How to Prepare for a Military PCS Move Overseas

Wake up Singapore luggage

Here we go again. I just found out we are about to PCS overseas again. Overseas, or OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) duty assignments are exciting. But preparing for a PCS move begins months in advance of the move. The logistics of moving your family and your belongings halfway around the world can seem daunting. However, the process can be streamlined into a few steps. Here are a few tips every military spouse needs to know to prepare for an overseas move.

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  1. Paperwork and Passports
  2. Defense Personal Property System (DPS)
  3. Storage
  4. Household Goods (HHG)
  5. How to Determine What to Ship
  6. Unaccompanied Baggage (UB)
  7. Inconvenience Claims
  8. Accompanied Baggage
  9. Don’t Pack This when PCS Abroad
  10. Automobiles
  11. Packing Tips
  12. Rely on Your Sponsor
couple-in-camo-packing-and-hugging How to Prepare for a Military PCS Move Overseas

How to Prepare for a PCS Move Overseas

Once You Receive Orders– Paperwork & Passports

Once you receive orders, you can start planning your move. Makes sure the orders are correct and your name is spelled correctly. You will not be allowed to claim command-sponsored status on your sponsor’s orders otherwise. Command sponsorship allows you to travel on Uncle Sam’s dime, receive medical care, and allows your military member to qualify for additional housing allowances, etc.

Next, apply for the no-fee, government passport. Your civilian or personal passport is not authorized for government travel. Check with your local DA Photo Studio, they may take photos for the no-fee

And finally, you will be required to complete an overseas assessment and submit to a physical exam.

Defense Personal Property System (DPS) portal

Most likely, you will use the Defense Personal Property System (DPS) portal,, to set up your move. There is also quite a bit of information on the DPS portal to assist you in planning your move. As soon as you have your PCS orders you should to the DPS portal to set up your account and plan your move.

Your military member will receive several briefings I encourage you to attend on finance and transportation. This is where you’ll receive specific information on allowances based on rank and family size. Feel free to ask questions.

Here is the current basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates that can be looked up here: BAH Rates.

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Packing and Shipping

Storage, Household Goods, and Unaccompanied Baggage

Moving overseas demands a lot of preparation based on your next duty station. Here is a basic packing list for a PCS to Korea or PCS to Korea. The next step in the process is organizing your belongings into five categories: storage, household goods, unaccompanied baggage, accompanied baggage, and junk.


These are the things I don’t want to take with me. The military pays for the storage, so we stored our large appliances (washer, dryer, and refrigerator), Extra-large furniture, non-dual voltage electronics, over-sized art, excess kitchen wares, grills, and patio furniture, lawnmower, garden tools, and books.

I suggest you store part of your sectional sofa. I can’t tell you how sectionals I’ve seen abandoned in Korea because elevators and apartments are too small. Also store electronics that aren’t dual voltage, Christmas trees and decorations, and half your kitchen wares.

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The moving truck arrives with our household goods shipped from PCS to Germany

Household Goods

When you receive PCS you are authorized to ship your household goods (HHG) at government expense.

This shipment includes everything you’ll need to create your new home overseas. Ship your sofa, kitchen table, and chairs, beds, side tables, lamps, TV stands, TVs, the rest of the linens, kitchen supplies, unopened wine, beer and alcohol, dry and canned foods, spices, curtains, towels, household decor.

You will curse not shipping your bed the first night you sleep on an Asian mattress. They are hard. And so are the ones you borrow from the housing.

How to Determine What to Ship

I’ve written about finding housing here. I do encourage you to call housing ahead of your PCS to see if you are required to sign for quarters or seek housing on the economy. Where you live will be based on rank, family size, and availability. And knowing this will help you decide what HHG to ship. Housing will even provide floor plans if they have them.

if you will be living on the economy, know real estate companies will not help until your boots hit the ground.


Unaccompanied Baggage

This includes the things you’ll need while waiting for your household goods (HHG). Your HHG should be delivered within 2 weeks, but there have been times when it wasn’t delivered. I include extra clothing, shower curtain, towels, and bath mats, washcloths, buckets, dishes, microwave, silverware, pot and pan, iron and ironing board, pillows, curtains, and rods, sheets, comforters, and an air mattress. I also pack a couple of lamps, a TV, DVR, mirror, hangers, folding table with chairs, trash can, trash bags, duster and dustpan, and toilet paper.

Exceptions: I include a bucket, but I buy a new mop, broom, cleaning supplies, and toilet brushes when I arrive.

The first PCS we sent a small TV in UAB. But it sucked sitting around a 13” TV. Now we ship a 42” TV which I think is the largest you can ship in unaccompanied baggage.

Trust me— curtains, hangers, a door mirror, and lamps will make the first nights in your empty apartment bearable.

Inconvenience Claims

Stay on top of your paperwork. Every transportation contract has delivered by date. If that date is not met, you can file a claim to receive money for the inconvenience. This adds up, we were able to purchase additional comfort items for the inconvenience.

Accompanied Baggage

Your accompanied baggage are the things you take with you on the plane. It includes your luggage, laptops, camera, Kindle, chargers, medications, etc.

The documents you should carry are several copies of your orders, military IDs, birth certificates, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses, social security cards, and hard copies of our immunization records. We used to travel with our entire medical records, so this is a step in the right direction to being paperless.

My grandson traveled with us with ADHD so we carried the legal guardianship and his IEP paperwork with us as well.

yard-sale-for-overseas-PCS-1 How to Prepare for a Military PCS Move Overseas


Someone Else’s Treasure

This is the stuff you trash or give away. I usually have a bunch of live plants I give sway to friends. The packers are not supposed to pack open foodstuffs or cleaning supplies, batteries, aerosols, candles, and light bulbs. Many will even pack your stinky trash, and live plants, if you aren’t watching them closely.

Or consider having a garage sale to make a few coins.


The military ships one vehicle. If you have additional vehicles, you will need to sell or store it. Take some time to consider each option. If you’re as lucky as we are, you have someone trustworthy to take care of it while you’re gone.

My father has taken care of our cars during both overseas moves. He stores them inside during the winter, pulls them out in the summer to drive them. If you do keep your vehicles, remember you’ll have to continue the car insurance, inspections, and registrations too.

Whether you store or ship your car, make sure to do a thorough walk-around, preferably with video, with the inspector. Our car was damaged on the boat ride back. They attempted to fix the damage and repaint it. But the video, paperwork, and my hubby’s eagle eye was no match for their deception. We filed a claim and had the repairs done correctly.

Check the expiration date on your driver’s license. You’ll need a valid stateside driver’s license to take the test for your international driver’s license.

My personal experience— study the traffic signs in Germany and just pray if you go to South Korea where the rules of the road rarely apply. You may want to consider installing a camera. It seems to discourage some of the bad behavior you are bound to experience.

Packing Tips

PCS Overseas

You will make separate inventory lists for storage, unaccompanied baggage, and household goods. I used different colored stickers to label items. For example, yellow for storage and red for HHG.

Dedicate one room for the stuff you don’t want to be packed so the movers won’t accidentally pack it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to fish through boxes for a stupid charger or garage door opener.

Finally, on moving day, watch the movers seal your boxes and crates. This is unique to an OCONUS relocation or PCS overseas. Don’t sign any paperwork until every box is sealed shut. Otherwise, you may find your DVD collection was stolen before it even left the States. True story.

Once your unaccompanied and household goods are delivered, the movers are contractually obligated to unpack everything. And I suggest you take full advantage of that. Store everything on the floor if you have to, but make sure they assemble all your furniture and take every box with them when they leave.

Buying-a-BMW-in-Germany How to Prepare for a Military PCS Move Overseas

Rely on Your Sponsor

I can’t emphasize enough how vital your sponsor will become with an Army PCS move. This person is either a volunteer or someone from your soldier’s new unit. And if you’ve been in for 28 years like my hubby, it’s more likely to be a friend.

Your sponsor assists with your relocation. They pick you up from the airport and reserve your temporary lodging. They’ll shuffle you to the commissary, and help you set up your PO Box. They’ll volunteer to be your kids’ emergency contact, introduce you to their friends, and lend you the clothes off their back. Good sponsors will lend you cell phones— giving you time to buy your own. They’ll take you to German language classes and wait in the parking when you pass or fail your International driver’s test.

But the relationship starts even before you arrive. Your sponsor (and his wife) will reach out to you to see if you have any questions. A good sponsor often dictates how fast you get settled in or if you even enjoy your new duty station at all.

Status of Forces Agreement

SOFA Verification and A-3 Visa

The no-fee passport is for official travel only. Use your personal passport for recreational travel. Once you arrive in-country, you’ll need to get a SOFA verification stamp in addition to the category “A-3” Visa to reside in South Korea within 30-60 days of arrival.

The SOFA stamp outlines your rights under the status of the agreement but does not exempt you from the host country’s laws.


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