Finding an Expat or SOFA Job in Okinawa
Okinawa isn't the easiest place to find work. However, there are unique opportunities here and with some persistence you're likely to find something rewarding.
Here are the most common jobs in Okinawa for expats:
- U.S. Military civilian and active duty jobs
- English teaching
- International school teacher
- Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
The U.S. Military
Most expats in Okinawa work with the U.S. Military. Either as active duty military or in a civilian role. Below are the different ways to work as a civilian on a U.S. military installation in Okinawa:
- General Schedule (GS) Employee
- Non-Appropriated Funds (NAF) Employee
- Contractor Employee
GS employees are direct employees of the U.S. government. Many of these positions receive benefits and regular pay increases. GS positions are usually sought-after due to the potential to move up and the job security.
- Very secure
- Many opportunities to progress
- Opportunities worldwide
- Paid housing and relocation
- Benefits package
- SOFA status
- After 5 years need to return to the U.S.
- Pay U.S. taxes
NAF positions are direct employees of the U.S. government, but are different from GS positions due to how the positions are funded. NAF positions are funded from the profits of government ran facilities (e.g., base exchanges). NAF positions are fairly secure, but are generally seen as less secure as GS positions.
- Can stay overseas indefinitely
- Many opportunities worldwide
- Housing and relocation package (if you're hired from the U.S.)
- Benefits package
- SOFA status
- Less secure than GS employee
- Pay U.S. taxes
Contractors are employees of companies that hold contracts with the U.S. government. These positions vary greatly in pay, stability, and benefits. Contracting can be very lucrative, but also very unstable.
- Don't pay U.S. federal income taxes
- Usually quick and less formal hiring process
- Sometimes paid housing and relocation
- SOFA Status
- High uncertainty
- Unpredictable and unstable
Positions on base can be very competitive. Military members with families often relocate with their entire families, meaning there are a large number of spouses looking for work. Spouses are not only familiar with military life and work, for many positions they are given what's called "Military Spouse Preference." This allows spouses to go to the front of line when being considered for jobs.
And often next in line for jobs are veterans who are still in Okinawa. They often go second in line for many jobs here in Okinawa.
If you're not a spouse or veteran, don't get discouraged though. Jobs are very competitive, but it's important to keep in mind that there is consistent turnover due military families constantly moving into and out of Okinawa.
Some important tips for finding work in Okinawa:
- Be persistent
- Don't get offended if you don't get a job offer after an interview. It's not uncommon months down the line, the person they hired doesn't work out or had to unexpectedly return back to the U.S.. By re-applying and not getting offended, you prove your interest and professionalism.
- Try to find the equivalent job in the U.S. first. The same position might be easier to get in a less desirable location in the U.S.. This is a great way to get your foot in the door for a position in Okinawa.
Where to Look for civilian military Jobs in Okinawa
Here's a list I compiled of the most consistent employers on the island that will likely sponsor a SOFA:
|Air Force Civilian Service Job||airforce.usajobs.gov|
|Marine Corps Community Services||careers.usmc-mccs.org|
|Army Civilian Jobs||armycivilianservice.usajobs.gov|
|Federal Service General Schedule||usajobs.gov|
|Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)||dodea.edu|
|Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES)||publicaffairs-sme.com|
|Navy Federal Credit Union||navyfederal.org|
|University of Maryland, Asia||careers.umgc.edu|
|Booz Allen Hamilton||careers.boozallen.com|
There are many other employers hiring they are just constantly changing and impossible for me to keep updated here. It's a revolving door of private companies. Here are a couple of job boards to research jobs:
Indeed - indeed.com
For indeed, it's best to search by typing "Okinawa" in the "What" field rather than the "Where" field. If you type in the "Where" field, it will most likely bring you to the Japanese version of indeed.com and all the jobs will be off-base jobs in Okinawa, for Okinawan residents. Also, if you're currently in Japan, you'll most likely be taken to the Japanese version right away. To get back to the U.S. site, follow these steps:
- Type in "California" in the field furthest to the right (closest to the blue button)
- Press the blue button
- You'll notice a link just under the search area and a little to the left; it will have a U.S. flag and read "California." Click that link.
- You'll be taken to the U.S. version of indeed.com
- Type in "Okinawa" in the "What" field and delete "California" in the "Where" field
Glassdoor - https://www.glassdoor.com
For glassdoor.com, it's helpful to try a couple of searches: "Okinawa" in the "Title, Keywords, or Company" field and a separate search with "Okinawa" in the "Location" field.
English teaching is a very popular way for expats to live and work in mainland Japan. It's also possible in Okinawa. In mainland Japan, most English teaching jobs are with private companies. Private companies bring in their own English students are they contract with public schools and place English teachers. In Okinawa, most English teachers in public schools are hired directly by the school districts.
Here are some sources to check:
GaijinPot Jobs - https://jobs.gaijinpot.com/job/index/lang/en
City Offices - Contact each city office by phone and ask them if they are hiring or how you can be notified when they hire.
Google - Do a Google search for English schools in Okinawa
Teaching at an International School
There are some jobs at the various international schools on the island. Here's a list of international schools in Okinawa that I try to keep updated.
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
OIST is probably the second largest community of English speakers on the island (much smaller of course to the U.S. military community). OIST mostly has jobs for researchers, but you can occasionally find other positions: https://www.oist.jp/careers
Brian O'Sullivan, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. He has a small private practice in Okinawa, Japan and provides counseling to English-speaking clients located in Okinawa and throughout Japan.