A PCS has a lot of moving parts. And after decades of moving families across the country and around the world, you’d think that the DoD has figured out a way to streamline the process.
But they haven’t 😬
Lucky for you, we put together a complete PCS checklist not just for Germany, but for anywhere the military takes you! Keep your move organized and on track with this quick guide to planning your PCS.
An Easy to Understand Glossary of Terms
Learning all the lingo is the first step to a successful Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Here’s a summary of some of the most common terms you’ll need to know:
CONUS or OCONUS: Any assignment within the 48 states and District of Columbia is the continental US (CONUS). Alaska, Hawaii, Germany, or anywhere else is outside the continental US (OCONUS).
Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS): Once your family members enroll in DEERS, they can receive their military ID card and services like TriCare, which is the healthcare system.
Command Sponsorship: As the serviceperson or DoD employee, command sponsorship grants you permission to have family members accompany you with full military benefits during your assignment overseas. (CONUS moves do not require command sponsorship.) And if it’s not included in your original orders, you need to make a request through your chain of command.
In other words, if you’ve been dating for 5 years and you receive orders to go to USAG Bavaria, you should put a ring on it so that your partner can join you!
Household Goods (HHG): HHG describes the shipment of the items that a moving company packs and transports. Usually it’s packed by a company selected by the government, and if anything breaks or goes missing, you can either file a claim through the company or the Military Claims Office.
Unaccompanied Baggage (UB): UB is a smaller set of items that are packed separately from your HHG and arrive before the HHG shipment. (At least, they’re supposed to!) This should be things that you can live without for 30 to 60 days, but will make the first two weeks in your new home more comfortable (ex: bed sheets, pillows, basic cookware).
Personally Procured Move (PPM) or Do It Yourself (DITY): This isn’t really an option for OCONUS, but you can do this for CONUS moves. If you do a PPM move, you will be responsible for either:
• Packing/unpacking and transporting your belongings to your new location yourself, or
• Hiring your own commercial moving company
The government gives you 95% of what it would cost them to hire a moving company, and you can use those funds to rent a U-Haul, hire your friend’s moving company, or pack and transport your belongings however you want.
PPMs are especially recommended for any irreplaceable valuables you own (i.e. family heirlooms, photos, important documents, etc).
Non Temporary Storage (NTS): Use NTS to store your belongings instead of shipping them to your new duty station. Your items will likely be located close to the pickup location. And keep in mind that there may be restrictions on what you can and cannot store!
When you want to take your belongings out of storage, you can either go directly to the storage facility or have them shipped to your new address.
Privately Owned Vehicle (POV): This generally refers to your car. When you’re moving OCONUS, the government will pay to ship only one car, but you are in charge of getting it to the shipment facility in the proper conditions.
If you’re moving CONUS, you have to drive your POVs to your new base at your own expense. But the government will reimburse you for the mileage as well as any toll expenses you encounter along the way, so be sure to save receipts and tickets!
Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get a waiver for POV shipment if it’s geographically impossible to make the drive in time for your report date.
Per Diem: Your per diem is a daily payment to reimburse you for the out-of-pocket costs for food, lodging and any incidental expenses you incur during your PCS (or while on temporary duty). But it’s not a blank check – there’s a limit to how much you can receive for food and lodging!
Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA): TLA covers “higher than normal” expenses incurred by a member or dependent while occupying temporary lodging during an OCONUS PCS. In other words, TLA can cover the room rate for your stay at Army Lodging or any of the local hotels in Grafenwoehr.
But there’s a limit to TLA – you can’t just live in a hotel for 5 months waiting for your dream German house to become available! At least, not on the government’s dime.
Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE): Similar to TLA, TLE partially reimburses lodging and meal expenses while staying in temporary lodging during a CONUS PCS.
Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) – All military members identified to relocate to a duty location Outside of the Continental United States (OCONUS), to include Alaska and Hawaii, who elect an accompanied tour (with dependents) are required to have their family members complete the EFMP overseas screening. The purpose of the screening is to identify potential medical, mental health and/or educational issues so that those concerns will be considered in the assignment process.
Even if you’re not Active Duty, you must get this done prior to arriving. EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program that protects federal entitlements and military benefits of special needs family members. Enroll here.
PCS Checklist: When You Receive Orders
Your orders initiate the PCS chain reaction! They’re your golden ticket, your road map, your everything from now until you arrive at your new duty station. We’re going to highlight the top questions/check points of this initial phase.
And remember: if you want all of these consolidated in one document, you can download my Ultimate PCS Checklist here or…
Get my FREE “PCS to Germany” Checklist below!
Do you have a hard copy of your orders? From out-processing to canceling phone contracts, you need these! And be sure to make at least three copies.
Do you have your report date? This is when you need to be at your next duty station. If you’re coming to Germany, it can also affect your eligibility for housing (in other words, your position on the wait list).
Are you bringing family members with you? If you have a spouse, kids, parents, or other relatives who are moving with you, they need to be on your orders. The military will not help them move or allocate any budget for them if they don’t have command sponsorship.
Do you have a sponsor? This is only relevant for OCONUS assignments. Your sponsor will help you find housing and get acclimated to your new country. They should reach out to you soon after you receive your orders.
Are you prepared for quarantine? This, of course, is only applicable during the pandemic (we hope).
But you don’t have to bring everything you may need. Ask your sponsor to stock up your home with some food and essentials before you arrive. (You’ll find a thorough list in our PCS Checklist guide!)
Have you set up your CMR box? Again, this really only applies to OCONUS. Your sponsor usually sets up your mailbox, so if they’re unresponsive or non existent, keep poking your gaining unit for a sponsor to help you with this!
They will need a copy of your orders (or signed offer letter if you’re a civilian contractor) to open up the box. Once the box is set up, you can start sending items to yourself (max weight is 70lbs per shipment for Grafenwoehr).
*Quarantined personnel can now request mail delivery once you arrive.
And yes, your CMR counts as a U.S. mailing address, so you don’t need to cancel your Amazon Prime or pay for international shipping!
Do you have all your passports? You will absolutely need your tourist passport. Even if you don’t think you’ll want to travel (which…you’re wrong), you need it in order to get your SOFA passport or stamp (required for you to live and work in Germany with the US military).
Are you and your family in DEERS? All of your family members who move with you will need to be in DEERS so that they can receive ID cards to access the base and receive any services.
Have you had your TRICARE check-up and EFMP screenings? It’s always a good idea to go to the doctor before you move. You never know how long it will take for you to connect with a new primary care doctor! Plus, you’ll know that your medical records are up to date.
And it’s especially necessary when you move OCONUS. Outside the US, certain health services will not be easily available. The EFMP screening verifies whether your family has a special need, and then determines whether the host country has the capacity to treat those special needs.
Is your driver’s license current? It may not matter for a CONUS PCS because you likely have a different license from where you live anyway. But if you’re moving OCONUS and you want to drive, your license cannot expire within the first year that you live in Germany.
If your license is set to expire in the second or third year of living in Germany, you should be able to renew it via snail mail. I recommend that you confirm this with your issuing state!
You’ll need to take a German driver’s written exam if you plan to drive, and you can start studying for it before you arrive.
PCS Checklist: Scheduling and Planning Your Move
When you’re moving CONUS, it’s usually easy to keep everything you own. Of course, it’s also a great time to do some spring cleaning and evaluate what you actually want to keep.
But if you’re moving OCONUS, you can’t necessarily bring all your belongings. In Germany, for example, you won’t want to bring your washer and dryer. Or if you currently have a lot of storage in your garage and shed, you probably won’t have as much space in government housing.
Keep in mind that it takes anywhere between 30 to 60 days for a family to move into their home at USAG Bavaria. So as you pack, make sure you separate anything you may want to have with you during that time (and in quarantine).
Travel arrangements are also a key part of your PCS checklist. When PCSing to Germany, you’ll have the choice between the Patriot Express and flying commercial. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. But regardless of which one you choose, make sure you have your:
• Tickets (printed or mobile)
• Passport (tourist and SOFA)
Hotel arrangements are crucial, especially during peak PCS season. Once you connect with your sponsor, ask them to make a hotel reservation for you.
If you can’t get a reservation at Army Lodging, you can get a reservation at a hotel in Grafenwoehr or Vilseck, temporary lodging off post, or even at the accommodations at Wild B.O.A.R., the outdoor recreation facility.
Regardless of where the reservation is, just make sure you have one! You don’t want to be scrambling for lodging as soon as you arrive.
And don’t plan to stay with friends (even after the pandemic). You will only receive TLA if you stay in paid accommodations.
PCS Checklist: Other Travel Companions
If you have other family members who aren’t legal adults, then you have a couple additional steps to handle!
Children, for example, will need up-to-date health records to enroll in school. Take them to doctor, dental, and optometry appointments before you move, rather than wait until after you arrive. And be sure to keep a hard copy of these records with you.
As for education, you will likely want to enroll your students in school on post while living at USAG Bavaria. If you have little ones, you can consider schools on the economy, but the language and cultural differences can prove troublesome.
If you need childcare, there are options on and off-post, but start searching as soon as possible. Those spaces fill up fast!
As for pets, keep in mind you can only bring up to two furry companions to Germany. And you’ll want to make sure your dog breed is allowed in the country.
I highly recommend taking Patriot Express if you have pets because it’s way cheaper. If you want to fly commercial, check (and double-check) with your airline about the crate and breed requirements.
The Odds and Ends You May Forget
Even when you plan the perfect move, there are always a few things we wish we remembered! So we’ve compiled a few extra reminders:
Designate a “no go” space for movers: if the movers pack your passports, you’re gonna have a bad time! Choose a space that can be locked and keep your necessities there. Whether it’s your car, a closet, or an entire room, make sure you lock up all your important documents and items before the movers arrive! And don’t forget to pack them either…
Europe Outlet Converters: you will definitely need new 220V outlet converters to connect your US 110V electronics to Euro 220V outlets. The plugs in Europe are a little bit different than what you’re used to in the US. Instead of the skinny metal rods, the Euro plugs are thicker and rounded metal rods. *Make sure your electronic (straightener, curling iron, blender, coffee machine, etc) says 220V or higher in order to use it in Europe, otherwise you may need a transformer to convert the power. See how to check if your electronic is 220V compatible below.
External battery pack: you’re not always going to be near an outlet, so be sure to bring an external battery pack! Plus, during those first couple days in a foreign country, you may not have any converters for your chargers.
External hard drive: you might want to think about backing up all your important files, pictures, videos, etc. I’d physically bring this with me if you’re worried about all your computer files being lost or damaged on the transition overseas.
Credit cards and banks: make sure your financial institutions know that you’re moving abroad. USAA and Navy FCU are pretty familiar with this situation. But if you have loans, credit cards, mortgages, or other financing, make sure they all know that you’re moving out of the country.
And for some things, you may not be able to leave until you’ve paid off your outstanding balance. For example, you have to own your car title in order to ship it. If you have a car loan for your personal vehicle, but you want to ship it to Germany, your lending institution may require that you pay the loan back in full.
Ready to PCS?
If you haven’t already downloaded the checklists, you can get both of them below!
FREE “PCS to Germany” Checklist – It’s a simplified version of everything I outlined above so that you can easily reference it while planning your move to Germany.
Ultimate PCS Checklist – The FULL PCS Checklist for both CONUS/OCONUS.
This is Jen. Jen is a civilian who just PCS’d to Germany and desperately needed a guide to help her with the first move overseas. Jen says, “people can underestimate how important attractive materials are.” Not only was it visually stimulating for her, but it was “structured in a way that made it easier to understand.”
Meet (another) Jen, a 12yr Army spouse with two active kids. Like many military families, Jen was completely overwhelmed with their first overseas PCS to Germany. They move to Germany in July but just received their orders in late May (sound familiar 🤯), so they’ve “been scrambling on how to go about PCSing to Germany” within such a short timeframe.
Jen was able to utilize the Ultimate PCS Checklist to learn new military acronyms, figure out how/what to pack, and organized her PCS by printing out resourceful spreadsheets provided in the checklist.