Preparing to PCS Overseas with the Army

Hi everyone, my name is Laurie, and I’m going to be your overseas guru.

First, I have a confession: My husband and I are not overseas yet. However, I’m going to be blogging about my adventure as it happens, so I hope to provide all of you with the most current information as I live it.

Preparing to Move Overseas

When the time comes for PCS orders, it can be exhilarating, scary, and, most of all, nerve-wracking.

Then, learning that you will be PCSing OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) opens up a whole new world of emotions. Just the acronym alone looks scary!

Reading the words Germany, Korea, Italy, Japan, Hawaii, or Alaska on your spouse’s Enlisted Record Brief (ERB) can make you panic. My husband recently received OCONUS PCS orders.

We had talked about Germany when he enlisted, and suddenly our dream became a reality. And I became overwhelmed. After the initial panic wore off, it didn’t take long to become excited about living in another country and about all the opportunities it brings.

I first went to the library to check out one of those language learning CDs. Looking back, I don’t think I would recommend that as the first step to moving overseas with the military, but as a new Army wife sorting my way through my first PCS, it was a nice departure from the real “to-do list.”

Command Sponsorship Basics

I was anxious to start knocking out my list. Still, before we could do anything, my husband attended a Preparation for Overseas Replacement (POR) meeting for all AIT soldiers moving overseas with dependents.

From talking to other Army wives, I get the feeling not every soldier has these meetings, which could leave you pretty much in the dark. Have no fear; I’m here to help!

Read on, but let me warn you – every soldier’s situation is different, and every unit has different rules. I will share with you based on my experience at Fort Gordon PCSing to Germany. If your soldier’s CO tells them something different, go by their word, not mine.

At some point, you’ll hear the phrase “command sponsorship.” This means that the Army knows you will accompany your spouse on their overseas tour.

If you don’t go through the proper channels, you’ll have to set up many logistics yourself and pay out of pocket for expenses the military would otherwise have reimbursed.

EFMP Screening

The first thing I had to complete was an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) screening.

Some people think this is a physical to ensure you are healthy enough to travel, but this is the Army’s way of ensuring that you have adequate health care where you are located if you need specialists or long-term care.

Make sure you have DD Form 5888 and DD Form 7246 for them to fill out. If you see a doctor who is not on a military base, also bring DD Form 5888-R. If you or your children have any EFMP conditions, make sure to bring a completed DD Form 2792 with you to the appointment.

No-Fee Passport

The next step is applying for your no-fee passport. I was certain I wouldn’t need one because I already had a passport.

I scoffed at this step, reveling in my travel-savvy ways. I had a passport. However, I was being overconfident in my traveling know-how and quickly learned that to travel on official orders, a civilian needs a special passport.

In fact, the travel office won’t issue plane tickets without proof of a no-fee passport.

A no-fee passport is also called a Department of Defense (DoD) passport, and the passport you used on your last Mexican vacation is a regular tourist passport.

People might tell you that you don’t need a no-fee passport but get one to avoid headaches later. There’s plenty of information on the Internet about no-fee passports.

You must apply for a no-fee passport at a military installation – contact the travel office where your spouse is currently stationed to find out where to apply.

Be prepared for a photo at this appointment. I rolled out of bed half an hour before my no-fee passport appointment and then learned I had to have my passport photos taken. I figure I’ll take this opportunity for you to learn through my mistakes… bedhead and all.

Make sure you bring the following papers to your appointment:

1. Passport Application– Fill out as much as possible; you’ll complete the rest at the appointment.
2. Marriage license
3. Birth certificate- Make sure it’s an official copy. In fact, they made a big deal about mine because it was so old that the raised seal was almost gone. The state department may reject it if they can’t tell it’s official.
4. Tourist passport- If you have one. It’s not required.
5. Social Security Card
6. Power of Attorney (POA)- If your spouse cannot be at this meeting, ensure you obtain a POA specific to passport matters.

Expect it to take about six weeks to process the no-fee passport.

The U.S. Department of State, which issues no-fee passports, will send them to the military installation rather than to your house directly.

However, you can request that the military installation send it to you after they have received it. Also, be warned they may not call you when it comes in, so make sure you contact them around when it is supposed to arrive.

Family Travel Message

A Family Travel Message will be sent to your soldier’s command if everything has been approved.

Ours was an e-mail stating that I will accompany my husband to Germany, and we will be granted shipping of our household goods and plane tickets for me.

This document is basically stating that command sponsorship has been approved. The timeline for this message depends on the commander of your gaining unit, so expect it to take anywhere from a week to a month.

The sooner your spouse can contact his sponsor or new unit, the sooner they can get to work sending you this message. Also, note that this e-mail was never sent directly to my husband but received a hard copy from his unit’s operations office.

To-Do List While Waiting

Depending on your situation, your spouse may have orders before you get command sponsorship.

As I write this, we are waiting for my husband’s orders. Setting up your car shipment, appointments for the movers, etc., can’t be done until you have orders. If you are in our situation, there are some things you may want to do while you wait.

The military allows the free shipment of one Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) to certain OCONUS locations. If you have a lien or lease on your car, you’ll need to get a written statement from the lien/lease grantor.

The above link explains what needs to be included in this letter. Also, you’ll want to take care of any repairs your car needs. After $900, we no longer have four warning lights on our Pontiac Sunfire’s dash, but I feel this cost much less in the U.S. than if we repaired it in Germany.

In my next article, I’ll discuss what to do after getting orders and completing the actual move. Preparing to move OCONUS can seem overwhelming, but I always tell myself that if other people have done this before me, then certainly I can do it as well.

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This article was written by a visitor to the site. All of our contributors served in the military, are married to someone who serves in the military, or have a child who serves in the military. These Army soldiers and/or family members enjoy helping others by sharing their experiences.

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  1. I wanted to say that some times this is not the case. We have been military for 12 years and this is our first overseas tour but I did help a friend move to Korea earlier in the year.

    In our case, our first step once we got orders was to go to Levy where they gave us the no-fee passport and all of the information for EFMP and our vet and our plane tickets.

    In addition, they gave us all of the information that we needed for clearing and briefings. It took two hours and in two weeks we had no fee passports (free) and our EFMP paperwork (ammended orders) in hand.

    Had we done these things individually, we would still be waiting with others who tried to run around and go to do all of these things without waiting for orders.

    I know everyone means well but be cautious because some of this info does not match my experience from FT Hood to Vilsec.

    Plus it is not always so easy to get a letter from the lienholder- mine told me that I had to have 3 months in a row of no lates to get the letter- we had to wait until July to manage that as we have been late in the past and sadly one week late in April making us wait. It stunk.

    You are giving lots of good advice, but it would be a good idea to be sure to point out that with the Army, not everyone has the same path to walk and depending on the base it could be totally different. My friend had to go to transportation and we have friends who can do it online due to their rank of over E-6. Then I know someone who can do it online as an E-4 because he works in the S-1.

    Everyone should start by taking their orders and going to their first briefing listed on those…


    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It just goes to show that nothing is standardized in the Army! 😉

    2. Hello Jennifer,
      My husband is presently in South Korea and our children and I have been waiting for CS. Finally, we have the Orders in hand and everything has been approved. We are waiting on our no-fee passports to be processed and I will visit the transportation office to obtain tickets. We are so excited and scared at the same time. It looks as though we will be living off base and my husband finds out next week if there is room in the DoD for our children to attend. What have been your experiences in South Korea? Plus, what would be your advice for me while waiting for the passports and such? Do you suggest we obtain tourist passports or should we wait until we get to S. Korea? Any information you have to offer will be ever so helpful!!

      Cindy B. Conner

  2. I agree with you Jennifer, which is why I added the disclaimer in my article. I’ll paste it here, because I don’t want to mislead anyone:

    “Read on, but let me warn you – every soldier’s situation is different, and every unit has different rules. What I will share with you is based on my experience at Fort Gordon PCSing to Germany. If your soldier’s CO tells them something different, go by their word, not mine, of course.”

    This article would be very long if I included every single situation I’ve heard about and things that could be different, so I’m writing about my situation specifically to get people started that have no prior knowledge about the process.

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I find it really interesting, because at Ft. Gordon, they made a point more than once to get the EFMP paperwork done, then worry about the no-fee and everything else. We didn’t have the option to do everything at once because they didn’t allow us to, but it probably would have made the process much easier!

    I’ll also add that we’re PCSing out of AIT, so there may be differences. For us, Ft. Gordon required us to start the command sponsorship process about 4 months prior to his initial report date, which I’m glad because his orders got put on hold for two months and there wouldn’t have been much time. Also, my no-fee passport took 3 months to track down, as did another wife’s that I’m friends with that PCSed to Korea earlier this year. Every post is certainly different!

    My next article will be about setting up with the transportation office, and completing the actual move. I’ll also include info about completing it online.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Where do I find the rest of your blogs regarding “setting up with the transportation office, and completing the actual move”? This information is so very helpful since I feel so clueless right now about what it takes to prepare to move to Yongsan Korea where my husband has been assigned. I have felt so overwhelmed up to now and I would love to read more about the process!!!! Thank you for your insight and help through this tedious process!

      Cindy B. Conner (new Army Wife and completed clueless about military life)

    2. Cindy,

      My husband and I are finally settled in Germany, and recently got our HHG. I wanted to get the move completed before writing my blog entry. It’s in the works. Also, in the following weeks, there should be an article I wrote regarding cell phones overseas. So stay tuned!

  3. I’ll also add, if anyone else would like to share their experience preparing to move overseas, feel free to leave a comment. The more information we have, the better!

  4. Hi,

    I have a question. I also found out my husband and I are moving to Germany the end of this year. What is it like to be in Germany? Can you contact me if you are interested in answering some questions.


  5. Rachelle,

    You can send any questions to llvolkman@uwalumni.com. When I agreed to write this article, my husband was set to PCS in May. However, it’s almost August, and we still haven’t left yet for Germany because of an orders mix-up.

    However, I’ve done a TON of research, and I know of people/military wives already in Germany, so I can find the answers you are looking for.
    Just shoot me an e-mail and we can go from there!


  6. Hi. We PCS’d from Ft Gordon to Germany in 2008. If anyone needs any advice or help, Ill be glad to answer any questions, or at least try! We PCS’d with 2 dogs, 1 bird, 2 kids and a vehicle so I can help with several aspects lol

  7. PS-Im like you Laurie in that I researched till I was blue in the face so to speak before coming over here. However, it all came to a crashing hault once we got here b/c *and Im not kidding* they changed our orders upon arrival at the airport in Frankfurt! We were supposed to be headed to Grafenwoehr. I had made friends with someone there who had been glorious in giving me loads of info and she even let me mail items to her which I knew they would not let me pack with our HHG. When we arrived in Frankfurt, we were told we would have to stay overnight there b/c our orders had changed and we had to wait on the paperwork!!! WTH?!?! I was so distraught! They changed our orders and we got sent to Kaiserslautern instead. All my research on the Graf area was out the window lol

    1. Well, if it’s any consolation, all you’ll miss is a whole lot of snow :). We spent time in Hessen (near where you are) before coming to Grafenwoehr. And i can totally relate to the order’s change, since ours changed twice between finding out we were going to Europe and actually getting there.

  8. My husband and I are PCSing to Germany in February 2011. We have 2 dogs and I was curious about what I needed to do in order to bring them with us. Does anyone have any information? Thanks!!

    1. Sarah,
      We didn’t have any pets to move, but I am looking for someone to write an article for that subject, because I know people have tons of questions regarding moving pets overseas. I have found some info, but I wanted to get someone with real life experience with the entire process. So if you check back in the coming months, I will probably have something posted.

      Also, if you click on the “Army Wife Chat” link at the top of the page, there’s a message board, and I know for sure there would be some info in the archives, or you can also post a question on the wall about it as well.

  9. Sarah, we too are leaving for Germany in February. From what I have found out from our vet here in Drum is you have to have the dog up to date on shots, micro chipped, animal documentation AND certificate which your vet should have. Another BIG thing is 7-10 days before getting on the plane the airport requires a form from your vet *can’t remember what form* for your dog to board the plane. Our vet said make sure to do this or we will be leaving for Germany WIHTOUT our dog. It HAS to be done 7-10 days before boarding the plane. Hope this helps some.

  10. Hi. I have a ton of questions and just came across this blog. My husband got his projections for Germany today but no actual orders are in hand yet. Is there anyone I can email with questions? All your help is appreciated.

    1. Denise, you can e-mail me at llvolkman@uwalumni.com. I can try to answer all your questions, or I can ask the many helpful spouses that are here in Germany. Either way, I’ll do that best I can to help you out!

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