16 Ways to Prepare for Your Overseas Military Move
As we drove through the narrow streets of the quaint German village, I was struck by the obvious fact of how foreign everything seemed. The unreadable (to me) road signs, the tall brick houses hugging the road, and the smell of fresh bread wafting from the local bakery reminded me that we were far, far from our former U.S. home. I felt as though we'd stepped onto the set of a movie. I pictured leisurely strolls to buy pastries and family day trips to view the nearby castles or enjoy the flowers that dotted the countryside. But we had another mission as my husband drove that day. I brought myself back to the task at hand: getting through the written exam for my European drivers' license.
If you're one of the lucky military families with orders to move overseas, this is an exciting time, whether you're heading to Germany, Japan, or another country! Like I was, you may already be dreaming of the travels you'll take, the ways you'll immerse your military kids into a new culture, or the foods you'll try. And while that's a rewarding part of overseas living, you'll also have to get through all the practical logistics first.
Whether you're excited, a bit anxious, or a little bit of both, here's a quick list to help you start preparing for your overseas move!
1) First things first. We've done the research for you!
Get loads of details for your overseas move in MilitaryByOwner's Overseas PCS Survival Guide. You'll find tips and tricks from other military families who've been overseas and back, some multiple times.
2) You can start some prepping now.
You may be itching to organize your belongings, downsize, donate, and hold your best-ever garage sale in preparation for your upcoming move. But don’t get too far without those all-important PCS orders in hand. They're your key to everything!
3) Visit Military OneSource's Moving Your Personal Property.
This is your one-stop shop for military moving support. You'll find information about shipment of your household goods, specific service branch support, links and contact info for every installation's Transportation Office, PCS entitlements, how to conduct a PPM (personally procured move), and more.
Specific overseas information such as overseas COLA (cost of living allowance), adjusting to a foreign culture, and other concerns can be found here: OCONUS/Overseas Moves.
4) Connect with DPS (Defense Personal Property System).
5) If you plan to ship a POV (your vehicle), visit PCSmyPOV for the most accurate information.
The government will pay to ship one vehicle and has limitations on the size and weight. If you have more than one vehicle, you'll need to decide if you'll pay to ship it yourself, sell it, or leave it behind.
The Old City of Frankfurt, Germany. Photo from Shutterstock.
6) Research your new installation.
This is the fun part! Do some scouting with a quick search of the official overseas base website and Facebook page, then look for Facebook groups or other social media groups to plug into. Other military families living where you're headed will be an invaluable resource to help you adjust.
7) Connect with your overseas sponsor.
Your overseas sponsor is someone already stationed at the installation you'll be assigned to. They'll help you with any questions you have about topics like military and off-base housing, local schools, and other nuances of the area. The military should connect the overseas sponsor to the active duty member, but you may need to check with your receiving location.
8) Know that military kids are entitled to their own sponsor, too.
Connecting with a peer who already lives in the host country can help ease some of the transition of moving overseas for military kids. Learn more about this program: Ease the PCS Transition with the Youth Sponsorship Program.
9) Double-check travel documents.
Does everyone in the family have a valid passport? Will any of them expire while you’re living overseas? Does your host country require a visa?
The service member will need to make appointments for themselves and dependents to receive their "no-fee" (government) passport. Remember that no-fee passports are not used for leisure travel; you'll need to have a regular passsport ("tourist passport") for that.
If this sounds confusing, here's some clarification from army.mil:
"Your No-Fee Passport is for Official Travel such as PCS, ETS, TDY or travel between Europe and the U.S.
Tourist Passports are required for leisure travel outside of your host nation. It can take up to 8 weeks to process a tourist passport in Europe. Apply for a Tourist Passport prior to leaving the U.S. to avoid delays in travel upon arrival!"
Photo from Canva
10) Once you have orders, start making arrangements for transporting pets, pet vaccinations, and any quarantine requirements.
Each country or location has its own guidelines regarding arriving with pets, so you'll need to do some research and prep work. For instance, Hawaii, though not a foreign country, is considered an OCONUS location and has strict rules regarding a minimum waiting period after rabies vaccines and rabies tests for cats and dogs.
Some helpful info for your overseas move with pets:
11) Plan now for extra room in your budget.
If you don't already have an emergency fund, you'll want to start setting aside extra funds for those hidden expenses that are bound to crop up. Even with PCS entitlements and dislocation allowances, there are always unexpected costs during a move. Get tips from financial expert Kate Horrell for saving money during your overseas PCS.
12) Review impending expiration dates on your IDs and create duplicates of essential documents.
Check dates on military IDs and driver's licenses and plan to renew them before you leave the U.S. if they'll expire soon. Make copies and take photos of important documents like marriage and birth certificates, passports, and other paperwork. Leave copies with trusted family or friends or upload photos of them to the cloud. This will help greatly if you lose any of these documents/IDs and need to replace them.
13) Start downsizing now!
Overseas housing tends to be smaller than what you're used to in the U.S., so now's the time to begin organizing and sorting your belongings. Determine if you'll need to put some larger items in storage or if you'll sell, donate, or give away.
Photo from Canva
14) Plan for what you'll include in your unaccompanied baggage shipment.
Consider household items you use daily and want to have on hand soon after arriving at your new base. Not sure what to include?
Here are some helpful tips from Military OneSource:
This [unaccompanied baggage] is part of your weight allowance that is separated from other household goods and is shipped via an expedited mode because it’s needed immediately or soon after your arrival at the destination, prior to the arrival of your household goods. This typically occurs with an OCONUS move.
Examples: May consist of personal clothing and equipment; essential pots, pans, and light housekeeping items; collapsible items such as cribs, playpens, and baby carriages; and other articles required for the care of dependents. If necessary, you can also ship a small amount of professional books, paper and equipment in your unaccompanied baggage, or UB, shipment.
Not Allowed: Furniture and major appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, etc.).
Reminder: Unaccompanied baggage counts against your total weight allowance.
15) Think about items that could be challenging to locate or purchase in your new area.
Ask for tips from your overseas sponsor and other military families and plan ahead. These may be items you wouldn't think about, so this is where knowing someone where you're about to live will prove to be invaluable!
Some helpful advice from military spouses living overseas:
- Refill needed medications and have a good supply on hand for the moving transition and first weeks in your new country.
- Schedule eye exams and purchase contact lenses and eyeglasses prior to the move.
- Lay in a supply of favorite nonperishable pantry staples to either hand carry, ship to your forwarding address, or include in your household goods, as they may not be available at your new base and could be expensive to ship.
16) Plan to leave irreplaceable items either in storage or with trusted family or friends.
Consider leaving behind sentimental and irreplaceable items like your wedding dress, cherished keepsakes, old photos, and valuable antiques. These treasures could be at risk of damage or loss during an overseas move. If possible, find a trusted family member or friend who can provide storage space while you're stationed abroad.
Of course, there's lots more to consider before your overseas move, but this is a good starting point! Get even more tips:
- 11 Things to Know Before Your Overseas Move
- 6 Factors to Consider Before Buying a Home Overseas
- Working for the DoD as a Civilian or Milspouse Overseas
- 5 Ways to Get Military Kids Excited About Moving Overseas
And then get ready to explore your new duty station and make some travel plans!
We want to hear from you! If you're moving overseas yourself or had previous military assignments outside the U.S., what advice would you give?