Summer is permanent change of station (PCS) season, and many military families are preparing to move. If your PCS move is overseas, however, you can expect to face a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. Here are 10 tips that can help make the transition just a little bit easier for the whole family.
1. You can never do too much research.
Most installations have extensive Web sites to educate and inform the military community about resources and services that are available. A great place to access this information and start your relocation search is in the DoD Standard Installation Topic Exchange Service Web site. The U.S. Department of State and Internet searches are also excellent sources for information. Be sure to check out information related to passports/visa applications, travel tips, security, customs, and medical clearance requirements. Compile all relevant information and documents for each family member (birth certificates, immunization records, Social Security cards, passports, naturalization papers, adoption papers, child ID/fingerprint records, school records, and copies of orders), and hand carry these documents when you travel. Learn from others who have been stationed overseas and compare information.
2. Be clear on your finances.
Know what your allowances and entitlements are, and what you can consider travel and housing expenses. Spouse employment opportunities are more limited overseas. So you should count on, at least in the short-term, having one income when planning your budget. Check with your military spouse employment advisor at your local and/or overseas family center for more information. Understand the currency rates when planning your move. Since you likely will be using both foreign currency and American money, you may find it helpful to carry two wallets or coin purses for easy access to funds when you need to make a purchase.
3. You may spend some time living off base.
Visiting the SITES database and contacting the military housing office will give you a good idea of your anticipated wait time for on-base housing. Depending on the installation, the housing office also may be able to provide you with a list of available off-base housing. You may choose to employ the services of local rental agencies to find suitable accommodations. Reimbursement of locating accommodations will vary, so make sure you are clear on what your entitlements and options are before making a major decision. Rely on those who have experience and expertise so you don’t incur unnecessary expenses.
4. Take advantage of training and education opportunities.
Visit or contact your installation family center, human resources or personnel offices, library, or local community colleges for information or courses on language training, diversity training, history, and the culture of your country. It is important to be sensitive to the culture that you will be joining. Try to remember you are the visitor. While overseas, take the opportunity to finish that degree you started, or go ahead and get a more advanced degree. To fully appreciate your time overseas, you might want to look into taking a language class once you relocate.
5. Take care of your pets.
There are lots of issues to consider when traveling internationally with pets because every country has different requirements for animals. Prepare early, get your pets’ documents ready, and keep them with you while you travel. Also, be sure to stay current on airport, customs, and quarantine regulations.
6. Determine what household appliances or items you will need.
Identify what day-to-day appliances or items you will need, and find out if they will be provided by the installation. Will the appliances or items you bring with you or purchase meet the voltage standards for either on-base or off-base housing, or will they require a transformer to adapt to voltage requirements? What are your alternatives? Generally most North and South American, Caribbean, and Japanese countries use 110-voltage electricity. Most countries in Europe and other parts of the world have 220-volt electrical outlets. Most base accommodations are equipped with both American and foreign electrical outlets so you won’t need transformers. If you live off the installation, the base usually will allocate a certain number of transformers. Keep in mind, purchasing additional transformers may be expensive and in some cases may not be compatible with American appliances. If you plan to live off base your entire tour, it might be worth leaving your appliances at home and purchasing new or used ones once you’ve arrived.
7. Plan accordingly for your household goods and privately owned vehicle (POV) shipments.
You can anticipate any move outside the continental United States to have restrictions on the types and weight of your household goods and storage. Usually an unaccompanied shipment will be sent in advance so it is waiting for you when you arrive. Items not eligible for shipment will go into storage. In some locations, the installation will provide you with limited items or furniture for your house. You also will need to find out if you are authorized to ship your POV at government expense. Contact your local housing office or personal property counselor to find out more information about availability, what restrictions are in place, and to coordinate your move and storage requirements.
8. Consider your transportation needs and the rules of the road.
If you are moving to a location where bringing your POV is not an option, or if you plan to purchase a car in country, don’t worry. Generally, you can find good deals on used cars both on and off base. Consider the costs associated with the maintenance of your vehicle(s). The cost of living and petroleum products may be much higher than in the United States. Access to parts and labor also may be a consideration. Don’t forget, driving overseas can be a lot different than driving stateside. You may be required to get a driver’s license for that country. Taking the test and becoming familiar with the rules of the road can be quite challenging, especially if you have to determine what side of the road to drive on and read street signs in a foreign language. Find out the driving requirements for your country ,and obtain a copy of the drivers’ handbook and examination manual before you move.
9. Gather information on schools and activities.
In most cases, Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) are the preferred option. Private or community schools also may be an option in some countries. DoDDS was established to provide tuition-free education to authorized dependents of DoD personnel assigned overseas. DoDDS also provides tuition-fee enrollment on a space-available basis for others identified and prioritized by the Secretary of Defense. The DoDDS system is wonderful about accepting children at different times of the year, making the transition seamless. DoDDS schools also are rated high in academic performance. Eligibility is determined by the status of the sponsor and the dependent. It is important to research the registration requirements for your school in advance. Make sure you bring copies of school records, including immunization and health care documents such as school physicals. Parents should take this opportunity to become active in school activities so the whole family can experience the different cultures and languages while overseas. These memories will remain with your family for years to come.
10. Know your health care options and resources overseas.
Active duty military families can choose from two TRICARE health care options while overseas --TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Standard. Military retirees living overseas are not eligible for TRICARE Prime but may use TRICARE Standard. (You can gather more details on coverage by specific regions or territory by visiting TRICARE Overseas Healthcare online.)
Last but not least, keep an open mind and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Overseas assignments should be enriching for all. Whether you are a novice or an old hat at living overseas, each tour of duty or visit is a unique and one-of-a-kind experience. What a wonderful time to try new things that would not be available in the United States. Remember, you are not alone. You have plenty of resources available to assist you before and after your move, so use these resources, and rely on your military community to help you enjoy your tour.