I’m not the first military spouse to move overseas, and I know I won’t be the last. Yet, I spent the first 24-48 hours scouring military and base-affiliated websites, military spouse blogs and Facebook discussion threads trying to figure out where to start and what to pack in which shipment. I am a huge fan of efficiency and organization and it bugged me that I couldn’t find exactly what I needed. So, since I know you clicked on this blog because you have some serious packing and planning to do, not to hear my anecdotes and wit (don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for that another day), let’s get right to the OCONUS (that’s outside the continental U.S., by the way) to-do list that worked best for me and my family.
- Get the web orders. Print them. Read them. Hold them in your hand. Basically, make sure the OCONUS move is official before you start jumping through hoops. Check the dates so you can see what kind of timeline you’re working with. Make several copies — at least three, and keep them in a central location (like a moving binder).
- Make doctor appointments for each member of your family. This will inevitably take more time than anything because the military takes family member health pretty seriously. Several people need to see the paperwork post-doctor visit, so the sooner the better. If anything gets red-flagged on any family member’s paperwork, don’t freak (ahem…like I did). Each installation is different, and the process is all about making sure your OCONUS installation can accommodate any medical conditions you may have (i.e., my son gets hives and I have a heart murmur).
- Get your passports and visas. If you already have a tourist passport (the blue book), you are ahead of the game. But, if it will expire while you’re overseas, renew it now. To apply for or renew your tourist passport, visit the State Department website for the necessary paperwork, timeline and process. Most post offices and a handful of other places around town can take your picture. Instructions for your no-fee passport (this is the one you will need when you are traveling on official orders — essentially your PCS to and from your overseas destination) will come from your command, and you will likely be directed to an office on your installation to complete this process (post office workers will look really confused if you ask them about it because they don’t handle no-fee passports). Be advised that (at least in our case) they were much pickier about the photos, and we couldn’t use a photo used on any other passport, and it takes longer to process. Whether or not you need a visa is dependent on your destination country, and it may be impacted if you (the military spouse) plan to work in that country. Be sure to ask early to avoid surprises.
- Decide if your pets will make the trip. If they will come with you, make sure you know what your receiving country’s policy is on pets. For instance, I can speak from experience about Japan: Authorities require two rounds of rabies vaccinations (even if your pet is already current), a blood test and a 180-day quarantine. The vet on your receiving installation is a perfect resource.
- Complete Level I Antiterrorism Awareness Training. This is done online for any adults on the orders via Joint Knowledge Online. It’s quick and I even learned a few things!
- Plan, clean out and pack. It seems most common that OCONUS movers have three separate shipments (that’s our case and the most common I’ve seen):
- Express (also called unaccompanied baggage) that will — in theory — arrive as soon as you get into your house
- Household goods
Aside from splitting your belongings into three piles, the biggest difference between a CONUS and an OCONUS move is the weight limit, a max of 18,000 pounds (but this depends on rank and dependents). This may mean some serious downsizing or at least reprioritization of what you can live without for your time overseas. If it helps, our express shipment is being packed first, followed by household goods, and storage will be picked up last as a sort of safety net for anything that doesn’t make the household goods cut. Keep in mind that you will also be bringing luggage with you. For Patriot Express passengers, this is two pieces of luggage 70 lbs. or less each, a carryon and a personal item; if flying commercial, make sure you show orders upon check-in to waive baggage fees.
- Learn a little bit about where you’re going. My must-see travel list for Japan is longer than my packing list. It’s also significantly longer than the list of survival Japanese phrases I know. We are having fun as a family learning a little culture, language and geography before we arrive, so we can do our best to embrace the culture after we land.
Aside from the usual PCS steps — like notifying your kids’ schools, turning off utilities, changing your address, and making plenty of copies of everything to hand carry — this is the bulk of the work ahead of you. It looks simple, but account for processing time, appointment scheduling and the fact that something (or worse, somethings) will go wrong. Hiccups are a part of everyone’s OCONUS PCS story. They are just one more thing we will all have in common when we get where we’re going.