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Moving overseas is an exciting time! Depending on where you’re headed, you may be envisioning holidays in Paris, traveling in Asia, sunbathing on a remote tropical island, or hunting for antiques in quaint European markets. Visiting historical locations you’ve previously encountered only in books or online may also top your list of priorities.
But aside from the excitement, you’ll likely find yourself surprised by situations you’ve never experienced or even imagined: language barriers, the surprises of typhoon season, gasoline rations, or the lack of amenities you take for granted like central air.
While living overseas is absolutely an enriching and interesting experience, there will first be some practical matters to attend to, especially if you have a family. Since you may be in a place of I don’t know enough about this new place to even know what to ask, your first line of help should be your overseas sponsor, whether it’s your first overseas PCS move or you’ve done this before.
Our family experienced four overseas assignments during my husband’s military service and have been fortunate to have great sponsors each time and have gone on to act as sponsors for others.
To alleviate any potential confusion over the term "sponsor," an overseas sponsor is a military member, usually from the same gaining unit, who is trained by the military to help an incoming military member and family with some of the culture shock of moving to an overseas location and settling in those first days.
A good sponsor will be knowledgeable about the local area, available to answer questions before and after you arrive in the new country, help you with matters such as lodging, initial transportation from the airport, and setting up a PO box. The sponsor will usually meet the new family on arrival and help you settle in.
While the military handles the training of overseas sponsors, it may be helpful for you to know what to expect and even what questions you may want answered, especially if this is your first time living overseas.
Consider the following as a starting point, and then add your own questions and concerns to this list.
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1) Information About the Installation and Local Area
Before you even arrive, your sponsor can point you to online resources and information about the military base and surrounding area. Sponsors should have a personal knowledge about daily life in the country, too; for instance, what’s considered polite and what’s not, areas to steer away from, where the best shopping is, and the must-see sights. They can give you tips about the local culture and language, currency exchange, driving and driver’s licensing rules, and more.
2) Immediate Needs on Arrival
Along with helping set up transportation from the airport and lodging (they may even pick you up!), your sponsor should help set up or put you in touch with the installation’s loaner furniture program and household loan locker (loans of basic household needs like sheets, dishes, and small appliances while you wait for your household goods to arrive) and show you where the commissary, exchange, and other base services are located.
Learn more: What an Overseas Sponsor Meant to Our Military Family
View of San Juan, Puerto Rico, near Fort Buchanan. Image from Canva.
3) Military Housing and Availability of Off-Base Housing
Whether you’re living on or off base, your sponsor should be able to give you details about finding housing in the local community and what’s required from the Housing Office. They can also let you know about the realities of housing size locally, and what you might opt to leave behind (more on this below).
When we knew we’d be living on base at one location, our sponsor sent photos of the housing we’d be assigned and even floor plans. It was so helpful to our children especially to envision where we’d be living.
Learn more: What to Expect When Renting a Home Overseas.
4) Storage Availability
Most overseas houses tend to be smaller than what you’re used to in the U.S. and offer limited storage, so it’s helpful to know how much storage space is available in a typical house. This can help you make informed decisions on what to bring and whether there’s storage readily available or if you should opt for long-term storage for some of your belongings.
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5) Schools, Youth Programs, and Childcare
Do military children attend Department of Defense schools? How robust is the youth services programs and what do they offer? What childcare options are available? Your sponsor can guide you to information about these concerns, as well as connect you with information and procedures about registering your children for school.
Are your kids not too thrilled about the impending move? Get some tips from an experienced military spouse: 5 Ways to Get Military Kids Excited About Moving Overseas.
6) Moving with Your Pet
You’ll want to know the details of the country’s pet quarantines, if there are any. During one short-notice overseas move, learning ahead of time the quarantine requirements led us to leave our dog behind with family members until they could bring him to us later vs. having him quarantined and kenneled for the long period required.
Ask your sponsor about your specific pet situation, and they should be able to point you in the right direction for the most updated information (don’t rely only on online searches for this!). The sponsor may also have a list of boarding/kennel facilities if you’re not able to secure a pet-friendly temporary lodging facility or hotel.
See also: Options for Transporting Your Pet Overseas.
7) Other Overseas Move Questions
While you’ll have your own specific questions to add to this list, consider asking for information about area military spouse employment, the availability of foreign language courses (many installations offer free training), and even contacts for the USO and MWR and the sorts of trips and resources they provide.
8) Recreation and Fun Things to Do
It’s not all work! Sponsors will probably have opinions and experience about easy day trips, facilities on or near the base, and all the must-sees where you’re headed. Sometimes, they may even want to show you around themselves!
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Your Role as the Incoming Servicemember
Make certain to communicate with your sponsor before your move. Let him or her know a little bit about your family, the ages of your children, whether you’re bringing pets, and any specific questions you have about your new duty station.
While there is no way to cover every possible concern before arriving in a different country, having information ahead of time can help so much with offsetting anxiety or misunderstandings.
I hope your family has a great experience like ours did with your own incredible overseas sponsor! And if you do, make sure to let them know... and then you can pay it forward by being a sponsor to another incoming family.
By Jen McDonald
We’ve got you covered for your upcoming overseas PCS move. Download our free resource below!