Combating the Hidden Costs of an Overseas PCS (OCONUS)
Money, money, money, money, moneeeyyy (Bonus points if you sang the chorus of The Love of Money by the O’Jays in your head when you read that).
One of the more interesting things I’ve realized as a military spouse is that people automatically assume you and your service member have an inordinate surplus of money, when that couldn’t be further from the truth for many military families. In fact, it only takes the perfect storm of a few factors for a military couple to find themselves drowning in debt – like an unexpected overseas/OCONUS PCS, for example, and the (hopefully temporary) loss of one spouse’s income as a result of the move (where both spouses are employed).
There are ways around it, of course, many of which involve carefully detailed planning and saving, but in a career field where you could be ordered to move at a moment’s notice (and never fully on Uncle Sam’s dime), the task of building wealth, or even just treading water, can be a daunting one.
If you’ve never undergone an OCONUS PCS before let me preface the remainder of my comments by sharing – there’s a lot they don’t tell you. Any milspouse or AD member can tell you that this seems to be a prevalent theme with the armed forces.
The costs aren’t necessarily relegated to monetary expenses, either. If you don’t properly prepare, these moves can put a lot of added stress and strain on mil families. From planning the logistics of a move, to living/migrating from one temporary home to another as you make your way to your final destination, and planning how to transport (and pay for) any pets, to finding a home once you arrive, finding good schools for the kids and all of the other resources that are generally essential to every day life – things can get complicated, fast. Add financial strain on top of that and you have a recipe for a meltdown (or three).
We recently discovered the reality of this when we moved to England and now understand why many couples claim to have spent $10,000 or more on their moves. We haven’t even fully tabulated our total yet, but here are:
Some Unexpected Costs that Can Cause Even the Best Laid Plans to Derail (Note that many of the items listed are specific to England):
- The Cost of Getting to Base from the Airport. The rural location of most bases means you may be in for an expensive ride. Taxi or Shuttle (Access the RAF Lakenheath Airport Shuttle Rate Sheet Here) are your best bets, especially if you will be traveling with pets or young children and/or have tons of luggage.
- MOT Inspection and Light Conversion (England) – All vehicles imported to the UK must have a light conversion prior to being inspected or it will not pass the inspection. For many, the light conversion is a couple hundred dollars. Due to the specs of our cars (US spec Volkswagens) we paid considerably more. Note that you may have convert your lines again upon returning stateside. Here’s more information on driving in the UK.
- Road Tax (England) – Luckily, you’re exempt from paying road tax your first year in England. After that, report to the pass and registration office to pay annually. Cost varies, but set aside a few hundred.
- TV Tax – planning to watch television during your stint here? Be prepared to pay. TV tax is paid in addition to your cable subscription service. Subscriptions are inordinately cheap here, though. We pay 47 pounds for broadband, cable (300+ channels) and pay as you go phone service with Sky. Cost varies, but set aside a few hundred.
- Second Vehicle Transport Costs – Active duty service members are permitted to import one vehicle at no charge. Anything more than that, is on your dime, but you’re not permitted more than three (3) cars during your stay. English roads are teeny tiny, which makes sense, because most were built for horse and carriages. So consider road size when deciding whether to import another vehicle. Costs usually range from $1000-3000 (you can shave off some dollars by driving your car to the port yourself, versus having the transport company pick it up), but make sure to factor in the cost of customs and delivery once the vehicle makes it to its destination. Some transport companies do not include these costs in their estimates. Also consider that your vehicle may be damaged in transport (the company we used lost the key we provided them with and further damaged the vehicle removing it from the ship without the key. It will cost about $1000 USD for repairs and key replacement). Subsequently, and although it may increase your cost estimate, it’s a good idea to consider getting marine insurance to cover any accidents that may occur. Take lots of photos before you drop the car off and keep track of all correspondence with the shipping company (who often contracts with a third party for the actual labor) so that you have adequate documentation in the event damage occurs.
- Rental Car. Until your car arrives (and if you ship it before you leave) you’ll need transportation. You can use taxis, but in England, it’s way more economical (and efficient) to rent a car. Lost Cost Car Rentals here allows you to rent a car for about 45 pounds (on average about $56 USD) per week. Super cheap, but it adds up AND you get what you pay for. There are other companies as well – explore Reliable Rentals or NSA.
- Transporting Pets. Click Here.
- Living Expenses Before You Find a Home. When you arrive, if you’re lucky enough to secure temporary housing or a short let, be prepared to pay temporary lodging (TLF) expenses out of pocket. You will be reimbursed on the back-end, but even then, you won’t be fully reimbursed. You’re only allowed a certain number of days in TLF – both at the station your service member is out-processing from, and the new duty station. There is no also reimbursement for pet fees, but you may be able to claim them as a moving expense at tax time.
- Living Expenses after You Find a Home. Here in England, in order to let (rent) a home, you must pay a deposit (about six weeks of rent) PLUS the first month’s rent to move in. For us, this was about $4,000. As an aside – be prepared not to have the overseas housing allowance (OHA) included in the first paycheck. For this reason, many service members apply for advanced OHA, which is essentially a loan.
- Utilities are also due rather quickly after move-in (within 14 days of request for service, usually), so factor in those costs as well. An additional amount is allotted for these costs.
- Purchase of UK (or wherever you are) Spec Appliances. Furnishings Management Office (FMO, Air Force) provides things like a fridge and washer and dryer for the duration of your stay. They also provide temporary furnishings while you await your household good (HHG). Note – the items provided are super functional and have seen their share of families (especially the mattresses).
- Reimbursement. Be careful with your spending as you may not be fully reimbursed for the money you spend getting to the service member’s new station.
- Meals – you could end up being in TLF for a long time. Cook in the room or prepare to spend lots of money eating out.
WHEW! That was a lot (and I’m pretty sure I left some things out). But to end this post on a positive note, here are some:
Ways Military Couples Can Combat Debt and Unexpected Expenses During a PCS
- As soon as soft orders are received, start saving. Fifty (50) percent of your paycheck(s) is a good place to start, but if you can’t do that any little bit will help (hopefully, you’ve been saving all along). Build a nice nest egg.
- If you are a military spouse and will be leaving your stateside job, see if you qualify for unemployment.
- Start paying down any existing debt.
- Mail things to yourself – Beware: This is reimbursable, but reimbursement is based upon weight (e.g. what it would have cost TMO to mail the items) and not what you actually paid. However, if the moving company loses your express shipment (like they did ours), you’ll be glad you sent yourself some items in advance.
- Some service members apply for DLA early.
- Know what will be coming in using the OHA Calculator.
- Looks for grants to help with pet transport expenses.
- Take advantage of the Airman’s Attic and Food Pantry if one is at your base. There’s nothing embarrassing about taking advantage of these resources.
- Be prepared to be unprepared, no matter how much preparing you engage in. It’s just the cold, hard truth.
Have any of our readers recently made an international move? Are there any recommendations you would add to this list?