Thinking of visiting Japan? From today, there’ll be a tax to pay whenever you leave the country

  • The government estimates it will make 50 billion yen (US$462 million) from the tax, which it wants to use to improve tourism infrastructure
  • More than 30 million foreigners visited the country in 2018 – a record figure that Tokyo aims to boost to 40 million by 2020
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 7:18pm

Japan began levying a 1,000 yen (US$9.24) departure tax on Monday, payable by anyone leaving the country by aircraft or ship, in a measure aimed at raising funds to further boost tourism.

The International Tourist Tax covers everyone regardless of nationality, from businesspeople to holidaymakers older than two years of age. It will be tacked on to the price of an airline ticket, though those bought and issued before Monday are exempt.

Japan’s government estimates that it will make an additional 50 billion yen (US$462 million) from the tax, which it wants to use to improve tourism infrastructure by making airport immigration processes faster and encouraging visitors to explore areas beyond traditionally popular destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto, for example.

Japan has been aggressively courting international tourists as a new pillar of economic growth – aiming to boost visitor figures to 40 million by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.

A record number of foreigners – more than 30 million – are estimated to have visited in 2018, many coming from China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Regular travellers like Timo Lim, a 23-year-old student in London who visits Japan twice a year on average, said the tax was unlikely to discourage him as it is a “negligible sum”.

Yet departure taxes, which are usually included in the price of a flight, can have a cumulative impact. A 2013 study into the effect of Australia’s departure tax published in international industry journal Tourism Management found that the country’s tourism industry “will suffer” despite economic gains – highlighting what the authors described as “a clash between the industry and wider economic interests”.

However, at A$60 (US$43), Australia’s departure tax is much heftier than Japan’s and far outstrips those levied by most other countries in the region. These range from less than US$10 in Malaysia to US$35 in neighbouring Singapore.

Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam all also collect varying amounts of tax from people leaving the country, while the Philippines charges its nationals 1,520 pesos (US$31) to depart – though the government there is considering replacing the current travel tax with a fee that also includes foreigners, according to reports.

The Japan Tourism Agency said it did not believe the departure tax would deter visitors to Japan, pointing out that the tax was “not expensive in comparison to total travel costs”.

“In the case of Germany and Australia, after they levied a ‘departure tax’, there were no significant changes in travel demand ... accordingly we think there will be no significant change in travel demand for Japan,’” a spokesperson for the agency wrote in an email.

Additional reporting by Gigi Choy