For those service members and their families who are planning an OCONUS move, finances can be tremendous challenge with plenty of unknown factor. AHRN.com asked military spouse blogger Margeaux, currently living in Okinawa, to share her lessons learned and what she wished she had known!
Okinawa, Japan is the home of MCB Butler, Kadena Air Base, Torii Station and White Beach and more. This island is home to every DoD branch of service in some capacity from TDY’ers, deployed personnel, accompanied and unaccompanied tours. This beautiful little tropical island comes with a host of newcomer questions like:
- “Does the commissary take US dollars?”
- “Will I be able to find American things?”
- “I don’t speak Japanese, help!”
- “Can I bring my washer and dryer/car/electronics?”
Japan is a mystery to many. For many, the looming concern before their Japan move is “How much money do I need to save before we PCS to Okinawa?” That is the million dollar question.
Okinawa PCS Budget Cheat Sheet
Before you even arrive in Japan, there is the expense of getting there!
- Food – snacks, meals, beverages, etc.
- Hotel fees/gas fees if traveling by POV
- Last month’s rent at previous duty station (if you live in privatized housing, your last month’s rent is paid with the BAH from the month after you move out)
- Moving truck and supplies if taking your items somewhere instead of government storage
- Pet travel and expense fees
- Last minute travel items
The first 30 to 45 days of your PCS can be both the biggest shock – and a hit to your bank account. Setting up a new home in a foriegn country is exciting, confusing and expensive! On your arrival, you will need to purchase some of the following based on your specific circumstance.
- Cars (private seller or dealership) – shipping a car from the US can take months and not all US cars can be driven in Japan
- Household Items (trash cans, toilet brush, curtains, rugs, etc)
- Furniture (different branches have different weight limits in Okinawa so ask your local travel office)
- Replacement items broken in the move
- Clothing that didn’t get packed and now you regret it
- Cell phones
- Internet/Cable TV Service
- Car insurance
Some of your move-in expenses are reimbursed:
- TLF/Hotel accomodations CONUS or OCONUS prior to leaving your previous duty station
- TLA accommodations in Japan – Plan for at least a month.
- Off-base moving costs (if applicable) – first month, last month, security deposit, utility fees, pet fee, and agent fee
- Kenneling fees/Pet Sitting fees – if you have a pet
- Payment for transportation to duty station – gas money, airplane tickets, etc
There are probably a dozen more things that could go on this list, depending on a family’s needs. It looks exhausting, and it is. Thankfully, there are resources to help you pay for these expenses such as loans from finance to cover off-base moving fees, reimbursements, per diems, advances from finance, Government Travel Cards, personal loans and savings accounts.
The real answer to the million dollar question is: AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.
Our PCS To Okinawa
When our family PCS’d to Okinawa in 2013, we spent around $10,000 on cars alone in the first 18 months. There are much cheaper ways to do this but we purchased two dealer cars from one of the most-respected dealerships right outside the base. The dealership offered 18 months and 0% interest financing on their cars. With that financing deal, the dealership cars are more expensive than the Lemon Lot, but they come with a warranty. If you decide to purchase from a private seller, cars are cheaper, but be prepared to pay between $500 and $5000 for a car. With a private seller, you’ll need cash either in the form of outside personal financing or cash. With the dealership route, we were able to buy two for $1000 and make payments on them with the option to pay them off early and they included our first year of insurance into our financing saving us from having to pay out-of-pocket over $1000. It should be noted that insurance rates vary based on the age and rank of the service member as well as the size of the engine of the car. The younger the service member is and lower ranking, the more expensive annual insurance becomes. There are a few different options for purchasing but the most inexpensive is annually.
The average stay in TLF is between 1 week and 4 weeks, during peak PCS season it may take longer to get into housing due to the turnover rate slowing down. Reimbursement for TLF is filed every 10 days, after you’ve paid for your hotel stay, and takes a week or longer to be reimbursed. If TLF is full, there are multiple hotels off base that are approved in lieu of base lodging, but they’re likely more expensive. Between TLE (CONUS) and TLA (OCONUS), we paid just under $1400.00.
An OCONUS PCS With Pets
Pets are a separate challenge of their own. Pet TLF rooms are in high demand and the supply is extremely limited, although kenneling and dog sitting is the alternative. Luckily, Fido secured a spot on the Patriot flight so we were responsible for finding her a way to Seattle and kenneling when she got to Japan. In order to get her on a plane, we had to drive ourselves to an airport that had planes that were large enough to fly a dog crate which caused us to purchase our plane tickets separately and be reimbursed for them after the fact. Her vet expenses for routine shots, a FAVN test, a microchip, health certificate, 2 rabies vaccines, kennel, flights, and kenneling in Japan were over $1000 starting 6 months prior to our move, with kenneling being the largest expense at nearly $500.
After we moved into our base home, we had to replace a few items that were damaged in the move, including our Playstation that wasn’t reimbursed and a few other items that were. It took them 45 days to pay our reimbursement money after we filed the damage claim that took at least 45 days to get settled. We also had to replace some of our home goods (trash cans, shower curtains, cleaning supplies, condiments, spices, etc.) and then establish internet service ($200).
PCS costs are going to very by family and reimbursement of those costs is going to vary slightly according to your branch of service and number of family members. In all, we needed to have $6000 in savings to PCS to Okinawa. Did we have it all? No, but we had enough to keep us afloat until reimbursements were deposited.
There are ways to cut some of the costs and a good portion of expenses are reimbursed. But cars, insurance, utilities, groceries, home goods, and that new pair of shoes you needed are not reimbursed at all. Establishing a new life at any new duty station is expensive, and OCONUS is no different – just more so! Everyone will have a different experience – some have arrived with nothing and survived, but they’ll be the first to tell you it was stressful. Prepare as best you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about utility costs. Keep a savings account at all times and when you get notification that you’re PCSing – save, save, save.
Planning a move? Check out the AHRN.com PCS Toolkit!