Not many MilSpouses have experienced a real “permanent” move in the military. With the amount of moves you likely have under your belt, you’re a pro at preparation and organization. But what about moving abroad? Domestic relocations bring expected challenges, but there’s a sense of familiarity stateside.
If you’re experiencing your first move overseas as a MilSpouse, this process can feel vastly different than others before. We’ve rounded up some of the best tips that will help you plan and pack like a pro for your move overseas.
But first — congratulations! You and your family will now be exploring places some only dream of visiting, full of history, culture, shopping and new adventures. Now check out our 10 ways to prepare for making your PCS move overseas.
1. Understand what to expect with an OCONUS move
Remember your first PCS move? There are a lot of moving pieces and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the to-dos. Once your family has received the assignment notification, the process of your OCONUS (outside of the continental United States) move begins. Remember: just because you have an assignment doesn’t mean you have orders just yet.
But it’s at this point that you can begin exploring your new post — at least online! When your servicemember does receive official orders, check to see if you and your military family members are specifically listed. If not, you’ll need to complete the formal application process for “Accompanied Orders”. You can view the difference between moving with or without command sponsorship on move.mil.
2. Get your paperwork and medical appointments in order
With your official orders in hand, be sure that all of your military family’s members are listed and all names are spelled accurately. This information is essential to apply for a government passport or even a visa if one is required where you’re headed. The paperwork can be overwhelming, but getting this part in order first can make moving abroad much easier.
With the appropriate paperwork, you’ll be able to schedule your overseas medical clearance. These necessary appointments should be scheduled as soon as possible to ensure you meet all appropriate deadlines and that where you are headed can handle your family’s medical needs.
3. Get in touch with the right offices
Contact your nearest Transportation Offices (PPPO) to review the following:
- What are the housing options in my new location?
- Does your next command provide furnished housing?
- What about my personal vehicle?
- Can I bring my pet?
- Are there weight restrictions in my new host country?
- Are there any special items I can’t bring with me?
With answers to those questions, you can also move forward with getting your move scheduled and getting matched with a moving company. Your Transportation Offices can also connect you with a Sponsor — a familiar face in your new home that can help answer questions when you arrive.
4. Start your packing list
Moving abroad is different than a domestic move in that there’s more paperwork and detail required in disclosing what you’re moving — and how much of it. It’s also important to disclose any special items, of which your Transportation Office can provide you a list. Begin this broad list process and see where you net out with things you plan to bring.
Here’s an extra tip – break down your packing list in 3 broad categories:
- Suitcase items (clothes, important papers, toiletries)
- Unaccompanied items (kitchen items, linens)
- Household goods (small furniture pieces, books, toys, etc.) Be thoughtful — this shipment may not arrive for several weeks.
This weight estimator tool will help you understand just how much you plan to bring. You can compare that with the weight restrictions provided by your Transportation Offices. Follow these packing tips from fellow MilSpouses to make sure you’re prioritizing the right items and packing them accordingly.
5. Purge what you don’t need (or can’t take)
Nothing will make you purge your closets and toy bins faster than being told there’s a weight restriction on the items you’re sending! This is a good military moving tip that applies to domestic relocations, too.
Try getting rid of 5 things each day, especially items you’ve never used. If you stumble on some items in your purging that you forgot you even had, that’s a good sign that they shouldn’t be moving abroad. Donate items that are still in good shape — someone else could benefit from them!
An extra tip for consideration: Outlets in your new home country may be different! Do some research online and make sure you’re prepared for that change. Outlet adapters are available in stores like Target and Walmart, but it may be easier to purchase new chargers and cords.
6. Research your new home
There are other less official parts of this move that you should be mindful of to make moving abroad as comfortable a transition as possible for your family.
Look into the following things regarding your new home:
- Schools. According to Military.com, 65% of Military moves occur between May 15 and August 31. Yes, these are summer months in the U.S. but what does the school calendar look like in your new home? Work with the appropriate offices to determine where your children will go to school and when.
- Weather. Familiarize yourself with the weather in your new home! Will it be dry and hot most days, or is it rainy and chilly during most of the year?
- Inside scoop. Read other MilSpouse blogs on the area. Do you have a friend who’s been there before or who’s living there now? Ask around and try to make connections before you go.
- Attractions. What is there to do in the area? Are you by a coast or hundreds of miles inland? Are you near a popular city or are you really more in the suburbs? This can help you determine activities to do with your family once you arrive and can help you get a better sense of your surroundings.
- Language. What’s the primary language of your new home? Prepare yourself for that transition with helpful resources like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. Be sure to have a translation app on your phone or a book handy. Ask your Sponsor if they have any handy recommendations to learn quickly.
Complete whatever level of research you think is best for you to feel some level of comfort when you arrive. When moving abroad, it’s important to familiarize yourself as much as you can.
7. Stay organized to avoid packing-day panic
Before moving day comes the packing day, where a team of movers comes to your home and quickly packs your items. If moving abroad isn’t your first relocation, you’re familiar with this process. For an overseas move, it’s crucial that you sort and organize your items so things are packed appropriately and items aren’t unintentionally packed away.
Put very clear notes on things that should not be packed and place them in one central area so they aren’t accidentally packed. When boxes are packed, some MilSpouses have found it helpful to label them with a color or even a number, so you know which room each box goes in when you arrive at your new home.
The moving company will create a household inventory sheet for you and you’ll be able to note if there’s any pre-existing damage to your items. This ensures that if you arrive and find damage, your claim can be processed accurately.
8. Making the journey to your new home
It’s time to actually make the trip. Emotions will be running high during this step of moving abroad and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the change of scenery. Follow these brief tips to make sure you’re ready to take off:
- Put all important paperwork in your carry-on. This includes the official orders, passports, birth certificates, visas, your marriage license, ID cards, etc. You’ll need many of these at customs when you arrive.
- Have a checklist of your intake steps. Where do you need to go first? Have addresses and phone numbers of the appropriate offices, rental car locations, your new address, etc.
- Make sure to pack all necessary medications and a change of clothes in your carry-on.
- Make the trip as comfortable as possible, especially for little ones. Packing things like electronics or books can make a long flight more enjoyable.
Before you actually head out, coordinate with your Sponsor or your Transportation Office to make sure someone meets your family at the airport.
9. Outline next steps for arrival and unpacking
Once you’ve made it to your new home, it’s only a matter of time before the delivery crew arrives with your items. Remember that inventory sheet? Make sure to walk through it with the team and check off items as they arrive.
You’ll be able to file paperwork for missing items if there are any. At this point, you’ll also be able to note any damage that occurred to your belongings during the trip and file a claim.
10. Settle in to your new environment
Take a deep breath. Unpack and make sure your home is set up in a comfortable, familiar way for your family. Make note of any remaining paperwork needed or important deadlines you should keep on your radar.
Once some of the biggest logistics are out of the way, you can focus on the things that will make your new country a home. Connect with people at your new base and leverage their experience and knowledge to make your transition smoother. They can talk to you about the area, the local cuisine, transportation, weather or even just interesting things they wish they knew when they first arrived.
Welcome to your new home.
Embrace your new location! Moving abroad is a big undertaking, but it’s an experience unlike any other. Your family will explore new places, learn about new cultures and meet new people. Although it can be overwhelming, thinking of the positives of the experience will go a long way.
If you’ve recently received orders or you expect that you’re soon moving abroad, follow the above steps to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. A positive moving experience quickly makes your new house a home!
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