How to ship to Japan

Customs clearance in Japan is quite straightforward, however additional certificates and permits are needed for regulated goods such as food, kitchenware and medical products.

Japanese city streets

What documents do I need when shipping to Japan?

An air waybillcommercial invoice and packing list are sufficient when shipping most goods to Japan. Make sure the information on them is complete and correct.

Additional documents might be required for commercial shipments of some product types such as food, kitchenware, medical, pharmaceutical or biological products and items subject to CITES (goods made from plant or animal species trade in which is controlled to ensure their survival).

The goods description on the commercial invoice

A clear and accurate goods description saves time in customs and helps customs authorities to classify goods correctly, so avoid vague descriptions such as 'samples', 'parts' or 'gift' on the commercial invoice and air waybill.

The commercial invoice should be written in English and the receiver's contact information (e.g. phone number) should be included on both commercial invoice and air waybill.

Japan's trade agreements

Japan has bilateral international trade agreements with many countries, including the USAthe EU, Canada, Switzerland, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia and most of Asia. These economic partnership agreements (EPA) are created to simplify trade and investment procedures and to reduce related costs, so more small firms can do business in both markets.

If you're shipping goods from a country that has an EPA with Japan, they may be eligible for reduced tariffs and duties. To benefit from the regulation, remember to state the country of origin of the goods on the commercial invoice. Depending on the EPA you may also need to provide a certificate of origin or other required documents. 

To find out more you can consult the WTO's database on Regional Trade Agreements or contact your local chamber of commerce.

How will my shipment clear customs in Japan?

Japan Customs has three different clearance procedures. The procedure that applies to your shipment depends on the type and value of your goods, and the information available at the time of their arrival at customs.

Manifest clearance (MIC)
Just like express clearance in other countries, manifest clearance applies to low-value shipments worth less than JPY 10,000 including CIF (Cost Insurance and Freight). Since the parcel is low value, no duties or consumption taxes are charged.

Some goods cannot be processed by manifest clearance as they're always subject to additional taxes or approvals. Examples of such goods include leather goods, alcohol, some foodstuffs such as sugar or rice, and clothing made from knitted textiles.

Formal pre-clearance (Preliminary declaration)
This is a type of advance formal clearance where the shipment can be pre-filed with Japanese customs prior to its arrival in Japan. All types of goods can be shipped via pre-clearance as long as the paperwork is in order: the information and goods description on the commercial invoice must be complete and correct; and all other necessary documents should be provided in advance.

Formal clearance (After shipment arrives in Japan)
Formal clearance is used when the information on the commercial invoice is incomplete, if any required documents are not provided in advance, or if the receiver requests the ‘Hold and Notify’ service. Formal clearance can also apply to high-value shipments (for example, with total duties and taxes above JPY 500,000) that require credit collection approval. These shipments are declared to customs after arrival in Japan.

Customs clearance in Japan

An overview of the three types of customs clearance in Japan:

 

Express clearance

Formal clearance

Eligible shipments and values

  • Manifest clearance 
    Documents, gifts, or goods valued at JPY 10,000 or under
    (Most goods accepted except for leather goods, some food types, alcohol and knitted textile clothing)
  • Pre-clearance
    All shipments with correct paperwork are eligible
  • Formal clearance
    For shipments with incomplete information, if importer requests ‘Hold and Notify’, or if credit approval is required
  • Goods of all values

Customs processing time

  • No delay
  • Pre-clearance
    No delay (shipment is processed prior to arrival)
  • Formal clearance
    Processing time depends on when the required information is provided or when credit approval is obtained

Required documentation

  • Air waybill
  • Commercial invoice
  • Air waybill
  • Commercial invoice
  • Additional documents – only required for certain goods

Do I need to provide additional documents for Japanese customs clearance?

You may need to provide additional documents, depending on the goods you're shipping. Extra paperwork is usually required for regulated goods such as food, medical or pharmaceutical products, kitchenware or items subject to CITES.

The most common additional documents include:

  • A packing list.
  • A certificate of origin or a 'statement on origin' on the commercial invoice  – for countries with an EPA or preferential trade deal, for exemption from customs duties and taxes
  • Specific licenses or certificates for regulated goods


Shipping regulated goods to Japan? See the list below for a detailed guide on Japan's customs regulations and the documentation you need to provide.

What product are you shipping to Japan?

What are the general requirements to ship chemicals to Japan?

Chemical imports are overseen by Japan's National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE) and regulated by Japan's Chemical Substances Control Law (CSCL) as well as by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) and the Ministry of Environment. It's important to remember that there are different requirements for existing and new chemical substances.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

  • An air waybill
  • A commercial invoice
  • For existing chemical substances – include the substance's METI number (also called a CSCL number) on the commercial invoice. You can look up the METI number that applies to your substance on the CHRIP Search System.
  • For new chemical substances – if you're importing a chemical substance that is not listed with a METI number, the sender and importer need to follow the CSCL Procedure for New Chemicals. The required tests and documentation are determined by the quantity and intended purpose of the new chemical that will be imported.
  • A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or similar document – with a list of ingredients, potential hazards and relevant handling instructions. This is especially necessary if the substance is classified as dangerous goods.

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

For all chemical substances – an importer will often be required to provide additional documentation as defined by METI. The exact documents depend on the class or category of a chemical substance, and its reason for import. To learn about the requirements for your specific shipment, contact your carrier or Japanese authorities such as NITE , so you can prepare the paperwork in advance.

What special details need to be included in the goods description?

What are the general requirements/regulations to ship CITES items?

CITES, also known as the Washington Convention, is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. To ship animal and plant items covered by CITES, the sender and receiver must meet the following documentation requirements.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

An import license or a pre-confirmation note, depending on the species – for species under CITES Appendix I: an import license issued by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI); for species under CITES Appendices II & III: a pre-confirmation note issued by METI

What details need to be included in the goods description?

  • A description of the animal or plant material within the shipped item (e.g. peacock feather, monitor lizard leather, mahogany wood) 
  • The scientific name of the endangered plant or animal contained in the product (e.g. Pavo muticus, Varanus bengalensis, Swietenia macrophylla)
  • The country of origin

What are the general requirements to ship clothing and accessories to Japan?

  • Commercial shipments of knitted textile clothing and leather goods cannot be cleared via manifest clearance. They must go through pre-clearance or formal clearance.
  • For goods made of leather or animal fur, the scientific name of the animal species is required to determine if it's from an endangered species and therefore subject to CITES.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

The receiver doesn’t need to provide any additional documentation for customs clearance.

For leather footwear: it's a good idea to check if the shipment falls under the approved allocated quota. If the receiver holds an Import Tariff Quota certificate issued by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry remember to submit it to the customs in advance. 

What details need to be included in the goods description?

Clothing

  • Type of garment (e.g. skirt, blouse, jacket)
  • Fabric composition (e.g. 100% cotton; 20% nylon, 80% wool)
  • Fabric construction (e.g. woven, knitted, non-woven)
  • Who the clothes are made for (e.g. women, men, unisex, children, baby)

Shoes

  • Type of shoes (e.g. sports trainers, ski boots, high heels)
  • For sports shoes – type of sporting activity (e.g. running, skiing, football)
  • Outer sole and upper (top part of footwear) materials (e.g. plastic, rubber, leather, fabric)
  • For leather footwear – the full scientific name of the species and the country of origin is required to verify whether or not the product falls under CITES
  • Who the shoes are made for (e.g. women, men, unisex, children, baby)
  • Quantity in pairs (required on invoice)

Bags

  • Bag type (e.g. wallet, purse, backpack)
  • Fabric composition (e.g. 100% cotton; 100% nylon, 100% leather)
  • For leather bags – the full scientific name of the species and the country of origin is required to verify whether or not the product falls under CITES
  • For leather bags of Asian origin – Japan customs might require additional documentation (such as a receipt or catalogue to help identify the goods)

Watches

  • Type of watch (e.g. automatic watch, quartz watch)
  • Composition of watch case (e.g. 18K gold, stainless steel, titanium, ceramic)
  • Watch strap material (e.g. precious metal, base metal, textile, leather)
  • For leather bands – the full scientific name of the species and the country of origin is required to verify whether a product falls under CITES egulations

What are the general requirements to ship cosmetics and quasi drugs to Japan?

  • Import of cosmetics (e.g. make-up, perfume, soap) and quasi-drugs (preventative treatments and products) is regulated by Japan's Pharmaceutical Affairs Law
  • Quasi-drugs are defined as cosmetic-like products with active ingredients aimed to prevent or stimulate (e.g. sunblock, deodorant, skin-whitening roducts, anti-aging or acne treatment). Quasi-drugs are separate from non-prescription medicine but may still contain low-strength, over-the-counter drugs that may help overcome mild physical issues (e.g. prevent nausea, remove hair or stimulate hair growth, soothe discomforts such as rashes or soreness, or repel or exterminate pests such as lice, flies or mosquitoes).
  • Cosmetic and quasi-drug shipments for personal use do not require permits or licenses but are subject to the following quantity restrictions:
    • Cosmetics – up to 24 pieces per item (e.g. 24 lipsticks regardless of brand or colour)
    • Quasi-drugs – maximum two month supply
  • Commercial shipments of cosmetics and quasi-drugs require import licenses and permits under Japanese Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. The importer is esponsible for obtaining them.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

  • An air waybill
  • A commercial invoice
  • A description of the product type is required (e.g. sunblock, shampoo, mascara), as well as a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and the number of products in the shipment.

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

  •  In general, to import cosmetics and quasi drugs for commercial use in Japan, the receiver requires two kinds of licenses for each shipment: an 'Importer's licence' (valid for five years), and a 'product specific import license' (no expiration date). The exact type of licence depends on if the product will undergo further processing or packaging once in Japan.
  • If the importer has the correct importer licence, they can import up to 36 sample pieces per cosmetic type (e.g. lipstick) without a product license.

What details need to be included in the goods description?

  • Product brand name
  • Quantity, including total number of containers and items per container (e.g. 4 boxes, each containing 2 tubes)
  • A copy of the product information leaflet including a list of ingredients by weight percentage (e.g. water 90%, glycerine 8%, active ingredient A 2%) – his can be attached separately to the commercial invoice
  • Usage (e.g. apply to skin once daily)
  • Benefit or reason for use (e.g. sunburn prevention, wrinkle reduction, hair growth)
  • Purpose of use (e.g. personal use only, sample for testing, resale)

What are the customs regulations to ship food to Japan?

  • Keep in mind that carrier regulations concerning shipping of foods and beverages may vary. Some food items, such as meat and meat products, are either prohibited or require quarantine, meaning many carriers cannot ship them. Check with your carrier if they are able to ship your products and which conditions apply
  • Food imports for personal use do not require any additional documentation, but must not exceed 10 kgs (22 lbs). Private shipments above 10 kg fall under the same regulations as commercial shipments.
  • Commercial food imports to be sold or distributed within the Japanese market are controlled by Japanese Food Sanitation Laws and government agencies. They require analytical testing by authorized Food Research Laboratories, which usually incurs additional charges.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

  • For each commercial shipment, the importer must submit a 'Notification Form for Importation of Foods' to a Quarantine Station overseen by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW).
  • When imported for the first time, commercial food items need to be tested by an authorized Food Research Laboratory in Japan. The Analysis & Testing Report from the laboratory needs to be submitted to the MHLW.

What details need to be included in the goods description?

  • Description of food item (e.g. tomato soup, herbal tea, chocolate bar)
  • Complete ingredient list (attached separately if necessary)
  • Type of packaging (glass bottle, cardboard box, aluminium can)
  • Alcohol should have a very detailed goods description (including alcohol type, brand, alcohol percentage, volume of container, year of production)

What are the general requirements to ship kitchenware to Japan?

  • Personal kitchenware shipments do not require additional documentation, but must be under 10kgs (22 lbs). Private shipments above 10 kg fall under the same regulations as commercial shipments.
  • The import of tableware and kitchenware for commercial and distribution purposes is regulated by Japan's Food Sanitation Law. It requires importers of commercial shipments to submit import notification to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW).
  • Shipments are also subject to testing by authorized Food Research Laboratories. This applies to all kitchen apparatus and containers, with exception of uncoated and uncolored objects such as stainless steel cutlery.
  • Commercial kitchenware shipments undergo a special customs process that requires a clearance broker – check the options with your carrier

What documents does the sender need to provide?

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

  • For shipments for sale or commercial purposes, and for private shipments with a net weight over 10kgs (22 lbs) – The receiver must submit a 'Notification Form for Importation of Foods, etc.' to a Quarantine Station of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW). The shipment is also subject to an inspection and documentation check, which incurs an extra cost.
  • When imported for the first time, commercial food items may need to be tested by an authorized Food Research Laboratory in Japan. The lab report would then need to be submitted to MHLW.

What details need to be included in the goods description?

  • Product type (e.g. cups, plates, grater, colander)
  • Material (e.g. glass, porcelain, steel, plastic)
  • Purpose of use (e.g. personal use only, sample for testing, resale)

What are the general requirements to ship medical or pharmaceutical products to Japan?

  • Import of pharmaceutical and medical products is regulated by Japan's Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. It covers the import of drugs (e.g. medicines, vaccines, vitamins and some supplements) and medical devices (e.g. syringes, massaging tools, dental equipment, glasses, contact lenses).
  • Pharmaceutical shipments for personal use or do not require permits or licenses but are subject to the following quantity restrictions:
    • Prescription medicine – maximum one month supply
    •  Non-prescription medicine – maximum two month supply
    • Medical device – maximum one set or pair
  • Commercial shipments of pharmaceutical goods require import licenses and permits under Japanese Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. The importer is responsible for obtaining them.

What documents does the sender need to provide?

  • An air waybill
  • A commercial invoice
  • For medication, vitamins and supplements – A photocopy of the medicine's information leaflet is required, including a detailed list of ingredients. Depending on the reason of import and intended use, the importer may need to provide additional documents.

What documents does the receiver need to provide?

  • For products that will be sold or used commercially – Both the importer and the product must have a pharmaceutical license issued by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW). This means that all pharmaceutical imports must be authorized and can only be brought into Japan by an authorized importer.
  • For products shipped for clinical trials – Before shipping, the receiver must submit a ‘Notification of Clinical Trial Plan’ to the MHLW for authorization. For each shipment, the importer must record the actual product quantity on an ‘Import Progress List’ and submit it to the same ministry, so it can be tricked in comparison with the approved quantities on the 'Notification of Clinical Trial Plan'.
  • For up to three medical device items for individual use by a doctor – a copy of the doctor’s medical license. If there are more than three items, then a pharmaceutical temporary permit is required.
  • For medical drugs or items to be used by doctors or in hospitals – A pharmaceutical temporary permit issued by the MHLW. The importer must apply for this permit for each shipment, which covers all goods in the package, either before shipping or after arrival.
  • For pharmaceutical samples intended for research or training – A pharmaceutical temporary permit issued by the MHLW. The importer must apply for this permit for each shipment, which covers all goods in the package, either before shipping or after arrival.

What details need to be included in the goods description?

  • Product brand name
  • Quantity, including total number of boxes and items per box (e.g. 2 boxes, each containing 24 tablets)
  • A copy of the product information leaflet including a list of ingredients by weight percentage (e.g. water 90%, glycerine 8%, active ingredient A 2%). This can be attached separately to the commercial invoice.
  • Usage (e.g. one tablet per day)
  • Benefit or reason for use (e.g. treatment for cold)
  • Purpose of use (e.g. personal use only, sample for testing, resale)

Shipping requirements and documentation may vary between carriers. This website is designed to provide general information related to shipping. If you’re unsure of the shipping requirements that apply to you, check with your carrier. Make sure to check the rules and regulations of the country you’re shipping from and to prior to shipping. You can find this information on government websites.


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