What to bring and what to leave behind for an overseas move

by Courtney Woodruff
USAA

I walked through the rooms of our Texas home as if in a daze. My husband had presented me with orders to an OCONUS duty station a few days before, and I was trying to imagine what our furnishings might look like in European house.

Will this couch fit? Will my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer work? What do houses in Germany look like anyway?

Now that we have returned from our overseas tour, I can safely say there are certain household items I wish we’d shipped and some that should have been sold before we left the States. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s a good place to start as you tackle the great pre-OCONUS PCS purge and begin to prepare for your overseas move. Knowing what to bring and what to leave behind can save you a ton of stress and money as you settle into your new home overseas.

Bring your favorite pieces of electronic equipment – but be aware of which are dual voltage, and which are not.

Go ahead and pack the electronics you can’t live without; you will be able to use them in Europe whether or not they are dual voltage. For the small appliances and electronics with dual voltage capability, you will simply need to attach an adapter before plugging them in to a 220v outlet. Don’t worry about purchasing an expensive model before you arrive overseas. You can find them in the Exchange, at the base thrift store, or on Facebook yard sale pages for a fraction of the price.

Appliances and electronics that are not dual voltage will work when plugged into a transformer. Even though many large pieces of electronic equipment can operate on both 110v and 220v, it’s important to be absolutely certain. Otherwise, you risk frying expensive pieces of equipment and damaging your outlet. I also recommend protecting high-value electronics with valuable personal property insurance, and making sure you understand what is covered and what is not.

Leave large appliances.

You don’t have to worry about bringing your washer and dryer, refrigerator or microwave with you to your OCONUS duty station. The military will loan these items to you for free for the duration of your overseas tour. You will also receive a couple of transformers for small appliances and electronics that do not have dual voltage capabilities. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these transformers can be large, heavy and noisy. With that in mind, I recommend purchasing small, gently-used 220v appliances that you will use regularly, such as coffee pots, toasters and crockpots, from the thrift store on base.

Bring organizational systems.

Closets and shelves can be hard to come by in European homes. Bring dressers, cabinets, shelving units, racks, hanging organizers with pockets, you name it; whatever you have, ship it! Even though the military will issue you a certain number of wardrobes, it may not be enough to effectively organize your household items. For example, we repurposed my sons’ sports gear organizer to a much-needed kitchen pantry system.

Leave bulky or odd-shaped pieces of furniture.

When we got orders to Germany, we were advised to avoid bringing bulky or oddly-shaped pieces of furniture, and I’m so glad we listened. Even in larger houses, rooms tend to be smaller in Europe. Unless you are emotionally attached to your oversized couch or massive entertainment center, it’s better to sell larger household items in the States. Once you find a place, you can purchase inexpensive pieces from a European furniture store (like IKEA) or the thrift store on your local military installation without having to wait for your household goods to arrive. Better yet – wait to find the perfect piece at a European flea market. It will serve as a beautiful memento of your time overseas when the time comes for you to leave. On the flip side, if you’re torn about whether or not to bring a particular furnishing, go ahead and have it shipped. If it turns out it won’t be a good fit for your new accommodations, you could always sell it or donate it to the re-sale shop.

For more help with your OCONUS PCS, check out Plan My Move from Military One Source.

Have you lived overseas? If you had to do it all over again, which items would you bring, and which would you leave behind?

About the Blogger: Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom and writer who recently PCS'd from Germany. She has a master's degree in Human Services Counseling: Military Resilience and is a contributor to the USAA International Military Life blog. She is a former Community Manager for USAA. She has a heart for our troops and their families and strives to share her own experience to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. Follow her adventures on her blog, Courtney at Home, or connect with her InstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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