Nothing ruins a trip more than getting sick and not being able to treat your illness. Often, travelers will carry typical over-the-counter or prescription medicines with them to avoid any unpleasant situations. However, Japan's strict rules concerning the importation of medicines may affect your packing list.
With the risk of coronavirus in Japan in early 2020 (as with many countries around the world), it is perhaps important more so than ever before to ensure you have adequate medication too on your trip to Japan.
So, what medicine can you bring to Japan? Find out what the rules are for bringing medicine to Japan, and what you might be able to get locally, with our step-by-step guide.
The information shared in this guide does not constitute legal advice and is subject to change in accordance with the latest laws and regulations stipulated by the Japanese government. We advise contacting the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare or other official institution listed below for the latest information.
What OTC medications are prohibited?
While numerous medications are easily available in Western countries without a prescription, Japan takes a much harder line on certain ingredients.
The following are prohibited:
Any medicine containing Pseudoephedrine (a main ingredient in Actifed, Sudafed and even Vicks inhalers) – specifically any medicine containing over 10% of this stimulant.
Any medicine containing Codeine
Both the limits and what is considered a permitted ingredient is subject to change, so we advise consulting the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s English language website before any planned travel to Japan.
What OTC medication can you bring?
Travelers are permitted to bring a two-month (60 day) supply of any permissible over-the-counter medication, and an equivalent amount of vitamins. This also applies to contact lenses.
If you need more than two months’ supply, a Yakkan Shomei (薬監証明) would then be needed.
Can I bring any prescription medicine into Japan with me?
In general, visitors to Japan are permitted to enter the country with prescription medicine without any special procedures if they adhere to the following conditions:
It is only for your personal use
It is not a prohibited or controlled drug in Japan
The quantity is up to 1 month’s supply.
Which prescription medicines are outright prohibited?
Opium, cannabis and stimulant drugs (Amphetamines, methamphetamines), including certain medicines for the treatment of ADD/ADHD (such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Dexedrine) are strictly prohibited and illegal to bring into Japan.
Travelers face prosecution if in possession of them, even if those medications come with a foreign prescription or a customs declaration form – there are no exceptions.
Be careful as commonly used inhalers and some allergy and sinus OTC medications such as Actifed, Sudafed and Vicks inhalers contain stimulants – rendering them prohibited items.
On a related note, it goes without saying that hard drugs—like heroin, cocaine and MDMA—are similarly outright prohibited.
Does your prescription involve narcotics?
If your prescription medication involves the use of narcotics (eg morphine, codeine, oxycodone, pethidine, hydrocodone), you must seek advance permission from one of Japan’s eight Regional Bureaus of Health and Welfare.
You will need to submit an import application form as well as supporting documentation.
Does your prescription involve psychotropics?
The permitted dosage depends on the drug. For example, drugs such as Valium do not require a Yakkan Shomei if in quantities lower than 1.2 grams (the limit for the active ingredient, diazepam).
For an outline of which drugs fall into this category and the permitted dosages of each, please refer to this list provided by Japan’s Narcotics Control Department.
How to prepare permitted medicine to bring with you?
A copy of the prescription and a doctor’s note of explanation should accompany the medication when brought with you to Japan.
Medication should be stored in the original bottle – do not store in an unmarked container or bottle labeled for a separate medication.
Do I need to apply for a Yakkan Shomei?
Generally, you will need to apply for a Yakkan Shomei (special certificate of import), under the following circumstances:
You need greater than 1 month’s supply of prescription medicine
You need greater than 2 month’s supply of non-prescription medicine
You need syringes or a number of Medical Devices that exceed the limit.
In these cases a Yakkan Shomei must be issued in advance so that it can be presented at customs if required.
For information on how to obtain a Yakkan Shomei, visit the website for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (which includes up-to-date information on when you do and don’t need to rely on this form). Note that this process could take up to 3 weeks to obtain, which you should have before you leave home to travel to Japan.
Be aware overseas prescriptions are not honored in Japan - if your prescription needs are greater than what you are able to bring with you (even with a Yakkan Shomei), you will need to see a local care provider. In this case, it is wise to speak to your home country health care provider in advance if this may affect an ongoing treatment.
Summary: How much medicine can I bring into Japan?
The following provides a basic framework summarising what can be brought into Japan without requiring special permission (see Yakkan Shomei above). Note that the aforementioned rules and exceptions, based on prohibited ingredients, still apply.
|Prescription medicines||1 month supply or less|
|Non-prescription medicines||2 month supply or less|
|Vitamins||2 month supply or less|
|Cosmetics / Over-the-counter treatments||24 pieces or less per item (external use)|
|Medical devices eg asthma inhalers||1 per person|
Locally Available Medicine
Where can I get OTC medication in Japan?
Japan does have well-stocked pharmacies in most major metropolitan areas, so finding relief for minor health issues (like coughs and sore throats) is often easily accomplished.
Brands and medication ingredients may differ from what travelers may be used, but pharmacists can often assist in finding an effective alternative.
Common drug stores in Japan
Drug store chain centered around the Kanto and Kansai regions.
Nationwide chain but dominant in Kanto region.
Nationwide drugstore chain.
Nationwide drug chain, and concentrated around Kansai/Osaka.
Nationwide drug chain.
Where can I get prescription medication in Japan?
For those in need of a specific prescription, a list of English-speaking doctors can be found through various embassy websites.
- British Embassy Tokyo: Sources of Medical Information in Japan
- US Embassy: Medical Assistance
- Australian Embassy Tokyo: Medical Information
Often, a phone call to an English-speaking doctor before a trip to Japan to discuss any medicines with questionable content will go a long way to avoiding any potential issues at customs.