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The Wandering Life: Moving Overseas This Summer? Start Planning, Now

It’s only January, but it’s never too early to talk about PCS’ing.

Moving overseas brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Chances are, if you are moving abroad, you are going somewhere you’ve never been. Where they speak a different language, have different holidays and religious customs and eat foods you’ve never heard of before.

But before you even worry about all that, you’ve got to get yourself and your family and your pets packed out of your current duty station.

The to-do list is even longer for an OCONUS PCS than it is for one stateside. There are so many questions and so many things to consider that even a seasoned military family might not know where to start. After moving across oceans 10 times in the past 25 years, there are a few things I’ve learned:

Pack light. No one wants to take you to or from the airport with a dozen suitcases. And trust me, you don’t have to carry those dozen suitcases through security, customs and an unknown airport.

Find out all the benefits available when moving overseas and use them. For example, in most cases you can mail items to yourself at your new address and be reimbursed, as long as you are still under your weight limit. I usually send ahead two or three boxes with extra clothes, and when my kids were little I let them each pack a small box of toys to send ahead. Actually, this benefit usually applies to stateside moves, too. I once mailed 42 Rubbermaid totes to myself from Florida to Kansas. No lie.

Pack a bottle opener and corkscrew.

If someone on the other end has offered to help you, take them up on it. Most overseas units will assign you a “sponsor” before you arrive. Hit them up with all your questions and don’t hesitate to ask them to pick you up at the airport, get you a Post Office box on base and help you to settle in smoothly. Someone likely did the same for them when they arrived.

Many places offer sponsors for kids as well. Information is usually posted on the garrison or school liaison websites.

If you are taking classes or need steady Internet access for work while you travel, research your options and make sure you have what you need to make that happen. Don’t assume that all hotels overseas will have WIFI.

Search Facebook for local pages geared toward military in the area where you are moving. For example, there are at least three pages here in Stuttgart where newbies are encouraged to ask questions. Of course, don’t take those answers for gospel - you are likely to get several different opinions on some things. But asking on the pages can be a good place to start your research and help make a list of questions you need to ask as you are out-processing/in-processing.

Ask friends to hook you up if they know anyone in the area currently or who has been stationed there in the recent past.

Make a calendar. Whether you have six months or one week to prepare for your move, set deadlines and make notes of what needs to be done, and when.

Carry a list of important phone numbers, family contacts and addresses you might need when you arrive. Be prepared to be without cell phone service for at least a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, until you can get that all set up at your new location.

Depending on where you are going, the size of housing might be smaller than what you are used to in the U.S. The military will generally store all or some of your household goods for the duration that you are overseas. I recommend bringing the basics and then enough extra to make you feel at home. Furniture can sometimes be hard to find overseas in styles that most of us are used to, or it may be expensive. On the other hand, your giant sectional sofa may not fit in a German (or Japanese or Korean or Belgian) living room. This is a judgment call on your part, and one to talk about with your sponsor or any other contacts you have at the new location.

Have at least a three-month’s supply of prescription medicines. The last thing you want to do when you get to a new duty station is figure out the medical/pharmacy process right away. Also, have a copy of the prescription so when you do go to a new doctor you know exactly what it is you need.

If possible, take advantage of any newcomer’s classes and briefings offered to you. Some bases provide free child care along with these sessions.

Hand carry shot records and birth certificates.

If possible, have a little extra money saved up. Moving overseas is expensive. While many of those costs are reimbursed by the military, you may have to pay hotel bills and other expenses up front.

If you will have to take a driving test at the new location, start studying.

Try to learn a few basic phrases of your host country’s language. Honestly, so many people here speak English that I rarely need much German to get by. But I find it makes me feel more comfortable, and breaks the ice, if I at least try.

Make a list of fun things to see and do after you arrive. If you have kids, get them involved, too. Start small - local tourist attractions, parks and restaurants. Once you arrive, make your dream sheet of exotic locations to visit.

Don’t stress. It won’t help and it won’t get things done any faster on either end. Everything is harder overseas - setting up a household, enrolling kids in school, transporting pets, driving, you name it and it seems like it’s 10 times for difficult to accomplish.

I’ve had mixed feelings at first about every place we’ve moved. I’ve cried. I’ve been homesick. I’ve wanted to leave. But after a couple of months those feelings go away, if you let them.

Remember, sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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