What does Japan’s new tax rule mean for you?

Japan Tax

It’s not just food and alcohol that foreign travelers to Japan can enjoy tax-free now. Source: Shutterstock

THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT has announced relaxed duty-free shopping regulations for foreign visitors. 

This is the latest effort from the government in an attempt to match the record-breaking amount spent by travelers in the nation last year.

In 2017, tourist spending in Japan surged to a record US$40 billion (JPY4.4 trillion).

Chinese visitors contributed more than a third of the total, mostly through free-spending in the retail sector.

However, all good things must come to end and the start of 2018 saw a cooling off period for Chinese visitors to Japan.

But it’s not all doom and gloom as the new tax regulation will benefit all foreign visitors spending over US$45 in two categories.

How is the rule changing

Source: Shutterstock

Currently, foreign visitors must buy at least US$45 (JPY5,000) worth of goods which fall into the “consumable” category, to be exempt from paying the eight percent consumption tax.

Included in this category are items such as food, cosmetics, and alcohol.

However, foreign visitors have complained about not knowing which items are “consumable” or “general”, leading to an unwillingness to spend.

To solve this issue, both consumable and general items are now tax-free if the total amounts to US$45 (JPY5,000) or more.

General goods include jewelry, clothes, and electronics.

But keep in mind the categories cannot be mixed to create one total of US$45 (JPY5,000 yen) or more.

Also, consumable goods can be enjoyed straight after buying, but general goods will be sealed in a bag and can only be opened when the visitor has left Japan.

The other tax-free shopping T&Cs

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If you’re planning on making a few purchases while in Japan, be sure to get your passport stamped.

If you use the electronic automated gates at the airport, you will not qualify for tax-free goods.

This is because shop assistants can’t determine the length of your stay which can be no longer than six months if yo want to enjoy tax-free shopping.

Also, if you’re working in Japan, even if it’s for less than six months, you don’t qualify.

Additionally, don’t expect every store to offer tax-free shopping. Look out for the white and red sign, normally stuck on the door or window, which reads “tax-free”.

Often shopping malls, department stores, and big name brands offer this spending remedy but independent stores may not.

How to claim tax-exemption


Present your passport to the cashier at the checkout and pay for your items with the tax already deducted.

Alternatively, pay at the store’s tax-free desk on the same day you made the purchases.

To receive the exemption, you’ll need to present your passport (copies aren’t allowed) to the cashier and then ask them to create a record of purchase.

This will be attached to your passport and removed by airport officials upon leaving Japan.

You will also need to sign the purchaser’s pledge which promises:

  • You will take general goods out of the country.
  • You will not use the purchased consumable goods and take them out of Japan within 30 days.
  • You will pay a supplementary consumption tax if you cannot present the goods at the time of leaving Japan.

Source: Shutterstock

At the airport:

If you’ve ever spent a while in an airport and had time to kill, you’ve probably wandered past the tax-refund desk.

Once you find the desk, you’ll need to submit the record of purchase that’s attached to your passport.

You will also need to show the sealed items.

Whether you will get cash or credit card reimbursement depends on which service operator the airport works with, such as Global Blue or Premier tax-free.

Also, be prepared for the service operator to take a cut of the tax-refund, usually around four percent.

Happy shopping!