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17 May 2023

Smooth Moves: Relocating Overseas

You just received an overseas PCS order to Belgium. After jumping for joy (or simply being terrified), now what? There are challenges associated with any relocation order, but overseas relocations may seem particularly daunting due to unique preparations (e.g., are your passports up-to-date, is English the primary language of your destination?). This article will share some findings from the current literature surrounding military overseas relocations, discuss common challenges and resilience factors among families, and provide strategies to make future overseas relocations more manageable for families.

Overseas: Overjoyed or Overstressed?

There is a level of stress present when facing any relocation — military-related or not — and research suggests that this is particularly heightened when it comes to a relocation outside of the continental United States (OCONUS). According to a study by Elliot (2020), military spouses reported feeling stress while relocating overseas from feeling out of control of their situation and from fearing the unknown. Additionally, research shows that military families experience unique stressors, such as a shift in family function due to being posted internationally, changes in wellbeing and support, and sometimes feelings of grief and loss (Blakely et al., 2012). Relocating may be frustrating because of the additional requirements in place to ensure the move can happen (e.g., families need to obtain visas, passports, and additional clearances), which may contribute to a family’s perceived quality of life and perception of their relocation experience (Elliot, 2020).

Smooth(er) Moves

Even though an overseas deployment comes with challenges, military families are resilient and capable of overcoming difficult situations. Ferreira and Ferreira (2021) identified several resilience factors seen in military families that can buffer the stressors of future overseas relocations:

  • Spirituality — Practices, such as attending religious services, meditation, and prayer, may help families to build resilience and transition smoothly to an overseas placement. Connecting with a spiritual group after a relocation may help families build a sense of community and connection.
  • Support networks — When moving to a new place, overseas or the next state over, quickly developing and maintaining your support network is important. Getting involved with your new, local military community can assist in your adjustment to the new environment. Look into resources, like online support groups or community organizations, to begin building your support system prior to your move.
  • Resourcefulness — Being resourceful when transitioning to a new place can help family members adjust quicker to a new community. Before you move, learn about the different organizations and programs available in your community — be it military specific, like military based relocation assistance programs , or community specific, like asking around to find the best dog-friendly restaurants.
  • Flexibility — Practicing flexibility and adaptability when preparing to move overseas may help you to remain balanced and feel better prepared to relocate. Have meaningful conversations with your family members about ways you can practice flexibility and adaptability throughout your moving process. A couple of examples are being able to fluidly shift responsibilities as your priorities change and maintaining a positive attitude throughout the move.
  • Core Family Relationships — When family members feel more connected to one another, the whole family unit tends to have more cohesion and resilience. These are important attributes for families who are preparing to move overseas because when your family has a strong sense of unity, the moving process may be easier and cause less stress due to the presence of strong and healthy relationships.
  • Prior Preparation — Taking time to plan and prepare for an overseas relocation is crucial for families. Planning and preparing for your move (e.g., learning about the local culture and community) and understanding the relocation process have both been proven to be resilience factors in military families.

In addition to the resilience factors that can assist military families when relocating, there are many other tangible ways military families can prepare for the move. For example, families can familiarize themselves with their new culture prior to the move and spend time learning basic words and phrases of the language (e.g., “where is the bathroom?”, “I need help.”). Additionally, making use of helping professionals, such as counselors or relocation specialists, can be beneficial as they are aware of the overall moving process and resources available.

Through resilience, preparation, and perseverance, military families can be successful when relocating overseas. By using the resources and strategies provided in this article and taking advantage of your local military community, we hope your next overseas relocation is a smooth and successful transition.

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