Bringing Medication to Japan: What to Know Before You Travel

Poste date: Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What to Know Before Bringing Medication to Japan

Your health is the most important resource you have. Eating well, hydrating, and exercising can do wonders for your body, but what do you do when you need medicine in Japan? Many of us have prescriptions or over-the-counter medications we’d like to bring from home, but Japanese medication import laws can be tricky, and mistakes can bring dire consequences. Outlined below is a helpful guide for buying and importing medicine from foreign countries into Japan.

Japanese laws haven’t recently changed to match the growing global trend of greater acceptance toward prescription drugs and narcotics, but fortunately not every drug is treated the same as Oxycodone. Japanese import laws divide medicines into four categories, with laws changing accordingly. Those rules are as follows.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications are allowed, but there are a few ingredients prohibited in Japan. Medications that contain stimulants such as Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Vicks inhalers etc. - if it contains more than allowed quantity), as well as Codeine are prohibited.

Otherwise, OTC drugs intended for the duration of your stay are allowed but must be claimed at customs and can only be under a 2-month supply. If you need any more than that, check before you fly if there are Japanese equivalents to the desired medicine, or apply for a yakkan shoumei (a medication import certificate) at least 3–5 weeks before entering Japan.

Please also refer to: "Importing or Bringing Medication into Japan" from the U.S. Embassy

Prescription Medications

Non-narcotic prescription medications have changed to apply under the same rules as above (as of January 1, 2019), but only a 1-month supply, or 24 pills of a single prescription. Some prescription medicines such as stimulates like Adderall as well as any cannabis products legally obtained overseas are prohibited in Japan. All prescriptions must be claimed at customs upon entering the country. If you need more than a 1-month supply, you must fill out a yakkan shoumei at least 3–5 weeks before entering Japan.

Narcotics/Psychotropics

Narcotics are strictly prohibited in Japan.Those on medications that contain narcotics must fill out a yakkan shoumei and receive it before you leave your home country. Importing narcotics is a serious crime in Japan and can bring heavy fines or even time behind bars, so make sure all of your paperwork is filled out accordingly.

Medical Devices

Japanese law allows a single medical device per person, such as inhalers or self-injection kits, which must be claimed at customs. Those needing more than one, or those carrying syringes or CPAP machines and the like must fill out the yakkan shoumei as well. Travelers carrying more than a 2-month supply of disposable contacts are recommended to get the yakkan shoumei.

More about Yakkan Shoumei

The yakkan shoumei is the most important document when considering bringing medication into Japan. It must be received before you arrive at your destination and presented to the customs officer upon disembarkation. Failure to do so can bring serious consequences, so make sure you don’t forget in the flurry of activity upon arrival.

To receive a yakkan shoumei, you must send four documents to the health inspector designated for your place of entry. The addresses and according provinces/entry points are detailed on the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare’s website.

The documents can be photocopies, but must be clear and legible so inspectors can easily match it to the medication you’re carrying. They also have the right to ask for further documentation, so those with chronic illnesses or controlled substances should apply at least one month in advance to ensure any need for further documentation doesn’t disrupt their travel plans. The documents are as follows.

  1. Application form
  2. Details of the drug, drug manufacturer, and the contents of the drug
  3. Prescription (including exact quantities of medicine) signed by a licensed doctor; this paper or prescription form must include the doctor’s contact details.
  4. A flight plan with details of embarkation/disembarkation points, carrier, flight number, etc.

For further details, please refer to: Q&A for those who are bringing medicines into Japan as well.

Seeking Medication in Tokyo

For those who live in or are visiting Tokyo, the question remains - how do I get the medicine I need? Many OTC Drugs are available at pharmacies around Japan, and often a little translation of the active ingredient with a translation app can find a substitute. In major metropolitan areas, there are a few 24-hour pharmacies, though some 24-hour drugstores (that also sell general health supplies) may have their pharmacy windows or shelves locked at certain hours.

Prescriptions can be a bit trickier as Japanese pharmacies do not honor foreign prescriptions. If you have a chronic illness and are moving to or staying in Japan for an extended period of time, it’s best to find a local care provider to work with.

Many metropolitan doctors can speak rudimentary English, and cities like Tokyo or Osaka have hospitals and clinics with dedicated English-speaking doctors on staff. This may not be true everywhere, however, so be sure to check your region’s availability before assuming you’ll be able to jump right in.

Those living in Tokyo can reference our list of English-speaking pharmacies in Tokyo to make the process as painless as possible.

Staying Healthy in Japan

Your health is the most important thing - that’s why we take the time to research and write articles to make your life in Japan as hassle-free as possible. We know that living in a different country has many challenges and triumphs, and we are happy to serve you as you navigate the winding world of Japanese culture. For more information about health services in Japan and Tokyo, please visit our collection of comprehensive guides for English speakers.

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