10 Things about PCR Test & Negative Certificate for Traveling in Japan

10 things need to know about COVID-19 PCR test for traveling

PCR Test in Japan

Surely in these months you have heard the word “PCR test” more than once. They are the tests that have been used since the beginning of the pandemic to detect whether a person is infected with COVID-19 or not. Also recently, many countries are requesting aCOVID-19 negative certificate through a PCR test for people who want to enter the country.

With the escalation of positive cases in Tokyo, more and more people want to know if they are infected with the virus since they have symptoms or were with someone who has tested positive or simply for their own safety they want to confirm that they are not infected. On the other hand, there are people who have to return to their countries of origin or travel abroad for business and who need the negative certificate.

Maybe you are one of those people, but you have doubts about what exactly a PCR test is, what types of tests are available or which kind of test should you take, where to get the test, etc. In this article, I answer some of the most frequently asked questions about taking a PCR test and/or getting a negative certificate for travel in Japan.

1. What is a PCR Test?

PCR Test is short for Polymerase Chain Reaction. It has been from the beginning the most common method used to detect COVID-19, but they are not only used for that. PCRs have been used for years in different public health crises related to infectious diseases. This test method detects the disease by looking for traces of the virus’s genetic material on a sample collected usually via a nose or throat swab.

2. What is the difference between saliva and nasopharyngeal swab test?

To perform a PCR test there are two ways to collect the sample. The one that has been done from the beginning is known as a “nasopharyngeal swab test” and collects the sample from the nose by inserting a long stick (similar to a cotton swab but longer) from your nose to your throat. Later the “saliva test” was also incorporated, which as its name suggests, uses saliva as a sample and for this, you have to spit into a tube.

Both are PCR tests, the only difference is how the sample is taken that will later be analyzed. It is up to each person which one to take. However, if you are taking the test to travel abroad, keep in mind that some countries ONLY accept the nasopharyngeal swab test. In case you don’t know if the country you are going to travel to accepts both, I recommend you take the nasopharyngeal swab test. It is the most uncomfortable (and for some perhaps slightly painful), but although there are countries that do not accept the saliva test, there is currently no country that does not accept the nasopharyngeal swab test.

If you are taking the test for your own safety and not for traveling, both tests are okay. However, the saliva test has a slightly higher tendency for false positives and the nasopharyngeal swab test is considered by some countries as more reliable.

3. What is the difference between a PCR test and an antibody test?

The PCR test detects if you have the virus at that moment in your body. The antibody test is used to detect if at some point in the past you have had the virus and have generated defenses (antibodies). The antibody test is NOT used for travel certificates, nor to know if you are currently infected with the virus or not.

4. How to get a PCR Test in Japan?

Currently, there are two ways to get a PCR test in Japan. In public hospitals or through private clinics. In this article, we explain what steps to follow to get a PCR test in Japan and different clinics and hospitals in Tokyo that offer this service with support in English. Please check it.

5. If I have been in contact with a person who has tested positive, when should I take the test?

Most people get very nervous when they find out that they were in contact with someone who later tested positive and want to take the test right away. However, the first 5 days after the contact with that person there is a high probability that if you take the test you will get a false negative since the virus has not yet manifested itself. It is recommendable to wait at least 10 days after contact with that person to take the test. But keep in mind that the virus can appear up to 14 days after such contact (hence the two-week quarantine rule). Therefore, if you do the test on day 10 and you test negative, there is still a possibility that in the next few days you will begin to have symptoms.

6. Is the PCR test covered by Japanese health insurance?

If someone decides to take a PCR test on their own free will and not because the Health Center has indicated it, the test is NOT covered by Japanese medical security and therefore no discount is applied. The Health Center decides based on the symptoms or if it has been in close contact long enough with a person who has tested positive and is considered to be a possible positive for coronavirus.

7. Which countries require a COVID-19 Negative Certificate?

Currently there are very few countries that do not request a PCR test to enter the country, both for nationals and foreigners. Here below I leave an article with the requirements of several countries on the PCR test in case you want to check it. There may also be countries that decide if they require a PCR test or not depending on the departing country. However, these regulations often change from one day to the next depending on the country, or countries that until now did not request the PCR test decide to start requesting it. So I recommend you check with the embassy of the country you are going to travel to or the airline you are going to use. As I say, sometimes the regulations can change suddenly so it is better to check it again a few days before the trip.

8. If my flight is X day, when should I do the test?

In general, most countries are requesting a PCR test 72 hours before boarding the flight. This means that it is 72 hours before you leave Japan, not before you arrive in the country. Transfers do not count unless you leave the airport and re-enter. These are the most common rules, but each country sets its own rules. Some countries ask for it to be 48 hours before, others 96 hours. Or it is 72 hours before but before the entry to the country and not the departure time of the flight. So please check with the country’s embassy the regulations of each place.

If it is 72 hours before the flight departure, it is recommendable to do the test 2 days before the departure date, since the results and certificates usually take one day. Sometimes you can get a result on the same day, but it has an extra charge. If for example, your flight leaves on January 20, you should take the test on January 18. The certificate has the day and time of the day you take the test, not the day you receive the certificate. In this case that I used as an example, the certificate would have a date of January 18, and it would be 72 hours from the time you took the PCR test.

9. Is the certificate of any clinic or hospital valid for traveling abroad?

The answer is no. If you want to take the PCR test because you suspect that you may have covid-19, you can go to any clinic. But if the reason for take the PCR test is that you need a negative certificate to get on the plane, you have to be careful because any clinic or simply a paper where it says you are negative is not valid. There are certain requirements for the certificate, especially in some countries or places like China, Thailand, Hawaii or Guam.

10. Should children or babies also take a PCR test?

As I said before, each country sets its own rules. There are countries that ask for a COVID-19 negative certificate even for children under 1-year-old, others only if they are over 5 years old, some for those over 12, etc. There is no standard for this case so again, check with the embassy of your country or the country to which you are traveling to make sure if your son or daughter also needs to take the PCR test or not.

I hope this article has helped you. If you have any other questions about the PCR test, or some part of what I have explained has not been clear to you, do not hesitate to contact us. Also, here are other articles related to the PCR test that may help you as well.