What To Expect When Building Overseas [full guide]

We are a retired military family stationed overseas in Okinawa, Japan since 2015. And we build a house! I fell in love with this island the first day we arrived in Okinawa years ago (back in 2009).

We stayed 3 years, went back to the United States, then came back to Okinawa in 2015, my love for this country only grew stronger and I convinced my husband to build a home right here on this beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


What to expect when building in Japan

This experience of building a home overseas has been incredible, overwhelming, and challenging to say the least. In this post, I‘ll focus on What To Expect When Building Overseas

I hope you got some time to read this post because I am about to pour my heart out.

Why We Build A Home Overseas

Let me start with why & how we even got to build a home in Okinawa. We decided to make Okinawa a semi-permanent home for our family due to several reasons. 

  1. The first, most obvious reason for us was the financial aspect of it all. We lived in Okinawa for a total of 9 years (not including the years my husband spent here on his own before getting married, a few years after Bootcamp), my mind kept going over and over the amount of money, paid on rent while here.
  2. The second reason is that we are contracted to stay in Okinawa for at least five more years or longer. We planned to own a home again, but building in the States or Germany (I’m German so that’s why Germany) just isn’t in the cards anymore.
  3. And the third reason is, that it made sense to do so because we love Okinawa so much. Both of our children know Okinawa as their home country since they’ve been here most of their lives, we feel very safe in Okinawa and we highly respect the culture and how everyone is treating each other. 

What it takes to build in Japan

So, let’s talk about what it actually takes to build a house in Okinawa.

We thought it was impossible to build a house on this beautiful island without Japanese citizenship, so we didn’t consider building. Until I chatted with a military family that was in the process of building their own home here.

Come to find out, that many families have built a forever-home or bought an investment property right here in Okinawa. I immediately started looking for “that company“, to help us do just that.

A few weeks later we had a meeting and received an eye-opening estimate, with all the cost involved to build in Okinawa. Let’s just say it wasn’t what we thought it would be because we didn’t factor in that the house would be made of concrete, the remote location Okinawa is in, and that this island is a vacation/tourist destination. 

So, let me give you my current list of What To Expect When Building Overseas

Things To Consider When Building Overseas

  1. Renting vs. buying – renting is very expensive in Okinawa especially for foreigners, and finding a big enough place for your family may be very difficult. Buying a home or investment property comes with a high price tag, but it might be a better option if you decide to stay for a longer period. You could consider using your property as an income source once you move.
  2. Finding & buying a Lot – This can take some time 1-3 months at least, we got lucky because the building contractor we used had a lot for sale in the town and area we were looking for.
  3. Weather & Time – building a house in Okinawa may take anywhere from 9-12 months depending on the weather. Weather plays a big role in Okinawa. The summer can be brutal and even the best-prepared workers may have to take longer breaks. Plus, seasonal typhoons are to be expected during June-Nov. 
  4. Concrete Frame – concrete is an extremely suitable building material for the region. Japan experiences a range of different climates around the country (typhoons and earthquakes are two of them) and concrete is a versatile material for this range, especially during the hot humid summers of Japan’s many urban areas. This is a great article about the history of Japan’s Building Standard Law. 
  5. Loans & Down payments – While foreigners are able to purchase real estate in Japan,  Japanese financial institutions are hesitant about giving loans to foreigners. In order to obtain a loan, there are various prerequisites that have to be met. We used our building contractor to obtain the loan from the bank, and of course, we paid a hefty downpayment to bring down the monthly Mortgage Payments.
  6. Regulations – As with every country, Japan has its own regulations you don’t really have to worry about these things since the building contractor should know all of these things and has to build by JP regulation. I only mentioned this because we ran into a faucet/shower issue because I didn’t want to use the general silver looking faucets that Japan offers. Find more information below.

Regulation Breakdown:

    • YOSEKIRITSU – This is the building volume-to-land ratio and defines the maximum total floorspace allowed on a block of land.
    • MAXIMUM BUILDING HEIGHT – The zoning will determine building heights in an area. Low-rise exclusive residential zoned areas have maximum building heights of 10 ~ 12 meters. 
    • STAIRS AND WALLS – There are also limits on the height of steps and concrete block walls. For residential homes, the maximum height of each step in a staircase is 23 cm. 
    • EARTHQUAKE BUILDING CODES – Japan is a seismically active country and has some of the most rigorous earthquake building standards in the World.
    • JIS – specifies the standards used for industrial activities in Japan. This also applies to shower-heads and faucets, so make sure it is JIS approved.


What to expect when building in Japan

What comes next?

Alright, now you know why we choose to build in Japan and what to expect. In my next post, I’ll be sharing my process of designing the house inside and out. And if you like to keep up with current updates make sure to follow me on Instagram at @oheverythinghandmade.

xo Betty

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    1. Thank you for this information. I am considering building a place in the north of Okinawa (Motobu). However, not sure where or who to contact/hire to identify what I am able to build. Do you think if I go straight to the same company you used they’ll be able to help? Thank you in advance.

  1. I am working on a solution to transitioning to Okinawa. My wife is from Okinawa and we’re are thinking of finding a way back there. I came accross the KK builder company. Then ended up also finding your blog.

    Anyway, I am highly interested in your design, area and costs. Our goal is to have some sort of rentable space to help with income.

    And the general fees the companyight charge for making the loan situation easier. I probably don’t have enough capital to get the whole thing over the finish line. Probably somewhere around 3,900 man

  2. Hi my husband and I are looking into getting a house built out here in okay but we are curious on what is the price range. How much did you have to put down when you started your process?

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