Let's Move to Okinawa!
So you're moving to Okinawa and you have all of your ducks in a row! All medical records are up-to-date, area clearances are approved, government passports have arrived, your Patriot Express flight is scheduled, and you're ready to visit friends and family one more time before moving across the Pacific! (If you're starting to question whether or not you have everything done, don't panic, call your sponsor!)
Have you starting to think about what it will be like when you actually arrive in Okinawa? What will quarantine be like? What will you do to pass the time? Will you have access to fresh produce? Will anyone buy you fresh and locally roasted coffee, a coffee grinder, and a french press?! Ok, maybe that last question only applies to me but you get the point - there might be something in particular that you would like upon arrival or during your quarantine and you want to make sure that your needs (and some wants!) are taken care of.
You're in the right place if you've been googling any of the following phrases:
"Surviving the Move to Okinawa"
"How to Quarantine with Kids"
"Tips and Tricks to Survive a Quarantine Overseas"
This information is not only for people moving to Okinawa but also for sponsors that are preparing to welcome someone to Okinawa. If you're new to Okinawa, this information will help you make the most of your first 2 weeks on the island. And chances are that during your time on the island you will have the opportunity to be the sponsor. I've tried to compile good information for everyone so make sure you save this post for the future and send it to your friends that don't know where to start.
Before you get on the plane to Okinawa, make sure that your sponsor has signed you up for the NOWA Brief (Newcomers' Orientation Welcome Aboard Brief) so you can attend that while you're in quarantine. You will need this brief completed in order to take the test to get your driver's license. You can also sign up for the brief through the Marine Corps Comunity Services Okinawa Japan website, just make sure you coordinate this with your sponsor so they can keep you on track with all the new join requirements.
You can go ahead and get the ball rolling on housing, too. You or your sponsor can schedule the housing brief as soon as you know your arrival date on the island. Housing will feel like a lot to work through before you arrive and that's partly because it is! Sometimes newcomers will be eligible for the "Port to Final Residence Program" which means you move directly into permanent family housing quarters upon arrival to Okinawa. But if you don't qualify or if you're hoping to live off base, you'll need to report to the Family Housing Office on Kadena Air Base when you're released from quarantine. If you're still confused about housing, just head on over to the Kadena Air Base website and you'll find all of this information explained in depth.
MCCS also has the "Sponsorship Training Guide" available to download. It has tons of websites linked to the information you need and it also has a handy checklist that can be started months before you arrive. If you want to prepare for the driving test, the drivers' handbook from the Installation Safety Office is also available to download.
If you are still in the dark, reach out to your chain of command or organization's leadership. They are there to ensure that you are taken care of when you first arrive and ensure you start your overseas assignment off on the right foot.
A word to sponsors:
If you have the honor to sponsor someone moving to Okinawa, please treat it as such! You are welcoming people to this special little island and you will likely mold their first impression of Okinawa. For 2 weeks of your life, you will be making extra trips to the store and hotel to deliver what is needed during the quarantine. Oftentimes people will be shy to tell you what they really want so some of my favorite questions are pointed ones like:
"What kind of coffee/tea do you like?"
"Do you want to plan a fun movie/pizza/popcorn night?"
"What are your kids' favorite games?"
"What kind of books can I grab for you from the library?"
If you're the one moving to Okinawa, make it easy on your sponsor ahead of time and let them know what your family needs to make it through 2 weeks of quarantine with your sanity intact. Let them know if you have allergies and if there are any foods you try to avoid. Online fund sharing also helps with the guilt of having someone run errands for you so make sure you ask the sponsor if they have PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, or something similar.
How to make the arrival a little more special for people that just moved to Okinawa:
Don't feel obligated to make all of this happen if you're not able to. If you're the sponsor or if you know someone moving to Okinawa think of this as a welcome basket. The first time we sponsored a family moving to Okinawa I got on Pinterest and searched for welcome basket ideas. I then made it my own with local specialties.
When we moved to Okinawa our sponsors knocked it out of the ballpark. They filled the temporary lodging fridge and cabinets with our favorite foods. They filled goodie bags from Daiso for each of the kids with toys, games, and snacks. They even had a welcome sign in Kanji and chopsticks for us! Ever since I have wanted to pay it forward and help everyone that I can to feel the warm Okinawa welcome and hospitality when moving here. Here are some extra things I try to do for people moving here:
Daiso gift bags
Local treats, drinks, snacks
Gifts for kids - sidewalk chalk, coloring books, puzzles
Let the incoming family borrow toys and games to help the time pass by quickly
Offer to watch kids during the driver's test and the housing office appointment
Help families find childcare through the CDC or FCC in-home providers
Be available to answer questions, send pins, and make extra trips to the store
Connect friends that can answer questions about schools, jobs, or anything else you don't have an answer for
If you're a sponsor you don't need to provide all of this support on your own. It truly takes a group of like-minded and well-meaning people to come together and make the transition easier. When I don't have all of the answers to questions, I ask a friend that might know and can help. For example, my kids aren't in public school but I can connect newcomers with a family that is connected to the DODEA schools. I'm also not familiar with the job market in Okinawa, but I can find resources and contacts that are knowledgeable in this area.
Three more resources to ensure the move goes smoothly:
I have some wonderful friends that have also written about their Okinawa experiences. Their blogs are a wealth of information but their posts about Okinawa each bring something special to the table that can help you during this move.
Laura at 'Little Island Takara' - Laura has written a post that covers the move to and from Okinawa. She has information on how to move with pets, kids, and also on how to make the most of your time in Okinawa. When the time comes for you to leave the island, you can also use this post to help get the move from Okinawa started.
Maria at 'The Bow & Arrow Studio' - Maria has a super fun post that covers what to expect when moving to Okinawa and what to bring. I love it because she lets you know what to expect with the weather, how wonderful the locals are, and her own personal list of things that are helpful to bring.
Mona at 'Monday Morning with Mona' - Mona's post is wonderful because she has such a different experience with moving to Okinawa since she moved after her husband arrived. You'll get to see a different way to make the move go smoothly and she has information on a little bit of everything from cars to phones to lodging!