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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.
What Questions Should I Ask About an Overseas Move?
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.
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 your feet even hit the ground in your new overseas adventure, your sponsor is your go-to guide for setting you up with a head start.
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 PSC box (Postal Service Center).
Before you 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.
Your sponsor is truly your local expert, ready to help!
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 for loans of basic household needs like sheets, dishes, and small appliances while you wait for your household goods to arrive.
Navigating life on the base becomes simpler with your sponsor's guidance. They’ll show you where the commissary, exchange, and other base services are located.
View of San Juan, Puerto Rico, near Fort Buchanan. Image from Canva.
3) Overseas Military Housing and Availability of Off-Base Housing
While you're deciding whether you'll live on or off the 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 before your household goods are packed (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 various 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.
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4) Storage Availability
Unlike the homes you might be accustomed to in the U.S., many overseas houses tend to be more compact with limited storage options. Being well-informed about the storage situation can be a game-changer as you strategize what to bring and how to organize your belongings effectively.
You can then make calculated decisions about which items to bring along and which might be better suited for long-term storage or perhaps even selling or donating. This is a great opportunity to curate your belongings based on functionality and necessity!
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5) Schools, Youth Programs, and Childcare
When moving overseas with the military, ensuring a smooth transition for your children's education, youth programs, and childcare needs is paramount for families. As a parent, you'll naturally have a host of questions that revolve around these critical aspects.
One of the most pressing questions often pertains to schooling. Do military children attend Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in the new location?
Understanding the education system and the options available is crucial for your children's academic journey. This is where your sponsor can step in as a valuable guide, providing insights into school options and registration procedures, and helping you ensure your children's educational needs are met.
Other questions you may have about moving with children overseas:
How robust is the youth services programs and what do they offer? Whether sports, music lessons, arts, clubs, or recreational activities, knowing what these programs offer can foster a sense of belonging and community for your children.
What childcare options are available? Your sponsor should have information about any childcare options on or near the military installation.
Are your kids not too thrilled about your upcoming overseas move? Get some tips from an experienced military spouse: 5 Ways to Get Military Kids Excited About Moving Overseas.
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6) Moving with Your Pet
When you're gearing up for an international move with your pets, it's essential to have all the facts beforehand, particularly when it comes to the country's pet quarantine regulations.
During one short-notice overseas move our family went through, learning about the quarantine requirements of the destination proved to be important. Armed with this information, we were able to make an informed decision regarding our dog. Instead of subjecting him to a long period of quarantine and confinement, we opted to leave him in the care of extended family members until we could arrange for his safe transport later.
Each country’s regulations regarding importation of pets are different and can change without notice. 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, or even friends who've been stationed there recently, as the guidelines may be completely different now.
If securing pet-friendly temporary lodging facilities or hotels proves to be a challenge, ask your sponsor for a list of recommended boarding or kennel facilities.
See also: Options for Transporting Your Pet Overseas.
7) Recreation and Fun Things to Do
Now for the fun part! When you first received orders for your overseas tour, you probably immediately started researching and dreaming of all the travel opportunities. Your sponsor's got the lowdown on how to turn your downtime into unforgettable adventures.
Sponsors can point out 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! Your sponsor can give you the inside scoop on your installation’s USO and MWR and the types of trips and resources they provide.
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8) Other Overseas Move Questions
When you're preparing for an overseas move with the military, you’ll have other key questions to ask beyond the basic logistics.
Area military spouse employment: What’s the job market like? Are there restrictions on spouses taking jobs “on the economy” (local jobs) in the host country due to SOFA (Status of Forces Agreements)? Are there job fairs, networking events, and resources that can help spouses connect with local employers or explore remote work options?
Foreign language courses: Depending on the destination, learning the local language—at the least, some everyday terms and phrases—might be essential for communication and integration. It's also simply polite to make an effort to speak in the local language. Many bases offer free or discounted language training.
Remember, each overseas move is unique, and your specific needs and concerns might differ, so you’ll likely have your own specific questions to add to this list. Some other areas you might want more information about include access to healthcare and medical facilities, cultural orientation classes or resources, base services and amenities, local transportation (both on and off the installation), and emergency procedures specific to your new country.
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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 another 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!
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