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When You First Get Orders to PCS Overseas

Moving overseas for the first time is equal parts exciting and terrifying. If you find your military family the happy recipients of an overseas assignment, then I have a special treat for you! I’m so thrilled to be collaborating with Lizann Lightfoot of The Seasoned Spouse blog. Today, she’s sharing with us a few tips for when you first get those overseas orders. I’m all about practical, so read on as you begin making your overseas to-do lists!

When You First Get Orders to PCS Overseas

I couldn’t stop smiling the day my husband received military orders for our family to move to Europe. We had been considering an overseas station for a while, but our first attempt was denied. So it was a pleasant surprise when he received a phone call asking if we would like to spend the next 3 years living in Spain.

Ummm, yes please!

But soon, as I realized the challenges of moving our family of five overseas, I became nervous. As glamorous as it sounds, moving overseas has a lot of challenges. It is more complicated than most military PCS moves. My friends were all jealous at my good luck in getting orders to such an exotic location. Some moments, I felt lucky. Other times, I just felt incredibly stressed, and wondered if we could handle this huge move.

Have you been there? Did you receive orders to move overseas? (Alaska or Hawaii count as overseas assignments, too!) Take a breath. You can do this. It’s just going to involve jumping through a lot of hoops.

Important Steps to Consider When Moving Overseas

1) Overseas Screening Process

Every member of your family will need to pass this screening to accompany your service member overseas. Start the process at your current base medical facility. Many overseas hospitals don’t have specialists, so if your family has any special needs or long-term prescriptions, the military needs to consider whether they can provide adequate care at the overseas base

2) Get Passports

The military will provide free no-fee passports to any family member traveling on military orders. This can be a long process, so start early. The no-fee passport will get you into the foreign country.

However, if you do any personal traveling while stationed there, you will need to use a regular civilian passport, which you should get at a US Post Office before you move. Make sure get one for each child, too!

3) Ask for a Sponsor

Most military units will provide a sponsor to someone moving overseas, but you have to request it. The sponsor is someone currently living at the foreign base who can answer questions about base resources, help you set up housing requests, give you school information, and answer all your moving questions.

A good sponsor will also meet you at the airport when you arrive in-country, show you around, and take you to your temporary lodging. This is your first friend in the foreign country, so take the time to communicate with them.

4) Start Saving Money Now

Moving overseas is expensive. In theory, the military reimburses you for travel costs. But at first, you will pay hotel and rental car fees out of pocket. If you live off base, you will likely pay two months’ rent in advance. And if you purchase a second car (the military only ships one), then save up for that, too.

You may also end up purchasing new cell phones in country and new small appliances to work on the different electrical voltages. It adds up quickly, so be prepared!

5) Shipping a Vehicle

With overseas orders, the military will pay to ship one personal vehicle to the new duty station. This can be either a car OR a motorcycle, not both. It must be shipped from designated ports in the US. If you are not stationed near one of those ports, you are responsible for driving the vehicle there and finding your own transportation back (a friend?).

Plan to ship your vehicle early, since it can take 6-8 weeks to arrive at some overseas locations. It is cheaper to borrow a car from a friend for your last month in the States, rather than rent a car for a month when arriving at the new station. And heads up: many foreign cars will be manual stick-shift, so learn how to drive one!

6) What to Pack: Express Shipment vs. HHG

You are entitled to two different shipments when PCSing overseas. Your Household Goods (HHG) shipment includes all furniture and appliances. It will take about two months from the US to some overseas stations. Because of that, most overseas bases loan out temporary furniture to new arrivals. You can use cheap beds, couches, and dishes for your first month or so at the new base.

You are also entitled to a smaller Express shipment. This one is flown to the duty station, to arrive the same time you do. You can send clothes, baby gear, electronics, kitchen essentials, and a bicycle in the Express shipment. Weight limits are based on rank and family size, so pay attention to the weights when you decide what to pack in each shipment.

7) Moving Your Pets

If you plan to bring your pets overseas, please plan ahead. The military does not cover any costs for moving pets, and flying a dog can cost up to $1,000. Airlines have strict rules about how and when certain animals can fly. It is especially difficult during the summer months, when cargo areas become too hot, or in winter, when they are below 45 degrees.

If you are lucky, you might secure a space on the military rotator flight (MAC flight). If not, you can hire a pet service such as United Petsafe. Plan to use international airports for your pet arrangements, since the large planes with cargo holds don’t fly to smaller regional airports.

8) Temporary Housing

When you arrive in your new country, you have 30 days to make a decision about living on or off base. Most bases have a military hotel or lodge where families can stay at a discounted rate. If the base hotel is full, you may be reimbursed to stay at a local hotel, but always get paperwork from the military base hotel first.

Some bases have temporary houses in the base housing area. You can stay there for free up to 30 days while house hunting. Research your temporary housing options ahead of time, so you know what to pack. (The base hotels provide sheets and towels, for example, while the temporary houses do not.)

No matter what ‘exotic’ location you live in overseas, it will take some time to adjust and get your family settled. Soon enough, you will be learning the local language, ordering new foods, and seeing beautiful historic sites. If you take care of these things before you move, then the transition will be smooth. I hope you enjoy your next big overseas adventure as much as we did!

For more details about moving overseas, particularly to Naval Station Rota, Spain, then check out my book, Welcome to Rota.

About the author: Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book Welcome to Rota and of the Seasoned Spouse blog. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Find military encouragement on her Facebook page. Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on her Pinterest page.


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Hi, I'm Jen!

As a military spouse of three decades and now the mom of an active duty son, my hope is to support you in your own military life. You’ll find help for your military marriage, deployments, PCS moves, and more!