Here are the details about what to pack when you move overseas (and what to leave behind!)
When you get orders to move overseas, you start to look at all of your belongings differently. We definitely started to question, “Why do we have so much stuff?” The good news is that the military will pack and move your things for you, up to a certain weight limit determined by rank and family size. Some of your items can be sent ahead of time in an express shipment. Read more about what to include in the express shipment for an overseas PCS here.
The bad news is that some of your furniture or fragile items may not survive an overseas PCS move. The movers will disassemble each piece of furniture to make it lay completely flat. Pieces that do not disassemble or are not made to come apart will not fare well. Even if they do, you may not have room for them if you end up in a tiny house. A few months before your moving day, start to go through your house and decide what items to take, what to give away or sell, and which to put in storage.
If you have furniture or items you do not want to bring, but are not willing to sell, talk to the Transportation Office of your current duty station about non-temporary storage. This is a one-time move of certain items and storage should be authorized for the complete length of your overseas stay. That way you don’t need to fill up your new home with things you don’t need overseas, and your goods will be available to you when you return to the United States. Non-temporary storage items will count against your total weight allotment for your move. When you return to the States, you can opt to have stored items automatically shipped to your next duty station as part of your Household Goods.
What to expect on moving day for an overseas PCS
On the day of your main pack-out, a team of movers will come and pack up your entire house. Yes, they do the entire house in one day. You do not need to do much to prepare for them. Do not seal any boxes or wrap any items, as they are required to re-pack and wrap everything. You may want to gather similar items from around the house into one place, so that all books, picture frames, holiday decorations, or hobby supplies for example are packed together, but that is optional.
The movers will label each box by the room it is currently in, with a very brief description of contents. You are allowed to go behind and write more detailed information on the box to make things easier to find. Tell movers which items are valuable so they can be labeled appropriately on the “high value inventory.” Write precise and detailed descriptions for electronics and valuable items.
For example, CD’s and DVD’s should be counted by number, the TV box should have the brand and serial number of the TV, and computers should have a brand and serial number, rather than just saying “electronics.” The movers will save all hardware in a specially labeled ‘Parts Box.’ You can request that hardware be put in a plastic bag and taped to each piece of furniture.
Every item in the house will be at packed, so be sure to keep your personal items like I.D. cards, phone, laptop, and purse in your car to avoid having them accidentally packed! Any luggage you intend to take on the plane should be put in an empty, clearly-labeled area so that it will not be packed. You can use a cleaned-out closet or bathroom for this.
What can we pack when we move overseas?
Furniture: Choose carefully which furniture to bring with you and which pieces to sell before the move. In general, European homes off-base are small, so in some cases a King-sized bed or extra-long couch will not fit. However, if you like your furniture and are prepared to shop around for a house that accommodates it, go ahead and bring it. It is not difficult to find a large home if that is what you want. Furniture from the PX or NEX on base is limited and generally pricey. There may be a thrift shop on base or a Facebook yard sale site for the base if you need to quickly find or sell some items.
Appliances: You can send all your current small appliances in your Household Goods shipment if you choose to bring them. Whether you live on or off base, you will be able to use them. Off base in Europe, it is easiest for appliances that can switch between 110 and 220 volts. If the appliance is dual voltage, it will say 110v- 240v on back of appliance. Phone chargers, TVs, and computers usually have this ability, but other small appliances like hair dryers, toasters, lamps, and vacuums do not.
Small motors should be 50-60 hertz. If you are planning to live off base, you can use these items with a transformer, but it is usually better to purchase small appliances here so you don’t have to plug into a transformer every time. You can always resell them before you move again. If you haven’t decided where to live, go ahead and bring small electronics and appliances. You do NOT need to send large appliances like a microwave, dishwasher, or freezer, as these are typically available from the Housing office for free. You also do NOT need to send American laundry washers and dryers. Overseas base housing already includes a washer and dryer, and Self-Help will provide one if necessary for off-base accommodations.
Tools: There may not be a hobby shop on base, so you should bring any specialty tools with you. Basic power tools and lawn equipment can be borrowed at no cost from the Self Help store on base, so it is optional whether you bring those tools. If you bring lawn equipment, some countries require it to be thoroughly cleaned and free from plant particles to pass the customs inspection.
Firearms: Check with your base to see if the host country permits you to ship firearms. If they are allowed, they typically must be registered with the government and stored at the base Security Office armory.
Christmas decorations: If you live on base, you may put up any lights and decorations on the interior or exterior of your home, as long as they cause no damage. Off base (in Europe), you would have to use 220 volt lights, so American lights will not work. If you already have a fake Christmas tree, you should send it, since not all bases have American-style Christmas trees available.
What is not allowed for an overseas PCS?
Because anything sent in the HHG shipment will be sent overseas on a cargo ship, items will be subjected to extremely hot temperatures for several months. Shipping companies don’t want to risk losing cargo because of fire, mold, or leaks. For safety reasons, the following items are not allowed:
Food: Moving companies are not supposed to pack any opened food, perishables, or anything in a breakable container. Unopened metal cans can be sent (although there is usually no reason to mail canned goods unless it is some rare specialty item). Be careful and watch when they pack the kitchen, because there have been horror stories of movers packing trash or pizza, which is obviously disgusting when it is unpacked 2 months later!
Anything liquid: Cleaning supplies, food containers, toiletries, perfume, paint, etc. Some items are up to the moving company, but ours were very picky. They wouldn’t even pack my years’ supply of contact lenses because of the tiny amount of liquid in each sealed case!
Anything flammable: No gasoline or oil in any engines, no small propane canisters for camping supplies, and no cleaning supplies or chemicals. Some companies won’t pack lighters.
Batteries: Yes, we took the batteries out of every single child’s toy. It was quite a pile! Batteries contain powerful acid, which corrodes at high temperatures. A few of the items we missed during the return PCS became corroded or stopped working. So it is worth it to check everything.
Additional info for moving overseas can be found in my book Welcome to Rota.