Working in Japan and the SOFA Tax

As an employee of the U. S. Navy, my husband received orders to work at the Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan in 2014. As his wife, I am a person under the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). After receiving the news about my husband's orders, I began an online search for teaching jobs in Okinawa.

Job Search

During my job search I learned that I had to weigh the following options:
  1. I could work on an American base in Okinawa and be employed as an American, or
  2. I could work off-base in Okinawa as a foreigner, but have to deal with the SOFA tax in addition to any other taxes that would be deducted from my salary.
I searched for off-base jobs on Okinawa Bookoo and on-base jobs through the USA jobs website. 
I submitted applications for both on-base and off-base job openings. I made the decision to work off-base after interviewing for a teaching job that had been posted on Okinawa Bookoo

Here's a video where I talk about how I landed my job


My school uses a pay scale to calculate the base salary for all of its teachers. On top of the base salary there are tax-free allowances that add to the take-home pay. 
The breakdown below applies only to my salary. There are teachers who receive additional allowances. 
  • Base Pay
  • Extra 4% for over time work 
  • Commuting Allowance
  • Quarterly Bonus (1 month's salary awarded 4 times a year)

Taxes and Deductions

After receiving a job offer, the administrative office informed me about the taxes that would impact my salary.
  • 20.42% SOFA Tax
  • 14% Japanese Health Insurance Tax
  • 0.9% Retirement/Pension

Nope. That's not a typographical error. The SOFA Tax is 20.42%.

Even though I receive health insurance coverage through my husband's job, I still have to pay the Japanese health insurance tax.

This means that ~35% of my salary never makes it to my hands.

Maternity Leave

Maternity leave in Japan is pretty extraordinary (especially from an American perspective).
Here's what one of my SOFA co-workers shared with me regarding her maternity leave:

  • Expecting mothers can stop working 6 weeks before the due date and 8 weeks after the baby is born while receiving 80% of their salary.
  • Mothers who decide to take a whole year off (until baby's 1st birthday), are paid at 50% of their salary.

Getting Hired

In order to begin working in Okinawa, Japan, I had to complete the following:
  • Skype interview (I was still living in San Diego when I applied for the position).
  • 25 minute mock lesson with grade 2 (after I moved to Okinawa)
  • Panel interview
After receiving the job offer I had to:
  • Go to Camp Foster Military Base and submit an application for a permit to work off-base. The permit is only good for 2 years and must be resubmitted when the 2-year term has passed.
  • Submit official transcripts, a copy of my diploma, and a copy of my teaching certification/credentials

Holidays, Sick Leave, Menstrual Leave

You read that right. Menstrual leave. If you're having exceptionally painful menstrual symptoms, you can request to leave work. Menstrual leave is unpaid, but it is still pretty nice to have the option.

Monthly 3-Day Weekends
In Japan the is a 3-Day weekend every month. I don't need to elaborate on how wonderful that is.

At my current place of work teachers can request up to 20 paid leave days and 3 sick days (paid) in a school year.

My Advice

Because being employed by a Japanese company was new to me, I made an appointment with the lawyer on-base and asked them to review the contract before I signed it.

The lawyers read over the contract, let me know everything looked great, and gave me the green light to sign it.

Getting Around

In order to work, shop, and enjoy off-base entertainment I had to:

  • Pass the driver's license exam
  • Buy a car (my Daihatsu Gino cost about $2,300)
  • Learn how to use the toll roads (ETC)
  • Adjust to driving on the left side of the road and the right side of the car

Cons (Working Off-Base)

  • Longer work hours (I am at work ~50 hours a week) 
  • Misunderstandings and miscommunications happen daily
  • Can't communicate one-on-one with all parents because of the language barrier
  • SOFA Tax (20.42%)

Pros (Working Off-Base)

  • I got the experience of working in an environment where I am the minority.
  • Learned social cues, hand signs, and body language
  • Learned the meaning of a Japanese bow
  • Spoke a little bit of Japanese every day
  • Gained the experience of working in a private school


  1. What a wonderful experience you must have had! Thanks for the info about working in Japan. I often thought it would be fun to teach overseas but now I'm loving my retirement!

    1. It was a wonderful experience and it prepared me for teaching elementary. I wouldn't be half the teacher I am today if it wasn't for my experience teaching in Japan.

  2. I found this very interesting! I have often thought it would be fun to teach overseas, but I never thought about all of the logistics like taxes, retirement, etc... It would be nice to have a 3 day weekend once a month though! Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Teaching those kids and working with a multinational staff was THE BEST. Even though I know it was a challenge to get through, I would go back and do it again just to have the opportunity to meet those kids and work with those people.

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