OCONUS PCS Moves
by PCSgrades Staff - April 1st, 2021
This webinar and blog was originally published in 2021. Click here to see the most updated PCS information for PCS season 2022.
Our guest is Lindsay Bradford, Navy spouse for over seven years. Recently, she moved to Bahrain in her first overseas (OCONUS) move.
Tipping Guidance from TRANSCOM has changed. Move.mil previously said it was at your discretion to tip or feed the movers. The language has now changed to state that it is discouraged to tip or feed the movers. This is an attempt to make things more equal across the board so that younger families aren’t at a disadvantage. If you give it back, this does NOT affect your ability to have a specialty crate in the future. You just have to request it again.
Specialty Crates: If you have something built for a custom piece of furniture or a Peloton bike, etc. The language to that FAQ has also changed to say that you are not required to keep custom crates stored after a move. You are allowed to, but not required. And if you want to get rid of it on moving day, the moving company should be able to take it and dispose of it.
How many times have you PCSed, and how excited were you to go OCONUS?
We have PCSed five times, so we did two cross-country moves, two half-country moves, then this one overseas. We were excited, because this was one of our top choices that we discussed and we were waiting for the hard orders to be confirmed!
Overseas moves have different shipments: HHG, Express, Non-temp storage. How did you decide what went where?
I didn’t know what the UAB (Unaccompanied Baggage) or Express baggage was, since that was new to me. So I immediately went to PCSgrades and Military One Source, where they have lots of resources and podcasts and articles.
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I had to talk to my spouse and discuss whether we wanted furnished or unfurnished, what type of lifestyle we wanted. We decided to rent furnished, so we didn’t need to pack or bring much furniture. You can always take things out when you rent Furnished, so we could bring some furniture if we wanted.
We got three different colors of bright neon tape and grouped things together, and labeled things with the different tape. In each room, we put a strip of the tape and labeled it “UAB” “HHG” or “NTS” so the movers knew exactly what went where. On moving day, we went through and kept repeating the colors, and we also went through with a stamp (as recommended by Megan!) to stamp all the boxes with my name, phone number, and email address so it could be sorted out.
Joining a Facebook group like Lost During my PCS helps you get reunited with your things in case a box goes missing, and it gives people a way to reach out and contact you.
There's a process before moving OCONUS, like the overseas medical screening and the command sponsorship. What can you tell us about that experience before the move?
It was the first time I felt codependent on my active duty service member. I am usually pretty independent, but this move made me rely more on him. This was a challenge, since he was TDY and we did a lot of it virtually. So definitely face the challenge as a team. The Navy calls it an overseas screening, but it is actually an EFMP screening. I was Tricare Standard, but I couldn’t go to an off-base doctor like usual. I had to send all my records to the base, then see a Navy doctor and Navy dentist. In that process, my records were lost 3 times, and each time they expected my service member to follow up, not me. If any dependents are delayed, that can impact the service member’s orders.
You can’t move overseas generally without Command Sponsorship. Part of that is passing the health screening, but you also need it to arrange travel, get your VISA, join certain groups, etc. The Move.mil checklist helped make sure that everything was done. My spouse had to follow up almost every other day on the medical screening. Since many offices are not working at full capacity due to COVID, keep following up and go in person. Calling doesn’t help because some staff members aren’t there.
You also need to get a no-fee passport. This is not your normal travel passport. This is an official government passport that is a different color. It shows you are there on official orders and allows you to get your VISA to enter the country. If you are taking the rotator, you must show the no-fee passport before boarding the plane. Some people have experienced delays in getting the no-fee passport, so file early and continuously follow up.
Sometimes it takes a while to get the hard orders. You can start the research before you have orders, learn about your housing options, determine what you can live without. Housing overseas is a lot different overseas than in the States. Research the no-fee passports (all that paperwork is done on base, but you can prep your paperwork before you have the hard orders.) You can grab the overseas screening packet and start filling it out while you are waiting on orders. Then once you have the orders, spend a full day going to all the offices on base and getting done as much as possible.
What was the process like moving with your pet?
Moving with a pet was the most stressful part of all–more than the paperwork and the packing and everything! There’s a lot of information about how to get the right paperwork because different countries have different expectations.
Bahrain isn’t as strict. Our dog had to be quarantined for 30 days, but that only meant it couldn’t come in contact with another animal. Other places like Japan and Hawaii have much stricter rules. So when you are discussing moving overseas with other military spouses, don’t just take someone else’s word as your official experience. Always go to official sites like you’re gaining installation’s veterinary office, or the APHIS.com website. We learned that Bahrain doesn’t accept military vet paperwork, so it has to come from the state USDA office. Verify the paperwork process from official sources, and begin your research there.
On the US side, it was interesting trying to PCS. You need to get a USDA health certificate, which is only valid for 10 days. But a lot of those offices are closed, so coordinating when to get the certificate, how to drive to your flight, and hoping that there aren’t too many delays can be tricky. But you can go to the vet, give them an overnight FedEx label, and they will send your stuff quickly to the USDA. We got our stuff back in 12 hours, but it is so important to do the research first.
As for flying, we went on the AMC flight so we could see her in between flights. The USO was there to help us and we were able to check in and then hand her off 1 hour before the flight. The animals get unloaded at each location and you can walk them around and take them outside. So it was great and fairly easy once we got to the airport. In Bahrain, we spent more time going through customs than our dog did. But our sponsor met us at the airport and he handled turning over the health certificate and picking up the dog.
The buildup of getting there was more stressful than actually flying. Since we used the Rotator, we didn’t have high pet shipping fees. But there are limited pet space spots there, but the ASPCA does offer some grants to help with that cost of shipping pets, so you don’t have to re-home your pet.
Have your shipments all arrived? How long have you been waiting?
My vehicle and my Express UAB shipment have both arrived. The vehicle arrived two weeks early, and UAB was two days early. Our HHG has been delayed, and it has now been so long that we have filed an Inconvenience Claim. We received an email when our UAB arrived, and they were able to deliver it 24 hours later.
The vehicle was sent through PCSmyPOV and that arrived and we got an email from the car shipment company and an email from the base explaining how to register our vehicle locally. That was all easy and we had clear communication.
What did you include in your UAB shipment?
Something I learned is that I should have packed more summer clothes, because we moved in between seasons. We actually could have packed more transformers for the electric outlets because overseas electric is different, and most of your appliances are not dual voltage. You have to plug it into a transformer, not directly into a wall, or it will burn up. You could use a 1000watt transformer for small appliances like a coffee maker. Include some movies and games while you are waiting for everything else. We packed some pictures to make it feel a little more like home. He has been gone since the day we got out of quarantine, so I wanted it to feel a little more comfortable. But yes, definitely a variety of clothes to include dressy and sweatpants so you are prepared for anything.
What would you tell someone planning an overseas move right now?
It’s so important to communicate with your service member. Don’t rely on Facebook for info–go to the official sites and sources. Keep a list of your inventory and know what is going where. I wish I would have downloaded an app, but I used a spreadsheet in Google drive to take photos and track everything. You need to know what you have and what is in your shipments.