One of the big worries about moving to Okinawa is having to buy a car. The military doesn’t let you ship vehicles over, so you have no choice but to buy one. For many, they may not have the cash on hand to buy something and it’s not as easy to finance a vehicle. Also, most people buy used and many of those are what we would consider beaters in the states.
We owned four vehicles in our time on island. When the husband got there in 2010, he bought a 1997 Honda Celica from someone in his shop who was PCSing. He paid a whopping $1K for it. When the kids and I got there, he bought a 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan, again for $1K. It was a beater. The neighbor kids at one point carved their names in the paint and we really could have cared less. It just added to all the other dents and scratches. About a year later, the husband’s major was leaving and said he would sell us his 1997 Toyota Noah. THe husband wanted something bigger. He could barely fit his golf clubs in the Celica. The Noah ended up needing new brakes, so he just gave it to us. We then sold the Celica for $500. The next year, when the husband was deployed, my lovely Honda Odyssey pooped out. I was told it would be around $1200 – $1500 to fix it and they didn’t recommend it, so I junked it and bought a 1998 Honda SMX. I loved that car. It was a little orange box. I paid $2K for it. So, for four cars, we paid a total of $4K and made $3,500 selling them. You don’t need a gorgeous car on island, it just needs to get you from point A to point B.
Where To Buy A Car
There are three different ways to buy a car. You can buy new, which nobody does and wouldn’t be realistic since you’ll only be there a couple years before you have to turn around and sell it, you can buy from a private party, and you can buy from a used dealership.
We bought all our cars from either the lemon lot, someone we knew, or the yard sales page. Either way, you are buying it used from a private party. In many cases, it is cheaper this way if you shop around and pay attention. Make sure you test drive the vehicle first though. The paperwork and the transfer is pretty easy too, just take everything to the Joint Services Vehicle Registration office on Foster.
There are some negatives to going this route too though. If it is peak PCS season, expect some cars to be priced too high. People tend to think they can sell them for what they paid for them. You’ll need to pay cash in full for these as well. Pay attention to when the JCI is due again. If it is almost two years out, people don’t seem to mind paying a little more, but if it is due in the next few months, you will end up paying at least around $500 to get it done. More if there are repairs needed. Cars won’t be in as good of condition either. You have to remember that typhoons, the salty sea air, in addition to all the accidents and everything else, leads to lots of dents and scratches. Like my Honda Odyssey. That may not bother some, but will bother others.
Used Car Dealership
There are used car dealerships all over the island, but look for the ones that are used to dealing with the military. Payless Motors and BC Used Cars are the two that come to mind. Both are located outside of Kadena’s Gate 2. With a car from the dealership, you may pay a bit more, but you’ll get a warranty and a fresh JCI that is good for two years. Many also offer financing or can direct you to where to get financing. Be careful there though. You could wind up paying up to 20% interest. Ask your sponsor or ask around at work and see where everyone recommends you go.
Most dealerships will give you a warranty. Make sure you know exactly what it covers. Some offer 30 days, some offer a year. If you the engine blows up and it isn’t covered under the warranty, you’ll either have to pay to fix it, or junk it. Either way, you’ll still end up owing on the car if you financed it.
Dealerships also offer financing. I know Payless and BC do it in house at 0%, with no credit checks.
Buying a car in Okinawa is similar, but still really different from buying a car in the states. If you are buying a car from a dealership, you’ll need to have your orders and SOFA license (you’ll get it at the Newcomer’s Brief). You’ll also need a letter of attorney, which you can get at the Joint Services Vehicle Registration office on Foster. That needs to be done so you are in the system and you can register a vehicle. The paperwork then includes the Military Statement of Responsibility and the Vehicle Registration. It’ll be about 2-3 days before the JCI inspections are done and you can pick your new car up. After that, you’ll just need to go back to the Vehicle Registration office on Foster and pick up your road tax sticker.
Now you are wondering what the heck JCI is. JCI stands for Japanese Compulsory Insurance. It is good for 2 years and stays with the car. It doesn’t start fresh if you buy a car from a buddy, but a dealership will give you a fresh two year JCI. If you don’t get it taken care of, you can’t drive. If they catch you coming through the gate with expired JCI, the car can be impounded. You can get it done one of two ways. Either take it somewhere and have them do it (Typhoon Motors, the used car lots mentioned above, and countless other places can do it), or do it yourself. There’s a great article on Okinawa Hai about doing it yourself. I always took care of ours and just took the cars to Typhoon Motors. They took care of all the paperwork and made any necessary repairs. We had to do it on two, maybe three vehicles. I don’t remember anymore.
Insurance is still required. JCI covers up to 30 million yen (it’s not as much as you think it works out to about $270,000 with today’s exchange rate), but you’ll still need coverage in excess of that. The rate depends on your age and rank. There are a couple different insurance companies and are located on each base.
The videos below should cover everything.