3 Lessons Learned from Preparing for an OCONUS PCS


Post by International Military Life Blogger Courtney Woodruff

USAA Comunity OCONUS PCS Prep small.jpg

I should’ve known something was up when my husband went out of his way to take me to a traditional German restaurant an hour’s drive from our house on Valentine’s Day. It definitely wasn’t the most romantic place we could’ve gone that day, but I was up for the adventure. As soon as we’d sat down at our table and ordered plates of schnitzel, my husband handed me three oddly-shaped packages wrapped in red and white paper.


The first present ended up being a map of the world. The second? A small box of colorful push pins. The third was an English-to-German translation book.


As I looked up at him in confusion, he handed me the last gift: a hard copy of his orders to Germany... with a report date less than 90 days away.


Getting ready for the thrilling surprise-move to Deutschland ended up being some of the most exciting and stressful days of our military experience thus far. Preparing for an outside continental United States (OCONUS) permanent change of station ( PCS) can leave you feeling like you are drowning in paperwork, to-dos and information overload. I’m sharing three lessons I learned while preparing for our overseas move with the hope that they will help ease some of the burden for you and your family during this challenging time.


1. Reverse planning helps minimize stress and prioritize the additional tasks an overseas move piles on top of the already-daunting PCS to-do list.


Once hard copies of orders are in hand, the dizzying OCONUS PCS mad dash begins! With so much to do in so little time - medical screenings, passport applications, vehicle and household goods shipments, etc. - it’s difficult to know where to start. Reverse planning helps you prioritize the tasks that need to be completed on a visual timeline. My husband and I printed off calendars and worked backwards from our date of departure, penciling in when we needed to schedule appointments and have specific tasks completed. For example, having learned our no-fee passports could take up to six weeks to arrive, we knew it was important to get our applications turned in before we worried about shipping our vehicle. Taking the time to map it out and come up with a realistic plan of action on paper helped relieve some of the tension and anxiety we were experiencing as we worried about completing our to-do list on time. Military One Source’s Plan My Move is a fantastic resource for this project.


2. Reaching out to the OCONUS military community can foster meaningful connections prior to leaving the States.


Before we said goodbye to Texas, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to carry out our everyday lives in a foreign country. Communicating with our sponsor, joining supportive groups on Facebook, and being able to chat with military families who were already overseas helped ease our minds about the move and find answers to the hundreds of questions we had. Don’t be afraid to ask - those most likely to respond are people who have been in your shoes at one time. Our experience taught us the OCONUS military community is close-knit; so many kind people helped us survive the transition. In fact, we ended up becoming great friends with our sponsor’s family, and we’ve managed to keep in touch with them after they moved back to States.


3. Understanding and being aware of culture shock will help make the transition easier for your family.


To be honest, I had mixed feelings about our move to Germany. Even though I was thrilled about the opportunity to experience Europe as a resident and travel on a budget, I was sad to be leaving our previous duty station. I knew getting our family settled was going to be tough, but I didn’t consider the effect culture shock would have on me. On top of the typical pangs of PCS grief, I found myself feeling disoriented, out of place and frustrated while attempting to complete the smallest tasks. For example, the language barrier and differing customs made even a trip to the grocery store down the street from our house an intimidating task. Preparing yourself for this challenge before you leave will help you begin to adjust and cope sooner than later. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on, but my days gradually got better once I did.  Trust me when I say it may take three months, six months, or longer - but you will get over that hump.


What have you learned from your own OCONUS PCS experience?


Additional information:

What to Know About Shipping a Vehicle Overseas

4 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Check out the USAA – International FAQ


Courtney.jpgBlogger Biography: Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom and writer currently living in Germany. She has a master's degree in Human Services Counseling: Military Resilience and currently serves as the International Military Life Blogger and Community Manager for USAA. She has a heart for our troops and their families and strives to share her own experience to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. Follow her adventures on her blog, Courtney at Home, or connect with her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.