Guidance on moving your personal belongings overseas.
Transferring your belongings to an overseas destination can be confusing and demanding. With preparation and organization, you can make this complicated move a successful start to your overseas experience. The following information will help you understand the basics of moving your belongings, and the resources that are available to help you.
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Using your relocation programs
Every service branch has special programs designed to help you with this move. The Transportation Management Office (TMO) and relocation program available through your installation’s Family Support Center can give you detailed information to help you carry out your overseas move. You must meet with the TMO to set up your move; and the relocation program provides the rest of the information you need. They may direct you to use a Web site to arrange your move, such as the Navy’s SMARTWebMove program. If you use such sites, be sure to read all the instructions. Contact the Personal Property Office if they don’t contact you with needed dates and information within two weeks of your online application.
Even if you’ve moved within CONUS before, remember that this move will be different, and a relocation counselor can give you critical tips as well as specialized information about your destination. Be sure to meet with your relocation counselor early and call with questions as they arise. Keep in mind that Military OneSource offers translation services that can help you with rental agreements and other contracts, or with other documents such as new kinds of invoices.
Requesting a sponsor
Most military branches and destinations offer a sponsor program for overseas moves. Some even offer sponsor programs for all members of the family — adults and children. Sponsors can help you decide what items you should bring. Will your king-sized bed fit in assigned housing? Will you need winter coats? Sponsors can help you answer questions like these. Ways to request a sponsor include:
- All military branches. For all military branches, you can request a sponsor by contacting the unit or command where you are headed.
- Large overseas installations. Some installations have special request areas online.
No matter how you request, you should receive a sponsor’s name and information in two to three weeks of your request. When you get a sponsor, ask how often you should communicate.
Less is more
Moving overseas can be a great opportunity to pare down your belongings. Because transporting your things thousands of miles is expensive for the military, there are strict weight limits. Overseas housing is probably smaller than your current home and you won’t have space to store the things your now have. And because there’s always some risk of damage or loss involved when you ship belongings a long distance, it can be wise to ship less when you move overseas.
Watch your weight
Like all military moves, your overseas move will have a weight limit. Unlike moves in CONUS, this weight limit may be lower. This is designed to control the high cost of shipping items overseas.
Find your weight limit. Weight limits increase with rank and time in service. If you are bringing family members along — assuming this is sanctioned by the command — you will be allowed to bring more. The common weight limits listed for places in CONUS may be very different from the weight limit where you are going. Be sure to check your personal weight limit with your relocation counselor.
Estimating your weight. Long before a mover comes to estimate the weight of your move, you should do the same so you can organize and pare down. Usually you can estimate 1,000 pounds per room, excluding bathrooms or storage rooms. Then consider the weight of large things like a refrigerator, washing machine, or circular saw. Then consider your storage areas, including your garage, attic, or basement, and calculate their weight separately.
- Separate your professional books and equipment. Items you need in order to do your job will not be counted against your weight limit. Place them in a separate pile for the movers and have them specifically marked. These items can include: reference books and material, technical instruments and tools, special clothing like a diving or flight suit, and awards or souvenirs officially presented to you by your command or the government.
- Too much stuff is expensive. If you exceed your weight limit, you — not the military or the mover — will be liable for the cost. For an OCONUS move, this can be thousands of dollars. If you are hovering near your weight limit, you may be able to call the transportation office and request a reweigh before your belongings are delivered at the destination. If you receive charges for excess weight, read them carefully. You may not have been credited for your professional items. Call the transportation office if you have questions.
- Remember your return. You might want to purchase items overseas — like furnishings from Europe or the Far East — and need to leave weight allowance to take these items back with you.
Your American plugs may not work in foreign outlets. Think of the electric items you use every day. They won’t work overseas without special adaptations.
Why won’t my appliances work?
Electricity flows through your home almost like water through a pipe. Your appliances are built for the supply they receive in the U.S. Too much will overwhelm your appliances, just as too much force in a hose might make it split or leak. You wouldn’t want to attach your sprinkler to a fire hydrant and you wouldn’t want to attach your American-market clock radio to a German outlet. Your plugs typically won’t allow it anyway.
What is a normal U.S. voltage?
Voltage is the force of the electricity coming through the outlet. The Hertz is the number of times that alternating current changes direction each second. Both numbers can be used to indicate if your appliances will work and what type of modifications, if any, will allow them to be used safely. In the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, the normal voltage is 110/120 V and 60 Hz.
What about Europe?
Most areas in Europe run on 220 V and 50 Hz. A few areas run on 110 V and 50 Hz. If you plug your American appliance into a European wall without modifying the voltage, sparks will literally shoot out. Because of this, you will need a converter or transformer. (See the section below.) Fortunately, it’s hard to make that explosive mistake because the plugs and sockets are different.
What about Japan?
Japan’s electric system uses 110 V and is either 50 or 60Hz. You won’t need a converter or transformer in Japan, but your appliances won’t have the power they had in the U.S. You may need to convert your plugs to the Japanese plug. Though they look the same at first glance, the Japanese outlet doesn’t have room for a large prong and a smaller prong the way a U.S. outlet does.
What about Iraq?
Locally supplied electricity in Iraq is 230/380V and 50 Hz. But most service members use power supplied by a military generator in their camp. Because of this, special equipment isn’t needed to use a laptop computer, for example. If service members or civilians live in area apartments or lodging, electricity is a problem for American devices.
Electric vs. electronic
"Electric" devices can be used with a converter. "Electronic" devices require a transformer. Converters only cut out the extremes of the AC or alternating current flowing into your device, while transformers actually modify the amplitude of the electricity’s sine wave. In other words, the more complicated the device, the more likely it will need a transformer’s complex electric modifications to operate.
You’re likely to wonder how you will ever survive without taking all your electronics overseas. But remember, you probably aren’t the first military person to arrive at your destination from the U.S.
- Get advice from your sponsor. Ask your sponsor or others who have lived at that location what you might need and how they coped. Remember that your sponsor and those who have recently returned will have the best and most updated advice. Find out what you really need to bring, what you can buy when you get there, and what may be provided by the military.
- Explore lending closets. Most military installations offer lending closets for recent arrivals. These closets are more common overseas and often permit people to borrow items for longer periods than those within CONUS. They typically allow you to borrow things like irons, coffee makers, toasters, and other kitchen essentials until your belongings arrive.
- Wait until you arrive to buy a transformer. Transformers are heavy and expensive. Wait until your arrival to purchase a transformer or other electric conversion equipment. Then you will know exactly what you need and you won’t have to include the weight in your move. They may also be easier to find at your destination. Military exchanges carry basic plug adapters, converters, transformers, and other items at overseas bases worldwide. You may also be able to purchase used items from people moving back to CONUS.
- Find out what the military may provide. You may not need your refrigerator or washer/dryer overseas because these items may be offered by the military in some fashion. Check on this before you take heavy appliances in your overseas shipment. Other items might be easy to purchase from those leaving OCONUS.
Clearing your clutter
Now is the time to clean out those closets and drawers. Get rid of things you never use and pass them along to someone who will. With a little luck, you can even make some money or get a tax deduction for those items.
- Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t try to clean out your garage, all your drawers, and closets in one day or one weekend. Do one drawer at a time, one shelf at a time, or one corner at a time. Set a time limit each day for your work — for example just 20 minutes of dedicated time without television or other distractions. Don’t take out and sort more than you can put back in that period of time. For more free clutter-clearing guidance and inspiration, visit the "FlyLady" site at http://www.flylady.net.
- Don’t keep what you don’t need. We all keep many items we don’t need right now, but might someday. Or we keep items that remind us of something in our past. The mobile military lifestyle requires moving each item many times into homes of all shapes and sizes. Imagine running a marathon while carrying a 20-pound box of high school memorabilia. It’s a lot tougher, and the real memories that match those items are not in the box, but in your mind. As you clean out, consider the following:
- Have I used this in the last year?
- Will I use it in our next home?
- Is it worth packing and unpacking this item several times?
- Will this item tolerate an overseas move or different climate?
- Is this item too large, impractical, or improperly wired, to be used in my next home?
- Am I keeping this item because I love it or because I don’t want to forget the memory that goes with it?
- Am I keeping this item because someday the person who gave it to me may notice it is missing?
- Do I need to keep this item or could I just take a photograph of it to save the memory?
- Would I rather have this item or the money it could earn at a garage sale or through a tax write-off?
- Would I rather keep this item unused or give it away to someone who will use it?
- Start dividing your things into shipments. As you go through your things, think about what you may want to keep in CONUS in long-term storage. Create an area in your home or certain cabinets, closets, or shelves to physically separate these items from everything else. Or mark these items with strong sticky notes or painter’s tape on a side or bottom that isn’t seen.
- Sell it. It’s often easier to let go of things if we can make money from them. Think about selling your excess in a garage sale (also called a tag sale or yard sale) or through an online auction service. With a little work and effort you can make money to help offset the costs of the move.
- Donate what is left. Many nonprofit organizations would love to take what you don’t sell. If you itemize your taxes, make a list of the items you are donating and their condition, especially those in good condition. It may decrease your tax bill. Charities limit what they will take — for example, they often decline computer equipment and some children’s equipment. Some nonprofit groups even come to your home to pick up donations if you make arrangements in advance. Be sure to plan this pick-up many days before the movers arrive in case the nonprofit group can’t take some items. And don’t forget about donating to your installation thrift store.
Dividing your belongings for shipment
Whether you are going to Hawaii or Korea, you must divide all your personal items into different shipments. Your sponsor or others from that destination can give you valuable advice on what to pack and what to leave behind. Check with them first before you begin dividing items into one of four categories:
- Unaccompanied baggage. Your relocation counselor can tell you how much weight you may have in an unaccompanied baggage shipment. This weight will count against your total weight allowance. This shipment should include items you will need immediately at your destination. It should be sent several weeks before the rest of your things and well before you depart for your new home in order to arrive in time. It is packed separately and it arrives long before the rest of your household goods. This contains the essential items that will allow you to function "normally" when you arrive. No furniture is allowed other than baby furniture. Remember that many items may be available through a loan program at your destination. Things available for loan include high chairs, portable cribs and strollers. Keep in mind that this shipment is small and may receive rougher handling than your larger shipment. Things you may want in this shipment include:
- Seasonal clothes
- Essential kitchen items
- Baby equipment (for example, cribs or bathtubs)
- Small television
- Bed linens, towels, and pillows
- Children’s toys
- Professional items These items are things you need in order to do your job at your destination. They will probably be packed with the unaccompanied baggage to arrive first. The weight of this shipment does not count against your total shipment. Do not pack uniform items that you might need before you leave your old position.
- Long-term storage Also called non-temporary storage, this category contains items that you won’t need during your stay overseas. It will count against your total weight allowance. This is the place to store things like large holiday decorations, clothes you won’t wear in that location, knickknacks you don’t need, and old books. Realize these items will be stored in a warehouse. Before you set them aside, learn if they will be stored in a climate-controlled area. If not, what kind of climate are they in? Will they mildew or freeze? Will they be exposed to bugs? Because these items may be sitting for years, think about whether you want to have them placed here, or risk an overseas shipment.
- Regular shipment This shipment includes everything else, especially items you don’t need immediately, but that make your home feel like a home. They could be photos for the walls, dishes you use regularly to entertain, your favorite small holiday decorations, or clothes that you didn’t pack in the suitcases. These items may not arrive for several months.
Guns, alcohol, and boats
Many countries have specific regulations regarding some items.
- Guns. Taking guns overseas is complicated. Relocation counselors can only tell you the military regulations for transporting guns, not the local or country regulations. Gun owners must follow the laws of the host country. You must learn these laws on your own and know them for every country, state, and local area you will travel through. Even in Hawaii, special permission is needed before someone is allowed to bring a gun into the state. Know the regulations or you may be breaking the law.
- Alcohol. Even within CONUS, movers usually refuse to ship alcohol, especially if it’s opened. In addition, the laws regarding alcohol consumption may be very different in your future home. There are also laws about importing alcohol. Check with your sponsor as well as government Web sites about the local laws.
- Boats. You are allowed to move your boat, but it is extremely rare to do this, even within CONUS, without having to pay extra costs. If you live on your boat, you may be able to sail yourself overseas, and the government treats it under the same regulations as moving a mobile home.
Shipping one car
The government will pay to ship one car to some destinations. At some locations, no cars are allowed. When allowed, the shipment is complex and requires a lot of paperwork. The government refers to your car as a "POV" or privately owned vehicle.
- Limitations. The government will ship a typical family car, but may not ship your large RV, or even a large truck with a heavy camper shell. There are weight restrictions as well as restrictions on certain types of vehicles.
- Modified vehicles. Low riders, lift kits, upgraded speakers, and other non-factory modifications must meet special regulations to be shipped. Check "Shipping Your POV" for more information.
- Time limits. There are strict time limits governing how late after your departure or before your return your car can be shipped. These limits vary by branch.
- Weight. Don’t plan on moving extra household goods in your car. There are strict regulations on what may be placed in the car as well as weight limits on the vehicle.
- Licensing Depending on the country or state of your new home, you may have only a short time to license your vehicle after you arrive. Be aware of the regulations.
- Buying a car at your destination If you are a two-car family, you may choose to buy a car after you arrive OCONUS. Be aware that some vehicles in foreign countries — even those made by American companies — may not be legal to drive when you return to the U.S. Customs can impound these illegal cars and destroy them without reimbursing you.
Protecting your things
You may to consider purchasing additional insurance to protect your belongings while they are being shipped overseas. Traditional insurance is not offered OCONUS, including shipments to Hawaii. (Alaskan shipments can receive regular coverage.)
- Carrier limits. If there is a problem, the moving company or carrier only needs to pay you a small amount per pound per item shipped. If your items are stored long term in a warehouse and are damaged, the warehouse only needs to pay you a limited amount per item. Depending on what you own or store — for example, if you have a lot of electronics — this reimbursement might be extremely small.
- Additional insurance. You may be able to purchase additional insurance from private insurance companies or your moving company. Some homeowner policies may cover items while they are being shipped. Check with your insurance company.
- Insurance on arrival. You may seek renter’s insurance to protect your things once you arrive. You may need special riders placed on the policy for expensive items like jewelry or cameras.
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Relocation / PCS Topics of Interest:
- Relocating / PCS 101
- Temporary Lodging While You Wait for Installation Housing
- Getting Ready to Relocate as a Military Family
- Moving Overseas: Your Belongings
- Your Pet and Relocation