Navigating the Transfer Process as an EFM


home leave, kabul, afghanistan, foreign service, packoutOur life for the past two months.Moving to a new post — otherwise known as Permanent Change of Station (PCS) — is never easy. Yes, we have movers who pack everything for us and a house/apartment/shipping container in which to live. And yes, it’s on the government’s dime. But the process is not without its stresses.There are a number of things one must accomplish prior to departing from post, along with a number of things one must accomplish prior to arriving to post. As the spouse, or EFM (Eligible Family Member), many of these are out of your control. You’re not the Foreign Service Officer, so it’s not up to you to get your travel orders written and approved. You’re not the primary contact with HR or the shipping and customs people or the movers.The things I could take control of — and not rely on correspondence with/approval from offices in San Salvador, Washington and Kabul — I did. Job? Secured. Health records requests and medical clearance exams? On it. Packing lists? Done. Getting organized and packout prep? Yes, please. Planning our home leave itinerary? No problem. Consumables shopping? Send me to Costco. But all the other stuff? Actually scheduling/confirming the movers? Getting registered for trainings? Finalizing our travel authorization? Booking our flights? Obtaining our visas? I had no control over.foreign service packout, HHE, UAB, moving overseas, moving abroad, packing for international movePackout. I was all over it.Eventually, it all gets done one way or another and you find yourself on a plane with five suitcases in tow. Your month of home leave goes by in a flash and the next thing you know, you’re on the ground in a new country.Now that our second transfer process is smoothly underway, I thought I’d share with you some tips for navigating the transfer process as an EFM:1. Trust in your spouse. As a class Type A who likes to be in control (What? This surprises you?), this is hard for me. But it’s in their interest, too to keep the PCS ball rolling so they’ll get the checkout process completed, the car sold and everything else done at some point. Kail and I have butted heads many a time about whether he followed up about our TA or confirmed our training enrollment. The truth is, a lot of this is out of his hands too and is bouncing around somewhere in the bureaucratic nether-regions of the government, awaiting a checkmark and signature on someone’s desk. Cut him (or her) some slack.2. But when needed, be the squeaky wheel. I know I just said to lay off a little, but sometimes, nagging is warranted. Is it the day before your scheduled packout and you’re still unsure what time the movers are arriving? A phone call and/or email is acceptable. Is training supposed to start next week but you’re still waiting on that automatic enrollment confirmation email from the FSI Registrar? Doesn’t hurt to check in. Are you still waiting on your visas a couple business days before your scheduled flights? Might be time to panic.3. Start planning early. I’m a big believer in the never-put-off-till-tomorrow-what-you-can-do-today school of thought. So you still have a year until you arrive to your next post and several months before you need to even think about packout? It’s never too early to start planning. Are you headed to a consumables post? Do you know how much toilet paper/Diet Coke/shampoo you and your family go through in a year? Probably a good idea to start keeping track. Are you heading to a domestic post, which means retrieving all of your earthly belonging out of storage? Better sign up for some of those CLO-sponsored community yard sales.You’ll need to update your medical clearance, along with any required immunizations and boosters. This often requires requesting medical records from various doctors stateside, which can take some back-and-forth via telephone, email and fax (seriously, who faxes anymore?) over the course of several weeks.Getting things out of the way early helps free up resources during crunch time — those last couple weeks at post when you’re wrapping up work, packing out, going on last-minute vacations, etc., or even those last couple weeks in the U.S. when you’re finishing up training, hunting down your visas and saying goodbye to people.4. Be organized. This goes hand-in-hand with early planning. Be aware of deadlines and how long certain processes take. Start making lists early on and add to them as needed (I’m a fan of Google Drive, which lets you share and concurrently work on documents so both you and your spouse can add/update). Think about what you’ll need to get done before you leave post, while you’re on home leave/training and immediately upon arrival at your next post. If you have an Embassy job, there’s some HR paperwork that’s needed on both ends, so be sure to keep that somewhere handy.5. Do what you can, but don’t overdo it. This sounds self-contradictory but in all seriousness, you can only do so much. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the transfer process is not up to the EFM. Make the lists, submit the forms, schedule the appointments, do whatever is within your power and then let it go. Enjoy your remaining time at post, your home leave and yes, even your training.Foreign Service veterans, what advice do you have for navigating the transfer process? Or for you non-FS folks, how do you manage a big move or other major life change?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

2 thoughts on “Navigating the Transfer Process as an EFM

  1. You are a rockstar! Looks like foreign service wife or being a CEO was your calling! For big life events I make lists and my husband laughs at them, because my lists include in equal order of importance things like 1) do baby’s laundry, 2) buy car, 3) cut dogs nails, 4) put changing table together.


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