This is the third in a three-part series about moving to South Korea as a Non-Command Sponsored Family Member. You may also want to read:
PART 1: Command Sponsored (CSP) vs. Non-Command Sponsored (NCSP) to Korea
PART 2: What to Do Before Coming Non-Command Sponsored to Osan
CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
There isn’t a lot of information about coming NCSP to Osan and if you are like me you probably were told that it isn’t possible and you would lose a number of things from medical coverage to housing allowances. As you’ll read, most of that is untrue. I tried to cover the high level steps in this post, but in reality there are experiences other NCSP families have had. Sometimes it just depends on who is working behind the counter. Getting a visa may a bit longer than 5 minutes; or maybe there is a backlog, and getting on Tricare Plus takes two months instead of one. With that said, do your research, ask many questions, and see if coming NCSP works for your family. Above all, you will need to be flexible.
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Airport Arrival: Arrival at the airport is like an arrival at any other international airport. You will disembark the plane and head to immigration with everyone else. Show the officer your orders and you will get your 90 day tourist visa stamp in your passport. After that, you go to get your luggage and then continue to customs. At the time I traveled, US military personnel were directed to the checkpoints at the end of the hall. As long as you aren’t carrying weapons, fresh food or any other prohibited items it should be a quick process. None of our eight bags were opened for inspection.
Incheon Airport Bus: There is an Air Force bus that leaves from outside the USO desk to Osan AB Turumi Lodge daily at 7:30am, 6:30pm, and 10:30pm. If a flight is delayed they may wait, but that isn’t guaranteed. There is also the local city-to-city bus that stops at Songtan Bus terminal. If you choose this option you will have to take a taxi onto base from the terminal. Local taxis can’t go onto base, so calling a base taxi is a better idea. If you have pets, you will need to reserve a van from Information Ticket and Travel (ITT) ahead of time to bring your pet to Osan AB because pets are not allowed on the bus.
First Night/s: Most likely your first night will be at Turumi Lodge. It gets very full during PCS season (summer), so be sure to book a room as soon as you confirm your arrival dates. If you are traveling with a pet, be sure to make reservations for a pet-friendly room ahead of time; as NCSP, you are second priority. If Turumi is full, they will refer you to hotels off-base.
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Visa: Getting a visa is easy. At the Osan AB passenger terminal, you will be able to get the A3 visa (military dependent visa) and the SOFA stamp in your passport. You need to go the terminal with your spouse, military IDs, your passport and orders. The visa form is available there. It’s free and it all takes about 5 minutes. The visa will be valid until your spouse’s DEROS (Date of Estimated Return from OverSeas) from Korea.
ID: You will need to go to the Pass and Registration office to get input into the military identification system or DBIDS as it is commonly referred to. It’s best to do this after getting your A3/SOFA stamp so that your military ID is valid until the time you PCS.
Living off base: Being unaccompanied generally means that the AD member has to live on base, but there are exceptions. Rank, job, unit policies, dorm availability and probably more come into play. You may find that your spouse is automatically authorized to live off base. Others are not so lucky and will have to submit an authorization request through an Exception to Policy (ETP) letter to their chain of command in order to be approved to live off base. Approval is not guaranteed. The same request can be made to have a car, and that too is not guaranteed. The member’s chain of command can advise on the process as it varies per unit.
Many people do what’s called “ghosting”, where the military member stays off base with their family but retains their dorm room. This is generally frowned upon by leadership but it is your decision; some units are stricter than others.
Shelter: Finding a house is one of the biggest concerns for many of us. As a NCSP family member you are not authorized to live in base housing, and will need to find an off-base rental. While overseas you will not get Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) but you will get Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA). The timeline of the basic steps below can be as little as a day for everything, but for most people it is about a week.
- Pick a place to live – There are multiple realtors outside base; I used K-55 Realty
- Housing inspection – Takes a day. The house must pass before move-in. There are specific days for NCSP housing inspections and processing of OHA paperwork. If your spouse is approved to live off base, he/she will have to attend an off-base housing briefing.
- Sign the lease, pay rent and deposit – Costs are out of pocket, but you can get loan assistance
- Move in
- Any time after the lease is signed, the AD member will need to go to housing to change his or her allowances from BAH to OHA. There is no exact time this needs to be done, but you’ll want to do it as soon as possible after the lease is signed so that your spouse’s pay is correct. The last thing you want is for everything to adjust after a few pay periods and find yourself owing the military.
Please refer to http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/ohaCalc.cfm and to see what the rates like COLA, BAS, and OHA would be in Korea. In Korea, you also get a utility allowance each month. This website shows the differences between NCSP and CSP allowances.
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Food: Osan AB has both a base exchange (BX) and a commissary. In order to use these facilities you will need to get a ration card from Pass and Registration. The AD member has to be there to pick it up. You will need this card to enter the commissary and BX so it’s best to always carry it with you.
Medical: As a NCSP family member you will still be covered by Tricare. However, it will no longer by Tricare Prime but Tricare Plus. When I arrived in the summer there was a month-long wait to get enrolled. All you have to do is go to the Osan clinic Tricare desk and they will help you fill in the form to get disenrolled from Tricare Prime and enrolled into Tricare Plus. If this waiting period makes you nervous, rest easy in knowing that the ER is always available for everyone (waitlist or not) and immunizations are handled on a walk-in basis. There are also a handful of local English speaking clinics in the area. Pregnancies as NCSP are trickier as no deliveries are done at Osan. For prenatal care and delivery, you will have to get a referral to Yongsan (Army post) 121 hospital in Seoul or a local Korean hospital.
You will still be covered for dental (MetLife) if you are enrolled, but appointments on base are limited so most people go off-base. There are several clean, modern, English-speaking Korean dental offices in the area that cater to children too.
School: Osan AB has 3 schools. The elementary school, the middle school, and the high school are space available only for NCSP. This is one of the biggest challenges I see for NCSP families with school-aged children. Many parents homeschool their children because of lack of space at the schools. There are some homeschool groups around that help support each other with information about where and how to begin. The school situation is something to seriously think through in that there may not be space available for your child once you come here. There are English speaking schools off base but the k-12 tuition can be as high as (~$10,000-14,000/year). For little ones, there is a CDC on base and there are also local preschool options.
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Transport: Korea has a great transportation system so getting around off base is easy and cheap. Taxis on base are also cheap. It is less than $5 to and from just about any point on base.
Again, refer to your spouse’s orders to see if he/she is entitled to bring a car. Many people aren’t, and so they opt to buy one off base from the high turnover of PCSing families. However, you will need command approval to drive on base. You will also need to pass the written driving test, and get car registration documentation to be able to drive the car on base. If you do plan on driving off base a lot, you will want to look into getting an international driver’s license before coming to Korea.
Orientation: There is a monthly spouse orientation hosted by the Airman Family Readiness Center. This event provides useful information about the mission, the resources that are available, and general information about Korea itself. It’s also a good place to meet other spouses. It is open to both CSP and NCSP spouses.
Evacuation: While coming to a new country is exciting, we must remember the mission and why our spouses are being sent here in the first place. Yep, the northern neighbors. As NCSP you are still covered under the non-combatant evacuation. Once your spouse makes your presence known to his unit, you’ll receive all the information you need about evacuations so that you are prepared and covered if anything were to happen.
There are many NCSP families here and we support one another. There are many Facebook groups, forums, and this website that offer more detailed information. For some it has been a challenging adjustment. For us, it has been an amazing six months. We love it here and I am so grateful that I get to see my spouse every day.
If you do decide to come, initially it may seem like there are a million things to do, but just about everything in this post except waiting for Tricare Plus and school enrollment will be done within a week! After that you have a whole 11 months and 3 weeks to enjoy and explore this beautiful country.
Note: This series of posts is intended to reflect one spouse’s experience with PCSing to Korea NCS, and should not be taken as a source of authority on the subject. Korea Ye and its writers are not representatives of the US Military or any government agency thereof. For specific information regarding the rules and regulations of moving to Korea as a NCSP family member and your particular situation, contact your chain of command for the final word.