Military servicemember with wife and young son

PCS Overseas: How Military Families Can Prepare for the Move

Getting orders for an overseas Permanent Change of Station (PCS) can be both exciting and overwhelming for a military family. Even if the opportunity to experience a new culture is thrilling, there are a lot of details and logistics to figure out before the big move. If you’ve already received your Outside of Continental United States (OCONUS) orders or know they’re coming soon, use our overseas PCS checklist to make sure you’ve thought of everything!

Make Copies of Orders

You’ll need more copies of your OCONUS orders than you think you will, according to the readers of  Military Spouse magazine. This simple piece of advice on preparing for a PCS is an easy way to start tackling your lengthy OCONUS to-do list and will come in handy later.

Bookmark Your Resources

Many of the best resources for military families are online! Head to Move.mil—the official moving portal of the Department of Defense—to locate your transportation office, find lots of housing and lodging resources, and discover shipping and storage policies for each branch of the military. Need help with your finances? Check out Hands On Banking to find money management tools and a comprehensive PCS financial checklist. Explore OCONUS healthcare options for you and your family with TRICARE Prime Overseas. If you’re stationed in Germany, Belgium, or Korea, the Overseas Yes! network is a great place to begin researching your new station.

Start Saving & Keeping Track of Money

The best PCS financial advice is to start saving early! The sooner you begin building a cash reserve and converting some funds to your soon-to-be local currency, the better. A key to getting fully reimbursed for your military move is to be organized and keep all receipts. The writers at PCSMoves.com compiled a list of OCONUS travel expenses and allowances to keep track of, including:

  • Per diem, which includes an allowance for lodging, food, and incidentals
  • Travel expenses, such as “reasonable” taxi fares
  • Transportation expenses for dependents
  • Mileage allowance for your vehicle if driving to the shipping port

Create an Overseas PCS Binder

Make a binder with all your documents! A small bag or laptop case works, too, writes Jennifer Aloisi in an Army Wife Network post about preparing for an overseas PCS. “Keeping all those forms and documents in one place was a lifesaver on more than one occasion,” Aloisi said.

Be sure there’s enough room for the paperwork listed below:

  • Copies of your orders
  • Plane tickets and any travel reservations
  • Passports
  • Receipts
  • Past or future housing paperwork
  • Contact information for the new base
  • Marriage licenses and birth certificates
  • Inventory of household items
  • Unpacking map
  • Car titles
  • Insurance documents
  • Medical records
  • Government issued and military IDs
  • Pet documents

Need help with organization? Find free PCS printables for your binder from a Semi-Delicate Balance.

Secure Command Sponsorship

If you want to make bringing your family overseas with you as easy and budget-friendly as possible, you’ll need to acquire command sponsorship.

According to Military OneSource, once command sponsorship is granted, you can receive reimbursement fo travel expenses, be given a larger housing allowance, and could be permitted more weight for household goods shipment. After your spouse and children get approved, they’ll also be eligible for medical care, legal assistance, and the ability to stay in your host country during your orders.

Double Up on Passports

Another simple military moving tip is to secure both of your passports early. “Basically, you will need both types of passports—a government passport and a personal passport,” said Lauren Tamm on the Automated Housing Referral Network blog (Tamm is also the creator of The Military Wife and Mom).

Your no-fee government passport is required to travel to and from your host country. “Prepare and apply ahead of time for your government passport, which is usually handled by your branch’s TMO office,” Tamm shared. “As long as you have web orders, you can start the government passport process.”

Even if you intend to spend most of your time on base, it’s best to apply or renew your personal passport as well. “If you plan to leave your host country at any point during your tour of duty for leave, vacations, or emergency family situations stateside, you will need a personal passport for each family member.”

Secure Proper Family Clearances

Milspouses and children hoping to accompany a service member on the overseas PCS will need to add “securing the necessary clearances” to their family relocation checklist. This includes an OCONUS physical. Tamm explains that these are used to ensure each family member is medically able to move to the new country. The process for your entire family requires:

  • A doctor’s approval and sign-off on necessary medical paperwork
  • A copy of each person’s immunization record—if you cannot find it, Tamm says that the doctor’s office can draw blood to verify your immunity
  • Submitting all the paperwork for review and awaiting further instructions

Make a Choice on Military Family Housing

Choosing to live on-post or off-post is one of the most important decisions you make, according to Raquel Thiebes, who writes about things to know before PCSing to Germany. The pros and cons will depend on your family’s unique needs, so weigh the decision carefully. The quicker you can make a decision and start your hunt for military housing, the better.

Take a Household Inventory

Detailed documentation of your belongings will come in handy if something is lost or damaged during shipment. Keep track of serial numbers and manufacturer warranties with a spreadsheet or a printable home inventory checklist like one from My Frugal Home.

If you want this information and photos of your items stored in one location, try a free inventory app like Sortly. Once your list is complete, a pro PCS preparation tip is to make a few physical or digital copies of your inventory list and any relevant receipts.

Decide What to Take with You

Preparing for a long-distance move has a lot of unique challenges, one of which is deciding what to bring overseas and what to leave behind. Your rank, how long you’ve served, and who is coming with you will determine your overseas PCS weight allowance. Explore factors that affect your family moving allowance to get an idea on how much you can bring with, and determine how quickly it will add up with the weight estimator tool.

Categorize Your Belongings

Some of your things will arrive earlier, while others you could be waiting on for over a month. Determine which of your goods are essential and sort accordingly so they can arrive at your new duty station first. Keep these three categories in mind as you begin to pack:

  • Professional Items: These are the professional books, papers, and equipment (PBP&E) you must have to do your job. You’ll pack and label these separately, and they won’t count against your weight limit. Check the It’s Your Move pamphlet for specific instructions.
  • Unaccompanied Baggage: Also known as an express shipment, these items will arrive about three weeks after your move. Need help deciding what is essential? Check out this article from the National Military Family Association to help you create an unaccompanied baggage packing list.
  • Household Goods: HHGs travel by sea and will arrive several weeks after your unaccompanied baggage. Anything that doesn’t fit the two sections above or in your suitcase will go here, so make sure you pack only nonessential belongings.

Consider Self Storage

Have a washer and dryer you love? Just replaced your refrigerator? In a guide to preparing for an overseas PCS, Michelle Volkmann writes about how storing large appliances and furniture back in the states worked for her family. Examine the It’s Your Move list to learn more about military storage of household goods and see what expenses are covered. If you’re looking for self storage in the U.S., Extra Space Storage has convenient storage facility locations.

Explore Options for PCS Overseas with Pets

If you hope to bring your four-legged friend on your OCONUS move, you’ll need to check with your duty station to find out base rules first. Corynn Myers, the national public relations director for Dogs on Deployment, says service members should contact their commanders well in advance for the most up-to-date regulations, as well as restrictions on breeds or number of pets. She also recommends contacting the management company responsible for base housing to find out whether or not there are pet-specific rules.

“Moving for pets can be stressful because it’s stressful for everyone,” Myers said. “Before the move, make sure your pet is microchipped, up-to-date on all vaccinations, and all their medical records are easily accessible. When the movers come, keeping your pet in a familiar room that can be packed last and full of their toys and favorite things can help reduce stress as well.”

For service members hoping to bring their furry friends overseas, Myers has five tips to make the move less stressful for pets:

  • Make sure your pet is familiar with a crate and is comfortable being in one
  • Make sure you book at pet-friendly hotels and re-confirm the policy with hotel staff
  • Stop and allow your pet to get out and explore as often as possible
  • Bring treats to comfort your pet and encourage positive behavior
  • Use words of encouragement, lots of petting, and understanding

Decide What to Do with Vehicles

So what does OCONUS shipping mean for your privately owned vehicle (POV)? Because the government will only pay to ship one personal vehicle to your new duty station, families with more than one car will have to make some choices. First, explore weight limits and how long it will take for your car to arrive. Then, check out restrictions on modified vehicles and learn more about the specific process of shipping a car overseas. Use PCSmyPOV to find out all storage and shipping options before making decisions about whether to ship multiple cars, utilize self storage in the states, or try and sell an extra vehicle.

Get Out of Your Lease…

A big worry for civilian renters is the potential fallout from breaking a lease. But thanks to The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, military renters have the legal right to terminate a lease when they receive PCS orders. If you’re able to plan ahead, it’s a good idea for military families to talk about the possibility of a PCS with a potential landlord before signing a rental contract.

“The most important thing any service member needs to do is ensure that there is a valid military clause written in the lease before they sign it,” said Brian Birdy, President of Bird Properties in San Antonio. “This allows them to end the lease with a 30-day notice with a copy of valid PCS orders that move them out of the country they are stationed at.”

The sooner you can communicate with your property manager or landlord the better, so contacting them immediately after receiving orders should be at the top of your OCONUS PCS checklist.

…Or Try Becoming a Landlord

If you’re a homeowner and don’t want to sell, consider becoming a landlord. If you do want to give renting out your home a try, Birdy strongly recommends hiring a property manager.

“The biggest problem for service members who want to rent out their home is that they try to do it themselves,” he explained. “I have seen it many times where they think they have found a good tenant, then once overseas all the problems start, and they are too far away to solve them. These problems always cost the homeowners money, and in most cases, more than the cost of a professional property manager’s services.”

Birdy recommends looking for a property manager as soon as possible so you have time to ease into the transition of being a landlord. There are lots of online tips for managing a rental overseas and ideas on how to determine the right market price for your rental.

Here are four things Birdy said to put on your PCS move checklist before leaving the country:

  • Change your home insurance policy to a dwelling policy
  • Set up a public liability policy to cover property damages or any potential injuries the new tenant might suffer
  • Leave behind all warranty information for  your home and any appliances
  • Designate a contact person—possibly with power of attorney—to make management decisions

Embrace Adventure

Moving to a different country can make it even harder to get settled into a new city. But reframing this time as something thrilling can help any military family moving overseas make the most of the experience. Whether you’re heading to Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Germany, Spain, or somewhere else, try and see this time as an exciting adventure.

“Even if you did not choose or don’t want to go, there are people every day trying to figure out how to make their own European Dream Vacation a reality, and yet you get to live it!” LeAnna Brown said in a post on how to make the most of your European PCS.

Brown, who has also written a guide to getting stationed overseas, encourages military families to plan frequent trips and try to look on the bright side of where you’re stationed.

“Remember that while of course there may be tough times figuring out a foreign land, that you are so fortunate for this opportunity. Most people don’t ever even get to consider a weekend jaunt over to France or a cruise to the Greek Isles, yet that is a very real possibility for you!”

Still have questions about your overseas PCS? Utilize this packing list for military families and check out advice from military wives to help prepare for this major transition!

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Whether your family needs temporary storage during a stateside PCS or a long-term solution for a OCONUS relocation, Extra Space Storage has convenient storage locations throughout the U.S. to help with your military move. Find self storage near you!