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Living Overseas on Military Pay: What to Expect

service member shops at foreign market

Overseas or OCONUS PCS orders can be exciting, especially if you’ve never been outside of the CONUS. The military can help you with the added costs of an international move and living expenses abroad.

Here are tips for finding free military moving services, getting OCONUS allowances and budgeting for daily living expenses.

Overseas pay and allowances

Your service branch will help you move your household goods and even a personally owned vehicle to a new overseas duty station. Contact your installation Military and Family Support Center to speak with a relocation assistance service provider for information about entitlements and financial benefits and resources for OCONUS moves.

However, there are additional pays and allowances you may receive during your time overseas above your regular basic pay. Two of the main allowances overseas personnel receive are an overseas Cost of Living Allowance and an Overseas Housing Allowance. Qualifying service members are also able to receive benefits from the Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance Program program.

  • Overseas Cost of Living Allowance: This allowance helps service members afford the higher living expenses incurred at some overseas installations. The allowance is designed to offset higher prices of non-housing goods and services OCONUS and equalize purchasing power with members stationed in CONUS. OCOLA depends on location, rank and number of dependents, and may change from paycheck to paycheck based on fluctuations in the exchange rate and should not be considered as part of your monthly budget. The Defense Department announced changes to the 2023 OCOLA adjustment process. Use the official OCOLA Calculator to see how much OCOLA to expect at overseas installations.
  • Overseas Housing Allowance: This allowance helps service members pay for overseas housing “on the economy,” or off-base in the surrounding civilian neighborhood. You apply for OHA through your local housing office or commander. When you find housing, submit DD Form 2367, “Individual Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) Report.” You can use the official OHA Calculator to see current OHA rates for overseas installations.
  • Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance Program: This is a Department of Defense program that supplements an eligible active service member’s household income if it’s below 130% of federal poverty guidelines (maximum payment is $1,100 per month). FSSA is only available for members with at least one dependent in their households who are serving overseas (not including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Guam). For more information about the FSSA program or any other assistance, members should contact their family support center, command or community services financial management counselors. The FSSA Application, DD Form 2857 is available on the WHS DOD Forms website.

Find OCONUS installation resources quickly.

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Common overseas expenses for OCONUS moves

Those moving and OCONUS allowances, in addition to your basic pay, help with major expenses while you’re overseas. With careful budgeting you can also manage daily living expenses like these:

  • Exchange rates: Local currency fluctuations affect both Overseas COLA and OHA payments. You will be paid in U.S. dollars, but how much that dollar can buy will depend on the local currency’s exchange rate. Use the official Overseas COLA and OHA calculators to determine the current pay system exchange rates and how a currency change may affect your payment. Prepare to pay a small fee whenever you need to convert cash dollars into the local currency.
  • Storage unit fees: You may not be able to take everything overseas with you. If you are not authorized nontemporary storage at government expense and you need to store items, you’ll need to budget for the monthly fee of a storage unit.
  • Overage baggage fees: Military moving services have weight limits on how much they’ll ship to your new home. If you go over your weight limit, you’ll have to pay added moving fees.
  • Car and local travel expenses: Before you ship your car overseas, consider the local cost of gas and maintenance. Many service members buy a used car when they arrive at a new station, then sell it before they return home. Without a car, add local transportation options like train or bus passes to your budget.
  • New clothing: OCONUS moves may mean dressing for different climates. See if you should purchase parkas or swimsuits in the United States and ship them over. It may make more sense to buy them after you arrive.
  • Cultural expenses: The adventure of living in a new place also means paying for things you may not expect. For example, in some countries you’ll only receive a utility bill once or twice a year – but that bill will be much higher than a “regular” monthly bill. You may also need to pay for drinking water at restaurants, rather than getting it for free. Ask your local sponsor for help budgeting for possible expenses like these.
  • Foreign sales taxes: New countries usually mean new sales taxes. Be prepared to pay higher local taxes on goods and services.
  • “Homesick” expenses: You may be craving peanut butter, but it may be hard to find or is very expensive overseas. Try checking with your base commissary or exchange first for deals on American products, or you can ask friends or family back home to ship them to you in care packages.

This is just an overview of the many financial decisions you may make during your OCONUS move and time living abroad. If you’d like some help planning and budgeting for your overseas adventure, you can schedule a free consultation with a Military OneSource financial counselor. They can give you a hand whenever you need it — before your move, while you’re settling in or when you’re coming home.

Financial counselors are just one way Military OneSource connects you to the services, programs and information you need to live your best MilLife. Let us give you a hand today.

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