Getting orders to relocate permanently to another country can be an exciting…and (in some cases) overwhelming experience for a military family. From completing the right paperwork to preparing for professional movers, we’ll give you a good idea of what to expect when heading across the pond.
How to Prepare for an International PCS Move
What is an international PCS move?
An international PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move, known as an OCONUS move (Outside of the Continental US), will station you from your current US base to any of the thousands of international bases worldwide. Additionally, if you receive OCONUS PCS orders, you’ll be looking at a tour of at least 36 months, or 3 years.
You can also receive domestic PCS orders, which require you to move within any of the 48 mainland states. If that’s the case, you might find our military PPM guide useful, especially if you’re moving yourself.
Who pays for an international PCS?
The Department of Defense (DoD) pays for all international military relocations, so service members will not have to worry about handling much of their moving costs upfront. In many cases, you can even request per diem, or travel and relocation allowance, through the DoD’s relocation assistance program.
And that’s not the only benefit when receiving OCONUS orders—the government will even help you pay for a home in your new country by providing on-base or government-leased housing. They’ll even reimburse you if government-subsidized housing is unavailable in your area and you must purchase a home. Remember: it’s always a good idea to check with your Housing Office within your installation to confirm your housing options and allowances. You can also use this calculator to determine your Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA).
What is the process for an international PCS move?
Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s dive deeper into the move process itself. If you’re wondering what you actually need to do after you’ve gotten those official orders or you just want to know what to expect…it’s all good; we’ve got you covered:
Organize and submit your paperwork
You’ll need your official order paperwork and other personal identification information. We’re talking important documents like ID cards, marriage and birth certificates, and medical clearance for yourself and any pets you bring with you. You’ll even need two passports: the one issued by the military before your move and your civilian passport.
Please keep in mind you will need to schedule an in-person appointment for a government passport and on-base doctors’ appointments for yourself and your pets before traveling.
Schedule your move
As we’ve mentioned, you’ll need to contact your local Transportation Office (or TO) to get your move officially scheduled in the Defense Property System (DPS) with a contracted Transportation Service Provider (TSP). You’ll need to register beforehand if you’re moving OCONUS for the first time, and from there, you’ll receive guidance to upload your orders.
Then, you’ll have to fill out several DD (Department of Defense) forms, like an Application for Shipment (DD Form 1299) or a Counseling Checklist (DD Form 1797), to process your move in the system.
If you do this process correctly, you’ll receive a confirmation email from your TO, including your move information and moving dates. From there, the TO will arrange for a pre-move survey with a professional moving company so the DoD can determine important factors like how many days a packing crew will need or how many shipments for your belongings.
Prepare your shipments
For a move of this size, the government usually allows its members to send multiple shipments: unaccompanied baggage (UB), household goods (HHG), and professional gear (also called pro gear or PBP&E).
Unaccompanied baggage (UB) consists of things you’ll need right away when you arrive, and it’s usually shipped by air so it arrives faster. A few examples? Pots and pans, clothing, and baby items like cribs or playpens.
Household goods (HHG) shipments are for larger items and things you won’t need as quickly. Think furniture, TVs, books, and even appliances. Household goods are shipped by sea using crates called lift vans and take several weeks to arrive in your new country.
Professional gear (or pro gear), also known as Professional Books, Papers, & Equipment (PBP&E), is a shipment specifically for the things a service member will need to use to complete their jobs. Things that can be considered pro gear include: measuring instruments, field gear, reference books, or specialized apparel, like diving suits. Things that aren’t considered pro gear? Personal computers, workout equipment, or office furniture.
You’ll need to check with your transportation office (TO) to confirm your specific allowances (including weight restrictions), and then you’ll want to start organizing your things into each shipment. The sooner you get organized, the easier it will be to get moving.
Get rid of your extra stuff
Now that you’ve decided what’s going where, you’ve probably noticed that there are some things you can’t take with you. Or maybe you just don’t want to. Either way, donate or sell what you can, and then contact your TO to find out if you have any allowances for storage.
If you do have a storage allowance, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll need temporary storage at your destination (SIT), or non-temporary, more permanent storage (NTS). Temporary storage is best if you need 30 days or less, like if you need a little extra time to find a home in your new country. While NTS is for more longer-term situations, like if you want to leave your pool table behind for the 36+ months you’ll be gone.
Be present on move day
- While you won’t be doing much of the heavy lifting during an international PCS (because self-packing and loading are prohibited for international moves), you’ll still need to be active and present on move day:
Make sure you’re easy to reach by phone so the moving crew can provide their ETAs.
- Be clear about which shipment will arrive via air and sea so that each shipment can be inventoried and weighed correctly.
- Keep personal items like important documents, medications, and toiletries separate, so they don’t accidentally get shipped. (Otherwise, they could take weeks to arrive.)
- Confirm the accuracy of your inventory by paying attention to boxes and furniture as they are loaded. If something is wrong, you’ll want to contact your TO (and avoid arguing with your movers).
We’ve mentioned that self-packing and loading are not allowed for international moves, and there’s actually a pretty good reason for that (aside from taking a load off your shoulders). It’s because of international customs. The Department of Defense (DoD) and its contracted professional movers are well-versed in each country’s import laws and regulations. This means they are experts in understanding what can—and can’t—be shipped. To make sure you are not liable for bringing prohibited items into a new country, the government leaves the packing and loading up to the professionals.
Follow up with your TO
Once you’ve received your things in your new home, you’ll want to touch base a final time with your transportation office. You’ll need to submit all your paperwork, including final weight tickets and damage claims. The government needs to confirm that you stayed within your weight allowances, and they’ll also be the ones to assist if your things are damaged or missing.
We should mention that if you go over your instructed weight allowances, you’ll probably have to come out of pocket for the additional charges. Your TSP (mover) is not required to help you stay within those restrictions, so it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re on top of them.
Where are my military moving resources?
Before your big move, there are several places you can turn to receive advice, instruction, and even support:
- Your military sponsor. A military sponsor is a trained service member from your specific installation who will help new members settle into their new duty station. They can answer questions, help with temporary lodging, and even set up a P.O. box for you so you can start forwarding your mail. All you have to do is ask!
- Military OneSource. Military OneSource is an online resource created by the DoD for service members and provides tons of important information regarding military processes, including international PCS moves. You can learn more about the extra benefits you’ll receive from the DoD for your OCONUS PCS.
- Your local Transportation Office (TO). You can—and should—contact your local transportation office as soon as possible to schedule moving services with a professional moving company. The TO can also help you confirm moving allowances and deal with any issues you may encounter with your moving company.
- Plan My Move Checklist. International relocations are notoriously tricky because of the paperwork and clearances needed to make the move successful. You can use this checklist to stay organized and make sure you are on top of your move each step of the way.
International military relocation is something to look forward to, but it poses unique challenges that you’ll need to prepare for. But alas, as with any move the real key is to stay organized, understand your responsibilities, and ask for help from your resources whenever you feel overwhelmed. That way, you’ll have the stamina (and sanity) needed to comfortably move yourself and your family to your new country.