What a PCS really looks like for a civilian

Standard

Monday was our third move in four years. This is pretty normal for an active duty military family, but we are civilians. Some of the process is the same, but other things are very different, so I thought I would share some of our experiences.

In the military, they often tell you where you are going and how long you will be there. This can change, but at least you have an idea of how long you will be in a place before the military moves you again. The military will pay for you, your family, your personal belongings, and a vehicle to get to your next duty station. You are usually authorized a week or so in a hotel before you leave your current duty station and when you arrive at your next duty station.

Government civilian life is very different. First, if you land a federal job in the United States, it is usually permanent. So you can do that job (unless they decide your position is no longer necessary) as long as you want. Theoretically, you could do the same job or at least move up in the same organization your entire career in the same location. However, there are rules about moving overseas. Most jobs are two or three year contracts and you can extend after that for a total of five years overseas before you have to return to the United States. At which time, you must complete two years in the United States before returning overseas.

Generally, if you have a job overseas, the government will pay for your move, just like they would an active duty service member. You receive a document called “orders” that tells you what you are authorized. Generally, the government will pay for the employee, spouse, and dependents under age 21 to travel to the new duty station as well as to ship one personal vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage. You can even use nontemporary storage at the government’s expense. There are also allowances for hotels before you leave your home of record as well as temporary lodging in your new location. There is a transportation agreement so that if you leave this position before a full year, you have to repay the government for the cost of your move. They did change the rules recently so now you will be taxed on the move however.

The process that went the most smoothly was the first move from Norfolk to Daegu. I really think the reason is that the Human Resource people in charge of the move were in Korea and so they are used to dealing with this PCS (Permanent Change of Station- Move) process. Tim received a tentative offer and a list of things to do like paperwork and a drug test. Then about a month later, he received an official offer with a travel date about six weeks after that. I don’t remember how quickly the orders came, but we had plenty of time to get flights and movers scheduled. Other than it being my first overseas move and our first big move as a family of three, it wasn’t a mad dash to get everything done on time (unless you count the snow…).

The other two moves, from Daegu to Pyeongtaek and Pyeongtaek to Arlington have been more stressful. I really think that part of it is that Human Resources is in America and they don’t deal with PCS as often. They don’t understand that the government won’t book your flights or movers until you have orders and so you really do need them quickly if your start date is less than 30 days away. Either that or they don’t care. I’ve never met them in person, so I can’t speak to that.

A government PCS is really a lot of hurry up and wait. Tim has been applying and interviewing for jobs since June. For the job he starts next week, he interviewed around Thanksgiving. The tentative offer was at the end of February (on our four year anniversary of landing in Korea) and the official offer came April 4. At which point HR gave us two options for start dates, April 28 and May 12. We chose May 12.

When applying for a government job (usually through usajobs), there is a section that talks about relocation. Overseas jobs and some stateside jobs say that relocation can be authorized. Many jobs say relocation is not authorized, so if you want to take that job, you will need to move yourself there. Tim was only applying for jobs that said relocation was authorized.

We were told that when you move from overseas to a stateside job, the receiving agency is supposed to pay for certain moving expenses, like hotels when you arrive back in the United States. This job said relocation expenses were authorized so we weren’t worried about it. After accepting the offer, Tim immediately asked about how long it would take to receive orders and how long we would be authorized a hotel in the US. It took a week for HR to respond and say that they would not be paying for the move itself. So of the four weeks we had, one week was wasted.

Tim completed his full contract with this job overseas, so they owe us a pcs as described in our travel agreement. This means that Tim’s Korea job will pay for flights, shipping, household goods, and a personal vehicle back to our home of record which is Norfolk. They will also pay for hotels before we leave Korea. But that is where the money was supposed to stop. The gaining agency was supposed to pay for the PCS from Norfolk to Arlington as well as some hotel time in Arlington. Our Korea HR ladies were pretty confident that the new job would pay for this, as it is the common course of action.

Two weeks into the process, the new job said no. We still expect you to be here, but we’re not paying for anything. The posting says “may pay for relocation” so we’re not going to…Lesson learned. Before you accept a job offer, ask if they are paying for moving expenses. Just because it is listed in the job posting doesn’t mean they will actually pay for anything.

It got pretty stressful at the end of our time in Korea. Our lease was up on our Korean apartment on April 30 so we needed to move out before then, but we couldn’t schedule movers until we had the orders. The week before, Tim asked someone in HR about expediting his orders and the response was, “We process them in the order we receive them and it’s not fair to people who have travel dates before yours.” I was curious how many people were ten days out like we were.

April 30 was a Tuesday. Tim had unsigned orders the Friday before which let him tentatively schedule movers but the guy in charge wasn’t happy about it and wanted him to come back with the signed orders on Monday morning. He did have signed orders on Monday morning but they were incorrect because they said we were moving from Daegu to Arlington instead of Pyeongtaek to Arlington. But we were able to move out on time. The corrected orders came on Wednesday so we could book our flights. That gave Tim three days to run around on base getting all of the out processing done and sell the car. I had to take multiple taxis Friday to get all of the paperwork done for Mittens to fly with us (I will post more about that process next week).

By the time we knew we were moving, the hotel at Camp Humphreys was full. It was really hard to find a pet friendly hotel near Camp Humphreys so we ended up staying at Osan for the rest of that week before we left. It was kind of fitting to end our time in Korea there because Tim was actually stationed on Osan Air Force Base from 2005-2007, so that is where his Korea dream began. Tim had his favorite Thai, Sawatdee, three days in a row before we left.

IMG_20190501_160241.jpg

Pictured is Tim standing where is old dorm room was when he lived on Osan.

Then we had to figure out how to get to the airport. There is a bus that will take you from Osan to Incheon, but it doesn’t allow pets. I tried hiring a pet taxi, but he wasn’t sure that he could fit the three of us, Mittens, our suitcases, and her crate into his van. Plus he didn’t have base access so we were going to have to take multiple taxis to the main gate to meet him anyway. So the day before we left, we found a friend with a van (who actually used to work with Tim in Daegu but is at Humphreys now) who took us from Osan to our hotel near the airport. It was a little tricky because hotel check out at Osan was at 11, but check in at Incheon wasn’t until 2 so we spent a while moving our six suitcases, three carry ons, the car seat, Mittens, and her big crate from where we were staying to the hotel lobby so that we could be in air conditioning while we waited for our friend to come.

I was glad that we went to a hotel near the airport the day before. We had a morning flight so we wanted to be closer. Plus I didn’t want Mittens in her crate longer than she needed to be since it was already a 14 hour flight. We arrived to our hotel with all of our stuff, and they didn’t have a record of our reservation. Thankfully I had my reservation email from hotels.com. The hotel was actually pretty bad. The air conditioning was not turned on in the hotel yet even though it was over 80 degrees “because it’s not summer yet.” So we were really hot and the beds were Korea hard.

The hotel advertised that they had a shuttle to the airport. That was only half correct. There is a bus stop across the street that will take you to Terminal 1 of the airport. So we had to get our six suitcases, three carry ons, Mittens, her crate, and the car seat across 6 lanes of traffic…Thankfully it was 6 AM so it wasn’t super busy and there was a median. But it wasn’t an easy experience.

Once on the bus, someone took interest and said he would help us. He helped us cart our luggage from this bus to the next bus stop that took us to the bus for Terminal 2. He then helped us bring it into the building and then we parted ways. We found out he was actually former Korean Air Force and was a pilot for an airline now. I was so thankful for him. I don’t know how we would have gotten everything there on our own. It took 3 luggage carts and Clarissa had a hard time pushing it.

I was really stressing about Mittens being rejected for the flight, but she was fine. At check in someone came to get her and put her on the plane. We were allowed in the priority line through security because of Clarissa. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, just really long.

Once we landed at Dulles, I was concerned about how we were going to get everything where we needed to go. But the immigration line was really short and they had Mittens ready for us when we got there. She seemed pretty terrified but she was in one piece. One of the managers was like, “Do you need a big luggage cart?” and told one of the workers to help us. He carted all of our luggage to the rental car shuttles and helped us get on the rental car bus.

By this point, Mittens was crying because he wanted out of her crate. The ladies on the bus thought she was funny. Tim went in to pick up the rental car and Clarissa and I stayed outside with all of our stuff. I was able to move Mittens from the massive hard crate she hates into the smaller carrier and she calmed down.

We went to my aunt’s house to pick up some mail and sim cards for our phones. Tim’s worked fine but mine didn’t. Clarissa wanted McDonald’s so I went in to order her a happy meal. Happy Meals have different options here than they do in Korea and I had been awake for almost 24 hours at that point. The lady spoke excellent English but had an accent so I really didn’t understand her and had to keep asking her to repeat herself so I could order Clarissa’s food. I was so embarrassed. Tim and I had Chickfila for lunch and then we headed to the hotel.

The first day was the hardest. We lasted until almost 6 PM and then were up before 1 AM on Tuesday morning. We headed to Denny’s for breakfast about 2 and then were at Walmart by 3. People aren’t as judgmental about bringing a little kid out in the middle of the night as you might think. At least I didn’t see any dirty looks and no one said anything, even if they were thinking it.

We looked at a house on Tuesday that we really liked but decided that the commute would be too far for Tim. Wednesday we bought a car. It was actually going to be difficult because we don’t have a permanent address yet, but since we used USAA for our loan, it was fine. We saw two houses Thursday and applied for one of them. The rental application is tricky though because online applications want a bunch of information that doesn’t work if you’ve spent the last four years overseas. First of all, Korea isn’t an option for location and I don’t know how they would follow up with my Korean landlord anyway.

There are a few areas that we have been to multiple times and decided that we like to hang out there. There is so much to see and do. Tim finally started to get answers from the new job about how to report. You can’t just walk in to the pentagon…We’ve been asking questions for weeks and now that we’re here they just decided to call him to answer some of his questions.