Planning Your Overseas PCS


When you receive the news that you’ll be moving overseas with a military PCS, you’re likely to alternate between feelings of excitement and near panic, as well as have many questions.

What should we pack? Can we bring our appliances? How will we ship our pet? What about our vehicle?

These are all valid and common questions! Many of the details of an overseas move are the same as a move within the continental U.S. (CONUS), but there are also some big differences in an OCONUS move. While military personnel or civilian travel offices will provide counseling and checklists (including information regarding passports, travel, customs, and medical clearance), some practical starting points for any military family about to relocate are the It’s Your Move document offered by TRANSCOM and Plan My Move from Military OneSource. 

Keep the following in mind as you prepare for your overseas move. 

Will this be a "command sponsored" or an "unaccompanied" tour?

Command sponsored dependents for an overseas move will be on military orders and have access to military installation resources.

Unaccompanied tours are shorter assignments for only the service member, due to it being a place that the military doesn’t feel is safe for dependents or having limited resources for families. Some families will choose to go without command sponsorship to some locations anyway, but keep in mind you may not have access to military facilities or services. You may also need a visa to live in the host country and will have to foot the bill for any moving costs for dependents. Sponsors may also not be eligible for COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) or OHA (Overseas Housing Allowance) for their families. Still, some dependents feel that the travel experience is worth all the hassle!

For some specifics about command-sponsored vs. non-command sponsored assignments, see this example of benefits offered on a command vs. non-command sponsored tour in Korea.

Make contact with your overseas sponsor.

The military member should be assigned a sponsor at the receiving installation who can provide invaluable help with specific questions regarding the area: housing, youth programs, childcare options, schools, and even details like whether you should bring your large furniture or leave it in storage!

For my own family’s overseas moves, our sponsors sent us photos and floorplans of the available base housing, set up a ride from the airport for our family, all our baggage, and our pet (very welcome after a long overseas flight!) and had basics like milk, bread, and cereal waiting for us in the temporary lodging.

Set up a PCS binder.

This will be your "brain" during the move. While much of it will be the same you’d include ofor a stateside move, there will be more. Include all paperwork and any information you might possibly need. 

Suggestions for your overseas PCS binder: copies of orders, powers of attorney, vehicle shipping information, birth certificates, marriage license, child custody paperwork, car titles and insurance policies, moving documents, hotel and flight reservations, vet papers, copies of shot records, and a copy of your passports. Also include a list of contact numbers, in case your cell phone doesn’t work in your new area.

While not an exhaustive list, here are some other pointers to keep in mind as you prepare for your overseas adventure!

Shipping Your Household Goods

Know your household goods weight allowance. Also consider what the voltage requirements will be for appliances, and if you’ll need to purchase certain items after you arrive in country. You may also choose to put some belongings in storage before the move. Overseas housing tends to run smaller, so now is a good time to get rid of extras and have a garage sale!

"Unaccompanied" or express baggage shipments are the smaller shipments of household goods that are expedited and should arrive in country more quickly than the main HHG shipment. Items for this shipment could include bedding, towels, a few pots and pans, and anything else you’ll need immediately. Keep in mind that many overseas locations maintain "loan lockers" for families to borrow household basics as well, so check with your sponsor. I also usually end up shipping a box or two of things to my new temporary address that I couldn’t fit in my luggage right before leaving the country! Which leads me to….

Packing for the Flight

Make the most of your luggage allowance! Military families traveling on orders get several free checked bags apiece. While it may tempting to pack light for this part, I don’t recommend it for a couple of reasons:

1) You won’t really know until you get there how long a wait you’ll have to get into housing, so you can’t count on seeing your household goods right away, and 

2) Because of that, you may end up seeing a couple of seasons in temporary housing. Don’t forget to pack layers, extra shoes, your swimwear, and some reading material!

Bringing Your Pets

Each country has different requirements, so find out early about quarantines, vets, airlines, and customs regulations so you can plan ahead. Moving with Pets provides helpful information as well as issues you may not have considered.

More tips for moving with pets:

Vehicles and Driving Overseas

Driving overseas is a unique experience! If you have an oversized vehicle, you may want to rethink shipping it, as it will be a different proposition altogether driving on usually much narrower streets. For instance, while living in Germany, it was a challenge getting my minivan down some village roads, not to mention parking. Friends with larger vehicles talked of parking at a village’s edge and walking because their vehicle simply couldn’t fit on the roads or clear the ceilings in European parking garages. 

Also consider costs of maintenance, fuel, and whether or not parts and labor will be easily accessible for your model vehicle. Depending on the country, you may be placed on fuel rations.  

Be sure your stateside license is not due to expire before you leave the U.S., as you may be required to test in the country and, in most cases, will need a current license to do so. For instance, in Germany, spouses and dependents aged 17 and up can take the test for the USAREUR driver’s license test, avoiding the costly fees associated with a German driver’s license. In Guam, dependents over 18 are required to take the territory’s state licensing test. Each country has their own driving laws, so do your research ahead of time and deal with what you can while you’re still stateside!

Important: contact your insurance company to update your policy and transfer your coverage overseas. Information about shipping your POV is readily available for more specifics on shipping your vehicle.

The School Switch

Inform your child’s school of your impending move and begin any transfer paperwork. The Department of Defense Education Activity(DoDEA) provides education for dependents living overseas. Sponsors assigned to areas without a DoDEA school available may be eligible for tuition reimbursement for private schools, have the option of dormitory schools, or participate in correspondence courses run by DoDEA. 

Military members assigned to embassies or countries without DoDEA schools may have access to schools for embassy staff or State Department dependents. For homeschooling information overseas, check with the school liaison officer or even the installation’s library, as many overseas locales have vibrant homeschooling support groups. Overseas homeschooled students are also eligible to participate in classes, activities, and sports through DoDEA schools.

Make the Most of Newcomers’ Resources and Social Media

Check the installation’s website for up-to-date information. Many installations now have an active presence on social media, not to mention spouses’ clubs, so you might make a friend even before arriving!

Enjoy Your Time Overseas

Once the planning is complete and you’re on your way, remind yourself of the amazing opportunity you have in living overseas—something most people only dream about! While there are some challenges, I believe you will find the experience of living in a different culture and the opportunities for travel to be absolutely amazing.

Get even more tips for your overseas move in our FREE resource, Overseas PCS Survival Guide

By Jen McDonald