Let's get two things out of the way first. Yes, some of us at City Cost were able to spend our winter vacation on sunny, tropical beaches. And, yes, the term 're-entry' is riddled with innuendo, so take pause, if needed, to get all your giggling done … now.
On to the issue at hand. One of the things that must give employers of foreign nationals sleepless nights is when said foreign staff leave these shores to go on vacation, leaving harassed HR types wondering, Are they coming back?, and more pertinently, Have they got all their documents in order such that they'll be let back in?!
OK, we should all know by now that the absurd need to apply for permission in advance every time we want to leave Japan has, for the most part, been done away with. A common misconception though, is that we no longer need to worry about re-entry permits (permission from the state to leave and return to Japan with our status of residence still intact). However, we do, it's just that most of us will probably not need to apply for them in advance.
The Special Re-Entry Permit
What? - Permission to leave and re-enter Japan within one year from departure, or until the expiration of your status of residence (whichever comes first).
Who? - Anyone granted a status of residence for more than three months, i.e. not a visitor! There are exceptions, usually pertaining to people who have done something naughty and are in the process of having their status reviewed!The Practicalities - Before you go through immigration on your way out of the country, be sure to have your passport and residence card ready. You will also need to fill out the two-part Embarkation/Disembarkation Card For Reentrant (see image above). On your way out, you need only worry about the Embarkation bit. If you intend to return to Japan within one year, tick the box Departure with Special Re-entry Permission (as highlighted in the image). Hand all this over to the immigration officer. They should ask you when you intend to return to Japan. If not, make it clear to them that you will be returning. They’ll also scan your passport and residence card. Be sure that they hand the card back to you, in one piece! The Disembarkation part will be stapled into your passport and stamped with your re-entry permission.
On your return to Japan, the airline will probably give you an Embarkation/Disembarkation Card For Foreigners (above). This is where, in a state of sleep deprivation, things can get confusing. You don’t need to fill this in. It’s for tourists, basically. Instead, fill in the Disembarkation Card that was stapled in your passport. In this writer’s experience, fraught immigration officials seemed almost reduced to tears by the number of (special) re-entrants who had filled in the wrong form. When you get to immigration, queue up at the signs for Re-entry Permit Holders.
The two most likely exceptions to Special Re-entry Permission are when you want to stay away for longer than one year, or you hold the mysterious status of Special Permanent Resident. Getting into what the latter is requires a look back at history which we don’t have time for here. In any case, it just means that permission to remain outside the country extends to two years, not one. For the rest of us, if we want to stay away for more than a year, we need to go down to immigration centers in advance and apply for re-entry permits as we used to and then tick the box Departure with Re-entry Permission.
It’s worth noting that extensions to the validity of a re-entry permit can NOT be made outside of Japan.
Airport Automated Immigration Gates
Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports all have automated immigration gates, available for re-entry permit holders, with the idea of making immigration a smoother experience. The things is, first time users need to fill out some forms in advance, at the airport on the day of departure, which goes some way to making the ‘automated’ part a little redundant. If you go through with it, you’ll get a stamp in your passport indicating authorization to use the gates for a period of one year. All but the most experienced of users though, seem to require assistance from an official when they can’t figure out how to get through them! Using the gates will also mean not getting a stamp in your passport (unless you ask for it, in which case you’d be better off avoiding them).
A Frequently Asked Question
Can I leave the country if my visa is in the process of being renewed or the status of residence being changed?
This writer wanted to sneak away to Bali between jobs. The problem was I’d submitted an application for a change to my visa status. Could I leave the country while it was in process? The short answer is/was, Yes! The long answer is that it took numerous phone calls and a pre-trip visit to immigration in order to establish that this was the case. In the process, an important lesson was learned. In regards to visas/immigration, there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll get different answers to the same question depending on who you ask. There is a foreign language help line for your immigration queries, however, it’s not staffed by immigration officials, just people working on their behalf. If you want definitive answers, visit your nearest immigration center in person and speak to an official.
All further inquires should begin at the Immigration Bureau of Japan.
Click to skip straight to the bit about Special Re-entry Permits.
We’d urge you to share any of your immigration experiences here at City Cost. Forewarned is forearmed!