Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Paperwork for a Permanent Change of Station (PCS)

In addition to all the chaos involved with an international move, the State Department also has a robust system of paperwork to ensure that costs are authorized and payrolls are appropriately adjusted. They accomplish this with each assignment using Travel Messages (TMs).

But that's an over-simplification. There are lots of things required to get each TM issued. That's what the rest of this post is about.

Standard State Department PCS Process
  • After you receive your Official Notification of Assignment (TMONE), you have to submit your travel itenerary (TMTWO). 
  • Apply for Diplomatic passports for the family (DS-82 for 16+ years old, DS-11 for the kids who have to be present at time of application). You need either a TMFOUR (your assignment orders) or if you don't have those yet, a DS-1640 from your HR assignment technician saying that you have an assignment and need the Dip Passport. Print them single-sided s the scanning machine doesn't do both sides.
  • Update Medical Clearances with the DS-3057 (Sign, Scan, & Send the pdfs to Medical Records). Being in DC for my first assignment, we only had to fill out the forms...our entry physicals were still valid.
  • Call Transportation to set up the dates for movers to come pack up our Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB, the small shipment that is rumored to get to post faster) and our Household Effects (HHE, the main shipment that is rumored to get to post in a couple of months). The movers need the TMFOUR at least five days prior to the first pack-out date, but you can schedule without it. FYI: Even though a crib doesn't fit within the UAB size requirements, it's the only thing Transportation makes an exception for and will usually include the crib with your UAB if you ask.
PCS with Kids 
  • Contact the local school at your gaining Post, register them, and buy uniforms if necessary. It's probably a good idea to see if you can buy uniform items prior to arrival so that you have one less thing to stress over. I'm told that the application fee is reimbursable if you itemize your travel voucher (but you could also simply request the miscellaneous allowance you were authorized on your travel voucher). As for timing, we had our daughter in school 14 hours after landing. There is plenty of information within the State Dept support system related to international schools, but you can't access it from the public internet...just know that it exists.
PCS with Pets
My dates:
  • TMONE: Received 21 Oct 2014.
    With a TMONE, you can:
    • apply for diplomatic passports with the DS-1640 form. Applied 4 Nov 14, Available for pick up on 13 Nov 14
    • schedule pre-move survey & pack-out date
    • submit Medical Clearance updates using the DS-3057 form. You need to be medically cleared to get the TMFOUR, so yeah, es muy importante. Submitted 27 Oct 14, approved xxxx
  • TMTWO: Submitted 27 Oct 2014. Accepted 4 Nov 2014. 
    With an accepted TMTWO, you can:
    • Make your flight reservations
    • Get working on those visas (if you have your passports already)
    Bearing in mind that I only got my official notification five days prior to submitting my TMTWO, I got an email on 26 Oct 2014 that read:
    "Our records indicate that your transfer eligibility date (TED) for your current assignment is 01/01/2015 and we have not yet received your online proposed travel itinerary (TMTWO) via My Itinerary. As of this email date, you have 67 days between now and your TED.  
    ACTION ITEM: Please complete and submit your proposed travel itinerary via My Itinerary in HR Online. To aid you in your Permanent Change of Station (PCS) planning, orders will be cut no later than 90 days prior to your departure date if your proposed travel itinerary is received in a timely manner." 
  • TMTHREE: Issued on 22 Oct 2014 (but not received until 16 Dec 2014)
    • This is usually a form letter, so I found one in the post information available through the Overseas Transition Center website while I was waiting. Good stuff on
      • Required vaccinations
      • Number of photos required for things like residency cards, drivers licenses, additional visas.
  • TMFFOUR: Received 24 Nov 14 With a TMFOUR, you can do all sorts of great stuff:
    • confirm pack-out date
    • confirm your flight reservations (including pet arrangements/requirements)-finalized 3 Dec 14.
      • With itinerary (and appropriate passports) you can get your visa, Not the long-term, multiple entry visa, but at least you can get into the country. Submitted to State's special issuance agency on 4 dec, 2014. received XXX
      • Depending on the country, you might have to wait until 30 days prior to arrival to apply for the visa.
    • Optional: Submit a request for pay advance using the JF-55. The advance may be requested from 45 days prior to the employee's departure date to their 60th day after arrival at their assignment abroad.  Look, it's an interest free loan up to the value of six pay periods (net salary) that you have 18 pay periods to repay. Once processed (usually under 10 days), it shows up in your next regular paycheck.
  • Within 10 days of departure: 
    • Contact HR and payroll to let them know how to adjust your base pay (Overseas or Domestic). This affects your residency for tax purposes.
    • Send the DS 7667 to both your current and future posts to coordinate moving your computer account over to the new domain.
  • TMEIGHT: Transmitted 5 Jan 2015. This is basically the last bit of formal communication between your receiving post and your gaining post to say that you arrived. You'll probably work with the HR person at post to fill out the form on the first day after arrival while you're still jet-lagged.
    • It updates your COLA, Hardship Pay and Danger pay.
    • It sets the final date for your travel voucher.
  • After arriving at Post (unless you were lucky enough to get your actual mailing address sorted out before departure):
    • Within 5 days, submit your travel voucher, accounting for each day after you departed from your previous post. We just hopped on a plane on one day and landed at our destination on the next day, but future PCS vouchers will likely include things like home leave, consultations, annual leave, etc. 
    • Update your TSP, banking, and insurance accounts with your new address (and phone if known)
    • Talk with the GSO about when your UAB & HHE are getting in, along with what's required to get a driver's license and any required training to get a vehicle from motorpool.
So, yeah, kind of daunting, but the nice part is that there is someone who knows what to do at each step in the process. The trick is knowing who that person is.

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