Transferring your belongings to an overseas destination can be confusing and demanding. With preparation and organization, you can make this complicated move a successful start to your overseas experience. The following information will help you understand the basics of moving your belongings, and 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 Management Office (TMO) and Relocation Assistance Program 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 TMO to set up your move; and the Relocation Assistance Program manager provides the rest of the information you need.
Even if you’ve moved within the continental United States (CONUS) before, remember that this move will be different, and a Relocation Assistance Program manager can give you critical tips as well as specialized information about your destination.
Requesting a sponsor
Most overseas installations offer a sponsorship program. Some even offer sponsor programs 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 Relocation Assistance Program 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 vary depending 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 Relocation Assistance Program Manager or at Move.mil.
- Estimating 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 gear as well.
- Too much stuff is expensive. If you exceed your weight limit, you will be liable for the cost. For an outside of CONUS (OCONUS) move, this can be thousands of dollars. If you receive charges for excess weight, read them carefully. You may not have been credited for your professional items. Call TMO if you have questions.
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 a German outlet.
Voltage (V) is the force of the electricity coming through the outlet. The hertz (Hz) is the frequency that alternating current (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 without modifying the voltage, sparks will literally shoot out. Because of 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 and how they coped.
- Explore lending closets. Most military installations offer lending 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 — Your Relocation Assistance Program manager 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 packed 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. It will count against your total weight allowance. This is the place to store things like large holiday decorations, clothes you won’t wear in that location, knickknacks you don’t need, and old books. Realize these items will be stored in a warehouse.
- 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 — Relocation counselors can only tell you the military regulations for transporting guns, not the local or country regulations. 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.
Insurance to protect your belongings
- Carrier limits — If there is a problem, 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 extremely small.
- 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.