Packing for an OCONUS Move: Tips and Lists

There’s a commercial that plays daily on the American Forces Network (AFN, as the hip folks call it) that dramatizes what not to do when packing for an OCONUS move. A service member was left in the lurch when her overseas sponsor ignored all her questions about what to bring to her new overseas duty station. The sponsor never responded, so she brought nothing.

…wide-eyed emoji…blink…blink…

As fate would have it, she could’ve brought every toaster, microwave, TV, hair straightener — you name it — she owned and had a buttery smooth OCONUS (a fancy acronym that just means outside the continental U.S.) PCS experience.

OK, there are a couple of things we need to address:

  1. If you are just preparing for your OCONUS move, this won’t mean much to you now, but tuck this nugget away for later: When you’re a sponsor, be a good sponsor! If someone emails you a question, answer it.
  2. It’s 2018 at the time this article is being typed. If you don’t get an answer to your question from one solitary person, just keep looking! Do a little Google detective work. Jump on Daily Mom Military. Run a search for keywords in a Facebook group — post a question in a group if it’s never been asked. Ask your buddy. Ask your mama. Ask somebody…literally anyone else rather than just assuming you should bring nothing with you overseas. If you learn nothing else from this article, learn that.

Packing for an OCONUS move is a game of organization, patience, coordination, and trust. Even if you’re not a list person, you’ll adopt the practice — if even just briefly — as you prepare for your OCONUS move. You will juggle multiple pack-out dates (non-temporary storage, household goods, and an express shipment). And one of the biggest questions people have as they start packing for an OCONUS move is: What did you put in your [non-temp storage/household goods/express shipment/accompanied baggage]? That question is followed closely in frequency by: What do you wish you’d packed in each one?

Let’s take the guesswork out of it because moving overseas is complex enough without throwing extra uncertainty and second-guessing into the mix. Here is a breakdown of common items to include in each packing category.

Accompanied Baggage

This is the stuff you are going to lug with you on your journey. It includes both carryon items and checked baggage. Put these in your carry-on:

  • Originals and extra copies of orders, area clearances, birth certificates, passports, military ID, pet documentation, marriage licenses, school records, immunization records, a list of important contacts, etc.
  • Entertainment for that long flight and chargers
  • Foreign currency (not necessary on the Patriot Express)
  • TSA-approved snacks
  • Any medically necessary items
  • A light jacket
  • Neck pillow and an eye mask if you want them

Consider putting these items in your checked baggage:

  • Weather-appropriate clothes and shoes for each family member for about two weeks
  • Toiletries
  • Uniforms required for check-in and daily ops
  • Basic household items that you may need in the temporary lodging facility (TLF) or to hold you over in your new digs before your express shipment shows up:
    • A Kitchen towel
    • An oven mitt
    • A bath towel for each family member (and washcloths, unless you’re loofah people)
    • A set of sheets, comforter, small pillows, and mattress cover for each bed (check the sizes of the loaner furniture you’ll be given)
    • Shower curtain liner and hooks
    • Night lights
    • A couple of toys for the kids that aren’t easily broken
    • Pet bowls and supplies
    • Car seats
    • Cords and chargers galore (including voltage adaptors if you won’t be staying on base)

Pack your bags before any movers show up. Otherwise, something you needed with you will end up in a box somewhere — you know it would happen. So, pack them and stick them in a closet or room that the movers will not enter. You’ll live out of these bags once everything else is gone.

Packing For An Oconus Move: Tips And Lists

Express Shipment

This is also referred to as unaccompanied baggage because it’s essentially your luggage making the trip ahead of you. This shipment is also the stuff you’ll live with until your household goods arrive (which could be a day or several months…may the odds be ever in your favor). Schedule this pack-out first and know that the weight limit is a small fraction of your total allotted weight, so be strategic:

  • Ironing board and iron
  • Additional clothing for each family member
  • Step stool
  • Vacuum
  • Mop
  • Trash cans
  • Power strips and extension cords
  • Printer
  • Bedroom curtains for each room
  • Pillows
  • Bedside lamps
  • Hangers
  • Laundry baskets
  • A couple of rugs, including bathmats
  • Basic tools (scissors, hammer, screwdrivers, etc.)
  • Extra towels
  • A fresh set of sheets for everyone
  • TV
  • Movie player
  • A pot, pan, and baking dish
  • Basic kitchen utensils (spoons, knives, silverware, spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, etc.)
  • Strainer
  • Cutting board
  • Coffeemaker
  • Mixing bowls
  • Mixer
  • Can, bottle, and wine openers
  • Microwave (if one is not provided in your housing)
  • Toaster
  • Slow cooker
  • A skeleton crew of your plates, bowls, and cups
  • Even more toys, including some outdoor toys (balls, bikes, and an air pump)

Packing For An Oconus Move: Tips And Lists

Household Goods

This is basically your “everything else” shipment. If you didn’t opt to put it in storage, get rid of it, put it in your express shipment, or carry it with you, it will go in here.

Include your:

  • Furniture
  • Books
  • Holiday décor
  • Sports equipment
  • Area rugs
  • Outdoor furniture (if you’re bringing it)

And, the rest of your:

  • Clothes and shoes, including uniforms
  • Toys
  • Linens
  • Home decor
  • Electronics
  • Kitchen items

This will be your second pack-out, and the move will really start to feel real once this stuff moves out. Make sure you are clear on your weight allowance to avoid going over.

Packing For An Oconus Move: Tips And Lists

Non-Temporary Storage

This is the foggiest section. It will depend largely on where you are, what you own, where you’re going, and what kind of space you’ll live in when you arrive. If you know that you won’t have space for something, you may also consider selling it or giving it away before your movers arrive. Here are some commonly stored or sold items:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Refrigerators and deep freezers
  • Curtain rods
  • Non-essential décor (think that sixth box of Christmas decorations)
  • Cars and car accessories
  • Power tools
  • Furniture that you know will never fit the new floor plan
  • Lawn equipment

As you’re narrowing down what to store and what not to store, remember that the government springs for non-climate-controlled units. The elements may not be kind to your great-grandmother’s Afghan or your box full of photos that you’re definitely going to organize one day.

It may seem logical to schedule this pack-out first since you can live without the stuff on this list (heck, you’re about to live without it for years), but schedule this pack-out last. This way, you use your washer and dryer up until the day the last item boards the truck (ahem…those sheets you slept in on the floor that will be the first sheets you sleep in after you arrive), and if anything gets left out of the other shipments or won’t fit in your luggage, it can always be put in storage.

A Few More Tips About Packing for an OCONUS Move

Like any other move, you’ll have to pop out for essentials when you arrive. You can easily find disposable plates and cups, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, etc. You may want to check with your sponsor (unless she gives you nothing but crickets like our poor friend from the AFN commercial) to identify items that are hard to find or frequently out of stock where you’re going. If that’s the case, you’ll want to buy a few ahead of time and pack them up.

Some things may be difficult or impossible to bring — firearms and cars come to mind. Make sure you are clear on what you can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) bring before you start divvying items up into your shipments.

You have your packing lists, now go conduct your own little OCONUS PCS orchestra!

Want to know What to Expect When You PCS on the Patriot Express? We’ve got you covered.
Packing For An Oconus Move: Tips And Lists

Photo Credits: Miscellanea Photography



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Daily Mom Military
Daily Mom Military
Daily Mom Military is a resource dedicated to serving the unique needs of military moms. Through our website, we provide comprehensive advice for all things concerning military lives and families. Our mission is to equip these incredible women with the necessary tools, resources, and community to navigate the challenges of military life. We understand the unique struggles and triumphs that come with being a military mom and strive to be a one-stop-shop for advice, tips, and support.

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