In the spring of 2009, my husband called me from Iraq and asked what I thought about putting in a request to PCS to Korea. He explained that they had just opened command sponsorship to families so our family would be able to go for two years, maybe longer. He had already served two tours in Korea, one before we were married and one when our girls were very small and there had been no command sponsorship, and he loved it. I immediately said yes. It was an overseas assignment, but we were currently stationed in Hawaii, which was also (technically) an overseas assignment so how different could it be? Boy, was I in for a shock. The entire process was different, not just in the military/PCS aspect, but also in the prepping I had to do and the psyching up of not only the kids but myself for the huge changes coming our way. Even though the move to Korea was our fourth PCS, I learned things and encountered things that we had never had to deal with before. Here are a few of the things that I found most helpful when PCSing overseas.
Organization is key.
Being organized before a PCS is important, but never more so than before an overseas move. There are so many papers and things that you need to make sure you have with you and take with you to your new duty station: orders, plane tickets, passports, bank documents, birth certificates, marriage license, etc. When we started the PCS process to go to Korea, I had a small bag, like a laptop case, that I used to keep everything of importance that I knew we would need before, during, and after the actual move. That bag went everywhere with me, especially when we first arrived in Korea and started in-processing. My husband was deployed for most of the initial paperwork and appointments that had to be completed, so I had to take care of most of it. I made sure to ask for copies of any paperwork that I handled on my own, like the overseas physicals for myself and each of my kids, the EFMP paperwork for my son, the command sponsorship application and approval form, and the application for government passports. If there was ever a question by anyone down the line, months after the fact, I had my own copies of the forms to pull out and didn’t have to wait for an agency in the states to connect with an agency in Korea to have the information sent. Keeping all those forms and documents in one place was a lifesaver on more than one occasion.
It’s also helpful to keep a list of everything that needs to be done before, during, and after an overseas PCS. PCSing is a stressful and hectic time and when you’re dealing with extra paperwork, getting passports, different weight allowances, shipping vehicles, and the like, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks and be forgotten. Having a list helps eliminate those little forgotten things. You can find lists to get you started on many websites by googling “overseas PCS checklist.” When we moved to Korea, I wrote my lists out by hand, but when we PCSed from Korea back to the states, I had my lists on my iPad. Organize in whatever way works best for you whether it be a small briefcase type bag, a binder, folders, or lists written by hand, on your laptop, or on your tablet.
Start prepping early.
There are many things that need to be completed before an overseas PCS and, if you’ve only done CONUS moves before, there are some of them that you most likely haven’t encountered before. Depending on your destination, houses may be much smaller than you’re used to or require appliances of a different voltage. This means it may not be a good idea to take certain furniture or appliances (check with your assigned sponsor to get a better idea of what to take or not take). The decision of what to sell, what to keep, what to donate or pitch, and what to store is a big one and can become time consuming. Starting on this early is a must and can help avoid huge headaches when it gets closer to PCSing.
Shipping a vehicle is another fun stressor that comes with an overseas assignment. Should you ship a car? If you have more than one car, do you take the second one via a private shipper? Should you just not bother shipping any vehicle and instead buy one at your new overseas duty station? If you do choose to ship a vehicle, there is a whole list of things that must be done to complete that task and it’s another decision that should be made early on in the process. There are also little things that need done before your actual PCS. Calling your car insurance to inform them of your move and make sure that you are insured to drive in a foreign country is something that is often overlooked.
It’s also a good idea to do some research into exchange rates for the new country you’ll be living in. Find out if the exchange rate is better if you exchange cash at the airport when you arrive or if you order foreign currency from your bank.
As Schoolhouse Rock says, “knowledge is power.” The more you know going into any situation, the better prepared and in control you will be. Use your sponsor as much as you can! But your sponsor may not always be perfectly matched to you. The sponsor we were assigned when we were PCSing to Korea wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, and lived in the barracks on post, so he couldn’t answer any questions that I had about the schools, housing, CYS, or things for families to do on post. Search for an installation spouses’ group on Facebook and ask your questions there. Spouses that are currently stationed where you will soon be PSCing are a fabulous wealth of information and, if they don’t have an answer for you, they usually know someone that does or have an email address or phone number they can pass on to you.You can also your friends if they can put you in touch with someone at your future installation.
There is also so much information right at your fingertips. There are the official instillation websites for your new duty station, as well as all kinds of blogs with helpful information about the country that will be your new home. Most installations have an official Facebook page along with pages for individual units, communities, schools, MWR, ACS, playgroups, chapel services, and anything else you can think of. Connecting with these groups will give you a basic heads up on things like activities on post, important dates for the school year and registering your kids for school, information about housing, and most importantly, they will get you in touch with people that are currently stationed at the place you are moving. These are places where you can ask questions about the government-issued furniture you get when you move into permanent housing, what paperwork is best to bring with you to register your children for school, what playgroups are available on post, where the closest pizza place is to post, and anything else you might be concerned with before your move.
PCSing overseas can be a fun and exciting experience. It can also be daunting and stressful. The more organized, prepared, and informed you are, the better your experience will be.
What tips would you share for a successful overseas move?