Whether a servicemember’s spouse is American or foreign-born, getting married in Japan requires months of planning.
A marriage overseas means lots of paperwork before and after the ceremony. And merging two sets of financial attitudes and histories takes some planning ahead as well.
“You better be serious about getting married to this person, because getting everything you need done is no walk in the park,” said Nicole Janson, a non-SOFA status American who married a Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, airman March 11.
Tying the knot is only the beginning, Janson said.
Janson learned after opening a joint checking account that her more casual attitude toward balancing a checkbook wasn’t shared by her husband.
It’s not uncommon for spouses to have differing ideas on how finances should be managed, said Julie Franks, member service representative at the Navy Federal Credit Union’s branch at Camp Foster, Okinawa.
“Starting off a marriage is tough enough without having to fight over money,” Franks said.
Asking important financial questions before the marriage is key, Franks said. For example, ask about your potential spouse’s credit history; if he or she does not know much about it, consider ordering credit reports from one or all of the major credit bureaus, Franks said.
“If there is behavior like binge spending … there is no reason to believe that the behavior will change once the ring goes on the finger,” Franks added.
If your intended does not have any credit, encourage him or her to take out a small loan or apply for a low-limit credit card, Franks said.
Credit and income become even more crucial if the couple plans to buy a home, she said.
“Does a person with no responsibility for the mortgage deserve to be on the title of the home? That’s an individual choice,” she said.
Once married, Franks also recommends setting up a separate “deployment checking account” if the servicemember must leave for an extended period. That way, home bill payments do not bounce while the downrange servicemember spends money, she said.
Cultural differences also may come into play with financial matters.
For example, it is typical in some Japanese homes for the wife to control the finances and dole out an “allowance” to her husband. An American servicemember may want to ask his bride-to-be about that custom if he finds such an arrangement unsettling.
Also, personal checking accounts are not the norm in Japan, Franks said. Servicemembers — or a financial professional — should explain to a Japanese spouse how the account works, she said.
“They’ve never written checks before and may not have any concept of a debit card,” Franks said.
If a servicemember marries a foreigner and wants to use a joint account in the United States, the foreign spouse must obtain a tax identification number regardless of whether he or she applies for citizenship, Franks said. Base legal offices can help foreign spouses obtain the tax ID, she said.
Surviving the paperwork
Janson began the process of getting married in February and obtained a Japanese marriage license in March — but she isn’t done yet.
She is still waiting for her command sponsorship paperwork to be approved. Without it, the couple cannot receive their full housing allowance, and Janson will not have full medical benefits.
Throughout the process, Janson learned some tips and tricks that could make the marriage process a little faster for those on the way to the altar:
Don’t get hung up waiting for one item. Most bases and service branches have pre- and post-marital checklists that outline all the necessary paperwork.All branches, for example, require a health certificate for each spouse.
“At first, we were waiting for the blood tests to come back to continue,” Janson said.
But snags like that don’t have to hold up the entire process. While waiting for one piece of paperwork, a couple can work on other checklist tasks.
Get your affidavits done in one place. The base legal office may ask each party to obtain a certificate of competency. Because she did not have SOFA status, Janson was told to go to the American consulate for her affidavit. Her husband got his on base. Janson said she learned later that that route cost more money than if they had gotten the affidavits at the same time, at the consulate.Get creative. Until she receives command sponsorship, Janson and her husband can have only one car approved for base travel. Janson’s husband obtained a waiver stating that they plan to sell the car they have, which allowed them to base-sponsor another car. The waiver is good for 30 days, by which time Janson says she hopes her sponsorship will be approved.Couples getting married in Japan also must select a translator for their documents. Lists are supplied at the legal office and military personnel flight office at Kadena Air Base and also are available at other bases.
Janson and her husband had their affidavits and passports translated into Japanese, then brought the translator with them to the Naha city office, where they obtained their marriage certificate.
The translator acted as one of two required witnesses to the marriage, then translated the marriage documents into English. Along with two extra official copies, Janson said the translation package cost about $150.
In all, Janson likely will have invested three to four months into getting married and securing her SOFA status once everything is settled.
And then, of course, there are matters to be settled after the wedding.
Once married, servicemembers must enroll their spouse in the Defense Eligibility and Enrollment Reporting System, or DEERS, said Tech Sgt. Sheri Robinson, spokeswoman for Kadena’s Military Personnel Flight.
Then they need to update their emergency contact information, insurance policies and, if desired, enroll their spouse in a military health-care plan, she said.
Servicemembers also should remember that marriage can lengthen tours, Robinson said.
Do not wait until the month of a duty-station change to get married, Robinson said. If any paperwork is incomplete or in question, it may mean leaving for a new duty station without a spouse.
“We would request [a delay],” Robinson said. “But that request could very easily come back saying no.”