Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

Thinking Of Flying To Get Protection Against The Coronavirus?

While other countries boast a vaccine surplus, the rollout in Japan is far behind G7 nations. Should you travel to get your shot?

As millions of people in developing countries are victims of unequal access to vaccines to prohibit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Japan faces a different problem: Unlike other nations, it does have enough resources to potentially immunize everyone. 

Vaccination rollout started out slow in Japan and is picking up pace now. Under the current circumstances, is there anything left to do to get the shot faster, even if it means going somewhere else? And, if there is, should you go for it?

When are we getting vaccinated in Japan?

Whenever I talk to my friends and family in my home country of Uruguay, a small nation of three and a half million people in South America, the recurring question is: “When are you getting vaccinated in Japan?” The answer, I tell them, is still uncertain.

Even if the Japanese government’s most optimistic aims become a reality, I will still have to wait some more months to get vaccinated in Japan. Most people back home are shocked to learn this; in Uruguay, to this day, more than 50% of the population has received their first shot, while many more are already registered to get the vaccine in the upcoming weeks.

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

My family in the U.S. is fully vaccinated and doesn’t have to wear masks anymore in most public spaces. Most of my friends in Europe either got their first dose or are registered to get it soon. Through my screen, everyone I know is starting to hug, smile, go out and enjoy life again; but in Japan, we’re still struggling through the pandemic with resignation.

Although vaccination efforts have already started in Japan, less than 15% of the population has been inoculated. Moreover, the initially slow vaccination rate has been scrutinized by experts and non-experts alike. 

However, there has been an impressive and unexpected increase in inoculation speed. Around fourteen million people have been inoculated so far, most of which were vaccinated in just one week. Whether the vaccination capacity will keep on being increased is unsure.

Should I travel abroad to get vaccinated?

As I see it, there are two options: waiting for an indefinite time to get vaccinated in Tokyo or traveling abroad to get vaccinated as soon as the state of emergency is lifted and international travel resumes. 

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

Given the bleak outlook of vaccine rollout in Japan, the idea of traveling to get inoculated becomes more appealing every day. But, is it a good idea? And, most importantly, can it be done?

Can I travel abroad to get vaccinated? Visa and quarantine requirements for re-entry

Since travel bans were first established in March last year in Japan, travel restrictions keep changing rapidly, mirroring the developments in the epidemiological situation in each country. What hasn’t changed since then is that tourists are banned from entering the country. 

On the other hand, residents, citizens, and nationals can currently travel to and from certain countries and territories, provided that they submit a negative COVID-19 result from a test conducted within 72 hours and that they complete a two-week quarantine at home, among other requirements.

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

There is no guarantee that you’ll be granted entry back to Japan if you leave. If a new variant appears in the country you traveled to, or if there is a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases there, you risk being stranded in that country for an indefinite time at your own cost.

A new variant or a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases has been grounds for banning people from re-entering Japan from certain countries before. The ever-changing nature of travel bans and restrictions doesn’t make for the best of times to plan a trip overseas.

Yet, if everything goes well, you could get vaccinated and come back. It’s risky in more ways than one, that is true. But, initially, it can be done.

What’s yet to be determined is the impact that getting vaccinated abroad will have in terms of record homologation in Japan or interference with national vaccination estimations and procedures.

Recently, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the Japanese vaccination plan, said that Japan might introduce “vaccination passports” in the future to resume international travel to and from certain countries

This vaccine certificate, which is set to include the inoculation date and the vaccine administered, could translate into different quarantine and entry requirements for holders. A measure like this could potentially benefit vaccinated travelers. Some questions still remain as to its implementation and cross-border accreditation. 

When and how Japan will open its borders to international travel for tourism purposes also remains unanswered.

Getting vaccinated in the US

Part of my family lives in the U.S., and because of the current vaccine surplus, getting vaccinated seems to be our best chance. Vaccine tourism is growing in America: an ever-increasing number of Latin Americans are traveling to the U.S. to get inoculated. 

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

In countries like Argentina, Mexico and Peru, where vaccination plans have been slow, there is a growing tendency of going up north and getting done with it. I can understand why. 

Anyone over 12 years of age can get vaccinated in America now, tourists and residents alike. It’s free of charge, and there is no need for previous registration. Of course, you should always consult with a doctor whether you’re eligible for the vaccine before deciding to get it. 

But, apart from that, the procedure seems straightforward. Walk-in appointments are becoming more and more common as the national vaccination pace is going down while vaccine supplies are still abundant. 

Going to a vaccination center means paying the regular visit to most ubiquitous retail corporations like CVS, Walgreens or Costco. It looks so simple (and requires so little paperwork) that it makes me start to wonder about the possibility of doing so myself.

Vaccination-&-Vacation in Guam

Another country that is hopping aboard the vaccine tourism train is the American territory of Guam. It has launched its Air V&V program (V&V stands for “vaccination and vacation.”) 

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

The concept is simple: tourist-patients will be allowed to fly to Guam, stay for however long they need there (ranging from two to six weeks, depending on the vaccine), then fly back. 

This program, albeit targeted only to American citizens living in the Asia Pacific, seems to be the latest addition to a growing worldwide “medical tourism” trend.

What’s next?

Getting vaccinated in the U.S. would entail staying there for some time—ranging from a week to a month—and spending an additional two weeks quarantined at home upon returning. Thus, I can either not work for about a month and lose income or risk contracting a potentially deadly virus for another year. 

More to this choice makes it difficult: What if another state of emergency is declared and I can’t return to my home in Tokyo? What if I contract the virus during the trip and I’m forced to stay longer? 

Is traveling riskier for my health than staying here and waiting? Would my employer allow my trip, and, if so, would it put my job at risk in any way?

Traveling Outside Of Japan To Get Vaccinated

For now, I am set on traveling to get my shot against COVID-19 later this year. I am currently in the process of renewing my tourist visa to travel to the U.S. I consider it an investment, in terms of both time and money, that I’m willing to make for the sake of my health. 

For the latest and most updated information on restrictions and requirements to travel to the U.S., please visit the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Japan website.

On the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website, you can find updated information on travel restrictions to and from Japan.