Each year, thousands of military families execute a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move to a location that is outside the Continental United States (OCONUS.) Despite a generous array of allowances, there are still plenty of out-of-pockets costs. Careful planning can help you to ensure that you keep those non-reimbursed expenses to a minimum.
Learn and Think About Auto Choices
For most OCONUS locations, the military will pay for the shipping of one vehicle. Depending on the location, your family, you PCS travel plans, and the age and type of vehicle, this can be a huge benefit or it can be more trouble than it is worth. Many families think that they should ship a car because they can ship a car. There is no single right answer about whether to ship a car, but your chances of making the right choice for situation will increase if you understand all the issues involved.
If you choose to ship a car, you either need to ship it ahead of time or be prepared for a long wait without the car at the receiving end. If this means that you’ll be incurring rental car costs, consider that in your decision.
Bringing a US car overseas almost always means unexpected expenses such as modifying the vehicle to meet local regulations, higher auto insurance, and the expense of importing replacement parts. Keep in mind that fuel is usually more expensive overseas, so gas-guzzlers aren’t recommended unless you have an actual need for that much car.
We have lived overseas in four different locations, and in three of those locations, there was a strong used car sale market with a wide variety of well-priced vehicles available. (The fourth location was a strange one, so I’m not even sure it should count towards this discussion.) Our “lemon lot” purchases have worked out well for us. Don’t discount the possibility of buying used at your overseas home.
If you choose not to ship a car, the military will usually pay for storage while you are away. Again, the choice whether to sell or store depends on many factors.
Plan The Best Way To Exchange Currencies
If you are moving to a location that doesn’t use the US Dollar, take some time at the beginning of our tour to determine the best way to transfer money between currencies. Differences in fees and exchange rates can cost you several dollars per hundred. If you are living in town and paying large bills in the local currency, it is definitely worth you time to figure out the best choices for money exchange. Your options may include the military exchange, on-base or in-town banks, or online services such as xe.com. You’ll probably need a bank account in the local currency; if you have choices, compare them before you decide which bank will work best for you.
At the same time, make sure you have a good credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. No sense realizing two years later that you could have been saving those silly fees! As of February 2016, USAA has eliminated foreign transaction fees on all its credit cards. Get these and other valuable benefits with USAA credit cards.
Research Your Pet Options
Moving pets overseas has become more and more expensive, with the individual countries requiring various health checks, and sometimes quarantines, and airlines increasing restrictions that result in higher fees. A brief poll of my overseas friends has shown that expenses to move a cat or dog overseas start at about $1,000 per pet, and go up rapidly for larger dogs. This is a non-reimbursed expense, so it pays to explore all your options.
If you can, it is less expensive to move your pet with you as excess baggage than to ship the pet as cargo. Itinerary and calendar restrictions can prevent this, however. Investigate whether you can wait until a different time of year, or use a different itinerary, or utilize military aircraft vs. commercial airlines. It can even be worth it to have one of you fly back and forth to pick up the pet than to pay for cargo.
In some cases, it might be best to have Lassie live with a family member while you are gone, especially if there are long quarantines or it is a short tour.
If you are moving to a location that doesn’t have 110 volt electricity, you need to think about what you want to do with your appliances. For many items, you can run your 110V appliances through a transformer. This works great for televisions, blenders, sewing machines and refrigerators. Some things, you might be more comfortable purchasing their local voltage equivalent. Personally, I like to use local hair dryers, slow cookers, and coffee pots.
You might also need a different television set. There are three television operating systems in the world: National TV Standards Committee (NTSC), Phase Alternating Line (PAL), and Sequential Couleur Avec Memoire, or Sequential Color with Memory (SECAM.) US televisions, unless they are dual- or multi-system, only work with NTSC broadcasts. If you move to a country that uses PAL or SECAM transmissions, you’ll need to purchase a new television or an adaptor. DVD players are also coded by region, and you may need to purchase a new DVD player if you don’t have a multi-system player or you can’t jailbreak the one you already own.
A keen eye for resales, and judicious purchasing of new stuff, can save you a lot of money for a two or three year tour.
This is just a small list of some of the major expenses confronted by US military families living overseas. Careful research and good decision making can help keep these costs under control.
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