick up your pet and proceed to the Animal Quarantine Service for their inspection.
Depending on what country you are traveling from, you may be required to quarantine for at least three days and possibly as long as seven days. During this time, the Animal Quarantine Service will not be able to keep any animals that have passed import inspection. This means that you should make arrangements for a family member or friend to come pick up your animal once it has cleared inspection and to keep your pet until you finish your quarantine. As a rule, designated government facilities for quarantining will not allow you to bring our pet into the facility.
Plan ahead at least 180 days before you expect to arrive
It’s a good idea to start preparing your pet and your paperwork at least 180 days before you expect to arrive in Japan. This will prevent your dog or cat from having to be quarantined when you land or worse, to be returned to the country of origin. However, if you’re coming from one of six designated regions, you can start the application procedure as late as 40 days before arrival in Japan.
Are you coming from a designated or non-designated region?
If you are coming from a designated region, you will need much less time to prepare. A designated region is one that Japan has determined to be rabies-free.
- Designated regions: Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Hawaii, and Guam
- Non-designated regions: All other countries
To bring your pet into Japan from a country classified as a designated region, they must meet at least one of the following conditions:
- Has continuously resided in the designated region since birth
- Has continuously lived in a designated region for at least 180 days immediately before export to Japan
- Has resided continuously in a designated region since being directly imported from Japan
If you are bringing your dog or cat from a designated region but they do not meet at least one of the conditions, they will be quarantined in Japan upon arrival to make up from the insufficient number of days, up to 180 days.
Designated regions are considered to be rabies-free, so you do not have to have documentation of rabies vaccinations and rabies serological tests if your pet meets any one of the conditions. This means you need much less time to begin preparing your paperwork.
If your pet already has a microchip, you can begin the process in as little as 40 days prior to your arrival by giving Advance Notification of arrival to Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service. In this case, please jump to the Advance Notification (Step 5) below.
If your pet does not have a microchip, please jump to the Microchip (Step 1) below.
If you are bringing your pet from a non-designated region, your first step is to have your dog or cat microchipped.
Step 1: Microchip your pet
Whether you are coming from a designated or non-designated country, your pet needs to have a microchip in order to be allowed to be imported into Japan.
You should also make sure of the following regarding the microchip:
- It must be implanted before the first rabies vaccination.
- The microchip procedure and first rabies shot can be done on the same day.
- The microchip must be ISO 11784 or 11785 standard. This is a 15-digit microchip code which consists only of numbers.
It’s a good idea to ask your vet to verify that your pet has the correct kind of microchip required and that the number matches the number on your pet’s records.
Step 2: Rabies vaccinations
All dogs and cats coming to Japan from a non-designated region must have two rabies vaccinations before entering Japan.
The first vaccination should be administered after the microchip is implanted, but the microchip procedure and first rabies shot can be done on the same day.
The vaccine should be an inactivated virus or a recombinant modified vaccine. Japan does not accept the live rabies virus vaccine.
Timing of vaccinations
Your dog or cat must be at least 91 days old at the first rabies vaccination. The date of birth is counted as day zero.
The second vaccination must be administered at least 30 days after the first vaccination and within the effective period of the first vaccination. The date of the first vaccination is counted as day zero.
You should also be aware of the following, regarding vaccinations:
- If the effective period of the second vaccine has expired before the day of arrival in Japan, a third rabies vaccine must be given.
- If the second vaccine is administered after the effective period of the first vaccination, it is not accepted as an “additional vaccination” and your pet will have to start over with the first rabies vaccine.
Step 3: Rabies titer to confirm immunity
The next step is for your dog or cat to receive a rabies titer (antibody test).
Your vet should take the blood for the analysis after the second rabies vaccination. The second rabies vaccination and blood sampling can also be performed on the same day.
They should then send the sample to one of the designated labs recognized by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry Fisheries. A list of designated labs, by country can be found here.
The results will be sent to you and/or your vet by email and snail mail. Remember to keep the original paper certificate because you will need to show this to the Animal Quarantine Service when you arrive in Japan.
You should be make sure of the following, regarding the rabies titer:
- The rabies antibody titer must be equal to or greater than 0.5 IU/ml.
- If the antibody titer is less than 0.5 IU/ml, the test must be performed again.
- The date the blood was drawn for the test must be between 180 days and two years from the time you arrive to Japan.
Step 4: Waiting Period
If you are bringing your pet from a non-designated country, you need to wait for 180 days after the blood sampling for the rabies antibody test before you can enter Japan. The date of the blood sampling is counted as day zero.
Your pet must arrive in Japan within the effective period of the rabies vaccination and the validity period of the rabies antibody test.
If your pet has not waited 180 days after the rabies antibody test, they will be subject to quarantine at a facility administered by the Animal Quarantine Service in Japan.
Preparing during the waiting period
During the waiting period, it’s a good idea to prepare your dog or cat for the flight to Japan, such as getting them used to the pet carrier they will be in for the flight.
This is also the time when you can purchase your ticket(s) and confirm the rules required by your chosen airline for traveling with a pet.
Step 5: Advanced Notification
Whether you are coming from a designated or non-designated region, you must notify the Animal Quarantine Service at the expected port of entry not less than 40 days before arrival in Japan.
Dogs entering Japan can only do so through designated airports or seaports.
- Airports: New Chitose airport, Narita International airport, Haneda airport, Chubu International airport, Kansai International airport, Kitakyushu airport, Fukuoka airport, Kagoshima airport, Naha airport
- Seaports: Tomakomai seaport, Keihin seaport (Tokyo, Yokohama), Nagoya seaport, Hanshin seaport (Osaka, Hyogo), Kanmon seaport, Hakata seaport, Kagoshima seaport, Naha seaport
Cats and assistance dogs (guide dogs, service dogs, and hearing dogs regulated by law in Japan) are allowed to enter through these ports as well as other ports.
Be sure to submit your notification to the Animal Quarantine Service not less than 40 days before your arrival date in Japan.
You can do so by mail, fax, or email.
You can also use the NACCS (Nippon Automated Cargo and Port Consolidated System) online notification system.
If you don’t know your port of entry 40 days before arriving in Japan, you can submit a notification filled out with provisional information to the Animal Quarantine Service at the most likely port of entry. After your plans are finalized, submit a Modification on Notification of Import of Animals (PDF in English).
Receive approval of import inspection
The Animal Quarantine Service will examine your Notification application and supporting documents.
If everything is ok, they will issue an “Approval of Import Inspection of Animals.” You will need this form to bring your pet into Japan, so be sure to print it out or save it digitally.
The Animal Quarantine Service may also instruct you to make changes to your arrival date or port of entry based on their examination of your Notification. Also be aware that the quarantine period on the “Approval of Import Inspection of Animals” may be subject to change due to the results of the import inspection upon arrival in Japan.
Step 6: Inspection before departure
The next step is to have your dog or cat inspected by a registered vet before departing for Japan.
The Animal Quarantine Service recommends that this is performed as close as possible to the date of departure and within ten days before boarding the plane. However, if this is difficult due to circumstances in the exporting country, you can contact the Animal Quarantine Service at your expected port of entry in Japan.
Step 7: Endorsement of health certificate
Related to Step 6 above, ask your vet to fill out a certificate stating that your dog is free from clinical signs of rabies and leptospirosis. Cats only have to be shown to be free from rabies.
Here are the necessary forms:
- You can choose to fill out Form A (Exporter’s Declaration) and have your vet fill out Form C (Export Health Certificate) and have both endorsed by an approved government agency in your country OR
- Ask your vet to fill out Form AC (Health certificate for cats and dogs to Japan), which combines the required info from Form A and Form C. Form AC also needs to be endorsed by an approved government agency in your home country.
Obtain government endorsement of certificate(s)
The certificate(s) must be endorsed by the relevant government agency in your country before they are submitted to Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service.
If you are bringing your cat or dog from the United States, for example, this agency would be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). To obtain an endorsement from the APHIS, your vet must be accredited by the USDA. They would then be able to submit your certificates to the APHIS for endorsement.
You will need a hard copy of the endorsed certificate(s) to submit to Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service.
Active duty US military personnel and their families may use a valid health certificate for dogs and cats only issued by a military veterinarian without APHIS endorsement.
Get advance confirmation of certificate(s)
The Animal Quarantine Service recommends that you email or FAX a draft copy of the certificate(s) to them to check before you have it endorsed by a government agency because corrections to the form(s) are not allowed after they are endorsed. You should email a copy of the certificate to the AQS office where you submitted the advanced Notification
If there are any errors in the endorsed certificate when it is inspected after your land, your pet may be subject to quarantine, so it’s a good
Step 8: Import inspection
This is the final step! When you arrive in Japan, your dog or cat will be inspected by the Animal Quarantine Service at the port of entry.
If your dog or cat traveled with you in the cabin, before customs inspection, bring your pet to the Animal Quarantine Service counter in the baggage claim area.
If your dog or cat traveled as cargo, after receiving the necessary documents from the airline or shipping line staff at the cargo area, go to Animal Quarantine Service office.
You will need to apply for inspection, using the following forms:
You can also email the “Application for import inspection” form above to the Animal Quarantine Inspection at your expected port of entry before you arrive in Japan to ask them to check it for errors and consistency with other forms.
What will be inspected
The Animal Quarantine Service will check your pet and forms for the following:
- No abnormalities in health condition
- For dogs and cats: rabies
- For dogs: leptospirosis
- Microchip number matches the numbers on all the certificates
- Health certificate is endorsed by the government agency of the exporting country
- Contents of certificates meet the requirements for importing
The inspection usually takes about a few hours but can take up to 12 hours. If everything is order, you will receive an Import Quarantine Certificate and will be allowed to import your pet!
If any problems are found upon arrival, unfortunately, the dog or cat will be subject to quarantine at the detention facility of Animal Quarantine Service. For more on what happens in quarantine, please see the Guide for importing dogs and cats into Japan from non-designated regions (PDF in English).
Links to Guides and Required Forms
Lead image: iStock 1321059135
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