Can I Open Tax Free Items in Japan? A Quick And Helpful Guide


In Japan, there’s a consumption tax of 10% (since October 2019), or 8% for some items, that can be exempted under certain conditions. This can be a great deal for tourists that are leaving Japan in less than 6 months after their arrival. Everything is so different in Japan that you’ll probably want to leave with your luggage full of souvenirs. Although tax exemption is a great deal, there are certain conditions to respect and one of the main concerns regards the right to open or not the items you bought in Japan.

Can tax-free items be opened in Japan? Tax-free items cannot be opened in Japan if they are consumable items, and they are in a sealed bag during the purchase. On the other hand, general items can be opened in Japan, except if you bought them with other consumable items. In that case they can’t be opened either.

Now you must be thinking: “But how do I know what are general items and consumable items?”. Don’t worry, in the next paragraphs I’m going to explain to you what they are and some examples of purchases that can be tax-free or not. I’m also going to explain to you what you should do to claim the tax exemption.

What Are Consumable Items And General Items?

Tax-free is not applied under the same conditions for consumable items and general items. This is why it is important to know the difference between both.

Consumable items are intended to be used relatively quickly like drinks, food, cosmetics, tobacco, and medicines for example. I guess you could that are items with an expiration date, and you’re not going to keep them forever.

General items, on the other hand, are all the other items that you could keep forever even if that doesn’t happen very often. Some examples of general items are home appliances, accessories, jewelry, shoes, clothes and all that kind of things.

Now that you’re starting to see more clearly the difference between each type, let’s talk about the conditions necessary to claim a tax-free purchase in Japan.

Regarding consumable items, the conditions for tax-free are:

  • Minimum purchase of 5,000 (excluding tax)
  • Items can’t be used in Japan and are put in a sealed bag that can’t be opened
  • Maximum purchase of 500,000 yen
  • you must leave Japan with your items less than 6 months after your arrival (if you’re staying for more than 6 months you can’t benefit)

Regarding general items, the conditions for tax-free are:

  • Minimum purchase of 5,000 (excluding tax)
  • Items can be used in Japan
  • Maximum purchase unlimited
  • you must leave Japan with your items less than 6 months after your arrival (if you’re staying for more than 6 months you can’t benefit)

Nothing really complicated, right? Well, when you buy only one type of items, the rules are pretty simple. The problem is that you are likely to buy general items and consumables at the same store. What happens if you buy a tee-shirt (general item) and a box of chocolates as a gift for someone (consumable item) at the same store? It all depends on the price of each item and what you intend to do with the tee-shirt (use it in Japan or not?).

If I lost you here, it’s normal. I had a hard time too the first time I tried to figure out when a mixed purchase of consumable and general items benefited from tax-free or not. Let’s see some examples so you can have all the information you need.

What if I Buy General Items and Consumable Items in the same purchase?

Some examples of tax-free and no tax-free purchases

The most important thing you need to keep in mind, when buying a mix of consumable items and general items in the same purchase, is that general items will be treated like consumable items. This means that they will be packed in a sealed bag, therefore they can’t be used in Japan, and you can’t exceed the 500,000 yen limit in the purchase.

For example, let’s imagine you buy a pair of shoes (4,000 yen) and a bottle of sake (4,000 yen) the same day at the same store. How this purchase will be treated for tax-free?

  • The pair of shoes is a general item and the bottle of sake is a consumable item, but since you’re buying them together the pair of shoes will be treated like a consumable item.
  • The total purchase is 8,000 yen. You can benefit from the tax-free because your purchase is between 5,000 yen and 500,000 yen.
  • You can’t use you pair of shoes in Japan because they are treated like the consumable item in your purchase.

What if you need the pair of shoes in Japan? In that case you can’t benefit from the tax-free because they will be treated separately and each one costs 4,000 yen. Purchases under 5,000 yen can’t benefit from tax-free.

Please check the image above which has some examples, and it might be easier to understand using images. But if you have any doubts, you can leave a comment and I’ll try to help you.

Also, be careful when buying general and consumable items in the same purchase because some stores may not allow a tax refund in those cases. Always ask before buying to avoid unpleasant surprises.

How do I Claim The Tax Exemption?

Please notice that tax exemption is not available everywhere in Japan. You will have to search for specific stores, malls, etc, that are identified with “tax-free” logos. If you have a doubt, check with the store first.

There are two ways of getting tax-free items in Japan:

  • You can buy items at the tax-free price on the store (please check this possibility with the store first).
  • You can buy items at the regular price and go to a tax-free counter for a refund (please look up for tax-free counters and check with them which stores you should use).

Since they can be difficult to find, here’s a list of tax-free stores and tax-free counters to save you some time. There are probably other stores that are not listed so keep your eyes open in Japan to spot some new stores.

To buy tax-free items directly at the store, you have to:

  • Show your original passport with stamp of temporary traveler (make sure you get your stamp at the airport even if you use the automatic gates. You have to find an immigration officer after the gates to get the stamp on your passport)
  • Sign the “Covenant of Purchaser”

If the stores work with tax-free counters, to get a refund you have to:

  • Claim tax-free on the day of purchase (you can’t do it the next day)
  • Show your original passport with stamp of temporary traveler (make sure you get your stamp at the airport even if you use the automatic gates. You have to find an immigration officer after the gates to get the stamp on your passport)
  • Show your purchased items
  • Show the purchase receipt (written receipt not allowed)
  • Show the credit card used for the payment

Whether you get your tax-free directly at the stores or at the tax-free counter, a receipt will be attached to your passport so you can show them at the customs when you’re leaving Japan.

Since April 1, 2020, Japan has started implemented the computerization of the tax exemption. This system replaces the signed “Covenant of Purchaser” and the receipt attached to your passport, but you will have to show your passport to the customs when leaving Japan anyway.

Please notice that you can also benefit from the liquor tax exemption at approved breweries, wineries and distilleries (not possible in supermarkets, department stores or liquor stores, for example). There aren’t many approved stores, but you can find a list here.

The liquor tax exemption respects the same conditions applied at consumable items (sealed bag, can’t be opened in Japan, purchase between 5,000 yen and 500,000 yen).

Hopefully now you will be able to prepare your shopping adventure in Japan and master the tax-free advantages. If you have any doubts, please leave a comment below and I’ll try to help.


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Ana Costa

Hi everyone, my name is Ana. I'm currently living in France, but I've always been passionate about Japan and it's culture. I love drawing manga, watch anime, eat sushi and all things related to Japan ;)

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