Through a three-part series, Moving OCONUS: Before, During and After, PCSgrades helps you navigate the ins and outs of an OCONUS move from the minute your spouse walks in and yells “Kon’nichiwa!” or “Guten Tag!” to the time you land back stateside.

The Adventure Begins

We all know that no matter how hard you prepare, how many lists you have, or how many times you’ve done it before, MOVING IS STRESSFUL! This is true whether you move across town or across the world. However, when you add in language barriers, distance from loved ones, and an incredible amount of unknowns, this stress can be amplified dramatically. PCSgrades is here to help alleviate some of the stress as you navigate the OCONUS PCS!

Military Moving Sponsors

Did you know that a service member gets a sponsor when they move overseas? This is typically an active duty member currently stationed at that overseas base who can help you prepare for your move and welcome you after you arrive. Connect with your sponsor as soon as possible! What better way to find out the who, what, when, where and whys of the move than from someone who has been there? If there are surprises to be had, chances are they’ve probably experienced them or met someone else who has.

Take advantage of email, social media, FaceTime, Skype, etc. to forge a relationship with this service member or family who will become your lifeline to all things about the new duty station.  Ask questions and then ask more questions. It’s ok to discuss culture, what to pack, electric outlet plugs, local schools, passport questions, and more. Be honest about your needs and concerns and ask them to do the same. It is true that the only stupid question in this scenario is the one you don’t ask.

Passports and VISAs

You will need a ‘No Fee Passport’ to travel on your military orders, so this passport is a must. You may also need a VISA to travel to and from your new host country. Check with your sponsor or the relocation specialists at your new duty station. You will begin your No Fee Passport applications through the military chain of command and admin office.

Because your No-Fee passport is clearly marked “To be used on official travel only,” it should not be used for vacation and leave travel while overseas. We highly suggest getting a standard Tourist Passport as well. To do any traveling while stationed overseas, this passport will be required for all family members. You can apply for tourist passports using the standard application found on the DoD website. Have photos takes at any Walgreens or CVS location that does passport photos, then complete your application at a Post Office or other official application site. Plan ahead because the standard time to process tourist passports is about two months (though they can be expedited for a fee.)

My friends who love their OCONUS duty stations are the ones who get out and explore. Take advantage of all of the food, entertainment, and culture your country and its neighbors have to offer. Don’t forget, part of your job once you go OCONUS is to make those of us left in the U.S. jealous with all of your amazing travel pictures!

Family Relocation Clearance

The steps for receiving clearance can be time-consuming, so don’t delay on getting the ball rolling. Hard orders will not be given until each family member has been medically cleared. Without the entire family being cleared, the service member may face unaccompanied orders overseas. You can begin this paperwork on base by researching the office that handles the overseas screening process for family members. You will also need each member to visit the base dental facility to be cleared. 

While this screening process will probably be tedious, it is in place for your family’s protection. The military needs to be sure that any medical and educational resources you or your children may need are readily available when you move. If you rely on prescription medication or specialist doctors that may not be available at the overseas base, then it is in everyone’s best interest to learn about that problem now, rather than several months after a costly and inconvenient move. 

Unaccompanied vs. Household Goods

One big difference with an OCONUS move is that you will get two separate shipments of your belongings: the Unaccompanied (sometimes called Express) shipment is a small quantity of your belongings that will be flown overseas and arrive around the same time you do. Your Household Good (HHG) shipment contains the furniture and everything else, that will be shipped on boats. This can take several months to arrive at the new location.

Plan out your Unaccompanied and Household Goods (HHG) shipments carefully. Your unaccompanied items are those you think you will need shortly after you arrive at your new duty station (think sheets, towels, toys, extra clothes, military gear, baby gear, electronic gaming devices, some kitchen supplies, etc.) with the goal being that these items arrive well before your HHG. In a perfect world, this shipment should arrive shortly after you do. You can ask your sponsor if the base provides any kitchen items, dishes, or loaner furniture while you are staying in temporary housing and waiting on the rest of your HHG. Different bases handle it differently, but knowing what is going to be available there will help you choose what to send first in the Unaccompanied shipment. Read more here about what to pack in your Express shipment.

On packing day, make sure to clearly mark, and preferably place into a separate room, all of your unaccompanied items. You can also schedule a separate packing date for these items, to give them a head start. You don’t want to arrive only to realize that you never separated the items you need to get by! 

Pets

Moving with pets can be an extra challenge during an OCONUS move, but you will find many military families bring their pets with them. Similar to the health screening for family members, pets must be up to date on immunizations. Fido must be in good health and needs to be young enough to successfully make the move. If re-homing is required, whether temporary or permanent, it can be a tough and emotional process. Give yourself enough time to prepare and find the right place for your four-legged family member. 

Pet owners must also be aware of shipping costs and the quarantine restrictions when going to a new host country. The military does not pay anything or reimburse you for pet travel expenses. Depending on the time of year, cargo space will be limited because of outside temperatures. You may need to make arrangements to fly through major airports or use a certain airline, if they are the only one accepting the size of your pet’s crate.  Shipping and quarantine can be costly– often over $1,000. Be sure to know the requirements so you can set aside money early if needed.

Vehicles

Depending on where you are headed, your vehicle options may vary. Sometimes, you can have one POV shipped to your new duty station. Other times, you must buy a car when you arrive should you chose to have one. In all cases, the government will store your vehicle in the U.S. when you have overseas orders. Do your research so you can know what the best option will be financially and logistically for your family.

While we have attempted to be thorough with this pre-move list, there are, no doubt, many more things to consider when an OCONUS move is in play. Know this and be sure to take advantage of the resources the military offers through briefings and your sponsor family.