The Finer Points of Moving Overseas, Part I

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Congratulations! You just found out that your next duty station will take you and your family far, far away to foreign places others only dream of visiting. Whether Europe or Asia awaits you, life will be full of new and thrilling adventures.  The possibilities are positively endless.

You’ll spend your next wedding anniversary in Paris on top of the Eiffel Tower or the walking through the gardens of the famed Tokyo Imperial Palace. The history buff in you will revel in the buildings and battlefields that exist, not on the pages of a textbook, but right before your very eyes. The antique shopper and art lover in you will rejoice in the fact that you have truly hit the mother-load. Clearly, a new digital camera should be high on your current list of “must-haves.”

Once the initial euphoria you feel over your future sightseeing and world-class shopping escapades has subsided, however, you will still have to deal with The Move, every military spouse’s favorite job, right? Moving overseas, though, can be a bit different than moving a few states over.

What should you pack?
What should you leave behind?
Where will your kids go to school?
Where will you live?
What about your dog? Your Car? Your Sanity?


The questions just keeping coming, don’t they? And they should. Anytime you make a big move like this one, you want to get all the facts you can in advance so your move can run as smoothly as possible.

First Things First
Once you know that you that your next set of orders will be sending you abroad, contact the Transportation Management Office (TMO) to learn the logistical nitty-gritty details relative to your move. To locate the TMO nearest you, access Military Homefront's Installation Search Tool. http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/ismart/MHF-MI/

Plan to ask good questions in the first place and you will be rewarded with clear answers. Whether you actually like the answers you hear or not may be another story, however. Try to keep an open mind: Unlike the last PCS, you aren’t moving a couple states over. This is the mother of all moves. Get on board.

Before packing your bags and boarding the plane, keep these finer points in mind as you plan your fabulous world tour.

Finer Point #1:  You must be named on your service member’s orders in order to relocate with him.
If your military service member is being stationed overseas someplace where you and your dependent children can go, your names will be on the military orders sending you there. This means that the military says it’s okay for you to tag along and use the military installation resources while you are living abroad. You are ‘command sponsored’ on this ‘accompanied’ tour.

If your names are not on those orders, your spouse is in for an ‘unaccompanied’ tour, however.  The military doesn’t want you to go along, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s not safe or too expensive to move the whole family for only one year.

If you decide to go along with him without command sponsorship (and others have done so before you for the experience of living in some locations), keep in mind that you:

•    Won’t be allowed on the overseas installation unless someone signs you in.
•    Won’t be permitted to use the PX/BX or commissary.
•    Won’t be eligible to use the military medical and/or dental care services.
•    May require a visa to enter and live in the host nation country.
•    Will have to pay to get yourself and your stuff there and back.

Most important, your military spouse won’t receive any additional monies such as Overseas Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) or Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) for living off the installation. (See the CinCHouse Military Pay Estimator)

If you are command sponsored, then work with TMO and the other resources available to plan your move and the family’s personal travel. They’ll even help you get a passport.

Finer Point #2:  A good sponsor is worth his weight in gold.

Sure, your darling husband is your military sponsor and he’s worth a lot to you. In this case, however, a sponsor is someone who already lives where you’re headed and who serves as a point of contact of sorts for your family.

When you are being transferred overseas, most branches of the service will assign one to you. In some cases, you may have to request one such as in the Navy where sponsors can be requested online. A good sponsor can answers these types of questions for you:

- Will my tall bookcases and king-size bed fit in the housing units on base or off?
-Is the on-installation youth program alive and well for my teenager?
-Are there childcare options if I decide to get a job on base?
-Does the USO offer recreational trips and tours from this location?
-Does the commissary stock my favorite brand of potato chip?
-Where is  the nearest shopping mall?
-Can I take foreign language courses nearby?

Take advantage of the goodwill of this person to get the real scoop on the location you are soon to call home. Sponsors often go so far as to pick you up from the airport or arrange your transportation in-country.

Finer Point #3:  Less is more when it comes to your household goods shipment.
The less of your current household you take with you, the better. You will most likely ship all your household possessions overseas in two separate shipments. One will be in something called “unaccompanied baggage” and the other will be in your actual “household goods” shipment.

Unaccompanied baggage generally consists of the essentials you need to set up house, such as extra clothes, utensils, pots and pans, a television, a computer and an ironing board.  Household goods will contain everything else, assuming you are legally allowed to ship it.  Unaccompanied baggage usually arrives within three to six weeks ahead of your household goods, but that isn’t always the case. Some families ship critical items in advance via the flat-rate boxes offered by the US Postal Service. It’s expensive, but helps ensure your items are available when you arrive.

Keep in mind that you will have a weight allowance that you need to meet in your unaccompanied baggage and household goods shipments. The higher your spouse’s rank, the higher your weight allowance. If your shipments exceed that magic number, you pay out of your pocket for it. To find out your particular weight allowance, visit Preparing for Your Move.

Before the movers show up on your doorstep, make sure any professional books, papers and equipment are separated and noted as such.  The packers will mark them as “professional items” and their weight will not be counted against your limit.

Finally, as you begin the “take this” and “leave that” process, keep in mind that chances are good that you will only add to your weight allowance while you are living overseas with your shopping adventures.  Plan in advance to leave some room for those new additions.

Finer Point # 4: Some things can be shipped; others cannot.
You may consider your well-worn RV, beloved fishing boat and wine collection essential, but the military may not ship it out of the country for you. Instead, you may have to arrange for storage of certain items. The Customs Office can tell you exactly what can be shipped and what cannot. The TMO will most likely direct you to them as part of the moving overseas process.

Generally speaking, the military will allow you to ship one car (aka “personally owned vehicle” or “POV” for short). There may be exceptions and some host nation restrictions, however. Shipping Your POV can provide you the down and dirty details.

Even so, there’s a good reason why large overseas military communities have a thriving car sales market. Most military families simply buy their car once they arrive in country since they know it will be well-suited to local conditions. When they leave, they sell the car to an incoming military family.

Finer Point #5:  Fluffy can go, too.
You consider your dog or your cat an important part of your family. Unless told otherwise, you are generally allowed to bring up to two pets per household with you abroad. Pets, in this case, means dogs or cats. Hamsters, gerbils, snakes, birds and other animals are out of luck here.

Before your pet can board the plane to parts unknown, however, he will require a rabies vaccination form and a DD Form 2209, Veterinary Health Certificate. On military arranged flights overseas, space may be on a first come, first serve basis so plan ahead or have a Plan B at the ready, just in case.

See Shipping  Your Pet, an Air Mobility Command (AMC) brochure for tips on how to make the trip a more pleasurable one for your furry family member.

There you have it. These are some of the important finer points to consider before you move overseas. In the next column, we’ll discuss what to expect about life in general once you get there!

Additional Resources:
Military Homefront:  Plan My Move

Military OneSource Moving Links

Defense Finance and Accounting Service


U.S. Air Force Surface Deployment and Distribution Command


U.S. Army Europe Sponsorship Gateway

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Department of State

U.S. Marine Corps Community Services Relocation Assistance Program

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