It never fails that once you feel at home at one station, you are on to another. Such is the life of a military family. I might be a bit biased, but if you are one of the lucky ones, you’ll get to PCS OCONUS. The process is a bit longer and more tedious, but it’s quite the adventure!

If you’ve got orders and you’re moving OCONUS, or CONUS after being OCONUS, here are a few things to expect, and do, before the big day arrives.

1. Put Your FBI Skills to the Test

Maybe you know a bit about the country you are moving to, maybe you don’t. Either way put your good old researching skills to the test and learn everything you can before the move creeps up on you. The Internet is an amazing tool that can prepare you ahead of time. Some big areas to focus include:

  • The new stations webpage.
  • Joining Facebook pages for the gaining base/post.
  • Connecting with other spouse groups in the area, and ask questions.
  • Doing independent research on the local area, customs, events, etc.
  • Reaching out/read about schooling, transportation, and housing options.
  • Making a list of some interesting places you want to visit.
  • If you want to work, check out requirements and get a head start on the process.

Remember, if you can find your cousins spouses best friends dog picture on Facebook, you have great potential of learning about all the great things your new home will have to offer. 😉

2. Packing and Shipping Household Goods

No matter the direction you are going in your OCONUS PCS move, you’ll encounter movers who don’t speak the same language as you. While in many cases they know some English, it isn’t a guarantee. A smile and refreshments go a long way.

In terms of the actual packing, you may or may not be able to pack things on your own ahead of time. I’ve found that plastic totes make for an easier move, especially when it comes to moving with kids. Plus, rather than having everything boxed up, and literally having kitchen utensils and underwear in the same box, you can add some organization to your move. Pro-tip: Try to use clear totes and don’t seal anything! If it’s open and transparent the items can be inventoried easier.

Now for the shipping part, prepare to be without your stuff for months. When shipping internationally, it takes quite a bit of time. Before scheduling a pack out date, consider when you and your family would like to live the longest without your stuff. If you’d like to have your stuff waiting at your next station, plan accordingly and ship early.

3. When You’re in Limbo

Limbo during an OCONUS PCS move can last a while. Our last move from overseas left us in a hotel for six months during two different seasons that varied greatly by country. However, we knew this ahead of time and planned accordingly. Sure we looked like crazy packers, but in the long-term the hassle was worth it.

Prior to your household shipping date, set aside anything you’ll need at your current station and anything you’ll need at your gaining station. In some cases, you can set up a mailbox ahead of time through your sponsor. If this is a possibility for you, consider shipping some of your items through the postal service. You might not need that winter coat where you are now, but you might when you arrive, and you’ll be glad to have it.

4. Don’t Forget Your Car

Shipping a vehicle is no small feat. Prior to shipping, you’ll have to have your gas tank nearly empty and the entire car cleaned thoroughly. With an OCONUS PCS move, there are other considerations with tracking seeds, dirt, etc to other countries. It can be costly, but having your car professionally cleaned beforehand can save a lot of headache. Plus, many will guarantee that it passes inspection. So if it doesn’t, they’ll have to do the work to make it pass. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your vehicle fits the safety and driving standards and guidelines of your gaining country.

For those with two vehicles, remember that the service will only support the shipping of one of the vehicles. While shipping isn’t cheap by any means, it might be a financially sounder one that purchasing another vehicle at your gaining station. If you do decide to ship your second vehicle, it can make for a bit of easier travel, too. Rather than renting a vehicle on one end of your journey, ship one vehicle early enough that it will be waiting when you arrive. Plus, it’s nice to have something familiar when you are in unfamiliar surroundings.

5. The Actual Travel

The day has finally come! It’s probably bittersweet as you’ll miss the place you’ve called home, but excited for what the new station has to offer. It’s also going to be a very long day of travel. If you have kids that you are traveling with, consider a special travel bag that’s full of new and interesting items, and some of their favorite snacks. The newness and excitement will help to keep them entertained, and when you’re facing multiple hours on a plane, your sanity will thank you.

Also, be easy on yourself at this stage. Moving is hard, especially military moving. You’re going to be a ball of emotions, so let yourself feel them. It’s okay to be sad you are leaving, and hate your new station. It’s also okay to roll your eyes when the 10,000th person makes a comment about the number of bags you are traveling with. During our last move we traveled for over 24 hours with three kids and were living out of suitcases for six months. I hated leaving our home, and upon arriving at the airport on our final stop I had a complete stranger tell me how stupid and rude I was for traveling with suitcases for each of my children and myself. I didn’t just roll my eyes. 😉 The next morning, though, I felt renewed after getting a full night’s sleep, a good cry, and a glass of wine. It takes awhile to settle in. Give yourself all the time you need.

6. When You Arrive

Once you’ve arrived, your active member is going to be busy in-processing. Now’s your time to explore your surroundings. Learn where the commissary and PX/BX are, and where you’ll get your mail. Drive around looking at housing options. If you are looking for a job, meet up with the different offices on base for support. If you’d prefer to volunteer, check out the opportunities. The sooner you immerse yourself in your new surroundings the sooner you’ll start to feel like home again.

7. Getting Settled

It varies for everyone, but the first six months can be a trying time. Try to be open to different experiences and challenges, and learn where you can. More than likely, you’ll have housing within a month or so of moving, and your household goods will be a month or so behind, as well as your vehicle. You’ll likely feel like you’re stuck in limbo until your stuff arrives. Then, once that day comes and you set up shop again, you’ll start to feel a little more at home.

If you’ve never been far from your home of origin before, it might take a bit more time. Holidays will be different, and the time difference can complicate things. Allow yourself to be homesick. If traveling back is an option, then go for it! If not, think of different ways you can create new traditions that involve your families. Again, technology is pretty amazing. While you can’t quite hug someone over FaceTime or Skype, you can see them. And for that hug, there’s another milspouse in a similar situation that would gladly wrap his or her arms around you and offer you some good convo and drinks.

Don’t forget to download our PCS checklist, and happy PCSing!

Written by: Jessica Howington