Service Members in Japan have opportunity to influence COLA rates

USFJ Public Affairs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Beginning in mid-April, service members throughout Japan will have the opportunity to participate in the Overseas Cost of Living Allowance Living Pattern Survey and have a direct impact on future COLA rates.

The LPS will be available online April 15 - May 31 for personnel stationed at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Yokohama North Dock and May 1 - 31 for personnel at all other areas in Japan.

The survey is designed to capture data on shopping patterns of military service members stationed in Japan. The data collected from the LPS will eventually be used to assist in the determination of Overseas Cost of Living Allowance rates.

“The purpose of COLA is to ensure everyone has the same purchasing power overseas as they would back in the states, said Chief Master Sgt. Terrence A. Greene, United States Forces, Japan command chief. “The quality of life of our service members and their families is important, and COLA provides that buffer to make sure it remains consistent.”

When taking the survey, service members will be asked about where they shop and how much they spend -- on base or off base -- and what percentage of items they buy from the commissary and Exchange.

U.S. Forces Japan leaders are encouraging maximum participation from service members in order to collect full and accurate data that will have a direct influence on COLA rates.

“You’re lucky, you get to influence COLA for the next three years,” added Greene. “The most important thing is to make sure that the moment the survey is live, we need as many people taking it as we can.”

In the situation where the service member may be deployed or does not have access to the internet, the service member’s spouse can take the survey on their behalf.

Survey links will be available at

For additional information on COLA and the LPS Survey, please reference the Defense Travel Management Website,

Background and FAQ

The Cost of Living index is based on data furnished by uniformed members assigned to each overseas location (U.S. civilian employees and contractors do not participate in this survey). DTMO uses two surveys to determine the relative cost of living: a Living Pattern Survey and a Retail Price Schedule.

The Living Pattern Survey asks Service Members which local stores they shop in and how much (the percentage) they buy from the Commissary and Exchange. For example, the Living Pattern Survey may show that Service Members typically buy half their clothing in local stores (with foreign currency) and half at the exchange (with U.S. dollars).

Using information from the Living Pattern Survey, price collectors in many overseas locations conduct a market basket survey (Retail Price Schedule) each year, pricing about 120 goods and services.

For additional information on COLA and the LPS Survey, visit the Defense Travel Management Website,

The Living Pattern Survey will be open for all US military personnel stationed in Japan 1 - 31 May 2018. 

For personnel assigned to Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) and Yokohama North Dock, the survey will be open from 15 Apr – 31 May 2018 to enable participation prior to operational commitments.

Q: What is the Overseas Cost of Living Allowance Overseas Living Patterns Survey?

A: This survey is used to track the shopping patterns of Uniformed Service members stationed overseas. The data collected will assist in the determination of Overseas Cost of Living Allowance (OCOLA) paid to members in your country of assignment.

Q: How do I access the survey?

A: A link to the survey will be hung on starting 1 May 18 (15 Apr 18 for Yokosuka and Yokohama).

Q: How long does it take to complete the survey?

A: The time will vary from person to person, but on average takes 40-50 minutes. The important thing to remember is that accurate COLA rates depend on accurate, complete data supplied by service members in this survey. This opportunity only comes once every three years, but it can make a big difference in COLA rates for service members and their families here in Japan.

Q: What is Overseas COLA?

A: The Cost-of-Living Allowance, or COLA, is paid to Service Members to partially offset high costs when stationed overseas (including Alaska and Hawaii). COLA helps maintain purchasing power so you can purchase about the same goods and services overseas as in CONUS. It does not reimburse expenses, but is designed to offset higher overseas prices of goods and services. It does not compensate for remoteness, hardship, or non-availability of goods and services.

Q: How often is COLA adjusted?

A: COLA is adjusted once a year based on data furnished by the Commands overseas. For currency fluctuations, DTMO's Allowances Branch can adjust COLA as often as every payday. Of course, just as it takes time to process an allotment change, it takes a while for a COLA change to show up in your pay.

Q: Is COLA affected by changes in the foreign exchange rates?

A: Yes. DTMO's Allowances Branch monitors foreign exchange rates throughout the year. As the amount of foreign currency your dollar "buys" changes, the DTMO's Allowances Branch increases or decreases COLA to maintain your purchasing power.

Q: What if spending patterns have changed because of changes in the exchange rate?

A: When such changes occur, the Living Pattern Survey will be updated. An event such as the opening/closing of a commissary/exchange also may prompt a survey update.

Q: Does the type of housing I occupy or my number of dependents affect my COLA?

A: Yes. If you are a member without dependents living in government quarters such as the barracks or aboard ship, you will receive less COLA to reflect your lower living expenses. If you are a member with accompanying dependents living in either on-base family housing or off base housing, your COLA will not be affected.