Shipping from Japan: Services, Costs, and Customs

Shipping from Japan Services, Costs, and Customs

This article is a comprehensive guide to help you send containers or parcels from Japan to any country in the world.

From preparing the package to choosing the right courier services, to understanding the necessary paperwork for international shipping, I will show you how to get it right the first time without any mistakes.

I will also help you choose which carriers to use, and give you some example prices, so that you can estimate most of your potential costs ahead of time.

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Key Takeaways

  • When shipping packages from Japan, you need to prepare the label in advance before going to the post office.
  • Japan Post is the most popular option because of its price and quality.
  • Yamato Transport is a popular private carrier service here, known for its flexibility and gentle handling of items.
  • You can also use global carriers like UPS, FedEx, and DHL.
  • Always check what you can ship and what’s not allowed before shipping from Japan.
  • Always play by the rules since shipping regulations in Japan can be quite strict.
  • If you want to ship household goods and furniture, you can use this form and get quotes directly from international moving companies.

Understanding Shipping Options

There are many shipping companies that can ship your mail and items from Japan.

The primary public courier, Japan Post, is what most people use because post offices are located conveniently throughout Japan.

However, there are also several private couriers that you can use, which are tailored to different needs and budgets. I will break down the options here and provide you with a chart as an example of shipping costs and shipping times.

All of these services are accessible at the Japan Post counter, but as I will explain a bit later.

Japan Post

Japan Post is the most popular option. It’s affordable and effective. And you can find it anywhere in Japan. The major downside is that Japan Post staff may not be able to speak English at all.

Japan Post Logo

Japan Post offers various types of shipping options, including:

  • EMS – the most common method for shipping items from Japan. Your package will be sent to anywhere in the world within 2-4 business days.
  • Airmail – a more cost-effective way than EMS. The delivery speed is around 5-8 business days.
  • Economy Airmail – an affordable way to send an item from Japan. Delivery speed is 6-13 days.

Let’s take a closer look at each option.

EMS

Express Mail Service (EMS) will be the fastest option when sending any package overseas. This JP post shipping method takes priority over all other mail types, and it is the perfect choice for time-sensitive shipments.

EMS provides speedy delivery to over 120 countries and territories worldwide. Typically, shipments will reach their destination within 2-4 days, and all EMS shipments come with both live tracking and ample insurance for peace of mind.

Additionally, they offer generous weight limits; shipments up to 30kg are accepted.

Here is a list of rates and the package weights that are associated with them.

Airmail

Airmail is one step down from EMS in both speed and cost; it is the middle ground between the extremely fast EMS service and the slower surface mail. Packages reach their destination within about 5-8 days. It is a bit more cost-effective and a common shipping choice.

Economy Airmail

Economy Airmail (SAL) can be used for less urgent shipments; it is a really cost-effective international shipping option that still uses air service, but has slower delivery times ranging from about 6 to 13 days.

SAL shipping is a popular choice for businesses that ship in bulk, so if you have an online business this could be the best for you.

Surface Mail (funabin)

Surface Mail (otherwise known as “funabin”) is mostly used for large, heavy items. This method involves sending parcels by cargo ship. While it is by far the most budget friendly, it will take 1 to 3 months for your package to arrive. It is not the most practical, but if you are in no rush to have your items arrive, then it could be perfect.

For example, if you know you are leaving Japan and moving back home, you could send your large items and boxes months in advance for a reasonable price.

Private Carrier Service

In addition to Japan Post, you can ship via private carrier services. While they are more expensive than Japan Post, they can be more convenient.

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Since these carriers have their own fleets, they are more flexible in terms of which items you can ship with them. And they can handle items more gently than Japan Post.

Yamato Transport

Yamato Transport offers a comprehensive range of international delivery services, including airmail, economy air (SAL), and surface mail.

Yamato Transport

There is not much of an advantage to using Yamato shipping compared to Japan Post, but some people do prefer it.

This preference comes from a long history as a prominent shipping company in Japan; their history dates back to WWII.

Moreover, they have a reputation for handling packages gently, so they don’t get damaged. Also, unlike the service offered by Japan Post, they offer English services for non-Japanese speakers.

These are example shipping prices for Yamato Transport, which vary according to parcel size and the destination country.

Here are the prices that they offer depending on the country zone.

Zone 1 (e.g., South Korea, Taiwan, China)Price
Within 60cm2,750 JPY
Within 100 cm8,700 JPY
Zone 2 (e.g., Australia, United States, Canada)Price
Within 60 cm3,700 JPY
Within 100 cm11,950 JPY
Zone 3 (e.g., UK, France, Germany)Price
Within 60 cm4,300 JPY
Within 100 cm13,700 JPY

The table below describes Yamato Transport weight limits:

SizeParcel sizeWeight
Size 140Up to 140cm (55.1 inches)Up to 20kg (44 lb)
Size 160Up to 160cm (63 inches)Up to 25kg (55 lb)
Size 180Up to 180cm (70.9 inches)Up to 30kg (66 lb)
Size 200Up to 200cm (78.7 inches)Up to 30kg (66 lb)

DHL, FedEx, and UPS

I should mention, DHL, FedEx, and UPS also offer a wide variety of quick options for international shipping.

They all have tried and true global networks that can suit a business with more complex shipping needs, and some of these needs may not be fully addressed by Japan Post. Particularly if you run a business with extensive international shipping, one of these could be the better choice for you.

Shipping Service Comparison

The table below gives you an idea of how much it costs to send packages from different shipping providers in Japan for a 2kg (4.4 lbs) package. 

Actual rates can vary depending on the season, and you should check directly with the shipping service for the most accurate information.

Shipping ServiceCost (USD) – Approx.Shipping SpeedCoverage
Japan Post – EMS$20 – $603-7 daysWorldwide
Japan Post – SAL$10 – $302-3 weeksSelected Countries
Japan Post – Air Mail$15 – $457-10 daysWorldwide
DHL$40 – $902-5 daysWorldwide
FedEx$50 – $1002-5 daysWorldwide
UPS$45 – $952-5 daysWorldwide

Mandatory Shipping Label for Packages

When I came to Japan 12 years ago, it was very easy to send anything back home to America.

You could write on the package by hand, or you could print out a self-made/typed label. It was an easy process and did not have the same strictness that it does today.

Post COVID-19, this has changed dramatically.

New Electronic Advance Data (EAD) Rules

Although it took some time to implement these new rules, Japan Post and all private shippers now require the mandatory transmission of Electronic Advance Data (EAD) for all postal items.

This is the new standard for any shipping company that ships internationally from Japan.

Handwritten labels are no longer accepted, and all customers must use International Mail My Page to make a government-approved label for customs.

You must comply with these new regulations, or unfortunately, you will not be able to send packages overseas.

For all of your bagged or boxed packages, you must first print your own label from the International My Page portal linked above. It is much easier to make an account and register addresses that you may use often, as it will be easier to print out labels in the future.

souvenir shop in hokkaido
While you might want to ship these souvenirs from Japan, check out regulations first to make sure they are not restricted or prohibited items.

The website is in English, so it is not difficult to understand. Your shipping label will contain this information, and is fairly easy to create.

If you do not have a printer to print it from home, you can print it at a local convenience store, a library, your job, or at some post offices with label printing kiosks using a simple QR code that is provided when you complete your label online.

Most larger post offices have one of these on site, but you will have to confirm this by phone for yourself.

Custom Declaration for Items Valued Over 200,000 Yen

Keep in mind that you will need a special invoice that is required for customs declaration if your items are valued over 200,000 yen.

Here are instructions for filling in that invoice.

EAD Exclusions

Please note that letter mail, and other paper documents are not included in this process. I have recently sent letters, postcards, and documents overseas by only writing the non-Japanese address on the envelope itself.

Packaging Your Item

I suggest you use a durable cardboard box, any carrier should have boxes you can buy on site, as well as convenient waterproof padded large bags.

If you’re worried about the price, you can even buy shipping goods at your local Daiso 100 Yen shop.

It won’t be difficult to find cushioning either. Your local Kuroneko should have you covered; they are one of the most widely used shipping companies in Japan. Home centers and shipping companies will also sell bubble wrap cushioning, but you can always use old newspapers.

When you’re sending your package, it is best to place the heavier items at the bottom of the box and the lighter items on top to prevent any damage during handling.

Common Restrictions and Prohibited Items to Send

Please be aware of the restrictions and prohibited items and be compliant with international shipping regulations.

Prohibited items to ship include:

  • spray cans
  • perfume
  • fireworks or firecrackers
  • anything containing over 24% alcohol
  • any kind of batteries
  • illegal substances
  • adult-oriented content
  • live animals
  • meat or plant products
  • firearms

The list is quite extensive, and it is something that you must be up to date on. You can check the Japan Post website for a full list of prohibited items.

Custom Declarations

Since Japan is carefully regulated on what items you can ship from, you should fill in the customs declarations form carefully and truthfully.

Penalties for false declarations when sending something can be severe.

In more extreme cases, intentionally filing false information may result in imprisonment for up to a year or a fine of up to 500,000 JPY.

If you have any doubts about sending something, it is best to check first to avoid trouble.

The Import Laws of Your Destination Country

In addition to checking what you can’t send, make sure that you check the destination country for what their import policies allow, especially for the below items:

  • alcohol and tobacco, which have strict import regulations in many countries
  • seeds of any kind. The import of plants and seeds is heavily regulated in many countries to prevent the introduction of invasive species, pests, and diseases that could harm local ecosystems and agriculture. Certain plants and seeds may be prohibited completely, but others could be ok, and only require special permits or phytosanitary certificates.
  • Animal products. Even if it’s a processed animal product, you should check carefully to make sure it’s not restricted.

Shipping Household Goods and Furniture

If you want to move your household goods and furniture from Japan, you will need to look at bulk shipping. Basically, it’s cargo shipping via sea freight.

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The cargo shipping is designed mainly for shipping a large volume of items internationally.

With cargo shipping, you generally have two options:

  • LCL: Less than container load
  • FCL: Full container load

With LCL, you share a container with other persons and only pay for the partial space inside a container. Since it’s a shared container, it’s cheaper but takes longer than FCL.

With FCL, you pay for the entire container and it is suitable if you ship many items that need a large space.

Normally, it takes around 2-3 months to ship from Japan via cargo shipping. Cost is calculated based on the volume, which can range from US$1,200 to US$3,000. And you are unlikely to pay both import and export taxes if they are only used household items.

To get a precise quote, you need to contact a shipping company and give the details of your shipment. You can do so by filling out this form here.

Now, on to You

Shipping from Japan is very straightforward. Since Japan has strict regulations on what you can ship and what’s not, you should play by the rules and try your best to write a customs declaration form as accurately as possible.

If it’s a small item shipping, Japan Post is all you need. On the other hand, private shipping companies are for those who are willing to pay slightly more but want more convenience.

In case you want to ship household goods and furniture, you can just go with cargo shipping.

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After living in Japan for more than a decade, I didn't just learn to speak Japanese; I got to know the culture deeply. My journey in Japan has been full of learning and exploring. It's helped me grow and given me lots of interesting stories to tell. I hope my writing helps others feel a bit of the magic I found in Japan.

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