Each PCS comes with its share of planning and packing, but an OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) PCS is a bit more complicated. Along with several additional considerations in the packing process, these moves also tend to limit what you are allowed to transport into a foreign country.
Here a few things to consider for your OCONUS PCS.
More Steps in the Packing Process
For a CONUS assignment, you are given the choice of a Household Goods Move (HHG), a DITY/Personally Procured Move, or a combination thereof.
For an OCONUS PCS – there are four key pack-out processes to be aware of:
- Household Goods (HHG): Similar to a CONUS, state-side PCS, movers will pack out your household goods, based on a given weight allowance, and ship these items to your new duty station. HHG for an OCONUS PCS may take two to three months to arrive, as they are transported mainly via transoceanic cargo shipping.
- Unaccompanied Baggage (UB): UB is an option for shipments, where a small subset of your total weight allowance is expedited to your new duty station, while you wait for the rest of your HHG to arrive. UB weight allowances vary, and may include 500 – 2,000 pounds. These items are (typically) picked up before your HHG shipment, and sent via air cargo, thus arriving ahead of you, at your new station. Towels, linens, a few pots and pans and kitchenware, sleeping bags, air mattresses, are typical items that families select for a UB shipment.
- Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) Shipment/Storage: The military will pay to have one car shipped OCONUS. However, there may be some bases, such as Japan, where it is not possible to have a car. In these cases, your POV would be stored stateside, at government expense – or you may wish to sell it, before the PCS.
- Non-Temporary Storage (NTS): For an OCONUS PCS, you are authorized long-term storage of some of your belongings, instead of shipping them to your next duty station. Many of the following items are ideal candidates for long-term storage, to include small or seldom used appliances and bulky furniture.
Electronics and Appliances – What to Bring? What to Store?
In general, small household appliances tend to have higher watt uses – and are best left behind for an OCONUS PCS, and placed in long-term (NTS) storage.
Electrical systems vary throughout the world. America runs on a 120 volt system, whereas South Korea, United Arab Emirates, and European countries run on a 220 volt system. (Japan uses a 100 volt system.)
So, in order to use any of your American appliances – you need either an adapter, (these could be simple plug-in adapters), or a transformer. The 220 volt system must be “stepped down” for your 110 volt American appliance to use it.
Most modern appliances will have a dual voltage range marked on them of “110 – 220v”, typically on the product sticker near the serial / manufacturer’s number, or sometimes on the adhesive sticker taped to the power cord.
However, although the appliance may be rated to the 220 volt range, it’s actual the wattage that the appliance uses – that becomes problematic. (Wattage is simply the ‘measurement’ used to determine the amount of energy an appliance uses.) Appliances should include their wattage use, on either their product label – or on an interior label, such as the microwave door. **Note that adapters and transformers do have wattage capacities. If an adapter, or transformer, wattage load isn’t high enough – there’s a good chance it will fry your electronics, and do things like turn your printer into a smoke machine. (Ask me how I know.)
High wattage appliances to consider for long-term storage include:
- Hair dryers, irons
- Space heaters
- Large, countertop mixers (like Kitchen-Aid)
- Coffee makers
- Vacuum cleaners
A 220 volt version of these appliances are readily available at OCONUS Base Exchanges, and gently used items often pop up for sale on local Facebook pages, and the base thrift shops.
While small appliances tend to be problematic, do bring the entertainment systems. A 50” LED television uses an average of 100 watts, while gaming consoles average 100 – 220 watts.
Leave Large Appliances Behind
For an OCONUS tour, the installation’s Military Housing Office (MHO) will issue you large appliances such as a (country-specific) washer and dryer set, a standard American-cubic sized refrigerator, and a microwave.
MHO will also typically issue one or two transformers to run high-wattage appliances, if you elect to bring them. However, it is important to note these transformers tend to be very bulky, heavy and noisy, and are not energy efficient.
Oversized and Bulky Furniture
Depending on your duty station, you may be living on-base, or on the local economy. Building standards are different in many OCONUS homes, particularly in the design and layout of homes. Stairwells and hallways are often narrow, and rooms may be smaller that you’ve been used to.
If you have exceptionally tall, bulky, or heavy furniture – or antique, heirloom furniture that would be devastating to lose – put these items in long-term storage.
Guns and Weapons
Gun legislation varies widely in the U.S., simply to cross state lines – and overseas countries are no different. Many countries ban importing firearms as part of a PCS, or have severe usage and licensing restrictions that make it nearly impossible to successfully import them in. Get the process wrong, and the weapons will be confiscated, and may not be returned.
If possible, leave weapons with trusted friends or family, who can properly service the weapons while you are away.
Many countries have very strict guidelines on the handling and storage of human remains. In some countries, such as Germany – human remains (including cremations), must be buried in a cemetery, and it is illegal to keep the ashes of a loved one, in your home.
If you are in this difficult situation, thoroughly investigate if you will be able to legally transport the ashes into country. You might not be allowed to – and need to find a storage solution prior to PCS.
Deeply Sentimental Items
No one wants to lose items during a PCS, or experience damages – but unfortunately, it is a risk. Speaking from personal experience, it gave us tremendous peace of mind when we stored our heirloom quilts, books, antique furniture, and the family silver set with a trusted family member, versus marking these items as high-value, and praying they crossed the Atlantic Ocean, aboard a cargo ship, unscathed.
Use Caution if Packing a Safe, with High-Value Items
Most of us have heard the guidance to make sure any high-value items are clearly marked on both the PCS inventory sheets, and on their own, separate high-value inventory sheet.
This is excellent advice for any item over $100, such as your big-screen TV, game consoles, weights or fitness equipment.
But, having a lengthy list of high-value items, in extreme circumstances – can also make your family a target for future theft.
In February, 2019 – armed assailants stormed an American family’s home in Landstuhl Germany (just outside of Ramstein). The suspects targeted the family due to a tip-off from an employee of the moving company that had unpacked the home, after he viewed a large safe (and its contents) unloaded during the move. Upon getting the safe into the home, the American father opened the safe – in the presence of movers, and proceeded to inventory its contents, to ensure all items were accounted for. Many of these items were precious metals, to include items made from solid gold. While the family was following proper moving protocol to inspect the conditions of their property, this high-value property set in particular caught the attention of would-be thieves.
After their household goods had been delivered, at a later date – armed assailants attempted a violent home invasion, while the American family was present in the home. The father fought off the attackers in self-defense, after stabbing, and fatally wounding one assailant. Over the course of several months, numerous investigations were launched – to include questions over the use of force, on behalf of the American family. The father was eventually cleared and all charges against him, terminated.
Granted, the above is an extreme example – but if you have a number of significant, high-value items, it is worth additional consideration to determine whether you should store these items (if possible a safe deposit box could be an ideal solution), or pack in household goods. If you do elect to have the items inventoried and shipped, acquire additional insurance to protect the items, in the event of loss, or theft.
As you begin the great PCS-purge and prepare for the move, developing a plan of what to bring and what to leave behind – will translate into tremendous peace of mind, once your items are in transit to your new duty station, and other items are safely stored.
As always – deep breaths, these situations no matter how stressful – will soon pass, and you’ll be exploring your new overseas home in no time!