PCS season isn’t around the corner any more–it’s on the same block. Here are 10 things your local transportation office won’t let you know (but you need to know) when your service member receives orders to an overseas duty station.
10 Things They Don’t Tell You When You PCS to an Overseas Military Base
You Will Need Money, Money, Money
There’s no way around it. You will need a lot of cash to get yourself set up overseas. At some point, you will feel like you are simply hemorrhaging green stuff.
For example, we shipped our car very early so that we would have it soon after our arrival overseas, but then my husband was sent on an extended TDY and I ended up needing a vehicle. I had to rent a car for almost a month before we left, an expense we hadn’t really expected. Once we got to Germany, our car was delayed and we had to rent a car again for a week or so.
Friends have shared the difficulties and expenses they went through when shipping their pets overseas. Pets can go on the Patriot Express flights to Europe, but there are very limited slots available. If you are fortunate enough to secure a pet space on the flight, it costs $110 per pet.
If not, you have to ship your pet commercially. If the pet is accompanying you, you may pay $400 or so for a flight. If the pet has to be shipped separately, the costs can go over $1,000 per pet.
Some breeds can’t be shipped during the summer months, which are coincidentally peak PCS season. Depending on your destination, you may also have to shell out money to get special examinations, microchips and pay for quarantine time.
Once we landed in Germany, we spent more money– on things like meals out and warm clothing when our household goods were delayed and the weather turned from the 80s to the 50s in the blink of an eye.
We also had to pay a realtor half a month’s rent to help us find a house because the waiting list for government lodging was 23 months and there were no houses available in our area. We found a house and had to pay our landlord a hefty security deposit of several thousand euro. You can get this as an interest-free loan from the government, but they will want it back promptly before you PCS stateside, even if your landlord has not returned the security deposit to you yet.
Then there are all the “normal” PCS costs of replenishing the pantry, buying new curtains and buying storage solutions because European houses don’t have closets.
You can get advance DLA (Dislocation Allowance) when you PCS overseas and it’s probably a good idea to take it. Be leery of taking pay advances, though, unless truly necessary, because Uncle Sam will want his money back, probably before all of your COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) and other overseas pay has kicked in.
Above all, try and save up as much as you possibly can (at least $2,000, more if you have pets) in the months leading up to your overseas PCS.
You Should Consider Shipping Your Second Car
We sold our second car (which was paid off) because the government would only ship one vehicle. When we got to Germany, we quickly realized that we had to buy a second car. We couldn’t immediately find a reliable used van or SUV big enough for our family. We ended up buying a new vehicle through military sales. Hello, car payment.
I’ve heard this lament from many others stationed in Europe: we should have explored the possibility of shipping our second car. For a few thousand dollars, we would have had a ride that was paid for.
Don’t Put Everything in Storage
While I’m not sorry that we put most of our 110-volt appliances into storage in the States, I really wish we had kept our patio furniture and gardening tools.
Consider carefully before storing your stuff. While houses overseas are generally smaller and have less storage, it’s a good idea to have basic tools and outdoor furniture. Many electronics are actually dual-voltage, so be sure to check beforehand.
Be Prepared for Culture Shock
It’s a different culture and things are, well, different. There are quiet hours and quiet days (Sunday). Customer service is less customer-oriented in Europe.
Living overseas takes some getting used to, so get ready to feel like a toddler taking baby steps all over again.
Even those who are stationed in the UK, where they theoretically speak the same language, have told me that English and American cultures are quite different.
It Will Take a LONG Time to Get Acclimated
I had been a military spouse for 18 years when we PCSed to Germany. I wasn’t a newbie. Yet I got thrown for a loop just like everyone else.
It took us 3 months to get Internet and almost 6 to feel comfortable on a day-to-day basis. This is normal, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Really.
You Have to Do Your Homework
Read up before you go so you can hit the ground running. Search for spouse Facebook groups, blogs, unit websites and anything that will give you good intel on where you are going.
You Will Have to Be Organized
Have a binder or file organizer with all your important paperwork and take it on the plane with you. Hand carry school and shot records. Keep all your moving papers so you can file a timely claim if necessary. And keep your receipts because you may be able to claim some of your unreimbursed moving expenses on your income taxes.
You Will be Homesick
You or your kids will at some point miss the States pretty badly, whether it’s because you’ve left loved ones behind or because there isn’t a Hobby Lobby in Europe or Asia.
You Will Feel Overwhelmed
There was this one point when we were about to run out of our Temporary Lodging Allowance but still had no house in sight. Our household goods were delayed, mysteriously split between 2 cargo ships. And we needed a second car. Things looked bleak. But they got better.
You Will Grow to Love It and, at the Very Least, an Overseas Duty Station Will Make You Appreciate America
We have loved traveling all over Europe, experiencing new cultures and cuisines. They will drag me out of here kicking and screaming next year. But even if I didn’t like it here (and I have to say, my kids don’t love it as much as my husband and I) I know that our time here will give us a better appreciation of our own country.
Whether it’s your first move or your tenth, embarking on an overseas tour can be a stressful experience. So do your prep work and then take a deep breath– you got this!