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Now that I have moved into our house (albeit, without our HHG which are somewhere on a container ship in the Atlantic Ocean at this moment), I can breathe a nice, full breath knowing we successfully navigated an OCONUS PCS right smack-dab in the middle of COVID.

I’m not writing you today to tell you about a PCS during COVID, but rather, about a couple important and helpful tips we used to PCS from an OCONUS duty station, because that’s a whole new ball of wax with more opinions on the rules than those put forth by medical and political Facebook experts.

Here are six pro tips:

1. OCONUS duty stations don’t use BAH.

If you live on post or in government-leased housing off post, housing works similarly to the United States and your rental payment comes directly from your paycheck as an allotment on your LES. When you are off post in privatized housing, you are told how much you are allotted through your OHA (Overseas Housing Allotment), and the goal is to find a home as close as possible without going over because you won’t “bank” any leftover OHA money.

You will also receive a utilities allowance that is designed to cover your utility costs. We made an allotment for our OHA and utility allowance to go into a local national bank. Our rent and utilities were paid for through the local national bank, and we left the residual money in the bank each month to accumulate. We used whatever was in the local account as a PCS fund.

2. You will also receive COLA (Cost of Living Allowance).

When my husband and I sat down to review our finances, we knew were going to have to make some purchases upon returning to the States. Early in our time in Europe, we called USAA and set up a new account attached to our primary checking/savings account that was earmarked for PCS. Each month, we paid ourselves (as if we were a bill) a set amount. PCSing can be incredibly expensive and preparing early was a financially responsible way to ensure we were covered until the military reimburses the travel expenses.

3. Check your SATO and airline website for baggage allowances.

And don’t forget all local rules and regulations. This is where it gets a little tricky when you move.

We shipped our HHG in mid-June, arrived in the United States in early July, had to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel, and now are in a house but still without our HHG. We are going on six weeks of living out of suitcases and whatever we brought with us.

SATO says you are allotted two checked bags per person at 50 lbs. per bag. This was not enough luggage for our family of four and an indefinite amount of time without the things we needed, so I looked up the airline our flights were booked on. The airline (with military orders) allowed five bags per person at 70 lbs. per bag.

Now, I also mentioned checking local rules and regulations. At the time I am typing this, Italy prohibits any carry-on items on their flights except one small personal item or purse. I didn’t know this prior to checking in for our flight the morning we were leaving Italy, and our children’s carry on-bags weren’t permitted and had to be checked. Unfortunately for us, their carry-on bags had our spare set of clothes (in case of accidents), and I would have packed differently if I would have known Italy’s policy. **This is Italy specific and not airline specific.

4. Stay in touch.

During this time of quarantine and COVID closures, ensure your service member is in contact with his gaining unit, and find out how the unit wants the service member to sign in and begin the in-processing and quarantine procedures. This varies tremendously from base to base and even from unit to unit, so it’s important to confirm this information prior to arrival.

5. Pack snacks upon snacks in your luggage.

I know it takes up extra weight, but we had an entire suitcase filled with snacks. And we had reasons for this. One, airlines aren’t providing food the way they used to on long flights. We received one meal plus one substantial snack, but the overseas airport didn’t have many options for food choices. Everyone was hungry at some point so having some quick snacks came in very handy. Two, if you have eaten food in Europe for awhile and then try and quickly shift back to American food it can do a number on your belly and digestive system. Having snacks helped us eat more of what we were accustomed to instead of ending up with an upset tummy.

6. Take your patience pill.

Absolutely nothing in the military is smooth sailing, but emotional and mental preparation and organization can make a big difference. I have my PCS binder with all the important documents I need that I carry in my backpack, and it never leaves my side. Any time a ticketing agent, hotel receptionist, or gaining unit finance office needs a form or document in regards to the PCS, it is right there in one central location at a moment’s notice. No need to unnecessarily stress about, “where did I put that extra copy of the flight itinerary?”



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