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How to Handle Your Belongings When Moving Overseas


Moving your belongings to an overseas destination can be demanding. With preparation and organization, you can make this complicated process a successful start to your overseas experience. The following information will help you understand the basics of moving your belongings and acquaint you with the resources that are available to help you.

Using your relocation programs

Every service branch has special programs designed to help you with this move. The personal property office or transportation office, as well as the military and family support center are available to give you detailed information to help you with your overseas move. You must visit Move.mil or call and meet with the transportation office to set up your move.

Even if you've moved within the continental United States before, remember that this move will be different. The military and family support center can give you additional tips and specialized information about your destination.

Requesting a sponsor

Most overseas installations offer a Sponsorship Program. Some even offer a Sponsorship Program for children and teens. Sponsors can help you decide what items to bring or what you might expect when you get to your new duty station. You can request a sponsor through the military and family support center or online at Plan My Move.

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 you now have. The following information will help you get your belongings ready to move:

  • Find your weight limit. Weight limits vary depending on rank and time in service. The common weight limits listed for places in CONUS may be different from the weight limit where you are going. Be sure to check your specific weight limit with your military and family support center or at Move.mil.
  • Estimate 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 1,500 pounds per room, excluding bathrooms or storage rooms. Then consider the weight of large things like a refrigerator, washing machine or circular saw. Excellent estimation tools are available online at Move.mil.
  • 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 area for the movers and have them specifically marked. There is a separate weight allowance of 250 pounds available for your spouse's professional books and equipment as well.
  • Keep within your weight limit. If you exceed your weight limit, you will be liable for the cost. For an overseas move, this can be thousands of dollars. If you receive charges for excess weight, read them carefully to be sure that you have not been charged for shipping your professional items. Call the transportation office if you have questions.

Voltage differences

Electricity flows through your home almost like water through a pipe. Your appliances are built for the supply they receive in the United States. Too much will overwhelm your appliances, just as too much force in a hose might make it split. You wouldn't want to attach your sprinkler to a fire hydrant and you wouldn't want to attach your American clock radio to an overseas outlet.

Voltage, or V, is the force of the electricity coming through the outlet. The hertz, or Hz, is the frequency that alternating current, or AC, 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 United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, the normal voltage is 110/120 V and 60 Hz.

  • Europe - Most areas in Europe run on 220 V and 50 Hz. If you plug your American appliance into a European wall outlet without modifying the voltage, you could damage your appliance, damage the outlet, start a fire or all three. To avoid this, you will need a converter or transformer. Fortunately, it's hard to make that explosive mistake because the plugs and sockets are different.
  • 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 at home. 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 an outlet does in the United States.
  • Electric vs. electronic - Electric devices, like a fan or a hand mixer, can be used with a converter. Electronic devices, such as computers and televisions, require a transformer. Converters only cut out the extremes of the AC 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.

Understanding what you need for your appliances electronics overseas can be confusing. Before you make any big purchases for your overseas move, you may want to do the following:

  • Get advice from your sponsor. Ask your sponsor or others who have lived at that location what you might need to bring and what you might want to leave behind.
  • Explore loan closets. Most military installations offer loan closets for recent arrivals. 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.
  • Find out what the military may provide. You may not need your refrigerator or washer and dryer overseas because these items may be available through the military.

Dividing your belongings for shipment

Whether you are going to Hawaii or Korea, you must divide all your personal items into different shipments. 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. Your sponsor can give you valuable advice on what to pack and what to leave behind.

  • Unaccompanied baggage - Military and family support center staff can tell you how much weight you may have in an unaccompanied baggage shipment. This shipment should include items you will need immediately at your destination. It is packed separately and it arrives long before the rest of your household goods. Things you may want in this shipment include seasonal clothes, essential kitchen items, baby equipment, linens and children's toys.
  • Professional items - These items are things you or your spouse need in order to do your job at your destination. They will probably be shipped with the unaccompanied baggage to arrive first. The weight of this shipment does not count against your total shipment.
  • Long-term storage - Also called non-temporary storage or permanent storage, this category contains items that you won't need during your stay overseas and will unnecessarily use up your weight allowance. Things like large holiday decorations, clothes you won't wear in that location, knickknacks you don't need and old books that can be safely stored in a warehouse here in the United States while you are away.
  • 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 - Military and family support center staff can tell you the military regulations for transporting guns. It is up to you to research the regulations at your destination. Gun owners must follow the laws of the host country. Even in Hawaii, special permission is needed before someone is allowed to bring a gun into the state. You can start with state regulations on the ATF website at State Laws and Published Ordinances. For traveling to a foreign country, check with that country's embassy for current information.

Insurance to protect your belongings

  • Carrier limits - If there is loss or damage to your property, the moving company or carrier only pays a small amount per pound per item shipped. If your items are stored long term in a warehouse and are damaged, the warehouse will only pay 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 small, relative to the value of your property.
  • 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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