by Brittany P. Bolin, Guest Contributor
We are all too familiar with the organized laundry list we each have for a PCS stateside. We pack up the SUV, drive in 8-hour shifts, drive through a fast-food joint for a bite to eat, make a few “just checking in” calls to our families from the road and finally pull in to our new base.
We visit the housing office, rent a house, move in, call the internet/cable company for an installation date and change the electric and water bills into our names; it is our same routine every few years.
In today’s fast-paced society, it is easy to take some basic things for granted that make a PCS successful. A handy credit card buys the newly needed household items, school supplies or heart’s desires at the store that is only a quick drive around the corner. Our smartphones provide us with worldwide 24-hour news or seeing a friend’s pictures and updates instantaneously on social media. We’re completely connected. Not always so, though.
When moving overseas, these commonplace “haves” may not be so easily obtained when first arriving at your new location.
And other folks simply may not understand why you can’t easily perform some of the basic PCS checklist items that are so routine in our military transient lives.
But, with a quick read of these 5 surprises and tips for how to fix them, you’ll be prepared to combat and conquer the shockers that may come your way.
Stationed Overseas Surprise #1: Communication isn’t easy.
In the digital age where everyone has fingertip access to email, telephones and social media, it can be hard to make folks understand you just don’t have that access yet.
Unless you’re living on base, it may take weeks before you have home phones, TV and Internet. Your cell phone plans likely will be “rechargeable minutes” versus a monthly data plan, making phone calls expensive.
The Fix: Your on-base library typically has computers for use and printing capability. For fax or scanning needs, scout out the office/UPS/FedEx store in your town. For me, my local papelería owner was a lifesaver and even rocked my 2-month-old to sleep while I printed, signed, scanned and emailed (using his equipment) housing documentation and personal property claims.
Stationed Overseas Surprise #2: You’ll need to use local transportation for a bit.
Or 4 months, same difference, right? Our car mysteriously moved around the globe unaccounted for during this past summer’s PCS diabolical. Thankfully, we’d packed our bikes in our quick shipment, which alleviated some frustrations. But be prepared for time without your vehicle.
The Fix: Visit the local tourism office or city website for a city bus schedule (or if you’re lucky a train schedule). Ask other spouses (or the person you’re replacing) if there is an in-expensive car rental company they recommend. Have your proof of international car insurance printed out and with you.
Stationed Overseas Surprise #3: Be prepared for the new location’s normal eating times.
We moved to Spain, during the summer, meaning folks don’t eat dinner until 9:30 p.m. at the earliest. We knew this in advance, but it was more of an adjustment than we’d expected given the recently induced jet lag.
The Fix: Hit up the grocery store or local market and have some snacks. Hopefully you’ve also procured a TLF (either on base or hotel off-base) with a kitchen. It certainly makes life easier.
Stationed Overseas Surprise #4: If living off base, be prepared to review and negotiate a home rental lease in the local language.
English is often spoken in many countries; however, don’t expect this will always be the case. The lease may also be required to be approved by the base housing and/or legal office.
The Fix: Be knowledgeable in your host country’s language. Ask those stationed there previously what lease they had; if you’re lucky perhaps they’ll share a copy with you so you can become familiar with normal terms and nomenclature for that area. Know in advance if the housing or legal office must approve your lease.
Stationed Overseas Surprise #5: You need your passport to do almost everything.
Paying with credit card? You’ll be asked for your passport as proof of identity. Using the computers at the local library (see #1)? You may be asked for your passport number. Receiving a package via your local mail service to your off-base home? You may be asked for your passport number for their drop-off forms.
The Fix: If possible, memorize your number and have your passport handy, yet safe. Also question if your passport is truly needed as the ID of choice or if another ID will suffice. For ID theft security, using another form of identification is a better option.
Although a move overseas is an exciting journey, the details and lack of information can at times make your experience quite challenging. Now with these tips, you will be armed with ideas and plans for overcoming those little frustrations, paving the way for you to settle in to your new home and enjoy the new adventure that is living overseas.
What surprises did you encounter when stationed overseas? How did you fix these problems?
Brittany is an Air Force wife, new mom to an adorable chubby baby girl, and full time travel junkie. Fueled by her love of writing and traveling, she attended Texas A&M University (go Aggies, Whoop!) and received a BA in Communication and MS in Tourism. Nowdays she and her family fit in as much travel across Europe as possible during their overseas tour.