12 Things to Know When Your Orders Say Japan


Photo by Riley Kennedy

When Husband and I found out we were headed to Japan, I was over the moon.  What could be better than being paid to live abroad?  It wasn’t until we started planning that my anxiety stepped in and reminded me this had potential to be hard.  I had so many questions but didn’t know where to look for answers.  There’s no better teacher than experience, so here are 12 things you should know when your orders say Japan.

Check in with your insurance companies.

Oftentimes, new renter’s insurance policies can’t be opened overseas.  Start the conversation with your insurance company early.  The more you know ahead of time, the less stress you’ll have when moving day comes.

Ask your car insurance company if they provide coverage for vehicles overseas.  If not, they may be able to recommend a local agent.  Your company may offer stateside coverage for visits back to the States.  Sometimes called a US Touring Policy, this coverage is usually very cheap.  This will make sure you’re properly covered and keep you as a customer with your current company.  

Jobs can be hard to find.

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Teaching English is a popular occupation for many spouses, but it’s not for everyone.  Jobs on post are competitive and often in short supply.  Start looking early if you’re hoping to work while stationed overseas. 

You may be required to live on post.

Each installation is different.  Some may require everyone to live on post, while others don’t have room for base housing.  You can check with your unit sponsor or installation housing office to find out what may be available.

If this is your first overseas assignment, rest easy – you don’t have to get rid of your small appliances.  On post houses are equipped with US outlets.  However, due to slight differences in electrical output, you may notice a small change in how the appliance works – particularly if it keeps time.

If possible, participate in in-processing with your servicemember.

I found it extremely helpful to in-process with my husband.  I was able to meet people and find out where things were located.  Plus, having a “schedule” helped me push through jet lag. You may be able to complete practical things, like obtaining a driver’s license, with your servicemember.  It’s also likely your installation will have something set up for incoming families to acclimate you to the language and culture of Japan.  These classes reduced a lot of my anxiety regarding communication, and I highly recommend them if available.

100¥stores are so much better than the Dollar Store.

Just about everything in the store is 100¥, but the quality is better than what’s typically available in the States.  You’ll find everything from live plants to storage containers to kitchenware.  Trust me – it’s worth going in and (at least) looking around.

Golden week can be a challenge.

There is one week at the end of April into early May containing multiple Japanese holidays.  Many people will travel, and businesses often have reduced hours or are closed.  Because many military posts employ local national employees, sometimes office hours change during this week.  If you’re already on post during this time and want to travel, make sure to book early. Hotel and train ticket prices often increase, and accommodations fill up quickly.

You (probably) don’t need a new phone.

If you want to keep your current phone, you probably can. Make sure it’s unlocked before you leave the States.  Don’t assume you’ll need a new phone plan either; your carrier may offer an international plan.  Sprint, which is owned by Japanese carrier Softbank, offers a very affordable Japan add-on.  Although it’s sometimes helpful to have a Japanese phone number, I haven’t had trouble with a US number.  If you decide on a Japanese cell company, a provider is usually represented on base. But don’t be afraid to venture out to other providers in search of a better deal.

Japan is still largely a cash-based society.

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To date, I’ve had no success using my debit card off post except at an ATM.  Some businesses won’t accept plastic at all.  Thankfully, ATMs that accept international cards are easy enough to find, especially on post.  Always plan to carry some yen with you when you’re out and about.

For those places where you can use plastic, the cashier may ask you if you want to pay once or twice.  Some Japanese banks give consumers the option to break purchases into two charges that are applied at different times.  Unless you have a Japanese account, always choose ichi.

Consider selling or storing your car in the States.

It’s not recommended to ship your car.  It can cost thousands of dollars to ship and bring up to standard.  You can buy a reliable used car in country for the same price.  Most bases have car dealers in the area that speak English. Mainland Japan also has a great public transportation system.  Learning the trains and buses not only opens new avenues of transportation but is usually cheaper than paying highway tolls.

You will be able to communicate.

I was terrified of the language barrier.  Kanji is primarily used in writing, but Japan has also adopted romanji, or the Roman alphabet.  Roman characters are especially prevalent on public transportation but can also be found on some packaging and forms.  Japan knows tourists are visiting and they’ve worked hard to make a lot of things accessible to English speakers.  Of course, if all else fails, there’s always Google translate.  

Japan is hosting some big events in the next two years. 


The Rugby World Cup will be hosted in cities across the country in the fall of 2019.  In 2020, Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympic and Paralympic games.  If you’re hoping to attend these events, check tickets early. 

Convenience stores abound, and for good reason.

Convenience stores in Japan are meant to be just that…convenient.  You can buy all sorts of things – food, toiletries, liquor, umbrellas – as well as pay utility bills, purchase tickets, or pick up a package.  Don’t skip out on the food either!  There’s pre-made packaged food like grilled chicken, onigiri, and sandwiches.  You can also find warm foods like karaageyakitori, and pork buns. Japan is a country of great food – don’t be afraid to try it all!

Getting orders to another country is an exciting moment.  An overseas move takes courage, fearlessness, and a lot of planning.  Not long after learning your duty station, questions start flooding your mind.  There are answers out there and people to help you along the way.  Reach out, remain flexible, and get ready for a great adventure!

*Unless otherwise specified, all photos are by the author.


About the author

Maggie Mazaika is a military spouse and writer at Coffee & Camo. Previously a non-profit professional and camp counselor extraordinaire, she is now a stay-at-home-dog mom and eater of all the ice cream. Her hope is to offer travel tips, recommendations, and honest stories to ease your PCS transition and help you connect with your community. Currently stationed in Japan, Maggie and her husband love to travel as often as possible. Follow their adventures on Coffee & Camo, as well as Instagram and Facebook.