Budgeting for the hidden expenses of moving overseas

by Courtney Woodruff
USAA

Jet-lagged and inadequately caffeinated, I fought to keep my eyes open in the darkened conference room where my husband and I were attending our first day of in-processing briefings. I knew the speakers were presenting a ton of practical advice and crucial information, but it felt like trying to drink water from a firehose: too much to process at once less than 24 hours after arriving in Germany.

I may have dozed off for a moment, but my ears suddenly perked up when I heard a financial advisor mention it would be wise to have more than $5,000 of petty cash available in our checking accounts to begin setting up our lives on foreign soil.

Military families who’ve PCSed a time or two (or five) know how important it is to expect the unexpected financially when heading from one duty station to the next, but moving overseas adds another level to the hidden expenses service members must budget for.

Hidden expenses service members may face in an overseas move include:

Leisure passport fees. Even though the government issues no-fee passports to military families moving overseas on official orders, this form of identification is not authorized for leisure travel. You will need to budget for the cost of a traditional passport if you plan to do any sightseeing outside your host country.

Pet-shipping costs. Coveted spots for family pets are difficult to come by on military flights. In addition to shots, a microchip, a health certificate and an airline-approved crate, we had to pay for our dog to fly on a separate commercial flight with my sister when she visited us a few months later.

Rental car expenses. Since it takes six weeks or more for your vehicle to be shipped overseas, it’s likely you will need a rental car to get around until your wheels arrive on foreign soil. Check to see if your auto insurance company offers member's only discounts.

Hefty rental deposits. If you’ve rented a house in the past, it will come as no surprise that you will be required to pay a deposit before you receive the keys to your new place. However, we discovered it’s common for landlords in Germany to require two months’ rent to be paid up front.

Electronic purchases. The military allowed us to borrow a pair of transformers for the duration of my husband’s tour; however, we ended up needing multiple plug adapters, additional transformers, and a few small 220v appliances, such as a toaster, coffee maker, and microwave. We also ended up purchasing fans and space heaters, since central heat and air-conditioning is not common in European housing. Even though these items are generally inexpensive on their own, the small costs add up quickly.

A few quick tips for budgeting for the hidden expenses of moving overseas:

Start a PCS savings account. Consider treating it like a bill, and deposit a designated amount of money into the account each month.

Sell items you won’t need overseas. 60 days before you PCS, inventory the items in your home that you will need and be able to use overseas and set aside the ones you won’t. Afterward, hold a yard sale or advertise for free on a site like Bookoo or Craigslist, and save the money you earn for unexpected expenses.

Hold onto your tax refund. If you will be getting a check from the IRS this year, consider using it as a safety net for your move overseas.

Prioritize your spending. Stock your home, register your vehicle, set up your utility services, and make sure each of your family members - including pets - have what they need to be successful in your new location before you splurge on European sightseeing adventures and expensive electronics.

Shop for gently-used items at the local thrift store before buying new. With thousands of military families moving in and out of your installation each PCS season, it’s likely you will be able to find many of the items you need to stock your home for bargain prices at thrift stores on base or in your community.

Take your time researching cell phone and Internet providers before signing a contract. Consider purchasing an inexpensive pay-as-you-go phone until you have carefully selected the right carrier.

If you’ve moved overseas, were there any out-of-pocket expenses that caught you by surprise?

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