This article was completely rewritten and updated in July 2019.
When your soldier receives OCONUS (overseas) orders, being able to go with him is quite the process. It’s even more involved if that duty station happens to be in Korea.
There are multiple hoops to jump through, and you will need a lot of patience to get through this process.
Do You Want To Move to Korea?
First and foremost, do you want to go with him? I would always choose to go with my husband if I could. But I also know many spouses who have chosen to stay behind.
Living overseas can be quite an adventure. Some are up for it; some aren’t. And there’s no shame in saying you aren’t.
To accompany your soldier overseas, you must be on his orders. If you’re on his orders, you need something referred to as command sponsorship.
This means his command is “sponsoring” his family to be with him.
It should be noted that everyone who applies for command sponsorship is not granted the privilege.
This is in no way based on stats, but more just my knowledge of people who have been in the situation – command sponsorship for Korea is one of the harder ones to obtain.
Even if his orders say unaccompanied, he can still apply for command sponsorship and get the order amended to include dependents.
Start the Process Early
The minute he has orders (or RFO) in his hand for Korea, he should apply for command sponsorship.
You want to allow yourself plenty of time to get all the appropriate paperwork in place and the screenings completed.
He needs to talk to his command about the paperwork necessary for the application. Part of the paperwork is also signing off that each adult has been through anti-terrorism training that the military will provide.
The process cannot begin until he has actual orders. So no jumping ahead when you’ve heard or been told he may be going to Korea next. You need those orders in hand to begin.
Once he has his orders, the command sponsorship process can begin as much as 180 days before when he will be reporting.
In many cases, you won’t necessarily have 180 days’ notice before he is due to report….so once again, act fast.
Review the paperwork before it’s submitted to be sure every field has been completed correctly and each signature block has been signed. The last thing you need is a delayed application because you forgot to sign a form.
One of the most important steps of the process is the EFMP screening (may also be known as a Family Member Travel Screening or FMTS). EFMP stands for Exceptional Family Member Program.
It is a medical screening designed to identify any issues you or your children may have that require special care.
The screening can also identify any special education requirements for children.
As you can imagine, when you’re in a foreign country, access to certain specialists may be harder to come by than when you’re in the United States.
The military doesn’t want to spend untold money flying you back and forth for necessary medical care. Hence the screening to identify any issues before you’re provided authorization.
This screening is required for all adults and children under 21.
Remember that even if you are already enrolled in EFMP, you will still require screening to move overseas under command sponsorship.
It’s also important to remember that each individual’s situation is considered independently. Because you have XYZ medical diagnosis does not mean that you may not be able to get command sponsorship.
They will look specifically at your case to determine the type of care you need and if that care is available in that country or in the host country itself.
Once the paperwork is complete, you can still wait 30 days for a decision. This is what the Army says it may take to approve or deny sponsorship.
But remember the “hurry up and wait” rule that is always there. So you may wait longer to hear back.
There are two types of passports for military families. One is a no-fee passport which will enable you to travel on official Army business, such as when you PCS. You can apply for this passport on post at your current post once you receive command sponsorship approval.
The typical tourist passport that most people have is what you will need if you plan to travel for personal reasons.
Within 90 days of arriving, you will need a SOFA stamp. This registers each family member as having protections under the SOFA agreements.
There are additional visa requirements once you arrive in Korea and even more paperwork and approvals are required if you plan to work off-post.
Remember, even though you’re there with the military, you are still in a foreign country and must abide by their laws and rules.
Some vaccines are required, and some are “recommended.” As this is being published, the two recommended vaccines for Korea are Hepatitis A and Japanese Encephalitis.
If you’re interested in getting the vaccines, plan. It may take time to get appointments on the post. Keep in mind some vaccines require multiple doses.
Also, a recommended vaccine for you as a dependent may be required for your soldier.
There are no guarantees with command sponsorship. And there are many reasons you could be denied from accompanying your soldier.
Perhaps the host country doesn’t have the appropriate resources to handle the medical or educational requirements of you and your children.
Perhaps there isn’t enough housing available, so there’s no room. However, keep in mind it is possible to live off post if government housing is full. There are more hoops to jump through with that, though.
Perhaps several people applied simultaneously with soldiers of higher rank or different jobs with priority.
I know it’s tough to get denied, but there’s not much you can do about the situation if it happens. Your biggest decision now is where to live while he’s gone.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can we take a vehicle with us?
Yes, the Army allows you to ship one privately owned vehicle (POV). This is at the expense of the Army. If you want to ship another, you will require approval and need to foot the bill.
Can we take pets with us?
Maybe. There are additional regulations for taking your pets with you. And the Army also won’t pay for you to transport your pets, so that will be at your own expense.
It’s also important to realize that any time you take pets to an overseas duty location, you run the risk of the pet being placed in quarantine. This doesn’t have to do with the military – it is based on the host country’s rules.
If you can take your pet, be sure they are updated on all shots, medicines, etc., and you have proof of this with their records. You will likely be required to show proof dated within the last 30 days.
Schedule their health screenings as close to your move date as possible to ensure everything is up-to-date.
How do I get my furniture or household goods (HHG) to Korea?
The Army will pay for the shipment of your household goods. However, you are only authorized 50% of the typical weight allowance that you would be allowed for a normal PCS move.
Housing in Korea is generally smaller than what we are used to in the U.S., so keep that in mind.
You can also expect to wait anywhere from 6-12 weeks (or more!) for your shipment to arrive. That’s a long time to wait for your things.
So be sure you are thinking about that when you pack what you will take.
You are authorized what is called unaccompanied baggage. So you won’t be limited to just a normal suitcase to survive for 6-12 weeks.
Like most posts, there are lending closets where you can borrow items until your things arrive.
I was denied command sponsorship. Can I still go?
Technically, yes. But you won’t be allowed to live on post or even use most services available, including (potentially) any medical services.
You will essentially live there as if you just decided to move to Korea outside of the military. You will require special visas and permissions to live in a foreign country.
Your household goods and travel will also not be covered by the military, and there won’t be any overseas cost of living adjustments since the military didn’t authorize him to bring dependents.
There are many things to consider before you move without command sponsorship.
What other questions do you have? Can anyone who has moved to Korea under command sponsorship share tips and tricks?