Working In Japan Under SOFA: Everything You Need To Know

When traveling or working in Japan, many restrictions and rules can become extremely confusing. The SOFA passport can allow you to do almost everything, but as a foreign citizen, there are still many limitations you need to adhere to. 

If you are a U.S. military personnel or your spouse is in the military, then the SOFA passport applies to you, and you will be allowed to do some work in the country. Your employer will need to be notified, and you may not be able to work for a Japanese company under a SOFA passport in Japan. 

The SOFA passport has been a confusing part of the military working and living in Japan since it was first introduced in 1949. Many people and families have had to work around the SOFA passport to ensure they can easily and safely get the jobs they need to live comfortably and well. 

Can You Work In Japan With SOFA Status?

You can work in Japan if you have the SOFA passport with a few exceptions that start to apply if you work over a specific amount of time if you are not a U.S. citizen or when working for a Japanese company. Each of these should be explained to you by your main point of contact for the SOFA passport.

Any U.S. citizen that qualifies for the SOFA passport can work in Japan for a U.S. company or a company outside of the U.S. However, this changes if you are working for a Japanese company as you will be held liable for taxes and other payments that need to be made to the Japanese government.

If you are married to a U.S. citizen but not a U.S. citizen, the type of SOFA passport you are receiving changes drastically. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you can receive a SOFA passport but only to enter Japan to allow you to stay, but you will not be allowed to work even for international companies.

Can You Work In Japan If A Spouse Has SOFA Status?

If your spouse has been given the SOFA passport, you will be allowed to work in Japan if you are a U.S. citizen, as the SOFA passport will be extended to you. However, we recommend discussing this first with your main point of contact for the SOFA passport to see what you can and can’t do. 

Depending on the military branch, your spouse is in SOFA, passport changes slightly, with many SOFA passports requiring that you live on the U.S. base or close to it. You will have to apply for the SOFA passport separately from your spouse, using their military credentials to motivate your SOFA passport.

This is often why you may see many military personnel sent to Japan go there without their spouses for the first few months. The application process for their spouses takes slightly longer than the SOFA passports that they require for themselves. 

Who Qualifies For SOFA Status?

Anyone working for the U.S. military requested to go to Japan, or any foreign country qualifies for the SOFA license. By extension, their families can also apply to receive a SOFA license to travel through the country without being limited. 

It is not limited to troops stationed in Okinawa and applies to any part of the military, including engineers and those working in offices. This is often why you may find someone working and living in the north of Japan with the SOFA license for them and their family. 

When applying for the SOFA passport, you should always ensure that you know what you can and cannot do. Many people are trying to get permanent residency after several years of living in Japan with the SOFA passport, which is impossible as it is not a normal visa. 

What Does SOFA Mean In Japan?

The SOFA license has the same meaning worldwide and is only applicable in countries where there are active U.S. military bases. The meaning of SOFA is the Status of Forces Agreement, which means that those working for the U.S. military do not need to have a work visa. 

When using this passport, you will be allowed to travel most of the country, but you may be limited in other ways. One such example is the amount of time you can spend in the country; if your military orders state that you should return home or go to another base, you can no longer use the SOFA passport.

Further, while you can go on vacation in Japan while using the SOFA passport, you and your family cannot use the SOFA passport to go on vacation. This means that if you live in the U.S. full time, you cannot travel to Japan specifically for vacation purposes using the SOFA license. 

Can You Travel Japan With A SOFA Passport?

You can travel to several different precincts throughout Japan if you have a currently active SOFA passport and you have been given leave. Many military personnel uses their off time to travel throughout Japan using their SOFA passports. 

However, you will have to carry around more than just your passport, including your military orders and other identifying documents. This is because the police in Japan are aware of how SOFA passports work and can require that you prove you are on leave, as you are military personnel.

If you are a spouse of a military person, your passport will clarify that you are not military personnel and that you are visiting Japan using a SOFA passport. However, you may still be required to prove that your spouse is currently active in Japan for the SOFA passport to be considered valid. 

How Long Does A SOFA Passport Last?

The time it takes for a SOFA passport lasts entirely, depending on how long you or your spouse is working in Japan. It may only be for a few months, or it may be several years, which means that you need to be sure how long the passport lasts before you start traveling. 

Several people have found themselves almost banned from Japan because they went on holiday during the period in which their SOFA passport has expired. This means they are asked to show their visa or SOFA passport only to find it is no longer valid.

If this happens too long after the passport or visa has expired, Japan could ban you for a certain number of years or permanently from the country. Even if you are military personnel, you can be banned from entering the country, which means you are stuck inside the military base of Okinawa. 


Your SOFA passport can help you visit and stay in Japan for several years as long as you have the right military orders. You can also do some work in Japan, depending on where the company is located that you are working for.

Just remember, no matter your or your spouse’s military position, you are a visitor! 


Originally posted on January 21, 2022 @ 8:00 am

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As a lifelong traveler and founder of, I, Alex Deidda, have always been driven by my passion for exploring new places and cultures.

Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to live in various countries, each offering unique perspectives and experiences.

My love for traveling led me to create, a website and blog dedicated to helping people plan their trips.

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