11 Things to Know Before Your First Overseas PCS Move
If you’ve recently received orders for a military move overseas, congratulations!
While you may possess some mad PCS skills when it comes to preparation and organizing for a move, an overseas move (OCONUS—Outside the Continental U.S.) is an entirely different animal, bringing with it new concerns and challenges.
Once the excitement of the news wears off a bit, there are a few things to pay attention to, especially if this is your first time moving outside the U.S. (Note: we realize a move during the pandemic brings extra requirements and changes, so check with your installation for the most current info.)
Each OCONUS location has its own quirks, but the preparation for each also has many similarities. Our family has been lucky enough to experience four overseas tours in the Pacific and Europe, and here are a few things I think you should know before you go, along with some experiences from other military families!
1) As with anything military related, it’s all about the paperwork.
Double check to make sure that every family member is listed on official orders, and that names are spelled correctly. You’ll need that information in order to apply for the no-fee government passports required for PCS travel and all your other paperwork. Check with the specific location to see if you’ll also need a visa.
Schedule your overseas medical clearance ASAP, which you’ll need before travel can be arranged. The paperwork and appointments can be a headache, but the military has to ensure the overseas location is equipped to handle your family’s medical needs.
From a fellow military spouse:
Our last PCS was a complete mess. So stressful. But a very cool thing happened. Due to major visa delays, we ended up needing to send our visas/passports to a Marine family (who we'd never met) close(ish) to our departure airport. I used the AMAZING spouse network to reach out to the gal, explained our crazy situation, and asked her to receive and drive our visas 45 minutes to us. She was, of course, a rock star and completely understood this crazy life and was happy to help.
2) Make sure your U.S. driver’s license is up to date or not nearing expiration.
You’ll probably need to test for a driver’s license overseas (for instance, the USAREUR license in Europe), but your stateside license must be valid in order to do so. Also note that you’ll need to carry both licenses when you drive overseas.
You can get a licensing test guide ahead of time to study before you arrive. Remember to contact your insurance company to update your insurance policy and transfer your coverage overseas. On that note, you may wish to purchase additional roadside assistance once in country for a small fee, such as with ADAC in Germany.
Moving overseas? For more detailed information, download our ebook, Overseas PCS Survival Guide, designed to help you with every aspect of your overseas move!
3) Get the real scoop on the area from your overseas sponsor.
Your overseas sponsor assigned by the military will know all the insider tips and tricks for your move and arrival. We’ve discussed several times on this blog the importance of a good overseas sponsor, so take a look at these posts for more information and potential questions to ask your sponsor:
- Checklist for an Overseas Sponsor
- What an Overseas Sponsor Meant to My Military Family
- Ease the PCS Transition with the Youth Sponsorship Program
4) Begin downsizing now.
Overseas housing is typically much smaller than what you’re used to, so begin downsizing and purging your belongings, and perhaps make plans to take advantage of the storage the military provides to stow larger items or things you can live without for the next few years.
For instance, you may need to do without your oversized sectional sofa, large beds, or the table with two leaves and 12 chairs. Plus, you’ll want to leave room for finds from your future overseas shopping excursions!
If you’re hoping to live in military housing, each overseas installation will have differing availability for housing, so submit an advance application through the Housing Office at your losing installation with a copy of your PCS orders. If you’ll be living off base, don’t make any commitments to a rental before checking in with your Housing Office.Learn more about overseas housing:
5) Understand how your household goods will be handled.
The packing crates! One unique aspect of an overseas move is that all of your boxes will be crated and sealed shut and require the sponsor’s signature. On the receiving end, it’s important to visually inspect each crate and seal before signing off. Make note of any broken or cut tape for potential claims.
For more tips on preparing your household goods and other PCS move tasks, see PCS 101: Military Move Must-Do's.
6) Prepare your pets.
Just like your family, your pets will need medical clearance before being approved for travel. Contact your veterinarian ASAP on receiving overseas orders. You’ll be required to ensure that all vaccinations are up to date and get your pet a health certificate for overseas moves within 10 days of leaving the country, so book this appointment early.
Using a military vet for required paperwork is ideal, as they are well versed in what’s required. You’ll also need to check in with the Veterinary Treatment Facility at your new base on arrival. Some countries require dogs and cats to be quarantined for a certain amount of time—research this information ahead of time to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
As soon as you receive orders, research the following information about your receiving location:
- Any required quarantines
- Required immunizations or tests your pet needs before travel
- Microchip requirements
- Breed or species bans
- Base housing regulations regarding pets
- Arrangements for boarding if pet-friendly temporary lodging isn’t available
- Paperwork you'll need in order to clear your pet from your current installation
7) Find ways to help kids cope with the move and prepare for travel.
There are a few things we can do to help our kids cope with a big transition like moving overseas:
Research the new location. Go online or head to the library together to learn about the new country, language, foods, popular music, and local sports teams.
Prepare for travel. Overseas flights are long, and your young ones may have never traveled by air for that length of time or even at all. Emotions from goodbyes may also be running high, so a little preparation will be key. (Check out Dawn Smith’s post, Air Travel with Kids, for some great tips for traveling by plane with your kiddos.)
Make a wish list together of all the places you’d like to visit. Mark a map with pushpins or a marker of all the places you’ll go or landmarks you’d like to see, or use a map app on your phone.
Stay positive. Moving is difficult, and it’s important to allow time for grief and goodbyes. Still, make a point of looking forward to all the new experiences awaiting!
Courtney Woodruff shares in 5 Ways to Get Military Kids Excited About Moving Overseas:
Treat the moving process like a vacation! Even though an OCONUS PCS is far from my idea of a relaxing getaway, it involves many key elements of family trips that kids love: exciting transportation experiences, spending the night in hotels, exploring new cities, and dining out. Research parks, unique activities for children, and family-friendly accommodations and restaurants your kids will look forward to visiting along the way. In between checking major items off your to-do list, make a plan to take time to relax, have fun and enjoy the journey together. You deserve it.
8) Say bye-bye to your belongings.
For a while, anyway. You may not see your household goods for some time—even months, depending on your housing situation. Pack with an eye to the upcoming season or ship a box of the next season’s clothes to your forwarding address so you’re not forced to spend money for items you already own.
9) Learn a few key phrases in the local language.
Start off on the right foot with your new neighbors by learning some simple greetings or commonplace phrases like ordering food. Download English to German, Spanish, Italian, or other language apps or carry a phrasebook with you. This is something you can do together as a family!
Attempting to communicate will go a long way and, even if you're stumbling, locals will usually be pleased that you tried. Often, they will be able to speak some English and will try to help you out.
Jessica Lynn shares:
I was surprised that it took me as long as it did—a good six months—before I felt comfortable living in Italy. I've traveled overseas and I lived in England before our assignment in Italy, so thought I would acclimate sooner than I did. My advice to help anyone get into a groove sooner rather than later is to completely immerse yourself in the culture. Learn the language and at least attempt to speak it with the locals. Start with learning the basics for food—a common factor between everyone—and go from there. They'll forgive you and help you adjust if they see you try. Knowing how to literally speak their language will go a long way!
10) Connect! Make time to attend newcomers’ and in-processing briefings.
I know; you’re jetlagged, tired, and overwhelmed when you first arrive an overseas duty station. However, the information will be invaluable and you can connect with real people in the know: school liaison officers, family and installation support services, and others like you who’ve also recently moved overseas. This will be a great way to connect and not feel so isolated—very important when you first arrive in a new country.
Your installation’s Facebook group or website will also provide vital information and may help you make connections even before arrival.
11) Soak it up!
In the busyness of an OCONUS PCS move, it can be easy to forget what an incredible opportunity this experience is. Once the logistics of moving are behind you, it’s good to remember that, from the moment your feet touch the ground, you’re living a dream. Celebrate differences, try new foods, travel, be adventurous!
LeAnna Brown of The Economical Excursionist says:
I'd say that living overseas and taking advantage of that new geographical location by traveling is one of the best things that could happen to you. You start to realize how small this big world really is. You begin to see different cultures, people, and ways of life from a new view which forces you to grow as an individual. While getting to experience things that you never could back in the U.S., it also gives you an appreciation for the small things back home as well!
Maybe you’ll be inspired to start your own travel blog or photo journal of all your new experiences. Whatever you do, I hope this will be your best move yet!
Some of this information is included in our overseas PCS ebook. For more information about your overseas PCS, including budgeting for your move, what you're allowed to ship, military spouse employment overseas, moving with pets, and much more, click to download MilitaryByOwner's Overseas PCS Survival Guide.