Moving to Japan and bringing your cherished pet with you can’t be that hard, right? The answer to that is, yes and no. On one hand, bringing pets to Japan is a tedious and potentially expensive process. On the other hand, with some planning and enough time to prepare, you can avoid a lot of the more painful parts and save on the costs as well.
The governing body in charge of importing pets into Japan is called the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service (AQS). They have an extensive website with English support and is the best place for up to date and accurate information. It’s important to meet all the requirements before leaving your home country and arriving in Japan, since exceptions cannot and will not be granted for anyone. Any unfinished or unclear paperwork could lead to extended quarantine times or possibly even your pet being deported upon arrival.
Although there hasn’t been a case of rabies in Japan since 1957 and it is now being recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control Prevention as a rabies-free nation, Japan has actually toughened its animal import and quarantine procedures since 2006. Whatever the logic behind this decision, the procedure is now more complicated than before. Let’s review the overall process, including ways you can make it as pain-free as possible for both you and your pet.
As a golden rule, the earlier you can start the better. If you have a year or more before entering Japan, you can avoid many of the headaches and extra costs. Also know that you, the importer, are responsible for all costs incurred during the process.
Before reading on, it may be helpful to check the AQS website section for up-to-date costs. While there are of course as many types of pets as there are people, let’s start by talking about dogs. What are the steps involved in bringing a dog to Japan? FYI, some of the steps for dogs will also apply to our feline friends.
Step 1 in the process is to get a microchip meeting ISO standards implanted in your pet. This provides a unique identifier for your pet. Please note that the chip must be implanted BEFORE any vaccinations (Step 2). However, it should be noted that the first vaccination can be done on the same day as the chip being implanted.
Step 2 is getting their first rabies vaccination. Your pet must be at least 90 days old for this vaccination to take place. Even though your dog or cat may have had a vaccination before, it most likely will not count since Japan only accepts ‘inactivated or recombinant’ vaccines, not live ones as in many other countries.
Step 3 is a second rabies vaccination, which should occur at a minimum of 30 days after the first one, but still within the period of expiration. On the same day of the second rabies vaccination, you should schedule a blood test to examine your dog’s antibodies and prove that it is free of rabies. The test can only be performed by an AQS-approved lab, so please go to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for the list approved labs.
Results are good for 2 years after the test. Note that the blood sample for dogs is subject to inspection at Animal Quarantine Service at the time of entry to or departure from Japan. Ask your vet for details to avoid overlapping test dates and other possible confusion.
Step 4 involves waiting a period of 180 days (about 6 Months) after the blood test before you can bring your pet to Japan. This is by far the most difficult step to coordinate. If you are due to arrive before the 180 day period has elapsed, the remaining time must be made up at an Animal Quarantine Service detention facility in Japan at your expense.
Note that if either the vaccination or blood test period expires before arrival, you may have to repeat some or all of the tests, so it’s best to plan it out carefully if you can.
Also, you must notify AQS at your expected port of arrival (Narita for example) 40 days in advance. If you don’t yet know your port of entry, just contact the most likely one. There are a variety of forms for you and your vet to fill out before you leave for Japan, so be sure to check with AQS to make sure you have them all.
Notification can be made online (see the AQS website for more information). It should also be noted that dogs and cats do require different forms.
If you do everything correctly and on time, the quarantine period in Japan could be as little as half a day. If not, you could end up spending quite a bit for quarantine care. To prevent this from happening, it is best to do everything according to AQS guidelines.
Finally, check with your airline for pet policies and costs. It's likely to cost about $200 to bring your pet with you in a carrier or cage.
Before making a decision about bringing pets to Japan, please consider two things: Cost and time. Although the testing alone can be a bit costly, the real expense comes if you have to pay for quarantine services in Japan, which can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. This brings us to the second factor: time. Will you have enough time to prepare and complete all the steps before arrival? If not, be warned: The process will involve a lengthy quarantine in Japan.
Besides being very costly, being separated and in the care of strangers for an extended period could be stressful for both you and your pet. Ask yourself if you can handle being away from your pet for as long as 180 days.
When exporting your pet from Japan, the requirements must be met for both the country of export (Japan) as well as the destination country’s import procedures. Upon leaving Japan, there will be an examination by AQS. Although this can be done before departure at the airport, you can also call in advance to make an appointment.
The forms needed for export can be found on the AQS website. For information about required forms and procedures for import, please refer to the import country’s embassy webpage.
Please also read "Pet Manners & Etiquette in Japan" before having a pet in Japan.
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