Overseas PCS Part 1: Express Shipment

by | Jul 1, 2022 | PCS, Overseas | 18 comments

Here’s everything you need to know about sending an express shipment during an overseas PCS.

When PCSing overseas, what is an express shipment?

Moving overseas can be a huge, stressful challenge for a military family. The more you know about the process and prepare for it, the more smoothly it will go for you. One important difference of an overseas PCS is that when the military moves you to a foreign country, you are allowed to designate two separate shipments. The biggest shipment will be your Household Goods (HHG), which contains your furniture, TV, books, and other items, up to a weight limit determined by the service member’s rank. Everything will be packed into cargo boxes and sent overseas by ship. The delivery can take months. More about what you should (and shouldn’t) pack in your HHG is listed here.

Because of the long shipping times, service members are permitted an additional smaller shipment called the Express shipment. This one will be flown overseas and can be timed to arrive the same time that you do.

Here's what to pack in your express shipment for an overseas PCS. And what you should save for your main shipment too! #milspouse Click To Tweet

What to pack in your express shipment during an overseas PCS move.

How to prepare an Express shipment for an overseas PCS

The military will reimburse moving expenses, including the moving company, packing supplies, and equipment rentals. You must go through DPS/PPSO at your current station and schedule your packing dates on http://www.move.mil/. They will help you contact a moving company approved through your local base, one that is familiar with military moves. You must first determine:

  • which items to take as luggage on your plane ride,
  • which to send in your Express Shipment (Unaccompanied Baggage),
  • and which to pack up with the rest of your Household Goods (HHG).

The express shipment will be your only personal supplies for your first few weeks in the new country, besides whatever you carry in your luggage on the plane. When you first arrive, you will be placed in temporary housing, so it is important to consider whether you will be in a hotel, or an actual house on base. If it is a hotel, you will not have much room for items besides clothing. If you are in a temporary house, your base may offer free loaner furniture and kitchen supplies to get through through the first month or two until your own furniture arrives. Temporary housing varies at different locations, so do your research or ask your sponsor for more details.

Our express shipment for a PCS to Europe was mostly clothes, uniforms, and bedding. We also included baby gear, a box of toys, and the kitchen supplies in the next picture.

What to pack in the express shipment for an overseas PCS

Recommendations for an express shipment for an overseas PCS:

    • Include clothing, shoes, and jackets for all family members. Consider what temperature changes will occur in the month following your move.
    • Include cooking utensils and supplies. Your temporary housing will include a small kitchen, so packing 1 large pot, 1 frying pan, 1 bowl, 1 baking dish, 1 sharp knife, and a can opener at minimum will allow you to prepare some meals in your room.
    • Include towels, bed sheets, and blankets for each person. You might not need these in a hotel, but you would in other temporary housing. Since they are light weight, it will be better to have them than to buy new right away.
    • Send cleaning supplies like a vacuum, broom, dustpan, and mop.
    • Baby gear like a Pack and Play, high chairs, cribs, swing, strollers, etc. can be included in the express shipment.

  • Depending on the moving company policies, 1 TV can be included in this shipment.
  • Desktop Computer, PlayStation, Xbox etc. can be sent, along with games and accessories.
  • A small selection of toys, movies, or books should be included to entertain the family.
  • Air mattress, area rugs, trash cans, shower curtains, hangers, and a floor lamp will make life in your temporary house more comfortable.
  • Bikes should be included, if you have one, because it will give you a cheap transportation option when you arrive.
  • Send a small set of screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, nails, and scissors so that you can do any minor household jobs before your household good arrive, and so that you don’t have to go through your whole shipment looking for the tools to open the boxes!
  • If you are moving during summer to a coastal base, send your beach chairs, umbrella, towels, and beach toys express so you can go to the beaches as soon as you arrive!
  • Keep in mind that your temporary quarters may be small. Don’t include furniture or excess items.
  • Do NOT include any food, batteries, liquids, or hazardous materials in your shipment.

I sent all these kitchen items express when we moved to Europe. We were a family of five and knew we were moving into an empty house. It worked out well because I was able to cook regular meals right away. I even baked chicken and an apple pie our first weekend there when the new neighbors invited us over for dinner!

What to pack in an express shipment for an overseas PCS

More information about moving overseas can be found in my book Welcome to Rota.

Welcome to Rota book




  1. Sarah Hogan

    We did an overseas move to Izmir, Turkey from DC and our biggest mistake was not maxing out our express shipment and how many bags we checked. I would advocate for checking the max number of bags and sending as much stuff in your express shipment as possible. Having a lot of bags at the airport will be a pain, but it will be worth it to have more clothes for weather changes, more towels and bedding to be comfortable and just more things to have when you first land in a foreign country. When it comes to the express shipment, I would say try and send as many kitchen supplies as possible. Being able to cook foods you like is comforting in a new place and is definitely healthier and cheaper than eating out all of the time. We didn’t get any sort of temporary housing except to stay in a Hilton, but we were in our apartment way before our HHG arrived, so we had to make do with what we had sent in our express shipment. One thing I am glad we sent were two beach chairs. We didn’t have any furniture in our apartment besides the air mattress we sent and the two beach chairs. It was so nice to have something to sit on that had a back to it! I’ve definitely learned from that experience to max out what you send in your express shipment so you can be as comfortable as possible while waiting for your HHG.

    • Lizann

      Thanks Sarah, that is such great advice! Yes, I agree, the more you can send Express the better. Check the weight limits. Military uniforms and “pro gear” do not count towards the limit either. We ended up with a LOT of bags at the airport + 3 children + 3 carseats. It was a little ridiculous. But once we got there it was a relief.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wisdom for the move to Turkey! 🙂

  2. shannon

    I’m curious about your opinion! We will be moving to Europe also, and we already have our rental house lined up and the base allows you rent/check out basic furniture (beds, dining table), dish sets, etc. However, stateside, our HHG will be picked up over a month before we move, we will be living here for at minimum another 2.5 weeks, and we do not have that borrowing availability here. In that case, would you consider keeping the air mattresses, card table, a dish set, pot/pan, etc., i.e., your UAB, for a few weeks extra and do without on the European end a little longer? Thanks for any insight!

    • Lizann

      Yes, the UAB should compliment the HHG, so if you are sending your HHG early from the States, you will want to hold onto some basics and ship them right before you move as the UAB. Then like you said you can borrow what you need when you arrive overseas. Your UAB will take a few weeks to reach you, and the HHG will take a few months. (But since you are sending it early, hopefully you won’t have to wait long!) Good luck with the big move!

  3. Ashley

    Do you know if we can pack pet supplies in our Express shipment? Both of our dogs have prescription diets and I am worried about finding a vet to fill the food prescription right away. Thanks for the great article!

    • Lizann

      Yes, as long as it isn’t a liquid or perishable food, you should be able to send pet supplies in the Express shipment. Most overseas bases have a military vet to approve animals for overseas travel back to the States, so I would look for them first.

  4. Gracy

    Hello, we are moving to Poland and wasn’t sure what I could take. I have a lot of craft supplies that include small paints, glues and other mixed media such as a paste (etc.) I am assuming I will not be allowed to ship any of these items. If you have any information on such items this would be great. Also, if you happen to know how I can ship these myself or should I just sell these items?

    • Lizann

      So most moving companies won’t move liquids like glue or paste. If you have an address for the unit (ask the sponsor) you may be able to mail it to yourself. But if it can be ordered through Amazon, it’s best to just get rid of it now and replace it when you are there.

      • Gracy

        I figured as much when it came to HHG. I was hoping the OCONUS moves would be a little different. Thank you.

        • Lizann Lightfoot

          You’re welcome, I wish you luck with the move!

  5. Delma

    I have scentsy wax will they pack that? Also on the express shipment can we send perfumes and lotion since it’s going on a flight? Do they pack those items for us or do we have to have extra luggage for it?

    • Lizann

      Check with your moving company in advance. I think mine did not pack the Scentsy wax because it was not sealed. Those shipping containers get very hot, which means it has the potential to melt, leak, and destroy whatever else is in the box. I know they will not pack perfumes and lotions for the same reason. You can try to seal some in Ziploc bags and pack it in your checked luggage (not carry-on!). I ended up throwing away lotion, and left a nice bottle of perfume at my parent’s house for a few years so it wouldn’t get broken in transit.

  6. Diana Riegg

    My husband is already stationed in Europe overseas and has been for nearly a year while I’m still in the US finishing school. His parents are trying to ship some things like a toaster oven, and some robot vaccums overseas to him which he bought on leave when he recently came back to the States. The cost will be around $1200, I was wondering if there was any way to get this stuff shipped at a cheaper price or if there was an alternative to this extremely expensive option. I would really appreciate any input and help.

    • Lizann

      Hmmm, shipments to an FPO or APO address are treated like domestic mail, and should only be charged domestic rates. Does his overseas address say FPO or APO? If so, don’t use the name of the country anywhere on the box. Write the address exactly as he sent it, and it should be delivered to the base by the USPS and military mail.

      If he is living off base and did not provide a military address, that could be the problem. Instead of using the actual local address, have him send the address for his unit office or a friend who lives on base. That should make it much more affordable.

  7. Maddie

    So happy I found your blog! My fiancé is overseas in Japan, I’ll be joining him once we get married (in the next six months). It’s been a struggle trying to decide if I should put home goods and such on our wedding registry and ship them over with us, or if perhaps we should just ask for funds to furnish our apartment and start our life once we get there… I know it probably depends heavily on each individual base and their rules, but I was wondering if you had any advice or thoughts in that area?
    There’s a lot to think about and a lot I’m trying to get accustomed to before I get there. I appreciate your site, makes me feel a bit more confident. The thought of living on a base and all is rather intimidating for me.

    • Lizann

      Hi Maddie, I’m so glad you’re here! Yes, it definitely depends on personal preference, your housing location, and what items you already have. It also depends what funds you have available to purchase replacement furniture. The military will cover the cost of moving some items and belongings overseas within the service member weight allowance. But bringing bulky or delicate items won’t be practical if they don’t fit in housing or get damaged during the move. So take the time to think about what makes the best sense for you financially. I wish you both luck with the big move! Just take one step at a time!

  8. Oge

    Thank you for these great tips! My family and I are moving to Japan this summer and are first timers. We have a one year old. We plan to sell all our furniture and purchase when we get there. Would you suggest we ship bulk items (toiletries, dry and non-perishable foods, medicines and vitamins, and other essential items) via Express shipping, or take a few of those items and ship the rest via HHG shipping?

    • Lizann

      There are a few options, and it depends how quickly you will want those things, and what your housing options are. Household goods shipments will take months to arrive, but you know you will be in a house when they arrive. Express shipments will arrive quickly–around the same time you do–but you may be in a hotel or temporary quarters when they are delivered.
      Anything essential like medication should be hand-carried. Paper products could probably be sent with HHG.
      Another option is to ask the Sponsor for the unit address, and mail small packages of essentials or dry goods there, to the Company office. They would be held at the base Post Office and available for pickup when you arrive. Just remember that this postage will be paid out of pocket, so only reserve it for essentials you will need quickly but don’t want to hand-carry on the plane.



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