Tips and Tricks for a Successful PCS to Okinawa, Japan
Permanent Change of Station is a term associated with intense feelings ranging from elation to terror, depending on your personality and previous PCS experiences. Add to this the highly personal nature of what an overseas military move means to each individual or a family unit, and watch the emotions run high.
Because an overseas PCS is so stressful (even if you want to go!), there are many dedicated resources to get familiar with the process. For example, MilitaryByOwner's resource article, Planning Your Overseas PCS, helps you get started.
But what about precise information for a PCS move to Okinawa?
Since I didn’t have the personal experience, I set out to find milspouses who either have been there or are doing that and have honest intentions of making your life easier by sharing their tips and tricks for moving to and living in Okinawa.
Let’s see what they say, because sometimes you just need to know where to find the best chicken and waffle dinner on the island.
Education specialist Meg Flanagan made the Okinawa move and has so many great tips for delving into, but her main suggestion is that, before leaving, get in touch with current Okinawan families who've arrived within the last year and take in all the advice they’ll give.
She emphasizes the importance of relying on their experience because your servicemember may become preoccupied with work-related issues, leaving the move details wayward before they ever get to your ears.
Naha, Okinawa, Japan downtown cityscape. Photo from Shutterstock.
Here are a few more of her tips:
- Expect to become your own best advocate. Sometimes the easiest or traditional way of moving is not the best for your family’s situation.
- Get the proper health screening for humans and pets if Okinawa orders are likely, even before the orders arrive.
- Make sure everyone’s passports are accurate. There are two types to apply for— a standard and a no-fee military passport. The process is time-consuming and should be started months before departure dates.
- Space-A for pets on military flights is limited and usually filled by mid-March for flights leaving in May and June.
- Accept that your flights will be stressful, and know the journey is well worth the Okinawan experience.
- Pack plenty of snacks, chargers, entertainment options, travel blankets, and pillows.
- If you stop at a major airport like Seoul or Tokyo, deplane and take advantage of what’s available in the terminal. It’s also a great time to do a little stretching.
Regardless of your flight (commercial or military), you’ll want easy access to all of the above for your whole family. Check out these tips for more travel help: Air Travel with Kids: Survival Tips for Parents and Fellow Passengers.
MilitaryByOwner’s Danielle Keech asked her Marine Corps spouse friend, Jen, to offer the best advice she had for military spouses headed to Okinawa. She describes the culture of military families as very tight-knit because of the limited space on the island and the frequency of their spouses leaving on extended work trips. As a result, friends turn into family quickly in many cases. She also offers these bits of advice.
Naha, Japan: Shurei Gate. Photo from Canva.
- You'll probably live on base in Okinawa; typically, only larger families are offered a home off the installation.
- Crime isn’t a consideration, so there aren’t the standard “bad” places to avoid.
- Experience the culture as much as possible and visit places like Shuri Castle and The Churaumi Aquarium. Local beach and water activities are always available, and she recommends hiking as a family activity.
- Traveling is essential—not only checking out resorts like Okuma on the island but heading to countries that are quick trips away. South Korea, China, Thailand, and Indonesia are all popular options. Jen has a particular affection for the snow activities in the mountains of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.
If you’re interested in traveling while in Okinawa, don’t forget about Space A. Here are 6 Tips for Planning Space-A Travel.
Beautiful coastline in Okinawa. Photo from Canva.
Trisha is a girl after my own heart and has supplied MilitaryByOwner with essential information: exactly what to eat and drink while stationed in Okinawa! She’s got some practical advice, too.
- CC’s Chicken & Waffles is the place to be for a little piece of home back in the U.S.
- Sushi bars are operated with English touchscreens.
- She’s a fan of the Starbucks drive-thru and recommends the Sakura iced coffee. Trisha also suggests tasting the multitude of Kit Kat flavors found in Japan. Who knew?
- Don’t ship your cars. It’s too expensive to drive them legally.
- At least two dehumidifiers are necessary for maximum comfort at home.
- Find and buy a phone from a local swap page.
Tamaudun Mausoleum in Okinawa, Japan. Photo from Shutterstock.
Michelle Volkmann is also an Okinawan veteran, and she agrees with Trisha about finding a new phone on the local swap pages and shares her own tricks.
- Space and authorized weight allotments are very limited. Store as many household goods as possible. You’ll need room to return home with new goodies you find in Okinawa and while traveling the region.
- Consider a driver’s license; it’ll give you much more freedom from the base. But don’t bother with a new car. Buy a used one. In fact, buy the smallest one your family can handle. It’s easier to get around.
- Michelle, like most military families, found Okinawa Hai especially helpful for finding excursions and activities. You’ll also want to connect with Facebook groups like Okinawa Military Wives and Okinawa Food & Living for more detailed information about what it’s like to live on the island.
- Before arriving, save up a good chunk of change because startup costs for phones and cars are expensive. Plus, you can never account for the unexpected expenses that will more than likely occur during a PCS.
Photo from Canva
A few themes I noticed from Meg, Jen, Trisha, and Michelle’s advice seemed to overlap within their specific experiences. Extreme preparedness, an open attitude, and a willingness to explore were the ideas that heavily influenced all of their particular journeys.
It sounds like the recipe for a successful CONUS move, too, right?
So the point is, pump up the current PCS skills you have now and add a little bit of insight from veteran or current islanders. The move might feel a little less scary, leaving more emotional space to enjoy the anticipation and experience of the Okinawan lifestyle.