At the most basic level of categorization, military moves are often broken down into CONUS and OCONUS. While any move is difficult and stressful, an OCONUS move can seem even more intimidating. But with some good planning and pointers, it doesn’t have to be too arduous a process.
What is OCONUS
OCONUS (typically pronounced “oh-CONE-us”) is the acronym for Outside the Continental United States. It generally refers to pretty much anywhere and everywhere outside the contiguous 48 states. So it doesn’t always mean a different country, as it refers to Alaska, Hawaii, and US territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. When somebody in the military talks about moving OCONUS it typically refers to time spent overseas, be it at a permanent duty station or for temporary purposes, that’s not considered a deployment.
What Happens During an OCONUS PCS
If you stay in the military long enough, you will almost definitely PCS to at least one OCONUS location. And there’s a decent chance it will happen no matter the length of your time in service. Your very first duty station may even be OCONUS, as numerous major formations of all US military branches have units scattered all over the world from Europe to the Pacific. And that’s not counting the numerous postings at embassies, allied bases, as Foreign Area Officers, and so on.
Much of the procedural and administrative steps are similar, if not the exact same, as they would be during a PCS within CONUS (the Continental United States, of course). But there are some big, key differences to be mindful of. So let’s go through a full rundown of all the steps and PCS tips specifically for when you’re moving overseas.
1. Assignment Notification
As your time at your current duty station draws to a close, someone will contact you or your direct supervisor regarding your next posting. This notification is a heads-up on what where you’ll be head and a general idea of when. This way, you and your family can start planning and prepping well in advance
As with pretty much everything that happens in the military, your PCS officially begins with written orders. A notification gives you extra room to start the moving process, but receipt of your written PCS orders starts it in earnest. Make sure the orders are accurate and contain all necessary information.
3. Create a DPS Shipment
Visit the Defense Personal Property System (DPS) website and to create a shipment (or multiple shipments) based on your orders. You’ll need your contact info, desired pickup/delivery dates and locations, list of specialty items (boat, firearms, etc), a list of your Pro-Gear (PBG&E), and the estimated weight of everything you plan on taking with you/shipping to your next post.
4. See Your Transportation Office
Take that shipment to your local Transportation Office to get assigned a Transportation Service Provider (TSP) and confirm your packing and moving dates.
5. Explore Your Housing Options
Will you be living on-base or off for the duration of your station overseas? Do you even have the option? If housing is provided by the military, will it be furnished and with what? Talk to your Transportation Office as well as the unit/command you’ll be joining to find out what your living situation will be. If you can live off-base at your destination and are considering doing so, begin the search for a home as soon as possible.
6. Pre-Move Survey
This is an inventory and weight estimate conducted by your TSP, either in person or over the phone, so they have an idea of what they’ll be packing and moving for you. It should happen fairly early in the moving process. But if it’s less than a week to moving day and they still haven’t reached out, contact them and/or your base’s personal property office right away.
7. Personal Preparations
The TSP is in charge of packing all the household goods being shipped. But it’s up to you to pack the bags and items you want to keep with you as you travel. Personal items, toiletries, clothes for the trip, written and digital copies of all vital documents etc. Start looking into what specialty items, like outlet adapters, you will need at your destination. Make sure your passport is up-to-date and any family members who may need travel visas apply for them.
8. Packing Day
The day you schedule with your TSP for them to come by and pack up everything they’ll be shipping overseas for you. They don’t load everything up on a truck at this point, just box up everything that can be boxed. The more precise your instructions and organization of what you want packed with what and how you label it all will make their job easier. And make your unpacking process down the line much smoother.
9. Moving Day
This is when stuff goes on the truck. You’ll work closely with whoever’s driving that truck to ensure everything is packed up, nothing is left behind in your home, and any pre-existing wear or damage on your items is properly noted.
The moving truck is gone, your old house is vacated, and your personal bags are packed. Time to hit the proverbial road. Or perhaps an actual road if you’re headed to Alaska and don’t feel like flying. Make sure you have all the snacks, beverages, entertainment options, etc. that you and your family need to get where you’re going comfortably. And don’t forget those visas and passports. Even if you are driving to Alaska (you have to go through Canada to get there).
Ideally, you should have a contact at your new location before you leave your old one. Be it an officially appointed sponsor, a representative from your new unit, or someone from your new Transportation Office someone will hopefully greet you when you arrive and help you through the first steps of settling in. Before long your household goods will show up as well. Then you and your TSP can get everything moved in and properly placed. If anything is missing or damaged you have 75 days to provide them with written notification that you’ll be submitting an official claim.
12. Settle In
All your stuff may be right where you want it, but chances are it’ll take some more time for you and your family to feel at home. Look at your OCONUS PCS as a chance to explore and live in the kind of unique and exciting place many people in the military never even get a chance to visit. Before you know it, this thrilling new location will feel like home.
OCONUS Per Diem
As with any move you undertake on orders, you are entitled to per diem travel allowances. These are meant to cover things like meals, hotel stays for multi-day trips, and other incidentals in the time between leaving your old unit and officially joining your new one. The rates understandably vary widely based on country, region, and, in some cases, time of year. The Defense Travel Management Office’s (DTMO) Per Diem Rate calculator is easy to use and always up to date. So finding out the rates where you’re headed is a simple matter of a few clicks.
OCONUS Housing Allowance
If you have the option to live off-base at your OCONUS posting and choose to do so, then you’re eligible for an Overseas Housing Allowance. Much like BAH, it’s a monthly stipend based on the average rent of homes in the area you’ll be posted. To apply for it, check in with your new base’s housing office (if your base doesn’t have such an office, talk to your commanding officer about applying) to find out what their specific procedures are. Whatever those are, you will need to have a signed lease before you can complete the application process.
Bringing Your Family
Unlike a CONUS PCS, where your family is always allowed to officially join you, some OCONUS postings do not provide for spouses and children. If your dependents are meant to come with you, they will all be listed by name on your PCS orders. If they are not, you’ll have to apply for Accompanied Orders via an official request for Command Sponsorship through your chain of command.
What if f you don’t receive Command Sponsorship for Accompanied Orders but still want to bring your dependents? Well, in most cases nobody can legally stop you from doing that. But if you do choose to have your spouse and/or children join you OCONUS in such circumstances, be aware:
- No travel expenses for to them will be paid for or reimbursed by the DoD
- Your BAH may be affected.
- If you’ll be living on-base or in military-owned housing, your dependents may not be allowed to stay there.
- They will likely require visas.
- Their presence could violate the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the host country, resulting in hefty fines for you personally.
What About Your Pets?
The rules on bringing your furry family members with you for an OCONUS move vary between different bases and countries. Check with your Transportation Office to find out what the regulations are at your next duty station.
If you are able to bring a pet with you, you’re responsible for nearly all their travel costs. The lone exception is in the case of cats and dogs that require a quarantine period before the destination country or location lets them in. The fees associated with such a procedure are reimbursable up to $550 once per PCS move.
Bring Your Car/POV
As mentioned above, most of the places categorized as OCONUS are not places you can drive to. But if you want to have your car with you overseas, you can have it shipped to your new base. As always, check with your Transportation Office to find out your options before making any final decisions. If for some reason you can’t or don’t want to bring your POV overseas, the DoD also offers the option to have it professionally stored until you return to CONUS.
Hopefully, this guide to an OCONUS PCS will relieve much of the tension around such a seemingly-daunting undertaking. Despite the hard work that goes into it, much as with any move, look at this chance to live and work overseas as an amazing opportunity. Because a PCS like this may be part of your job, but it can also be quite an adventure.