Moving outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS) can be intimidating, especially to those who may be experiencing this for the first time. You have resources at your local personal property office, 24/7 at Military OneSource, and in this list of moving tips or FAQ. Let's check out what a typical OCONUS move could look like.
Your move process begins with assignment notification, through email, a phone call, or notification from a supervisor. It's important to understand that an assignment notification does not mean that you have "orders" just yet.
At this stage, you should start looking into places to live near or on your new post and getting everything organized for the pending move. Don't make any permanent decisions (i.e. home purchase) until there are orders in hand.
Your new location's Housing Office is the best resource for up-to-date weight allowance restrictions and housing options.
When you receive your orders, make sure all the details are accurate. In addition to the administrative details (your name, social security number, etc.), make sure it has the correct duty station, dependent information, and reporting dates. Let the administration section know that there is an error so it can be corrected as soon as possible.
Moving with family?
Check to see if dependents are specifically listed in your orders. If not, you'll need to get Command Sponsorship, also known as "Accompanied Orders". You can submit a formal request for "Accompanied Orders" through your chain of command, but be aware that getting your command's approval isn't guaranteed.
Command Sponsorship Benefits:
- Reimbursed for dependent travel and housing expenses, so keep detailed records!
- More housing allowance
- Higher weight entitlement to move your household goods
- Your dependents will have access to medical and legal services
- The right to stay in your host country without a visa, etc.
- Dependent expenses are out of pocket
- Your BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) is affected
- Your family won't automatically have the right to live with you in your new location
- They might need visas
- Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, associated with the country where you will be living. Failure to do so could result in large fines.
- Use the Defense Personal Property System to upload your orders and create a shipment (or two). Check out these tutorials for help using DPS.
- Next, take the DD forms generated by DPS to your local Transportation Office. At that time, you'll get matched with a moving company (also known as a Transportation Service Provider, or Carrier), and your packing and moving dates will be confirmed.
Have this info ready for DPS:
- Your contact information
- Estimated Weight
- Pick up & delivery locations
- Pick up & delivery dates
- Special items (boat, guns, RV, large electronics)
- PBP&E, also known as Professional-Gear (Pro-Gear)
Your moving company will complete a Pre-Move Survey at your home or telephonically, depending on the type of shipment and estimated weight.. They'll do a weight estimate and identify any special items entered in the Defense Personal Property System (DPS), so that on moving day they have all the necessary packing materials. Call your moving company or local personal property office if you're within a week of moving day, and a Pre-Move Survey has not been completed.
What should I bring?
Now is the time to take a look at your belongings and decide what to take with you, what you might leave behind in storage, and what items you could sell or donate. When making this decision, consider:
- Does my next command provide furnished housing? Transportation Office Locator
- Am I permitted to bring along dependents? Your orders should tell you!
- Does the host country restrict weight allowances?
- What about my Personally Owned Vehicle (POV)?
Now that you've taken a mental picture of what you'd like to bring, separate it into three groups:
- Items you'll pack in your suitcases (clothes, toiletries, important documents)
- Items you'll ship in unaccompanied baggage (linens, pots and pans)
- Items you'll ship with Household Goods (books, small furniture)
You'll need some of these documents as soon as you get off the plane when you go through customs in your host country.
Financially speaking, a good understanding of your host country's housing allowances will help you determine what to pack as well. Confirm your new location's Housing Allowance through the Defense Travel Management Office, as these rates can change every year!
Your packing day and moving dates are not the same thing. On packing day, the moving company sends a team of packers to your home and puts all your items into boxes, usually as fast as possible. The day your boxes are loaded onto the truck for moving day could be several days later.
The packers are supposed to call ahead of time to inform you they will be coming out on certain dates and within a specified time period. It's critical that you're available during this time. If for some reason the Moving Company fails to show, quickly notify your local personal property office.
A team of packers will load just about anything and everything that they can fit into boxes, which means there's a risk that important items may get packed up unintentionally.
How should I pack?
Pack your belongings with unpacking in mind. Where do you want these boxes to go in your new place? The master bedroom, living room, or kitchen? When you move OCONUS, there can be a language barrier between you and your movers in the new host country.
On moving day, the driver of the truck is usually in charge of the show. They are responsible for ensuring there is a crew and that everything is properly loaded onto the truck before departing. If you run into any issues during this phase, talk with the driver first and if they are unable to resolve the issue don’t hesitate to call your local personal property office for help.
The moving company will be creating an inventory of all your household items and will put stickers on all the boxes and larger items (couches, large appliances, etc.). On these inventory sheets, they will also be indicating whether or not there was any pre-existing damage to your household goods. If you disagree with their assessment make sure you annotate that on the inventory sheet!
All your bags are packed, and you’re ready to go? Even if you’re taking a military flight, make sure everyone in your family has a valid passport, unless you’re headed to Hawaii or Alaska. Family members not listed on the Orders may need visas. Don’t forget to pack your important files in your carry-on, along with things like a change of clothes, and medications. The long haul flight will be more comfortable with personal items like books or electronics, snacks, and water to keep hydrated. In your checked bags, pack items for immediate use, like clothes, shoes, and toiletries.
When you arrive, expect a few in-processing steps. Depending on your host country, this could include briefings at different offices, and trips to different bases, immediately upon arrival. Transportation Office Locator
During your travel keep any receipts of your out of pocket expenses, things like hotel receipts, rental car, gasoline, tolls, etc. that may be needed when you file your voucher at the end.
First, research your new destination’s rules and regulations about bringing pets. Start by contacting your local transportation office to see if there are any breed restrictions, quarantine requirements, and timeline for vaccinations. Check the Defense Travel Management Office’s Pet FAQ for more information.
Will my pet's expenses be reimbursed?
For uniformed members on a PCS move, mandatory pet quarantine fees are reimbursable up to $550 per move. This is for dogs and cats only. There is no reimbursement for transportation fees, like airplane tickets, pet-friendly hotels, or kennels.
For civilian employees, pet quarantine fees and transportation charges are included in the Miscellaneous Expense Allowance (MEA) you receive. If MEA expenses are itemized, reimbursement for those expenses, including pet quarantine fees and transportation charges, is allowed up to the applicable maximum amount authorized (JTR, par. 5818-D). Only quarantine and transportation costs associated with dogs, cats and other house pets are included. Other animals (horse, fish, birds, rodents, etc.) are excluded.
How are my pets going to get there?
During the summer months, most airlines won’t ship pets due to the heat, therefore it may be wise to let them stay with friends or family. You could send them home in advance or bring them to your new location after the temperatures have cooled down. Plus, you may be eligible to ship your pets via the Patriot Express Air Mobility Command Flight.
Coordinate with your Sponsor, or new teammate to meet you at the airport. A friendly smile from someone who understands what you just went through goes a long way. If your sponsor or organization is not available, reach out to the Transportation Office and they can help coordinate for someone to meet you at the airport to ensure you know where to get settled.
Have your important documents in a file ready to go when you land and go through customs.
- Passports and Visas (where applicable)
- A sheet of paper with your new base address, shuttles, rental car information (since you may not have cell service right away)
When the truck arrives, you will do a walk-through with the driver and the delivery crew. Identify any pre-existing damage to the residence and let them see the layout of the home to determine the best way to deliver your household goods.
The delivery crew should put down some type of material (plastic, fabric, etc.) to protect some of your flooring and expect them to put some form of protection on any tight corners that may be in the residence as well.
Get an inventory sheet from the driver, so that you can check off the numbers, and ensure that everything is delivered. Doing this yourself is in your best interest. As the boxes come off the truck, you should expect to direct them to a room in the residence where that item should be placed.
Once the truck is empty, you should verify on the inventory sheet that everything has been delivered. If not, those items need to be annotated on the inventory sheet before you sign off. This goes for any damage that may have occurred to the residence. Additionally, any items not received or that arrive damaged should be written on the Notification of Loss/Damage AT Delivery Form provided by the driver. Don’t worry if you missed something, you have 75 days (applicable to household good shipments picked up prior to May 15, 2020) or 180 days (applicable to household goods shipments picked up May 15, 2020 and after) from the date of delivery to notify the moving company in writing of any lost or damaged items that you intend to file a claim for.
Finally, you have a couple of options during the delivery phase about what items you want the delivery crew to unpack.
- A full unpack: Movers empty the boxes of all their contents into the specified rooms.
- A partial unpack: Movers only open boxes in select areas.
- Movers reassemble furniture that they took apart at the origin (beds, couches, etc.)
Your moving company is not required to return and pick up any empty boxes after they’ve delivered everything to your new home. The movers are only responsible for hauling away empty boxes and packing materials when they’re finished delivering your belongings. If you ask them to come back to take your empty boxes and they agree to do it, then that’s great! If possible, have everything piled up in one location to get this done quickly.
While we hope all of your items arrived in one piece, the reality is that isn't always the case. You will need to sign in to the Defense Personal Property System (DPS) and complete this part of the process. When you login to the system, you can expect to see two paths - Lost/Damage Report and Claims Submission.
Filling out the Loss or Damage AT Delivery Form lets the moving company know that some of your items were missing or damaged during the delivery process. This form must be done within 75 days (applicable to household good shipments picked up prior to May 15, 2020) or 180within days (applicable to household goods shipments picked up May 15, 2020 and after) of your delivery date. If the items cannot be found or they cannot fix the damage, you must file a claim to be reimbursed! Remember… a Loss/Damage Report is NOT a claim!
If you did not submit a Loss/Damage Report, you will need to file your claim within 75 days (applicable to household good shipments picked up prior to May 15, 2020) or within 180 days (applicable to household goods shipments picked up May 15, 2020 and after) of delivery. If you submitted a Loss/Damage Report within the 75 day or within the 180 day window, you will have up to 9 months to file a claim for the full replacement value of the item you are claiming. If the claim is filed more than 9 months from the delivery date, you will only be eligible for depreciated value up to two years from delivery. Contact your Military Claims Office or MCO if you have questions.
The last and final action item you can expect from the move experience is a survey. The survey will ask some questions about your experience and we highly encourage you to be upfront and honest. The surveys are read (by humans!) and if there is a negative trend on a moving company they can be suspended temporarily or indefinitely if they are providing poor service. On the flip side, if you find a moving company that did an excellent job, please put that in the survey as well to help out your colleagues!
Finally, enjoy the transition to life in your new host country:
- Take free language courses online and download translator apps. Simple phrases like hello, good-bye, yes, no, and thank you, go a long way to making you feel comfortable in this new place.
- Research different neighborhoods around your new base. Aside from thinking about housing options, there are likely a number of local markets, festivals, historical monuments, and areas of interest nearby.
- Join social groups for folks at your new base. Participating in a community will help you transition to your new normal. There are groups, blogs, and forums for everything from online yard sales, local food recommendations, to religious organizations, and family support groups.
The Relocation Assistance Program is set up through your new location’s Military and Family Support Center, to help you make the most of your new host country.