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What to Do First When You Receive Overseas Orders

If you just received orders overseas, congratulations! You are in for a unique experience and memories that will last a lifetime. But before you get caught up in dreams of clear beaches or European castles, there will be lots of paperwork to complete and logistics to plan. Use this list to tackle an overseas PCS like a pro.

Begin the medical screening process. This will be required for all family members before you can proceed with any moving paperwork. The military wants to ensure that the entire family’s health needs can be met at the overseas location. If someone is on medication consistently, it may not be safe for them to live on an island where tropical storms disrupt medical deliveries. If a family member needs to see a specialist regularly, the military will verify a specialist is available at the overseas base. They will also ensure that the entire family is up to date on any shots needed for foreign locations. Once approved, hand-carry the documents with you during your move

You are expected to: Initiate screening immediately upon official notification of an assignment to an OCONUS location and complete screening within 12 months of the report date. You can schedule this screening through a military doctor on any base.

  • Contact your sponsor. The service member should be assigned a sponsor at the new base; someone who is already stationed there and can answer specific questions. Often, the sponsor assists with the logistics of the move, such as sending mail ahead, picking the family up from the airport, reserving temporary lodging and getting a rental car. They can also give you details about what to pack, which appliances will be compatible with your new home and cultural information. If you don’t hear from a sponsor, your service member should contact their receiving unit and request one.
  • Research temporary housing options. In many overseas locations, military families can choose to live on base or off base. When living off base, the Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) for your location will be used instead of BAH. Typically, a family has 30 days to research local homes and decide, so they will live in temporary housing during that time. Sometimes this is the military lodge or hotel on base. If the base hotel is full, an off-base hotel can be used. In some locations, the base provides empty housing units with temporary furniture and dishes for incoming families. Learn your options, because they will help you determine what to pack.
  • Plan for your Express Shipment. One major difference when moving overseas is that you must do a full military move (you can’t move yourselves), and you are entitled to two separate shipments. The Express Shipment is a smaller weight allowance and will be flown to the new base to arrive quickly. It should contain clothing, basic cooking supplies, baby gear, electronic devices, linen, and anything that will make the first few weeks at a new base more comfortable. The Household Good Shipment (HHG) will include the remainder of your furniture and home contents. It will be sent by ship and will take several weeks or months to arrive at your overseas base. Plan carefully which items to send in which shipment.
  • Apply for passports. The military will issue a “no-fee” passport to the service member and all family members. The current unit’s admin shop should assist with that process. However, the no-fee passport is only to be used for traveling on government orders, when you first arrive in country. For leisure travel, you will need a standard U.S. passport. You can find the paperwork and details for a standard passport on the Department of State website. Apply early, since it can take at least a month to receive a new passport.
  • Plan for shipping pets. For families who want to bring their fur-babies with them, start saving money early and researching the options to ship your pet. Military MAC flights have a limited amount of space for pets, and these discounted spaces fill quickly. Commercial airlines and pet service companies can charge over $1,000 per pet. In summer months, many airlines have temperature restrictions that limit your options. It will also be more difficult and costly to reserve a space for a large dog crate than for a smaller crate. Research the pet laws at your new location, then visit a stateside military veterinarian to get appropriate shots and paperwork.
  • Prepare to ship your vehicle. The military will only pay to ship one vehicle to most overseas bases. Some locations do not allow more than one imported car. Many bases have affordable local cars that are sold from one service member to another, so it’s possible to buy a second vehicle overseas. When shipping from the U.S., you may use any of the approved Vehicle Processing Centers (VPCs). It is your responsibility to get your vehicle to the center, and this trip is not reimbursed. It will take over a month for your vehicle to arrive overseas. Consider sending it early and borrowing a vehicle from a friend before you leave the States. Check prices to see whether your current or overseas base has lower rental car rates.

This may seem like a long to-do list, but the sooner you get started, the more prepared you will be for your overseas PCS move. Tackle one problem at a time, and keep asking questions from families who are already stationed at your new overseas location. Military families are often happy to help newcomers, so don’t feel like you will go through the process alone.

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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