Note: Japan reopens to visa-free tourism for most nationalities starting October 11, 2022. Therefore, most of what is written below is now moot. We are leaving it on our site as a reference and record of this system, but you can safely ignore it.
Last update: October 10, 2022
ERFS Visa Process FAQ
IMPORTANT: If you are an American citizen living in the United States or a Canadian citizen living in Canada, you can apply for your visa online using Japan’s new eVISA system.
- Q: What is the first thing you should do when you start the process?
Unless you are an American or Canadian citizen (see note above), you should contact your local Japan embassy or consulate and find out if you can visit in person to apply or if you must apply by post/courier. Policies vary widely by location and this can significantly affect processing time, so do this first!
- Q: How long does it take to get the ERFS certificate?
Some Japan travel companies will sell you just an ERFS, so it will only take a day or two. Other companies, who follow the letter of the law, will insist on selling a full package tour, so it can take a week or more. In either case, once you agree on terms and make payment, they will apply to the Japanese government system on your behalf. This system will produce a PDF of your ERFS certificate within 24 hours of application (often almost immediately). They will email you the ERFS certificate, which you take to the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate. They require five business days to process and issue the actual visa. Under ideal conditions, you could do the whole process in two weeks, but it would be better to have month or so to avoid stressing.
- Q: How long is the certificate of eligibility valid?
The ERFS certificate is valid for three months from the date of issue listed at the bottom of the certificate.
- Q: How long is the visa valid?
The actual short-term tourist visa that the Japan embassy or consulate will put in your passport is valid for three months from the date of issue (which is clearly written on the visa itself). That means, you can use it to enter Japan within three months of that date. Note that this is different from the duration of stay to which the visa entitles you (see following).
- Q: How long can you stay in Japan with the short-term tourist visa?
This depends on how long your package tour is. In our test application, we applied using a one-week package tour and they gave us 15 days.
- Q: How many times can you enter Japan with the visa?
The visas are single-entry visas. So, for example, you cannot take a ferry from Japan to South Korea during your Japan trip and then reenter Japan with that visa (even if it’s within the duration of the original visa).
- Q: How long does it take for a Japanese embassy/consulate to process the visa?
5~7 business days.
- Q: What do you have to submit to the embassy/consulate when you apply?
– Passport photo
May also be asked for:
– Pamphlet of tour
– Itinerary of tour
– Tour company name and contact details
– Guide name
– Contact details
- Q: What happens if Japan opens to independent travelers after you get your ERFS visa?
In this case, we assume that the ERFS visa would become irrelevant. You could fly to Japan and they would ignore that visa and give you a 90-day tourist visa on arrival as they did in the “old days.” Note, this is conjecture at this point, since this hasn’t yet happened, but we see no reason why this would not be the case. For a related situation, see the following question.
- Q: What happens if Japan opens to independent travelers after you have entered the country on an ERFS visa?
Since the short-term tourist visa you get under the ERFS system is single entry and for a limited time (in our test case it was 15 days), we assume that you would have to leave Japan before the duration of your visa is up. But there is an easy way to extend your stay: Fly or take a ferry to South Korea (which is open to independent travelers) and immediately return to Japan and you’ll be given a 90-day tourist visa good for independent travel (as long as you can show that you have the funds to support this). BUT, this is only possible if Japan reopens to independent travelers.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- Get travel insurance for Japan - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)