Protect yourself on your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Japan is a popular travel destination all year round, with its eclectic mix of buzzing megacity metropolises, beautiful historic temples and ever-intriguing culture. But sometimes an omamori good luck charm is not enough to ward off bad spirits, which makes travel insurance absolutely necessary for your next trip to Japan.
What does travel insurance cover?
Each travel insurance policy will differ in the amount of coverage it provides but some common features include:
- Cancellation fees and lost deposits. If unexpected circumstances such as sickness, an accident or a natural disaster prevent you from traveling, you can be covered for cancellation fees and lost deposits on prepaid travel arrangements.
- Overseas medical and dental expenses. If you become sick or injured during your trip, you’ll be able to escape the often extremely high costs of overseas medical bills.
- Luggage and personal effects. It’s not uncommon for luggage and personal effects to be lost, stolen or damaged while traveling. Luckily, you’ll be covered for the costs of replacing or repairing your items.
- Delayed luggage allowance. If your luggage is delayed for more than a certain time period — usually 12 hours — you’ll be covered for the costs of purchasing essential items of clothing and other personal items.
- Travel delay. It’s also not uncommon for delays to happen. If your journey is disrupted for reasons beyond your control, you’ll be covered for additional meals and accommodation expenses.
- Personal liability. If you cause bodily harm or damage to someone else’s property and have a claim made against you, you can be covered for legal liability, including legal expenses.
- Rental car insurance deductible. If you rent a car and it gets stolen, crashed or damaged, your insurance will cover the deductible.
What doesn’t travel insurance cover?
Of course, having travel insurance for Japan doesn’t mean that you’re covered for absolutely everything under the sun. Your travel insurance claim will typically not be paid if:
- You ignored a travel warning advisory from the US Department of State.
- You left your luggage unattended in a public place and it was stolen.
- You were under the influence of drugs other than those prescribed by a doctor.
- You’re claiming for a pre-existing medical condition that you didn’t tell your insurer about.
- You acted illegally or unlawfully.
- You were participating in high-risk adventure sports or activities not covered on your policy.
How safe is Japan for travelers?
While Japan is regarded as one of the safer holiday destinations for international travelers due to their welcoming and polite culture, this doesn’t mean it’s risk free. Key safety concerns include:
Earthquakes and natural disasters
The bright lights of neon-sign clad cities aren’t the only things that are active all year round in Japan. The islands of Japan lie in an area aptly known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. As many as 1,500 earthquakes occur each year, and while the majority are minor and won’t disrupt your day-to-day travels, it’s best to be prepared.
High cost of health care
While you’ll be glad to know that Japan’s health care is of a high standard, you won’t be so happy to find out that the costs can run equally as high, especially if you require hospitalization or major surgeries as a foreigner. Japanese clinics and hospitals have also been reported to be wary of treating foreign patients without any proof of their travel insurance.
Japan is known as a popular skiing and snow sport destination. This does mean you need to take care, as skiing and snowboarding can increase your chances of being injured. With regions such as Hokkaido and Nagano becoming ever more popular, a comprehensive travel insurance policy with coverage for snow sports and related essentials such as lost ski passes, resort closures and medical expenses is a must if you plan to hit the slopes.
6 steps to choosing the right travel insurance for Japan
Before choosing a policy, ask yourself these six questions:
- Where in Japan are you going? If you’re going to an area where there’s likely to be adverse weather, it’s a good idea to get cancellation coverage.
- How many times will you visit Japan this year? Decide on a single trip or annual multi-trip policy.
- What activities in Japan will you take part in? If you plan on snowboarding or skiing, make sure you have a travel insurance policy with coverage for snow activities.
- Are you taking valuable items? Consider extra coverage for your camera or laptop.
- Do you have any medical conditions? Make you declare any pre-existing medical conditions and pay for any extra coverage not included in your policy.
- Do you prefer paying more up front or when you have to claim? Look at both the price of the policy and the deductible.
Making a medical claim in Japan
Serious medical care, long-term hospitalization or surgery can be very expensive in Japan, so make sure you have a travel insurance policy with unlimited medical, hospital and dental cover. And check that it also covers ambulance and emergency evacuation. If you need to file a claim:
- Call your insurer. Call your insurer as soon as possible. Aside from helping you file a claim, they may also be able to help you find a doctor or negotiate payments with the hospital.
- Be ready to pay up front and hold on to all bills. When making a claim, some policies may require you to contact a call center for an assessment of your medical problem and others may require you to pay medical costs up front and claim them back later. If you have such a policy, make sure you keep all documentation to verify your claim.
- Have travel insurance documents and certificates ready. Bring your insurance certificate with you when seeking medical treatment, as Japan has a national health insurance system and health practitioners are often reluctant to treat foreign patients without proof of insurance.
Who do I contact in an emergency?
In the event of an emergency, some useful contact include:
- Your insurer. Your insurer should have a 24/7 helpline. The number will be clearly displayed on your policy.
- Police. 110.
- Ambulance/Fire. 119.
- Japan Helpline: 0570-000-911
- Emergency interpreting service. +81 03-5285-8185
- Tokyo English-speaking police. +81 03-3501-0110
- US embassy. If there’s a countrywide emergency or if you lose your passport or get into legal trouble, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate.
The legal system in Japan is conservative by American standards, and police have more power to arrest you on the suspicion of criminal activity. Here’s what you need to know to avoid being arrested and potentially jailed in Japan:
- Japan has zero drug tolerance. You can be charged if trace amounts of illegal drugs are found in your system. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the drugs on you. Police carry out random searches and tests in clubs and bars.
- Watch where you smoke. In parts of Tokyo and other cities, smoking in some public places is banned. You can be issued an on-the-spot fine if you’re caught.
- Don’t drink and drive. The blood-alcohol limit when driving is zero. It’s also a crime for a passenger to allow someone under the influence to drive.
- Police don’t always need warrants. On the street, they can stop, search and seize or detain you at their own discretion.
- You can be held without a trial. You can be held in custody for up to 23 days without a formal charge. Police have the right to question you without your lawyer present.
- You are required to carry a passport. Carry your passport at all times while in Japan. Police occasionally do identification checks, and you can be arrested for traveling without ID.
Travel tips for Japan
For the first-time or even the tenth-time visitor, Japan can be overwhelming with the language barrier, the fast-paced cities powered by immense amounts of technology and the prices of just about everything. The key is preparation. Here are a few handy tips to get you started:
Basic Japanese etiquette
Japanese etiquette may be a little different than what you’re used to, so here are some things to know:
- If you don’t know someone well, address them using their last name with the honorific “san.”
- Bow in greeting unless a handshake is offered.
- Remove your shoes when entering a temple.
- Always bring your host a small gift when invited to dinner.
- When eating with chopsticks, do not use the end that has been in your mouth to pick up food from shared dishes.
- Never refuse a drink — it’s considered rude. You can drink slowly or barely at all.
Book a foreigner-only Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass allows you to travel throughout Japan with its extensive JR train network on all four main islands. And if that weren’t sweet enough already, the JR Pass offers a foreigner discount. The only catch? You have to book your pass outside of Japan before you begin your trip.
Get a local SIM card.
If you want to use your phone while in Japan, pick up a prepaid SIM card to connect to a local network for the cheapest price.
When and where to wear shoes in Japan can be confusing. Generally as a rule, shoes are not worn in Japanese homes, temples, ryokans (traditional inns) and other public places — and yes, this can include restaurants! If in doubt, follow the lead of the locals.
Japan is a multifaceted country with so much to offer, from the experience of swimming in a steaming onsen surrounded by snow to the liveliness of its megacities and the breathtaking architecture of royal temples. Whatever experience you go looking for in Japan, be smart and take out a travel insurance policy to protect you against all possible scenarios.