This is definitely a timely topic since as many of you know, our family is moving from North Carolina to Germany next month. While my husband has been in the military forever and we’ve moved over a dozen times, we’ve never moved overseas during a pandemic, and I’m not going to lie, the stress level is HIGH!
Overseas moves are their own particular brand of crazy, since (at least when the military does it) there are several different shipments to organize for and oversee. Here’s what we’re managing in the next few weeks:
- Items that we’re storing in climate-controlled storage, like my late mother’s piano, delicate antiques, and family photos and papers. For those of you who are military and wondering, we are paying for this out of pocket since the military doesn’t cover climate-controlled storage and we know that the heat and humidity of North Carolina would ruin these items. However, the local mover that we’re hiring will get weight tickets for the items that we’re storing, and if we’re under our government-allotted weight allowance for the entire move, the government will reimburse us at the end of the assignment for what they would have spent to store that amount of weight in non-climate-controlled storage. Phew–make sense?
- Items that we’re allowing the government to pack and store in non-climate controlled storage, like outdoor furniture, yard equipment and tools (because we’ll likely be living in an apartment in Europe), our dining room table and chairs, and books and decor items that aren’t antique or irreplaceable. If you’re storing items in NTS (non-temporary storage), I highly recommend that you make a list of what you’re storing. Take photographs and write down serial numbers. It’s far from guaranteed that all of these items will make it safely back to you when you return to the U.S.
- Storing one of our cars and our weapons. The weapons will go to a trusted family friend (never, ever put them in storage!). If you’re military, storing a car is usually all on your own dime. We just happen to have one kid in college and another who is about to be a high school senior, so it makes sense for us to keep an already paid for car here.
- Our regular “household goods” or HHGs that the military-contracted movers will pack, crate, and ship overseas via cargo ship. This shipment is the majority of our earthly possessions and while I’ve done a pretty good job of downsizing over the past few years, I’ve still spent the last few months sorting, purging, organizing, and cleaning. I like to wipe everything down before it gets moved so it’s relatively clean and ready to use on the other side. I’ll share some specific tips on that a little further down. These items all have to clear customs so anything that’s used outside needs to be free of dirt, pollen, or bugs.
- Unaccompanied baggage (UAB or our “express shipment”) is a 1000 lb shipment that is supposed to arrive before our household goods (but it doesn’t always!!). Since HHG usually take at least 3 months to arrive, UAB is meant to bridge the gap since there’s only so much that we can bring on the plane as checked baggage. I’m packing sheets, towels, some tools and painting supplies, a small TV and Fire Stick, fall clothing, basic kitchen supplies, and my spices.
- Our cars–for this assignment, the government paid for us to ship one car overseas, and we dropped that off at the port in Norfolk last week. We are going to pay out of pocket to ship my car over, as well, and I’ve set that up for the first week in July. We’ll need to drop that car off in Charleston. Vehicles take about 30-60 days to arrive at the port in Germany.
- Things we hand carry on the plane–since we’ll be looking at a 14-day quarantine in a hotel when we arrive in Germany and up to 60 days in a hotel before we get our apartment or house, I’ll be packing more than just clothes in our suitcases. In my carry on bag I’ll have to hand carry all of our files that are irreplaceable–marriage license, birth certificates, wills, etc., plus all of my jewelry. I’ll also have a bag full of dog and cat food and litter that we’ll check through, and my daughter will need to pack school supplies since she’ll start her senior year of high school in August, probably while we’re still living at the hotel. While yes, of course, Germany has things like pet food and school supplies, since we’ll be quarantined and unable to shop for those things, we’ll need to have them on hand. My husband will pack all of his uniforms so he can get right to work. Just picture the Clampetts moving to Germany, and that will be us!
- Things I’ll mail–for items that I can let out of my sight but still don’t want to entrust to the movers, I plan to ship several insured boxes to our new PO box in Germany. Since I have a very nice shoe and bag collection and those are items that are frequently stolen, I’ll probably mail those to myself.
- My son’s pile of college dorm stuff–he starts his junior year of college a couple of weeks after we leave the country, so we have to make sure to keep his stuff together at the front of our storage unit. He will stay with good friends during the interim (we could not do any of this without the help of our family and friends!).
- The pets–last but very definitely not least! This is always a challenge with overseas moves, especially ones that take place during the heat of the summer. Throw in Covid-19 flight disruptions and cancellations and changing pet immigration requirements, and you can understand why this has hands-down been the most stressful part of this move to me! The cat is going to ride in the cabin with us, at my daughter’s feet, but the dog is going to have to travel with a private pet shipper via a climate-controlled Lufthansa cargo plane. I tried so hard to get him on the flight with us, but this was quite literally the only way that we could meet all of the Covid entry requirements for pets. He’ll fly from Atlanta to Frankfurt and then have to be boarded at the Lufthansa pet lounge for a day until we arrive. Shipping pets overseas is always an out-of-pocket expense if you’re military. The cat will only be about $200, but because of Covid flight disruptions and increased demand, the pet shipping companies have seen their usual quotes double or triple. Suffice it to say that shipping Harley is going to cost us twice as much as shipping my car. Of course he is part of the family and worth it, but holy wow!
So, now that you have an idea of the level of crazy that we’ve achieved here at our house, let me give you a few tips that have been so valuable for me this time around!
Whether you’re military or not, if you’re moving overseas, I highly recommend you buy this eBook; it has been SO helpful:
If you are a military family, then the Lost During My PCS Facebook group is a great resource for how to organize and manage your move. There are also a few terrifying accounts of moves gone catastrophically wrong (like our last terrible move, but times 1000), but most of the content is incredibly helpful.
Now, moving on to some practical suggestions.
For drawer organizers that can be moved intact (think kitchen gadgets), wrap them with press and seal wrap to keep everything in its place. I do this with some of my jewelry trays, too. That same wrap works great to seal opened spices and liquids (most movers won’t transport liquids, but your chances of them taking them are higher if you seal the lid and then put them in a plastic bin).
For drawers, I use whatever size ziplock bag will work to hold the contents, then the movers can just toss them into a box without having to handle all of our socks and underwear. I save them in a plastic bin in between moves, so there’s very little waste.
As the packers finish each box, I add stickers to the outside. I use a hot pink sticker that I stamp with our contact information, in case it gets lost, and other ones that color code what room it belongs to and if it needs special handling. I also highly recommend that you ask the packers to be as detailed as possible when labeling boxes, since that information is transferred to the inventory and relates directly to your reimbursement if items inside are lost, stolen, or damaged (if you don’t have a spreadsheet with your high value items listed, complete with serial numbers and photos, now’s the time to start one).
Just as a side note, if we move again within the continental US (CONUS), we will almost certainly do a DITY (Do It Yourself) / PPM (Personally Procured Move), packing our things ourselves and hiring our own movers. However, when you’re moving overseas (OCONUS), you don’t have that option, and you must allow the government-contracted movers to pack, crate, and ship your belongings. You have the best chance of success if you plan and prepare ahead of time, coordinate often with your move coordinator, and stay close during packing and loading to observe and answer questions.
Below are some of the supplies I mentioned, and you can see all of our other moving related posts HERE. And if you’re moving this summer, too, may the odds be ever in your favor!