What should military members, spouses, and dependents expect when it’s time to make a Permanent Change of Station move to an overseas base?
There are many things to consider but one thing you should immediately expect is to take charge of your PCS move by making sure certain crucial details are tended to. What kinds of little details?
Specifics such as ensuring that the PCS orders are 100% accurate in listing all names of the family members authorized to make the PCS move with the service member.
That may sound like a little thing, but entry into a new country requires passing through Customs plus any other requirements the host nation might impose. Names that are not spelled properly or other details on military orders that aren’t quite 100% accurate could cause you far more headaches than you realize.
That’s just one example–there are many areas to be mindful of when PCSing overseas, especially if you have never done so before.
PCSing Overseas: Household Goods
A lot of articles dealing with this topic will address the household goods issue by giving you a list of things not to pack–corrosives, plants, endangered species (taxidermy or otherwise), etc. This is definitely good advice, but what is not so frequently discussed is the volume of household goods you plan to ship.
Military assignments in Japan, Germany, and elsewhere may have military families living in the local community–you may be given the option to live on or off-post or off-base depending on your rank, family size, and other issues.
Each destination will have unique requirements and options, but what is common among all of them is that off-base housing may trend towards smaller homes.
That means it’s a very good idea to consider how much of your household items you want to ship and what should go into storage. It is advisable to pare down your household goods shipment in anticipation of having smaller homes to live in overseas.
This is one area where a sponsor can help–every military member given an overseas assignment should also be assigned a sponsor from that gaining unit who can help you anticipate issues like these.
PCSing Overseas: Your Vehicle
Some permanent change of station moves allow you to ship a vehicle. Others do not. If you choose to ship a car or truck you will need to make sure the vehicle meets all host nation requirements.
For example, some countries require a vehicle to be properly equipped with safety devices such as hazard lights or running lights, roadside warning triangles or flares should you experience a breakdown on the side of the road, etc.
Cars made in America do not have their steering wheels on the correct side of the vehicle for destinations including Japan, the UK, and elsewhere. This may or may not interfere with your ability to ship a vehicle, and it will definitely require some adjustments when driving.
PCSing Overseas: Medical Issues
Some overseas assignments have military medical facilities with extensive services for those who have medical needs, while others may be more limited. It’s best to get information from the sponsor about what medical options are available and what alternatives you may need to consider.
Some bases cannot support certain medical needs, and when you are discussing PCS orders to the new location that issue will be an important one.
You will be required to get immunizations for overseas assignments and those immunizations will vary depending on where you’re traveling. You may be required to get the usual Measles/Mumps/Rubella boosters or initial shots, but also shots for tetanus, Yellow Fever, and others.
While it’s true that in some sectors of American culture there are pockets of vaccination denial or resistance, DO NOT EXPECT to be given any exceptions to the mandatory, required vaccinations needed for overseas travel. No opt-out is allowed. This is just as much a U.S. military requirement as it may be a host nation requirement.
PCSing Overseas: Travel Times
There’s no way to soft-peddle the fact that travelling to an overseas assignment is long, tiring, and stressful. Those relocating to Japan and Korea will be traveling for as long as two days depending on where the departure airport is located.
For example, those traveling from the midwest to Japan are generally required to travel to the West Coast before departing the country. The travel to the departure airport adds a lot of hours to your total travel time–You could spend half your day flying to the departure airport and your overseas journey hasn’t even started yet.
Military families should anticipate this, especially those with children. You will need to anticipate the lengthy travel times required and pack accordingly.
It’s very tempting to over-pack for a journey like this, but one thing many forget is that there is a great deal of walking, standing in line through both security and Customs, etc. Don’t pack in such a way that you have a burden to deal with during lengthy walks from one terminal to another, through Customs, etc.
Add to this the fact that many international departures may be scheduled at unusual times–your sleep cycles and eating habits will definitely be disrupted during this travel time.
Things To Remember
You’ll be required to hand-carry all official documents including travel orders, PCS orders, passports, shot records, drivers licenses, and Social Security cards. Do NOT pack these items in checked baggage.
Checked bags get lost, and you do not want to be without your orders, amendments, and other critical paperwork required to get you and your family in the country.
Experienced overseas PCS travelers know to pack uniform items in both carry-ons and checked baggage as a hedge against having all uniform items stuck in checked baggage, subject to loss or theft.
Unless you are flying into a civilian airport as part of your official travel, you likely do not need to exchange U.S. dollars for local currency until you have cleared customs and have been assigned temporary quarters.
Those who must fly into a commercial airport overseas should anticipate needing local currency but remember that exchange rates in the airport may be a bit predatory compared to your on-base bank or military credit union.
Ask your sponsor if you will need local currency right away. You can in many cases use a credit card, but the exchange rates will be applied at the time of the transaction or when the payment gateway submits your payment–fluctuations in the local currency may mean your credit card payment is more expensive (or less) depending on the exchange rate at that moment.