CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
When it comes to PCSing overseas you usually get a few options for all of your stuff:
Household Goods (HHG)
This is your biggest shipment and where most of your stuff will probably end up.
- Pre-inspection, scheduling: Sometimes this will involve a visit to see your house or sometimes it’s just done at the office. During this appointment they will estimate how long it will take to pack your HHG and schedule a day or series of days. At this time specific rules for what will and will not be packed will be given.
- Movers will come to your house, pack up your stuff into shipping containers. Each shipping container is a large box made out of wood. The shipping containers should be sealed in front of you. The movers will create an inventory as the items are packed. You will be asked to sign it before they leave. On the other end you will be asked to resign to verify that all items have been delivered.
- Your HHG are trucked to a port where they are container shipped across the ocean, on to your new duty location.
- Arrive at your new duty location, secure housing and wait for notification that your HHG have arrived.
- Schedule a delivery day.
- On the delivery day, all the crates will be opened and all your items will be brought inside. If any furniture was dismantled by the packing company, it should be resembled by the delivery company. You will again sign the inventory saying that everything has been delivered. They will take away any packing material that is ready when they leave. They should leave directions for getting rid of the other boxes and packing materials.
- If there has been any damage or loss, you can start the claims process. Here are two Germany Ja articles about Filing and Receiving a Moving Claim.
The packers may unassemble some of your furniture for better packing. If they unassembled something, the movers on the other side should put it back together for you.
We have had great packers and movers for two overseas moves and have very limited damage. All furniture should be wrapped before being placed in the shipping crates. Technically the movers should repack the things you have in plastic bins, but we haven’t had that happen. So if you have your delicate Christmas ornaments in a bin, you will want to make sure they are well packed before that bin gets tossed in.
The packers/movers/delivery company employees will be on a mission on the day they are scheduled. Please be prepared. If there is trash in the can, it might be packed. If there is water in the humidifier, it might be packed. If the rug hasn’t been vacuumed, the crumbs are coming along for the ride. If you want the dishes packed, be sure they are clean and dry from breakfast.
As they are packing you are entitled to watch them. We’ve never had a problem, but you’ll hear horror stories. I try to stay out of their way but be around in case they have questions or you notice something that seems off.
Before they leave, do a thorough check to make sure everything you want packed is out. Check the cupboards and attics, every room and closet.
For the movers, it is customary (but not required) that you provide lunch and drinks. We’ve done deli sandwiches or pizza along with water bottles and soft drinks. Tipping is also optional. Some feel that it insures that everything gets the attention it needs.
Depending on your branch of service, type of tour, and new location you will have a weight limit. An easy rule of thumb is each room of your house will probably be about 1,000 pounds when packed.
When considering what to pack in your HHG, you may want to consider a few things:
- Electricity specifications at your new location (For example, Germany has 220 voltage whereas America has 110. Some appliances will not work unless they are plugged into a transformer.) Here is a Germany Ja article to help you sort out your appliances and here is a second one about electricity for good measure.
- You may be entitled to some loaner furniture and appliances at your new location. For example, for an Air Force family stationed in Germany each family residing off base receives a washer, dryer, microwave, refrigerator, and a few transformers. For the same family the active duty family members receive two shranks (a large storage container like a portable closet) and each other family member will be loaned one other. The amount of loaner furniture will depend on the size of your family, whether you will be living off or on base and branch of service. It’s good to find this out ahead of time. You can save a lot of weight and wear and tear if you leave your washer, dryer and refrigerator behind – it won’t work well with the electrical and plumbing connections anyway.
- These items will be packed up, shipped across the ocean, unpacked, possibly disassembled and resembled just to get there. Repeat on the way back. There is a chance of damage or loss. If you can’t handle the stress of those factors, you might want to consider another option. For example, most of our photo albums are at my parent’s house.
- The houses in your new location might be different from what you are used to in America. One big obstacle are narrow and winding staircases. Germany specializes in them! It might make it difficult to get your king-sized boxspring upstairs. Moving companies will do their best – I’ve even seen them use a crane or bring items in through windows, but they can’t change the building.
There are many factors to consider, but plan on not seeing this stuff for a few months. The busy season for PCSing is the summer. Plan on everything taking a bit longer during June, July and August.
What to Bring in HHG:
- Furniture Your cheapest option is always the furniture you already have. Buying new before shipping it overseas may not be your best choice.
- Beds Yes, I know they are furniture, but it’s worth noting that the European bed sizes are different. So you will want to bring American sized beds if you are on the fence. Unless you want to buy European sized sheets for the rest of your time with that bed…
- Storage There is no built-in storage in European homes. Bring things with drawers and doors!
- The clothing items that didn’t go into your other shipments Keep seasons and new weather conditions in mind.
- Appliances that made the cut See above.
- Children’s toys that didn’t make it into the other shipments You will probably need to remove all the batteries.
- Lawn care items Lawnmower can come as long as it is drained of all fluids and clean
- Electronics that made the cut (see above)
- Food stuffs Different moving companies have different rules. Some will only pack unopened dry goods. Some will pack canned foods. Some will pack anything that is in their path.
- Items for your hobbies and interests Some things are hard to find or more expensive in Europe, like craft materials, so you may want to stock up before you come. Keep in mind that hunting restrictions are much different in Germany. You will not be able ship weapons in this shipment. Some items will not be able to come at all.
- Bikes, lawn furniture, outdoor toys Be sure that everything is clean.
- Decor Be aware that the walls are usually not drywall. You will need to drill into the walls to hang anything heavy. The curtain system is different.
- Tools, but probably not the whole wood shop and all of the power tools. If you have a drill with a concrete bit – bring it!
- Motorcycles Believe it or not, this is an option in HHG. Of course all liquids will need to be drained and there are other specifications.
- Grills but not propane tanks. The grills need to be spotless. Propane tanks can be rented at the Shoppettes on base in Germany.
What to NOT Bring in HHG:
- Moving companies have restrictions on liquids, batteries, light bulbs and candles. You will want to check those.
- Vital documents Keep items like passports, orders, shot records, social security cards away from the movers when they come. They are packing machines and may pack anything. A PCS binder or expandable file is a great idea.
Germany Ja articles about HHG:
- Tips on Moving Overseas
- Tips for Moving with the Military: Things I Wish I’d Known My First PCS
- OCONUS to CONUS: Housing & Household Goods
- Receiving Your HHG and UB
With an overseas move most military families are entitled to putting some items into long term storage. Upon your return to America, these items will be shipped to your next State-Side duty location. The method for packing is very similar to your HHG. The packers will put everything into a moving crate and seal it in your presence. The crates are then put in a large storage wear house with hundreds of other moving crates. Everything will stay crated until you request it upon your return.
This option is for the items that you won’t need for this assignment, but you would like back at some point in the future. Due to long-term nature of this storage, there should be no liquids, batteries, or anything food items.
I have mixed feelings about this option. We used it when we first moved overseas. Then one overseas assignment turned into back-to-back overseas assignments and our storage items have been sitting unused for six years. Will getting it back be like Christmas, like opening a time capsule, or like dumpster diving? We’ll see.
Each military family is entitled to ship one vehicle to and from Europe. They are also allowed to store one vehicle for the duration of the tour.
For more information about shipping a car please read these Germany Ja articles:
Unaccompanied Baggage (UB or UAB; Express)
In theory, your unaccompanied baggage should be the bridge between what you brought on the plane and your house hold goods. This shipment gets shipped via air instead of the proverbial slow boat. Generally it should arrive in about three to six weeks. When you schedule your HHG you will also be able to schedule the UB shipment. There will be a limit on how many pounds you can ship in UB and it not supposed to be used for furniture. Usually this will be delivered to your new house before your HHG gets there. In some cases it can be delivered to your Temporary Living Accommodations (TLA), but that is only if the timing works out and you have room.
That’s the plan, but it might not go that way. Your HHG and UB might come at the same time. Your HHG might beat your UB. If you are concerned, send your UB early, or split the essentials so that not all your sheets and towels are in one shipment.
What to Bring in UB:
- Kid stuff What will make their lives easier before your HHG shipment gets there?
- A set of bedding for everyone in your family including pillows
- Bathroom and kitchen towels, bath matt
- Shower curtain and hooks
- A crib or pack ‘n play Some companies will allow the whole baby crib, others will not.
- Perhaps extra clothes If you might need it before your big shipment, but it didn’t fit into your luggage: I usually pack an “interview outfit” for job interviews. Extra sweaters and outerwear if you are moving to a cooler climate. More school clothes for kids.
- School stuff If you are moving in the summer and there is a chance school will start before you get your HHG. Sometimes the overseas Exchanges are out of basics like backpacks by the time August rolls around.
- Cleaning supplies like broom, dust pan and mop This is especially effective if your UB is packed after your HHG. That way you can clean up after your HHG shipment is gone.
- A small collection of kitchenware We use my husband’s bachelor stuff for this. We have a small box of a pot, pan, dishes, knives, can opener, beer/wine opener, casserole dish, eating and serving utensils that we break out for each move. You won’t want to invite the president, but it helps when you are DONE with eating out.
- Coffee maker depends on you and your dependants’ dependence
- Pet items extra food, bed, toys, litter box
- Laundry basket
- Small trash cans
- A fan depending on the season
- Air mattresses
- What else will make it “all better” as long as it fits in your weight limit. In this vein I’ve heard of small televisions (32″ or smaller), computers, printers, bikes with helmets, and even golf clubs being sent in UB.
It’s not something you need to pack, but you should be aware that if needed, you can get temporary, loaner furniture. If you get your house and your HHG are still on their way, you can get some temporary furniture to bridge the gap. You can schedule that to be delivered once you have the keys to your house. Once your HHG are scheduled you can also schedule your temporary furniture to be picked up.
There are some long-term loan furniture as well. You can schedule those to be dropped off with your short-term loaner furniture or on it’s own as soon as you have a house. What you are entitled to varies a lot depending on branch and family size, but below are some typical options.
Short-term loaner furniture:
- Bed for every family member (twin or double)
- Dining table & chairs
Long-term loaner furniture:
- Shrank for every family member (two for active duty member. A shrank is a movable closet.)
These items may be available from a loan closet on base. No guarantees since it depends on the base and the demand.
- Pack ‘n Play
- Kitchen pots, pans, dishes, utensils
Bring with You
Generally each family member will be allowed two checked bags of up to 70 pounds and two carry ons. If you are a family, those numbers multiply quickly. Consider airport logistics. Unless you have a direct flight, you will probably need to collect all of your luggage, go through customs and recheck it. If you have a pet, add a large crate to all of that. You might want to consider NOT bringing the max, as tempting as it is.
- Clothes Look ahead for predicted weather patterns for a few months; think about outerwear too. Germany can be cool even in the summer.
- Non prescription drugs for the just-in-case. Be sure to leave them in the original packaging for the security check.
- A few reusable shopping bags They don’t take much space and you will either need to bring your own or pay at most German stores. Plus they’ll come in handy for things collected along the way.
- Pop up hamper or laundry bag Trips to the hotel laundry made easy
- Toiletries for a month or more It might help to stock up on your favorites if you are picky – some brands are harder to find at the Exchange or off-base.
- Baby supplies Diapers, food, formula, any special brands
- Medication Be sure you have a supply of prescription drugs so that you do not have to get them refilled as soon as you get there.
- Your PCS files or binder with all your important documents Click on the link for an example. Yours might contain: birth certificates, immunization records, Social Security cards, passports, school records, pet documents, at least 10 copies of your orders, marriage certificate, insurance policies, most recent LES, power of attorney, wills, bank information, tax records, car registrations and titles, account information.
- Identification Passports (no fee is what is needed to travel on orders, but never pack your tourist passport if you have one), renewed drivers license (There was a kerfuffle recently about if your USAREUR License (military drivers license in Europe) is valid if your US license is expired. Better to be safe than sorry.), military ID.
- A simple outlet converter You’ll find that most handheld electronics can handle 110 or 220, but you’ll need the converter to plug in at the airport or hotel. If your family is bringing a fleet of handhelds, it might be a lifesaver to pack a power strip. With one outlet converter and one power strip, you could probably convince someone else to give up their outlet space for room on your power strip.
- A Germany Ja article about what to bring to entertain children on a long flight.
- Wear layers The flight is long and the weather in Germany is variable.
Be prepared for extra time, steps and spending to bring your furry friend to Germany. Start researching as soon as you can so that everything has the best chance to go smoothly.
Germany Ja articles to help you PCS with your Pet:
- Staying in Baltimore with a pet before the rotator flight over
- PCSing Our Pet Pooches (with the nitty gritty on the forms, shots, examinations, and kennels
- How To Ship an Unaccompanied Pet to Germany
- OCONUS to CONUS PCSing with a Pet on a Commercial Flight (planning stages) and how it went (Spoiler alert: They made it!)
- 6 PCSing Tips (including 2 about pets on the rotator flight)
Tips for Sorting
- Make it as clear as possible what stays and what goes.
- Consider packing your suitcases and putting them in a separate “Do NOT Pack” room or even in your car. This will also help make sure everything fits in your luggage.
- When we first moved overseas our storage packers overlapped for a day with our HHG packers. We moved everything that was going to storage to one part of the house and everything going with HHG to another part of the house so that we had less chance for mistakes. Post-it notes help too, but be very specific and remember the packers move fast and post-its don’t always stay stuck.
- Before any packing starts take video or photos of your things. For electronics it’s best to video them working. Either store the visual inventory in the cloud or email it to yourself so you can access it no matter the situation.
- High Value Items will be separately inventoried on your HHG or UB inventories. Electronic items with an item number will be noted.
- Always carry your precious jewelry with you.
- If you have insurance on any particular items you might want to check with your insurance about coverage during a move.
- If something is lost or damaged during the move you are entitled to claim it. Here are two Germany Ja articles about Filing and Receiving a Moving Claim.
Whew! You’ve made it! Time for a sigh of relief and getting going on a more fun list: What to see and do in Europe!