By Erin Himeno

For many people, animals are part of the family. Especially for those who require service animals, the issue of travelling with your helper is a major one. In this article, I discuss how to bring your service animal or service animal to Japan. I’ll be explaining the process as described on Japan’s official Animal Quarantine Service website. This information is updated and accurate as of November 2020.

Important note: Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, there are no facilities available for the quarantine or inspection of dogs and cats at Haneda Airport.

Prerequisite: Are You from a Rabies-Free Region?

If you hail from Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Hawaii, or Guam that any steps concerning rabies and rabies vaccinations do not apply to you. Japan is an officially rabies-free country, and animals coming from other rabies-free regions require neither testing nor rabies vaccinations.

If you aren’t from one of these countries, you must follow these next steps thoroughly from start to finish. Failure to do so will result in your service animal being stuck in quarantine for up to 180 days. That’s 6 months, and with you as the owner footing a jaw-dropping bill of ¥100,000 (~$970 USD) per month for each service animal, it really gets expensive. Be sure you understand the requirements from AQS for your region and get a head start. This process can take anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Step 1: Fill Out a Form of Advanced Notification

You will need to send a Form of Advanced Notification to the Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) via mail or e-mail. AQS requires this form at least 40 days before your service animal enters Japan. Fill out one form per service animal. The forms for cats and dogs are slightly different, so take care that you fill out the correct form. Be aware that when filling out any of these forms, you have a limited number of available entry ports for dogs.

If something changes with your travel plans or with your animal’s health, AQS also requires that you submit a modification form.

Step 2: Get Your Service animal Microchipped

The AQS requires that your service animal get a microchip that complies with ISO 11784 and 11785 (meaning it has a limit of 15 digits. Other types can’t be read by the scanners at customs, so you’ll have to bring your own scanner if your service animal has already gotten a different chip.

Step 3: Vaccinate Your Service animal Against Rabies

Your service animal must be vaccinated for rabies TWICE. The first dose can only be given to an animal that is older than 91 days. Your service animal’s second vaccination must be more than 30 days after the first. It is vital that these injections take place AFTER your service animal has been microchipped. Any vaccinations taken before the microchipping procedure will be considered invalid.

It’s also important to confirm what sort of virus is being used for your service animal’s vaccination. If a live virus vaccination is used, you might not be able to go through Japanese customs.

Step 4: Get a Rabies Antibody Test

Your service animal’s blood must be tested for rabies antibodies a day or two after they’ve received their 2nd rabies shot. This can only be done at a designated lab. Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has curated a list of acceptable labs around the world from which they will accept this test. Any test performed by a lab not on this list will be rejected, so be sure to read the list carefully.

If none of these labs are close to you, or if you live in a country not on the list, you can mail a blood sample to one of the designated labs.

Step 5: Wait 180~730 Days

You won’t be able to enter Japan with your service animal until at least 180 days after the blood test for rabies antibodies has been performed. That said, if you wait more than 2 years (730 days), the rabies antibody sample will expire, and you’ll have to start all over again.

Be sure to plan your travel around this important timeline or arrange for a separate party to transport your service animal if you absolutely can’t bend your schedule. If your service animal’s antibody sample has expired by the time they reach Japan, they’ll have to wait in quarantine while the whole process is repeated. If they arrive too early, they will have to wait in quarantine until the 180-day mark has been passed. These are expensive consequences, not to mention stressful ones, for both you and your service animal.

Step 6: Get a Certificate of Health

Each service animal must have a certificate of health filled out by a veterinarian 2 days before you depart for Japan. AQS has provided a form for your veterinarian to fill out; however, if your vet has a preferred certificate for this sort of occasion, be sure that it includes:

  • Your personal information (Name, Birthdate/Age).
  • The number and implantation date for your service animal’s microchip.
  • The dates, types, and effective periods of your service animal’s rabies vaccines, as well as any other administered vaccines you wish to add.
  • The date of your service animal’s rabies antibody test, the antibody count, and the designated lab that tested your service animal’s blood sample.
  • The date and results of your service animal’s pre-export veterinary inspection.

The vet must also certify that your dog is free of leptospirosis symptoms.

Step 7: Get the Health Certificate Endorsed by Your Government Agency (i.e., the USDA)

The toughest part of this step is the fact that Japan only recognizes endorsements that are dated two days or fewer before you depart from your country. If it’s impossible to reach your government healthy and safety agency, AQS allows for endorsements from government-certified veterinarians.

Step 8: Arrive in Japan and Apply for Import Inspection

Once you arrive in Japan, head to customs for an import inspection. Officials will examine your service animal and all of your documents. You’ll need to fill out a form for import inspection, which can be done in advance (see the forms for dogs and cats). Be sure you have the required documents: the approval form for your advanced notice form, certificates issues by your government agency, the results of your service animal’s rabies antibody test, and an application for import inspection. If you are not transporting your service animal, you’ll need a power of attorney form for whoever is.

If all goes well, you will be provided with a quarantine certificate for your service animal. It cannot be reissued. Do NOT lose it. Depending on the situation, it’s possible that your service animal will be required to stay in quarantine for up to 12 hours.

Service Dog Requirements in Japan

Japan has made some generous allowances for service dogs from other countries in the last decade. Major international Japanese airlines will permit service dogs to travel in the cabin with their owners free of charge. Be sure that you contact your airline ahead of time or make arrangements with any travel agency you’ve used to book your trip.

If you are bringing your service dog to Japan, be sure they meet the following requirements:

  • Any guide dog brought to Japan must be trained by a member of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF). For the closest certified providers in your area, see IGDF’s map.
  • Any mobility service dog or hearing service dog brought to Japan must be trained by a certified member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI).
  • ALL service dogs brought into Japan must go through the aforementioned pre-quarantine procedures. They will also have to wait for 12 hours in quarantine as any other animal brought into Japan must.

In order for your service dog to receive the same privileges as a service dog trained in Japan might, you must fill out an application for temporary certification of overseas assistance dog users. The form, which includes both English and Japanese, can be found here. Once you’ve completed this form and mailed it to the AQS, you will receive a Temporary Certificate for Overseas Assistance Dog Users in the mail. Fill out the first half of the form (down to the address and information of your dog’s training organization) and leave the rest blank for the port authorities. Do not fail to bring this certificate with you to customs.

For more information on bringing service animals to Japan, check out the Japan Guide Dog Association.

Bringing Emotional Support Animals to Japan

Unfortunately, Japan doesn’t officially recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) as widely as some western countries do. If you want to bring an ESA into Japan, you will have to confirm that your airline—and Japanese customs—will permit the type of animal you wish to bring. While certain legal organizations like ESAD International provide advice and documentation for those traveling with ESAs, there isn’t a guarantee that your airline will comply with your request. It may also be difficult to find housing that accommodates an ESA. If your service animal is a cat or a dog, importing them may be possible. If they are a more exotic animal, you may have to anticipate some pushback along the way.

Common Questions

What if my service animal isn’t a dog or a cat?

Be sure to check what AQS’s regulations are concerning your service animal’s species and breed. Their extensive list of animals can be found here. It might also be good to do your own research with a vet to decide whether or not your service animal can handle the stress of travel. Be sure to check your own country’s rules on exporting animals as well as safety tips for keeping your service animal healthy.

Should I travel in-cabin with my animal? Can I?

It’s better for both you and your animal if you can travel together in the cabin. Here is a handy list from Service animals that Travel that covers which airlines will let you do that and what the cost will be.

Take note that if you’re travelling domestically in Japan it will not be possible to book an in-cabin seat for your animal (service dogs are the only current exception to this rule). Try travelling by shinkansen or train.

If you are travelling to or from Japan with a service animal and want to share your experience, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment or start a discussion in our forum.

If you are travelling to or from Japan with a service animal and want to share your experience, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment or start a discussion in our forum.

Erin hails from the east coast of the United States. She initially came to Japan to share her love of English and country cookin’, but ended up getting married and adopting two chubby cats. Erin doesn’t mind; she enjoys her life in Japan and writes about culture shock, culture share, and the exciting chapters in between.

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