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What to Include in Your Express Shipment

by Becca Stewart - August 17th, 2022

What to Include in Your Express Shipment

Getting an overseas assignment is exciting. But if we’re honest, it’s also a bit terrifying and overwhelming. Unlike a CONUS move (within the continental U.S.), an OCONUS move (outside the continental U.S.) requires a bit more planning to run smoothly.

During an OCONUS PCS, all your belongings go in one of three shipments:

  • Your luggage, or “accompanied baggage” that you hand-carry with you

  • Household goods (HHG), the bulk of your possessions

  • Unaccompanied baggage (UB), also called an “express shipment”

Here, we’re focusing on the last category – the unaccompanied baggage – and what to include in your express shipment.

Want a complete downloadable PCS checklist? Click here and scroll about halfway down the page to get yours for free!

What is the express shipment?

While your household goods (HHG) – the bulk of your overseas shipment – will travel by boat, your unaccompanied baggage (UB) typically travels by air. It’s a smaller shipment and typically arrives faster than your HHG. Think of your UB as everything you need as soon as possible, but isn’t vital enough (or small enough) to pack in your luggage. 

Your HHG will take six to eight weeks or more to arrive on station. However, your UB “express shipment” should only take 40-60 days. Timing can vary depending on location, time of year, staffing, and other issues. 

Your weight allowance for your UB is based on rank and familial status. Express shipments can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. Going over this weight allowance is a costly mistake, so pack lightly. Check with your local transportation office for more details. 

When do we send our express shipment?

The timeline to ship your UB depends on several factors. First, would you rather live without those necessities at your current location or your gaining installation? Can you borrow the items you need while you’re waiting? Secondly, when are the movers available? Can you arrange an early pack-out, or do you need to wait? Contact your local travel management office; they can help you decide which option works best for your family. 

If you receive orders far enough in advance, your UB pack-out can be scheduled several weeks before your departure. While you’ll have to live without those items before your PCS, they should be waiting for you when you arrive at your OCONUS base. 

Many service members choose to wait, sending their UB shipment at the same time as their HHG. In this case, the transportation office will coordinate with local contractors to arrange consecutive packing and loading dates. Often, movers come one day to pack and load UB and return another day to pack and load HHG. 

If the movers want to pack and load your UB and HHG on the same day, make absolutely sure that your shipments are separated and well-marked. You’ll want to supervise the packing to guarantee your must-have items end up in the express shipment!

What should we include in our express shipment?

This is perhaps the most common question regarding unaccompanied baggage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Each service member, couple, and family is at different life stages, with different needs and interests. What you include is entirely up to you.

When making your list, think about your most immediate needs. What will you be missing after three or four weeks? Where will you be living? How will you be spending your time? Answering these questions can help you decide what to include in your express shipment.

Here are common items you should consider packing in your unaccompanied baggage:

  • Essential kitchen items, like dishes, flatware, and pans

  • Extra clothing, particularly if seasons will change while you wait for your UB

  • Cleaning supplies, including a vacuum (compatible with the local electrical system)

  • Necessary office and school supplies

  • Outdoor equipment to keep everyone entertained

  • Toolbox and tools you will need when your furniture arrives

  • Pro gear (this doesn’t count against your weight allowance, so throw it all in!)

  • Electronics, including TV, gaming systems, DVD players, etc. (Remember, not all electronics will work with an adapter or transformer)

  • Extra bedding, towels, and other linens

  • Pet supplies and toys if you brought a furry family member

Keep that weight allowance in mind. If you can live without it for another few weeks, leave it for the HHG shipment. If your shipment is overweight, you are responsible for covering the additional cost.

Tips for an easier express shipment packing day

Moving day is almost here! Follow these tips to make packing day easier.

Be organized 

On packing day, the movers work at lightning speed. Before you know it, everything is in a box, in a crate, and on its way across the ocean. The better you can organize before they show up, the better. 

Everything you own should be in one of three piles:

  • Pack in your luggage

  • Unaccompanied baggage

  • Household goods

Movers frequently come one day to pack and load your UB, then come back another day for your HHG. However, if they’re packing everything in one day, keep a close eye on that UB pile. You don’t want your essentials wandering into the HHG shipment. 

Start sorting now

Don’t wait until the day before the movers arrive to sort through your stuff. Have everything you’ll continue to need (clothing, medications, files, etc.) in one place. It’s best to leave this in one room by itself like a closet or empty bathroom, and then block off this area on moving day.

Your unaccompanied baggage should be separated, too. Keep everything in your unaccompanied baggage separate from household goods. Clear out a bedroom, perhaps, or a living room or garage space. 

Everything else goes in the household goods category. 

Communicate with your crew

Make sure the packing and moving crews understand which pile is which. Language barriers are commonly a problem, especially when PCSing back from an OCONUS location, so double check your instructions with the crew before they start packing.

Stay calm

Packing day is stressful. Preparing ahead of time can help ease the anxiety, but no matter how much we plan, something always seems to go awry. Get plenty of sleep the night before packing day. Eat healthy meals. Ask for help when you need it. And remember that, when all is said and done, you’re going to be off on a grand new adventure.

Your PCS checklist

An overseas move has a lot of moving parts, but we can help reduce the stress of an OCONUS PCS. Download the PCSGrades checklist for free (scroll halfway down the page to find it). We’ve even included information specific to an OCONUS move. 

headshot of Becca Stewart

Becca Stewart

Becca Stewart is an Air Force Spouse, mother of two, freelance writer, and sufferer of Wanderlust. Originally from Colorado, she enjoys anything outdoors, especially if there’s snow involved. She is a travel fanatic, always looking for her next great adventure. As a full-time writer, Becca works closely with several nonprofit organizations and is a passionate advocate for human rights and military families. Learn more at