Even if your military family has PCSed several times, when you get orders overseas, things will be different. How different? Let me explain.
1. You need a passport… or two.
When a service member gets PCS orders overseas, the military will pay for and process passports for the entire family. This is called a no-fee passport. It allows service members and families to stay in a foreign country on military orders without a visa. Applications are submitted through the military admin office instead of through the post office. However, the no-fee passport is not supposed to be used for personal travel, so most people also get a regular civilian passport which they pay for and apply for on their own.
2. You have to be medically cleared.
Every member of the family must complete an overseas screening process before they will be sent overseas. This includes a physical and dental check-up. If you have regular prescriptions or special needs, the military wants to verify that you will have the medicine or specialists you need at the overseas base. Children should be up-to-date on shots, and no one should be awaiting dental surgery.
3. You have to take a class.
Most bases encourage you to meet with a Transportation Officer or take a special class with details for your overseas move. When you arrive in-country, most foreign bases require Americans to take a class with information about the culture, language, and customs of their new host country. These classes are required for the service member, but spouses are also encouraged to attend to help the adjustment go more smoothly.
4. You have to do a military move.
If you are used to packing and moving your own things, then driving to your new duty station, the process will obviously be different when moving overseas. You will have to use a military-approved moving company. Most companies will not move anything liquid, flammable, or with batteries. They will take apart all your furniture and lay it flat in shipping containers. Furniture pieces that are cheap quality probably will not survive the disassembly and reassembling process.
5. You get an express shipment.
One unique element of an overseas PCS is the opportunity to do an express shipment which is separate from your main Household Goods (HHG) shipment. Your HHG shipment contains most of your goods and furniture. It will be shipped on slow cargo boats that can take months to reach Europe or Asia. Your express shipment is a much lower weight limit, but it will be flown to your new duty station so that it will be ready when you arrive. You can use the Express shipment for items like clothes, electronics, cooking utensils, baby equipment, bikes, and other items you will need during your first month overseas.
6. You have to ship your vehicle.
The government will ship one vehicle per service member free of charge. Some countries only allow you to register one American vehicle, so if you are a two-car household, your second car will need to be purchased overseas. A popular solution is to ship the American family car, then buy a cheap used foreign car for the service member’s commute. When returning to the States, you can sell the foreign vehicle to a newly-arrived service member.
7. You have to ship your pets.
The military does not pay or reimburse any fees for shipping an animal overseas. If you want your dog or cat to move with you, start planning now. There are affordable ways to bring an animal on a military flight, but spaces are limited. If you use a commercial carrier, be prepared to pay up to $1,000 to move a large dog. More details about moving pets can be found here.
8. You get a sponsor.
Most overseas units will assign a sponsor to an incoming military family. The sponsor is a service member–typically in the receiving unit–who knows the duty station and can assist with the moving process. It is up to the service member to request a sponsor from their new unit. Once assigned, a sponsor can answer questions, help with housing and school selection, arrange a rental car, and even pick you up from the airport when you arrive.
9. The overseas base provides temporary housing and furniture.
When you move overseas, you will spend the first month or so without your furniture. You also have up to 30 days to decide whether to live on base or find a place off base. During that time, the base will provide temporary housing for you, which can even include furniture and temporary dishes. There is more info about temporary housing here, but research the details for your particular duty station.
10. It’s harder to transfer your job.
It is challenging to find work overseas as a military spouse, because your visa does not allow you to work off-base, and there are usually laws requiring base jobs to be filled with a high percentage of local nationals. This means you are primarily limited to teaching at the DoD school, providing childcare at the CDC, or working at the PX or commissary. Be prepared for the financial impact on your family if it takes a while to find work. Creative military spouses have found ways to work from home or manage their entrepreneur business while stationed overseas.