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Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011
To carry or not to carry your 'gaijin card' upon re-entry?
In our August 23 column (www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20110823at.html), we looked at whether foreign residents should carry their alien registration card on them when re-entering Japan. The official answer from the Immigration Bureau is that their officials will ask to see your ARC, or "gaijin card," in addition to your passport upon arrival. In practice this isn't always the case, but we suggested that it is still advisable to carry your ARC with you.
Stephanie disagrees, and thinks it's possibly unwise to take your ARC with you when leaving Japan: "I am an American and permanent resident of Japan. Over the past 25 years, I have left and returned to Japan maybe 50 times. I have never, even once, been asked to show my alien registration card on re-entry.
"Long ago, when I first got a re-entry permit, I remember being told that I should not take my alien registration card with me overseas because it was not necessary for re-entry and I might lose it, which would be very serious, of course."
Given that official policies can change often and expats in Japan have varying experiences, I ran a small poll to see whether people are asked to show their cards upon re-entry and, if so, how often. It's not a comprehensive poll, but it might at least shed some light on the subject.
As of Oct. 10, 85 responses had been recorded. The first question was: "When re-entering Japan, have you been asked by Immigration to show your alien registration card?" Thirty-four respondents (40 percent) answered "Yes," and 51 (60 percent) said "No." This indicates that the majority of people are not asked to provide their ARC, but there are enough "Yes" responses to also tell us it can happen on occasion.
The second question: "If you answered 'Yes' to the above question, how often have you been asked?" Nineteen respondents said "Always," three answered "Often," five said "Occasionally" and nine "Rarely." One person said they always put their ARC in their passport when going through immigration (rather than being asked). Someone else answered "No" because they have a diplomatic passport.
A few folks on Twitter offered their input in response to the poll:
@maly_liz: "I always thought I had to, and would be ready every time, but they never ask. I used to just show it to them, but eventually realized they didn't care. I've lost count of my re-entries."
@shortsmallsweet: "I'm never asked to!"
@lilystrauss: "No, never."
@goodandbadjapan: "Never had to show it, but don't you have to fill in its number on the landing card for re-entrant anyway?" (Note: The ARC number was previously required for the disembarkation/embarkation card.)
@gaijintogoy: "Many official policies are only selectively enforced. Some friends (are) never asked, others all the time (profiling, clearly)."
@sharofhearts: "I've only shown my passport with my visa and re-entry permit."
@LongnoseRob: "I only show my passport with the re-entry permit."
Kirsten also provided insight: "I was asked every time until my last flight in June (previous flight was three years ago). The embarkation card had the ARC number and they asked for the ARC to check the number. The dis/embarkation cards don't include that info anymore."
Laura added: "In 10+ years here going back and forth, I have never been explicitly asked for the card at immigration. However, up until a couple of years ago, you had to always write your ARC number on the disembarkation/embarkation card anyway, so you always had the card handy.
"Therefore, it used to be automatic that I'd just offer the card with my passport when exiting, but I stopped doing that a few years ago and have never been asked. (I stopped because I noticed that they never bothered to look at it and just pushed it to the side while focusing on the passport).
"In general, it seems redundant that you would have to show the ARC at point of exit/entry because it is basically a portable version of the visa status stamped in your passport. I seem to recall a friend of mine several years ago panicking mildly en route to Narita as she realized she'd forgotten her card. When communicating this to Immigration (in Japanese) she was told that it wasn't really necessary anyway and there was no issue at all at either exit or re-entry."
In sum, according to the responses above, you most likely won't be requested to show your card (or may even be told you don't need to present it). It is possible though, however rare, that an immigration official will request it, and according to the law, they are well within their rights to do so.
If you decide to leave your card behind when going abroad to ensure it isn't lost or stolen (a potentially wise decision), the odds may be in your favor to avoid problems upon re-entry to Japan, but there's no guarantee.
Has anyone ever actually been refused admittance to Japan or faced any other problems because they couldn't (or wouldn't) show their ARC to Immigration on re-entry? If so, please get in touch.