Upon receiving military orders to Germany, one of our biggest concerns was the expense. Moving is fairly expensive, duh. This may be surprising to my civilian friends, but the military doesn’t pay for all of our moving expenses. Not even close. The financial nerd in me was intrigued to see how expensive an OCONUS PCS would be compared to our do-it-yourself military move to Iowa in 2017.
Obviously, our life has changed quite a bit since we last moved, as we’ve added another human to our little family. We’ve also bought a ton of furniture in the past 3 years – we didn’t buy much furniture when we were stationed in Kentucky since we moved shortly after our first wedding anniversary.
As a recap of our last move, we technically paid a total of $316 out of pocket to move to Iowa but earned $1,295.82 for packing + moving our things ourselves instead of using the government-contracted movers. Unfortunately, since overseas orders do not allow you to do the packing + moving, there wasn’t the potential to make any money this time around. (I’m not kidding, y’all, if I could do a DITY OCONUS move, I probably would have.) Thankfully, we didn’t have as difficult of a time cutting expenses to save for the move- we had basically been saving all of our extra money since March 2019 when we learned I was pregnant, anyway.
The Cost of Actually Moving to Germany
Note that our out-of-pocket expenses did not include our flights to Germany, the cost of shipping Andy’s truck and our household goods, as the military covered those.
Shipping Our Cat: $3,025
We couldn’t get our cat a spot on the Patriot Express, so we had to ship her privately via a third-party pet concierge service. This cost included the flight, boarding in Chicago until her flight, pet shipping service, veterinarian appointments for her shipping paperwork, TSA-approved carrier, etc.
Privately Shipping My Car: $1,476
Shipping from Baltimore to Bremerhaven, Germany, as well as port storage fees. Due to the pandemic, I couldn’t take a train to Bremerhaven to pick up my car, so it had to be shipped 6 hours south to Weiden. I wasn’t able to ship my car until it was registered at the on-post vehicle registration office, but I couldn’t even make a registration appointment until it was physically on German soil (not just on the ship on the German coastline, where it was stuck for a week due to a backlog at the port.) All in all, those delays cost us an extra 2-3 weeks and a couple of thousand dollars (between the inter-German shipping, port fees, and rental car fees that are listed below.)
“Per Diem” Days: $599.08
This was the cost of gasoline, hotels, toll fees, food, etc., on the drive from Iowa to Baltimore.
Temporary Lodging Allowance: $264.30
Because we were going overseas, our TLA would normally be used at our new duty station (technically, it’s called TLE instead of TLA in this situation.) Instead, because our housing in Germany was immediately available upon our arrival for quarantining, we were permitted to use TLA for a hotel in Mason City after our HHGs were packed up. This also included a food allowance since our hotel room did not come with a kitchenette.
Sentimental Items to Kentucky: $841.44
We didn’t trust these items to be stored in government storage for 3 years, nor did we trust them to arrive safely overseas. So, we paid the cost of a rental van and gas in exchange for my sister and BIL (and his family, bless them!) helping to get our things safely to Kentucky. We would have preferred to attach a rental trailer to our F-150 and driven them home ourselves, but the ‘rona restrictions prevented us from being able to travel outside of Iowa.
Stocking Up on Probiotics: $427.50
Fun fact about moving to Germany: you can’t mail any medicine, vitamins, or supplements in Germany due to a law to prevent drug trafficking. Not even through the military mail system, as every single package we send or receive to the American post office on base is X-rayed. However, you can bring vitamins and supplements with your household goods to have something until you can find suitable German replacements. So, I purchased a 6-month supply of my beloved probiotics with hopes that I could slowly transition my gut to the German version (which, of course, will require a prescription. Sigh.)
Cleaning Our Cars: $329
Vehicles shipped overseas must be spotless to prevent accidentally importing any foreign substances (dirt, leaves, etc.) So, we had them professionally detailed in Iowa and then washed + vacuumed them upon our arrival in Baltimore.
Cat Travel Supplies: $78.85
Prescription medication from our veterinarian for the car ride to Chicago, a travel litter box and cat litter, and some Feliway spray for her kennel to keep her calm.
Yup, we had to buy more suitcases to transport our things overseas even though we already had suitcases. When you’re limited to exactly 6 suitcases (one of which held the baby’s Pack & Play) for a few months, you’ll splurge to buy suitcases that are close enough to the baggage allowance dimensions so that you can bring a few more things with you.
We ordered extra copies of our son’s passport while we were still in the state where he was born as we will never be stationed there again. We needed passport photos for my and Drew’s “no-fee” passports that allow us to live in Germany on military orders. Drew needed a tourist passport. We also needed numerous original documents necessary for shipping my car overseas, paying for German license plates and our USAEUR (military-issued) driver’s licenses. (Andy and I already had valid tourist passports for out-of-Germany travel. We still need to get international driving permits so we can drive out of the country.)
Stay in Baltimore: $577.77
Since our vehicles had to be at the port on a Friday but our flight to Germany wasn’t until Sunday night, we had to stay in a hotel for a few extra days. This expense was for our hotel room, food, and transportation after dropping off our cars (Ubers). It ended up being totally nonreimbursable, even though the military travel office is the one who forced us to fly out on a Sunday. Military logic at its finest!
Drew’s Travel Needs: $218.91
Traveling with a then-11-month-old was hard enough that I was willing to spend whatever it took to make our lives easier. This money was for new toys to keep our son entertained on the long drive from Iowa to Baltimore, a stroller cover so we could check his stroller as extra baggage, a Travelmate to haul his car seat through the airport, etc.
Mailing Ourselves Boxes: $178.49
These were things the movers didn’t pack that we didn’t have room for in our suitcases. Honestly, it probably would have been more cost-effective to throw everything away and start over (I’m not kidding!), but I was so emotionally overwhelmed I couldn’t make that decision on-the-spot.
All the things that we needed for our move, but don’t fit another category. Such as 2.5 gallon Ziploc bags for packing (to prevent little things from getting lost and so movers’ hands weren’t touching some items because that gives me the heebie jeebies), renting luggage carts at the airport, parking spots at the hotel in Chicago, trips to the landfill in Iowa to get rid of junk, buying lunch for the movers, etc.
Total Cost of Getting to Germany: $8,420.15
The Cost of Settling into Our New Lives in Germany
Rental Car in Germany: $1,417.28
We needed a mode of transportation for the 4 weeks after quarantine ended until my car arrived in Germany.
Replacing Household Goods: $789.63
We weren’t able to transport any liquids, perishables, or anything not permitted by German customs (such as cat food and litter), so we had to throw everything away in Iowa and buy new in Germany. We had to purchase some items, like trash cans and cooking utensils, even though they were in our household goods shipment because we needed them before our HHG arrived in late December.
First Month of Groceries: $542.76
While we were quarantined, we weren’t permitted to leave our house, so our only grocery option was having strangers shop at the commissary for us. Of course, shopping at the commissary is much more expensive than “on the economy” (German stores.)
New Household Appliances: $418.66
Being stationed in Europe, we needed to buy new 220V appliances. Although our government-leased housing has 110V, there are very few 110V outlets in our house, usually just one 110V plug per room. Anything that pulls large amounts of wattage or is on a timer (think crockpots, microwaves, etc.) had to be replaced. We also had to replace our vacuum and carpet cleaner, because the movers accidentally put them in long-term storage for the next 3 years instead of sending it with our household goods.
We bought a bicycle so Andy could ride to and from work on warm days so that I could have the rental car during the day. Unfortunately, that only lasted about 2 weeks before the weather turned, but it was convenient otherwise! Obviously, this will be used again in the spring.
Babyproofing the German House: $322.26
Our German house is about twice as large as our Iowa rental was with twice as many stairs, so we had to buy new baby gates. We also had to buy outlet plugs and cord boxes, which we would have needed regardless of where we lived. (We didn’t buy any babyproofing items when we first had Drew because we knew we’d be moving before we really needed them. Unfortunately, these items are way more expensive here, and there’s less of a selection!)
Internet Hotspot: $312.80
During our 2 weeks of quarantine, we needed some Internet access to make calls and texts (we weren’t able to go out in public to get new cell phones.) And let’s be honest, some quarantine days, the only way we made it through was Baby Einstein and Barney.
Temporary Furniture Covers and Mattress Pads: $188.87
Since it took 3 months for our furniture to arrive in Germany, we were able to borrow beds, a couch, chairs, and a dining room set from the lending closet. We used slipcovers to cover the sofa, chairs, and dining room chairs, and mattress protectors on the mattresses. The mattress pads were supposed to make the beds more comfortable, but IMO was like sleeping on a slightly softer rock.
Car Stuff: $182.56
In Germany, all vehicles must be equipped with first aid kits, safety vests, and a safety triangle. Also, parking discs are used in public parking spaces to annotate when you arrive in a spot. We also had to buy new license plate holders since the license plates here are longer and more rectangular than in the US.
New Cell Phones: $53.40
We started out using a prepaid plan through AldiTalk, using our unlocked phones from the US. We’re considering switching to a prepaid plan for Telekom sine AldiTalk isn’t providing us with great coverage; unfortunately, Telekom can’t set us up during the current lockdown because it’s apparently a non-essential service.
Total Cost of Settling into German Life: $4,566.07
Total Cost of Moving to Germany: $12,986.22
Total Military Reimbursements: $4,528.85
I tried to calculate what exactly the military reimbursed, but let’s be honest, we’re just fortunate to be paid back anything – asking for an itemized receipt is clearly too much to ask when it comes to the military finance office 😉 I think it covered our per diem travel days to (but not in) Baltimore, a bit of our TLA in Iowa, plus about $2,600 of dislocation allowance used to help set up a new household (which we would have received regardless of where we PCSed to.)
Total Out-of-Pocket Expenses: $8,457.37
Just in case you’re curious, our total out-of-pocket expenses are approximately 3 months’ worth of Andy’s take-home pay. And yup, it will probably be just as expensive (if not more!) when we move back to the US in 2023-ish. Although it’s not quite as expensive PCSing within the continental US, there are still thousands of dollars of non-reimbursable costs regardless of where the Army sends us. When you move every 2.5-3 years, it adds up very quickly! Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to the money we were reimbursed for the move, it went to buying furnishings for our house (many furniture pieces from the old house didn’t work with the new one or fit in the space,) new winter clothes for our growing toddler, much-needed computer equipment for my home office, etc.
While we’re extremely fortunate to live in beautiful Bavaria, it definitely comes at an expense. To borrow a phrase from my Instagram friend and author Claire Cain, the expense of moving + living here is part of the OCONUS Bonus!