So you got orders to the Orient, or more specifically Okinawa, Japan. I am sure your journey started with all the things you need to do to prepare for life in Okinawa. Now that you have that out of the way you are thinking about how to get around.
Sadly, we do not have a useful rail system in Okinawa. Unlike most of Japan we are relegated to driving. That is great for Americans as we are already in love with our cars. So, what kind of car are you thinking of? Skyline or Silvia or something else you saw on The Fast and Furious franchise you saw at the movies? Be ready to be surprised with the prices!
One thing to think about is contacting the local car dealers before you leave the States, that way if you wanting a specific car you can start the search and send them what ever kind of deposit they need.
In most cases you will not be able to have the car waiting for you to drive away when you get there as the registration process is very regulated in Japan.
Either way, you will be following the same trek as most in registering your new JDM ride. The first thing to consider is that the farther you get from the base you are more likely to get a better price. That is something you deal with at any US military base around the world so that is no surprise.
In most instances you will need to go through a driver’s course and testing given by base safety offices. Each military branch has their own systems and you will surely be given the rundown at your orientation class when you arrive in Okinawa.
On Okinawa you will need your SOFA driver’s license for every car you buy. On Okinawa all the vehicles are registered in the sponsor’s name, not the family member’s name. So, even though you buy a car for your child who is at least 16 the car will not be in their name. If you buy one car for you and your spouse you will need a SOFA license for each of you.
One thing to think about before leaving the US is to check your driver’s licenses to make sure they are not going to expire any time soon!
Have extra copies of your orders to Okinawa to give to the dealer as they will need them to register your first car. They are required to provide them to vehicle registration on Camp Foster when they go to inspect and get plates for your car.
When you get to the dealer and pick out your new ride they will take your information such as unit/mailing address, your personal mailing address on Okinawa, work phone number (don’t provide your cell number) and they will ask you to sign a work sheet. That is a form the military will use to create your vehicle’s base registration.
After you sign the agreement to buy your car you will need to go to the insurance company, if they don’t offer it right there, and get PDI property damage insurance, sometimes called American insurance because it is a requirement for any vehicle registered to any SOFA status person. You will need a copy of the title in most cases.
Now it is time for the dreaded LOA, letter of attorney. I say dreaded because you can get an LOA from any base legal but vehicle registration (akin to the DMV) usually requires one issued from their office. No matter what, just go there with our driver’s license and orders and pick one up. In fact, I would suggest getting a LOA before you even go look for a car, it just saves you time. Make sure they stamp the top left and bottom right with their red stamp.
Once you finish all that, head back to your dealer and you should be all set.