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7 Questions (and Answers!) About an Overseas Military PCS: Alcohol Shipment, Pets, Cars, and More

by PCSgrades Staff - August 19th, 2022

There’s nothing more exciting – and terrifying – than PCSing overseas. “It’s the adventure of a lifetime!” you tell yourself. “Think of the cultural experiences!” you explain to your parents, who can’t help but drop passive-aggressive comments about spending holidays alone (just me? No?). At the end of the day, PCSing overseas really is an incredible opportunity. But with every adventure comes uncertainty. 

Our social media group, Lost During My PCS, is 32,000+ members strong, helping military families reunite lost household goods with their rightful owners. The group also provides PCS support no matter where you’re heading, doing a military overseas PCS or moving within the States.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned while moderating this group, it’s that folks tend to have a lot of questions when moving to overseas military installations. Whether you’re moving overseas for the first time or the tenth, or finally making your way back to the good old U.S. of A., here are eight FAQs about PCSing overseas answered.

Spoiler alert: people love their wine and pets! 

1. Is shipping alcohol overseas allowed? Can I bring my wine?

As with all military answers, we have to say, “It depends.” The most popular location for collecting wine is (no surprise here!) Italy. Questions about wine shipments are so popular, in fact, that we wrote an entire article about it, which you can find here.

Whether or not you can ship alcohol to or from your next location depends on local laws. If you're moving stateside, check with your gaining state for specific regulations. You will likely need to fill out paperwork and have an inventory of your entire wine collection before moving day.

The United States Army Garrison Italy has a great answer to this question: 

Shipping alcohol overseas is not an automatic entitlement. There are rules that need to be followed to successfully take your collection to the next duty station with you. Please do your research and prior coordination before your appointment with the Transportation Office. If you do not have all permits and paperwork filled out prior to your counseling appointment you will not be permitted to add the alcohol at a later date.

You must be in possession of the alcohol prior to the orders being issued. You are not authorized to purchase additional beverages prior to shipment if your orders have been issued.

Be aware that if all permits and requirements are met prior to your pickup, the individual moving company can still decide not to ship certain things. Things that may cause a liability issue or damages will be up to the carrier to decide.

You must get permission from the destination State where you are going to. They must approve your importation of alcohol into their State. This is done through the individual State Alcohol Beverage Control boards.

If any permits, fees, fines, or tariffs must be paid to the destination State, we must have PROOF of payment received. This comes in the form of the returned documents with the State’s approval on them. Personal Wine/Alcohol collections are NOT considered by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to be household goods or personal effects. They are NOT eligible for duty-free entry into the United States.

Prior to or after delivery, you may be charged duties or fees related to the import process, tariffs, and customs fees. The military will not pay nor reimburse you for these fees. Information on possible fees can be found on the CBP website. 

2. What about an overseas PCS with pets?

Once again, it depends where you are PCSing overseas. Different countries have different rules regarding pets. If you’re heading to Korea, Guam, or Japan, for instance, you can take your fluffy friends, but expect a quarantine. Other countries don’t require quarantine but definitely expect vaccination records and paperwork, and even an implanted microchip.

Moving overseas with pets can be costly. The military generally won't reimburse you for the costs associated with shipping your four-legged family members.

Your best bet for finding out pet regulations is to ask your gaining base for the country’s laws. You’ll also want to ask about regulations and restrictions in base housing if you’re planning on living there.  

For information about PCSing with pets, check out this webinar:

3. What about OCONUS military car shipments?

Your PCS orders dictate if you can take a car with you overseas. Most of the time, there are fairly strict restrictions like weight limits and modification regulations. The military generally only pays for one car to be shipped overseas. If you choose to ship other vehicles, you will need to pay out of pocket to do so.

You’ll want to double-check your paperwork ahead of time to make sure your military car shipment is ready to go. There’s nothing like getting ready to ship your car and realizing that the tags are expired or the car doesn't meet safety standards in your next location.

4. What can't I take when PCSing overseas?

Unfortunately, the list of things you cannot take to your OCONUS duty station is just as long as your pre-deployment briefing (that is, it's really, really long).

While it all depends on the vigilance of your movers (remind me to tell you about the time that our movers packed our trashcan full of Chinese takeout from the night before and shipped it to Guam…), there are some items that are generally a giant no-no:

  • Batteries

  • Candles

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Hazardous materials

  • Ammunition

  • Live pets (drain that aquarium!)

  • Consumables

  • Lotions

  • Alcohol (see liquor and wine collection exception, above).

Here’s a suggested list of what to bring and what to leave behind. Expect to replace many pantry items and cleaning supplies after your move, and include those costs in your moving budget. 

5. I don't want to take everything. Can I store some belongings in the States before my overseas PCS?

Yes! Military families are entitled to use non-temporary storage (NTS), a long-term storage of your belongings used generally instead of shipping your items to your new duty station. Expect the storage location to be located near the origin (pickup) location where items may remain for the duration of your tour. When you return and have established a new address, you can request retrieval and shipment of your stored belongings.

There may be restrictions on CONUS NTS, so be sure to contact your local personal property office if you have any questions.

6. How long will it take to get our goods after PCSing overseas?

Again, it all depends on where you are coming from and where you’re going. Most household goods are shipped on container ships that take weeks to cross the ocean. These are called your "household goods" and can take upwards of three to four months to arrive in some cases. (Deep breath: some of your belongings will come earlier!).

When moving overseas, military families are also allowed an "unaccompanied baggage" shipment, (also known as your "express shipment") which is a smaller shipment transported by air to your new location. This shipment typically arrives within about 4-6 weeks. Read more about unaccompanied baggage and household goods shipments here.

How long your shipments take depends on the moving companies, the transport time, and, we swear, some sort of magic algorithm only known to the highest levels of government, akin to the nuclear football codes. Luckily, most overseas locations offer borrowed furniture and supplies you can use while you’re waiting, and never underestimate the power of your express shipment. 

7. What should we pack in our express shipment?

The gift that is the express shipment is not to be taken lightly. You will want to pack everything you'll need to get your house set up and running. For this, we recommend going through your daily routine for 48 hours and writing down everything you use. Instead of packing your entire master closet (guilty), be mindful of what you actually need:

  • Trash cans

  • Shower curtains

  • Dishes

  • Silverware

  • Certain kitchen appliances

  • Pillows

  • Sheets

  • Towels

  • A few things to make your new home feel like “home.”

  • Electronics and other entertainment items

  • Baby items

  • A few toys for the kids

Pay attention to what you use so that you can adequately pack for your destination. Here’s a suggested express shipment packing list

Bonus question: What is your best advice for PCSing overseas?

Prepare. Make copies of all of your important documents, email them to yourself and take the originals with you. Do your research on PCSgrades to find the right moving company and learn more about your next location.

Think of things that can’t be replaced and either leave them behind with family or be sure they make it into your carry-on luggage. Be mindful of your express shipment – it can make your first few weeks so much easier. Have enough of a cash reserve for emergencies; moving is always expensive, even when reimbursed. And last but not least, think of the adventure! 

PCSing overseas? PCSgrades has you covered. We are a community of military and veteran families helping each other with our most significant relocation needs through trusted reviews. Together, we can truly make a difference!

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PCSgrades Staff