PCSing to Germany? Congratulations! Overwhelmed?
You can’t really do much until you get official orders, which can take a looooong time after that initial excitement of knowing where you’re heading.
Here’s a guide to PCSing to Germany from getting orders to settling into your new house.
What to Do First
Look for social media groups.
Facebook is a great way to connect with families who already live in the area you’re moving.
There are local groups for online yard sales, pet tips, jobs, hobbies, homeschooling, parenting, travel, shopping, meetups, hiking, and more!
Have a PCS fund.
It’s always wise to have some savings for PCS time. Pet costs, travel, meals, illness, surprises, and refreshments for the movers can soon deplete funds. We usually use our tax return that year.
Organize all medical, school, and personal paperwork in a binder.
We have a big zipper binder with lots of pockets for passports, birth certificates, social security cards, pet vet reports, kids school reports, PCS forms.
Close accounts and cancel services.
Contact companies like utilities, cable or satellite TV, and cellular phone service to cancel. Most accounts require at least 30 days’ notice with PCS orders.
Discuss with finance if you will be responsible to pay back any moving costs. Usually, the government credit card is used for airfare and hotel – and that will be covered with filing a travel voucher, but make sure it’s paid before you spend your DLA on new curtains or something! Anything above and beyond your daily allowances (per diem allotment), you will be held responsible.
Contact and update auto and home insurance to make sure you have enough coverage or the right plan for the area you’re moving to. Some countries require extra policies.
Update financial info.
Update banking information with a travel alert and update the new address when you get it. When PCSing overseas, you have to open a local account to pay local bills.
We have huge yard sales and purge, purge, purge every time we PCS.
To avoid confusion and make it easier: schedule unaccompanied baggage, household goods, and temporary storage packing and pick-ups on different days.
Typically, the moving company will contact you for a schedule.
First, someone comes with a clipboard and goes room to room, calculating what will need to be packed on each shipment.
Then, packers come to wrap and box your items on the scheduled days. It’s good to already have pictures off the walls, storage items placed in a room or off to one side, unaccompanied baggage placed together. Get organized and be helpful. I even go through drawers and use those humongous zipper plastic bags to keep my bathroom and kitchen items together.
Be available for questions.
We always provide water and sports drinks and lunch for every day of packing and moving.
Traveling with a baby or toddler?
We’ve PCSed with very little ones twice and it is stressful.
We’ve shipped many baby items in unaccompanied baggage so it arrives early. We pack in our suitcases things that we need while traveling or staying in TLF. We can check must-need items like car seats, pack and play, strollers and they don’t count against luggage. Most TLF locations have pack and plays in apartments though.
It’s important to make sure to pack enough diapers and wipes for trips. We did cloth diapering at home, but disposables during travel.
I always breastfed so there weren’t any issues traveling with infants, and most airport security checks allowed us special accommodations and unopened baby food containers and bottled water is allowed when traveling with infants or toddlers.
What to put in storage:
The electricity overseas is a different voltage and it can put a lot of wear and tear on our American-voltage items. We sold everything except our new flat-screen TV. And we put that in storage. Anything with a timer, we put in storage because they won’t work properly – clock radios, coffee pot, slow cooker, rice cooker. We put our deep freezer in storage. We chose to put our china cabinet and fancy dishes in storage because we were worried about weight allowances and space. I chose to store some books and items we didn’t think we’d need on this tour.
Unaccompanied baggage is shipped airfreight to Germany. It should arrive in a couple weeks, so if you find a house and get keys, you’re all set if transportation can bring the goods.
This is typically the shipment of goods you’re going to want as soon as you can move into your new house. We’ve had the luck of the draw a few times that our HHG and unaccompanied baggage arrive at the same time, but they’re packed out differently and the weight allowance is there.
Recommended Items to Pack in Unaccompanied Baggage:
- Cleaning supplies
- Linens, blankets, and towels (sleeping bags and air mattresses are great!)
- Kitchen items (I always pack some special plates and cups along with some much-used cooking items)
- Books and toys for children
- Next season’s clothes (German seasons and weather can change unexpectedly)
- Pro Gear – Military items and professional items (not uniforms or paperwork that’s needed right away!)
- Tools – screwdrivers, allen keys, hammer, picture hanging kits
- TV & VCR/DVD Player
- Alarm or wall clock (battery-operated)
- Baby furniture – crib, playpen, walker, etc. (highchairs and car seats are available from ACS for 30 day loan.)
- Bikes and safety gear
- School supplies, to include backpacks
- Laundry basket
- Camping chairs
- Desktop computer (we take our laptop with us)
This is all the main furniture and anything you’re packing that wasn’t in unaccompanied baggage. This is typically shipped on a boat and takes about 6 weeks to arrive.
Take photos or video each room and the condition of furniture before packing.
Secure pets. They’re gonna be stressed and want to escape from packers and movers. Put up a sign so the door remains shut or put them in a kennel for their safety.
Put things in ziploc bags. This ensures nothing falls out of drawers or containers or gets wet or dirty. One military wife I know even places her underwear in bags! Genius.
Color code boxes with tape or stickers and then in your new location, put the same colored tape on the door frames to match the boxes. This is especially helpful when the movers don’t speak much or any English.
What to pack in suitcases:
We put the things we’re carrying with us in a bathroom or laundry room or even in the car so it doesn’t accidentally get packed!
We packed the clothes we’d need – for layering in spring and summer. I packed some homeschool materials. I bring my laptop and iPads. I pack my favorite cooking utensil. We didn’t know what to expect and we almost always bring more than we’ll need, but better than wanting something we don’t have, right? We also pack vitamins and items that we use daily. It’s easier than doing carry-on luggage only because we seal up full-size toiletry items and pad them well so there’s no mess.
Active duty and dependents with a valid American DL must pass the USAREUR drivers license test. Here’s the USAREUR practice test. Teens age 17+ with a US DL can also take the USAREUR test. Apparently, they also offer it online ahead of time now.
You also need an international DL if you plan to drive over the border to any other countries. The process for an international DL is super easy. You can go to any AAA in the States and get a DL valid for 3 years. Once you arrive, you take a passport photo (MOM’s on Ramstein is an easy location to get this), your USAREUR DL and a form they provide, and go to the office downtown to get the license.
One vehicle is alloted for shipment overseas. We chose to ship our minivan. If you desire to ship a second vehicle, it typically costs $1500-2000. You have to contact a private shipping company for the best rates and policy. Get more info about shipping a POV.
We had to get the van detailed and inspected. We drove it to the nearest shipping location and it was eventually placed on a boat. We were able to pick it up right on base here in Germany.
When return-shipping a vehicle to the States, the inspection process can be very stressful. I suggest just paying for a PCS detail for a better chance of first-time approval.
We had to get an inspection and then tag registration. Registration is $30/year. Inspections are for two years, so if you get a 3-year tour, you have to get re-inspected. The inspectors can be really picky about the condition of vehicles. We recently failed our inspection and had to pay €25 to get our undercarriage steam-cleaned to make sure there was no oil leakage, then we passed and got the registration for another 2 years just in case we get extended.
Here’s a pretty good summary about pets in Germany. It’s always easier to go to a military vet because they know the paperwork requirements best.
It’s expensive to PCS with pets OCONUS (and sometimes even CONUS). But they’re our family members.
Overall, it cost us about $1500 to prepare and ship our 2 cats. It’s a moving expense and a tax write-off!
Certain breeds of dogs are not allowed entry into Germany.
Necessary for international travel or PCS with pets:
- USDA Health Certificate
- Arrangements or tickets for cargo or in-cabin travel
We were able to ship our cats unaccompanied from Utah to my parents in Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Baltimore with us on our flight, then on the Patriot Express rotator with us from BWI to Ramstein. Pet food is not allowed to be shipped into Germany, so they threw that out during our inspection. Luckily, they have fine quality pet food at local shops.
Many factors can make flying with pets difficult: extreme temperatures, available space, time of year, etc. I know some who pay to have pets fly unaccompanied to the main airport in Frankfurt. There are services that take care of all of a pet’s needs before, during, and after flights.
Acquire an APO mail address ASAP. Get your sponsor to do this, if possible. You can ship items to this address before you arrive.
Finding a House:
Typically, families get 30 days in temporary lodging so they can get adjusted, vehicles and HHG can arrive, and permanent housing can be procured.
You must attend a housing briefing and can only rent approved houses off-base. The wait for on-base housing can be many months. The housing office can get a little pushy if you take a while to find a house.
Go to the finance office and ask for the housing deposit loan. Most German houses require 2-3 month’s rent upfront. You can request that loan and pay it back at the end of your tour.
When you find your house, you take paperwork for the landlord to fill out and you return that to the housing office for approval.
Things to consider when renting off-base:
Utilities. Most houses are heated by oil. This is usually paid yearly and can be a big expense. Water and electricity is estimated and during the annual reconciliation, it can be a big surprise to pay a lot of Euro or get a refund (beer money!). Adjust as needed, based on your family’s needs and usage.
Distance to work. Research the route the servicemember will take to work to make sure that’s doable and ok. We opted for a village farther away from everything for quiet and safety, but my husband has a 30-40 minute commute to work, depending on traffic and construction.
Priorities. We chose our house for the big kitchen with two ovens, one of which is huge and fits our American pans. We gave up a big yard, but there’s a lovely park and playground that I can see from our window. We have one Dorfladen-Bäckerei and no restaurants in our tiny village. Make a list of what you want and don’t want and refer to that when you’re house-hunting. Don’t settle because you’re pressured to find a house.
Our lamps work fine with German light bulbs and little adaptors. We use only one transformer in the kitchen for our toaster and mixer. We bought several small German appliances to make our lives easier.
Cell, Internet, TV
It took us six months to get Internet and cellular phones. Things just work differently here. We don’t have a TV, but I know the service requires receivers and whatnot. Our landlady helped us get on the list for excellent Internet and home phone service.
You can view Netflix and Amazon streaming in Germany .de or you can purchase a VPN to view the American (and British or elsewhere) services. We like Express VPN because they are on top of the changes that Netflix keeps trying to enforce to keep us from watching our shows!
The CommShop in Ramstein is the best place to work out contracts for cellular phones and many other services.
Carry Euro with you. Lots of places don’t take cards, only Euro cash. Get a card with a PIN and chip for travel.
Thrift stores and yard sales often have lots of items for sale throughout the year. There are many local Facebook groups for resale.
Bookoo is a great resource for buying and selling.
Check The Find-It Guide for American-friendly shopping and services like auto repair and beauty salons.
Almost everything is closed on Sundays. There are periodic Sunday shopping days.
Most likely, your family members will receive free SOFA passports during out-processing.
You must, must, must purchase tourist passports if you ever want to travel on vacation outside Germany. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Don’t risk it.
There are spouse welcome workshops that I highly recommend making time to attend. They will explain lots of information like putting salt in the dishwasher, to air out your house daily, how to shop frugally on the economy, all the little quirks you need to know while living in a foreign country. Check out which potatoes to buy (they’re different here!).