Arriving in a new country for an overseas military assignment is exciting! Depending on where you’re headed, you may be envisioning holidays in Paris, traveling in Asia, or hunting for antiques in quaint European markets. Visiting historical locations you’ve previously encountered in books or online may 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 to even know what to ask, your first line of help should be your overseas sponsor.
Our family has been through four overseas moves during my husband’s military service and have been fortunate to have great sponsors each time and have acted 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, assigned and trained by the military to help an incoming military member 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, and setting up a PO box, and usually meet the new family on arrival.
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 for your own particular concerns.
1) Information About the Installation and Local Area
Your sponsor can point you to online resources and descriptions about the local area. Along with that, they should have a personal knowledge about daily life in the country; 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.
2) Immediate Needs on Arrival
Along with helping set up transportation from the airport and lodging, your sponsor will put you in touch with the family services loan locker (loans of basic household needs while you wait for your household goods to arrive) and show you where the commissary and exchange are located.
3) Housing and Availability of Rentals
If you’re not living on the military installation, your sponsor should be able to give you specific details about finding housing in the local community. When we knew we’d be living on base, our sponsor sent photos of the housing we’d be assigned and even floor plans.
4) Storage Availability
Most overseas houses 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 take, what to store, and how big a garage sale you’ll need to hold.
5) Youth Programs and Childcare
Do children attend Department of Defense schools? How robust is the youth services programs and what do they offer? What childcare options are available?
6) Pet Concerns
You’ll want to know the details of the country’s pet quarantines, if any, and boarding/kennel services if you’re not able to secure a pet-friendly temporary lodging facility or hotel.
7) Other Overseas Move Concerns
While you’ll have your own specific questions to add to this list, consider asking for information about possible 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.
While there is no way to cover every possible concern before arriving in a different country, having information ahead of time can help with 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 pay it forward by being a sponsor to another incoming family.
Want even more great info for your overseas move? Download our free resource, Overseas PCS Survival Guide.
By Jen McDonald