Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Moving Overseas

One of the amazing benefits of military life is the opportunity to live in another country.  Our family has lived in three foreign countries (plus Hawaii,) and I have loved almost every minute.  But moving overseas is not cheap.  Even with the many and generous allowances, you'll still have some expenses, and reimbursements don't always come as quickly as you would like.

Dear Kate,

We are expecting to PCS overseas this winter.  How much money should we plan to spend?


Unfortunately, there is no single answer.  But there are many things you can research to get a good estimate.

Dear Jody,

So exciting!  We loved living overseas!  Your question is very important, but also not easy to answer specifically.  Every family and every location are different.  A little research can help you figure out what expenses you'll likely face for your situation.

As a starter, I would say to make sure you are completely out of credit card debt.  While no one wants to put PCS expenses on a credit card, it's possible that you may have lengthy stays in temporary lodging, and you won't always get reimbursed as quickly as you might like.  A credit card can help.

Second, (sit down,) I would ballpark $10,000 to start.  I know that is a lot of money.  You may not need any of it, and you probably won't need it all, but you will need some of it at some point through the process.

Third, think about your family, and learn about where you're going.  Local area Facebook groups are an amazing source of information, and you should have a sponsor to answer questions.

Do you have pets?  What transportation options exist for your location?  Are there import fees, or do they have to be quarantined?  

Does your location have ample housing, or will you have an extended stay in temporary lodging?  If you have to live off base, what sort of fees will be required?  Some locations have exceptionally high costs to get established in a new rental.

Can you take a car, and will you?  Will you ship a 2nd car, or will you be buying cars there?  Are there ample cars available at low prices, or is it hard to find something affordable?

What other expenses are unique to your particular situation?  For example, in one location, we had kids in the local schools.  We spent about $1,000 on uniforms for everyone to start school.  You or your spouse could have a job that requires you to wear civilian business clothing.  Even something as simple as setting up cell phone service or utilities can be pricey.

Some of these expenses will be covered by military allowances such as temporary lodging allowance, move-in housing allowances, or dislocation allowances, but other expenses will come out of your pocket.  Plus, reimbursed allowances don't always happens when you expect.  Being prepared is the best way to avoid financial stress during a move.

Thanks for a great question!


I know that my $10,000 figure can be scary.  If you don't have those type of savings, and can't save that much before your move, all is not lost.  You may be able to use advance pay, advance travel allowances, or advance housing allowances to cover the costs.  These shouldn't be your first plan, but these advances can help get you through a tough spot.  If you do need to take advances, be sure to build up a PCS savings account before that next move.

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