Congratulations on your military PCS move to England! Receiving a duty assignment can be exciting, knowing that you will get to experience a new country.
However, with a new PCS move overseas comes stress. There are many things to do once you get military orders, and double that when moving overseas. Out-processing a base is no joke. You have to make sure all of your paperwork and checklists are complete before the final out of the base. So, yes, it can be stressful. But the more you prepare, the better off you will be for keeping things in order and the stress down.
Today I’m going to walk you through the process of your PCS move to England. I share some tips from my own experiences and research for a military move overseas. Continue to read along as we tackle this process together and live an incredible life in England.
PCS Move to England
When I first realized I had an overseas PCS to the UK, I was excited yet terrified.
Although I’ve moved around quite a bit in the US and Turkey, this was different. An assignment to the UK means your tour will be at least two years if single and 3-4 years with a family.
I moved to England to RAF Mildenhall in 2018. It’s 2022 now, and we are still here. LOL. So I have several tips on what to do and things I’ve experienced first-hand.
I know a PCS move overseas; things can be hectic. You don’t know where to start. You may be thinking, where am I going to live? Should I move on-base or off-base? Should I bring my US-spec vehicle or sell it? And the kids, where are they going to go to school? I have these answers to your questions in this post.
Without further ado, here is How to Succesfully PCS Move to England from USA.
1. How to PCS move to England from USA?
Do US military need visa for UK?
The US military does not need a visa for the UK. If you get a PCS assignment to move to the UK from the US, you can travel on your military travel orders. Additionally, you will need to have a Government Issued (No-fee) passport if you get assigned to a special unit. While you are out-processing your base, they will give you a checklist and let you know if you require a government passport or not. The last thing you must have with you to pcs to the UK is your Military ID Card. That’s it.
I didn’t realize how many bases there were in the UK with the US military working there until I moved here. The two biggest bases are RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. The other smaller bases are RAF Feltwell, RAF Croughton, RAF Molesworth, RAF Alconbury, RAF Fairford, and RAF Menwith Hill.
PCS move to England from US as a Military Spouse
If you are a military spouse, you can move to England with your active duty spouse. More than likely, you will be traveling with your spouse at the same time. So you will need a set of Military travel orders, your Dependent ID Card, and a Government Issued (No-fee) passport.
If you have kids, they will also need a Government Issued (No-fee) passport. Without that, you will not be able to travel with your spouse and family overseas.
Unfortunately, this does sometimes happen when the military member has to report for duty, but the dependents don’t have all of their documents, and they will have to stay in the US until they get all the proper paperwork. It’s more challenging getting dependents on all of the pertinent paperwork, medical clearances, etc. So to alleviate any travel delays, you need to start the process as soon as you get an assignment.
You should get a tourist passport
You and your family should get a tourist passport before leaving the US. The government-issued passport cannot be used for leisure travel. It’s much easier to get a travel passport in the US than in the UK.
Read Next: See this post on 10 Things To Do Before a PCS move overseas.
2. Shipping your household goods for a military move overseas
Now let’s talk about shipping your things abroad.
HHG’s (House Hold Goods) shipment
-For military members moving to England from the US on travel orders, you will set up your household goods shipment through the transportation office on base. Fortunately for you, moving your HHGs will be included in your transportation package, where you will not have to pay for it.
You can ship your household goods, the bulk of your belongings (say 13,000 pounds), such as your living room and bedroom furniture. These items will go on a ship and take up to 2-4 months to arrive in the UK.
Express shipment AKA Unaccompanied Baggage
Then you will have the option of an express shipment too. An express shipment is a lighter load sent on a plane, approximately 500 pounds. The express shipment could include a couple of boxes of clothing, linen, some kitchenware, a small TV, and even a loveseat or chair.
Since the express shipment will go on a plane, you can wait up to a month to have your shipment packed up since it’ll get to England much faster than the HHG’s. You should keep things for your express shipment that you would want to use before you leave the US and what you would want to have right away when you arrive in the UK.
Then another option you will have for your pcs move overseas is storing some household goods that you will or cannot use while living in England. For instance, I decided to put my Washing machine and dryer in storage because the appliances are bigger and are 110 volts.
Some of the houses in England are smaller, and the outlets are 220.
I talk more about the housing situation here in England in this post.
Don’t worry about bringing those appliances, though, because the FMO office will loan you appliances, i.e., a Washer, dryer, and refrigerator, for your tour in England.
Next, you’ll need to decide what items to keep with you and bring in your luggage. You need to think about the season when you’re moving to England. For instance, you don’t want to only have shorts with you in the middle of winter. So whatever clothes you need right away, do not pack them in your household goods shipments. Keep them and take them with you on the plane.
For more info about the weather in England, see this post.
Another thing I’ve done to ensure I had some essentials right away in England was ship my own boxes/crates through the Post Office. Some of the items were comforters, pots and pans, shoes, and clothes.
Usually, when you ship items yourself during a military move, you can get reimbursed for it when filing your travel voucher. It’s known as s Dity move. My advice would be to talk to your transportation office first to see if it is still covered.
For more info on what to pack for moving abroad, check out this post.
3. What should you do with your car?
Since you are on military orders, you can ship your car to England at the government’s expense. So the big question is should you ship your vehicle to England or sell it?
I was conflicted about if I should ship my vehicle since I had previously heard about the road conditions in England and how driving in England can be hectic. But ultimately, I ended up bringing it.
Therefore, if you decide to ship your car, you will start the process with the transportation office and online at PCSmyPOV. You will schedule a drop-off of your cars and get all the requirements needed.
Then your car will get shipped to a VPC in the UK. However, before getting your car released through customs, you must fill out and submit a UK customs form 941. Then you can go to the VPC and pick up your vehicle.
My car shipped to the Brandon VPC (near RAF Mildenhall), which will likely be the same for you.
Tidbit: I mistakingly removed my US plates off of my car and turned them into the DMV to save money while in the US. But without any plates on your car, you cannot drive it in the UK. Even though my car was here when I arrived, I had to leave it parked and get a rental vehicle until my registration was complete.
So please, don’t be like me, keep your plates on your car so you can drive it around England for 30 days.
5. Stay in contact with the sponsor
When you get your assignment RIP, you should get an assigned sponsor right after that. A sponsor is a person at the gaining base and unit you’re going to. They will assist you in your PCS move to England.
Your sponsor is going to become your new best friend. Utilize them to the max extent possible. They are here to help and guide you through the PCS process. They can assist you with housing, schooling, work, etc. Once you arrive, they’ll be there to pick you up and take you to TLF while showing you around the base, the unit, etc.
6. Billeting for PCS Move
When you have a date for your PCS to the UK, reserve your billeting right away. You and your family will need a temporary place to live until you have permanent housing. The rooms can get booked pretty fast, and you don’t wanna in the cold.
I recommend booking at least four months ahead of time for both losing and gaining bases.
Arriving in the UK
7. Registering your vehicle after an overseas PCS move
There are a few other things you’ll have to do once you bring your US-spec car to the UK.
You will have to get an MOT complete before registering your car in England. An MOT is an inspection of your vehicle to ensure it is in good working order for UK road standards. And let me tell you it is a thorough inspection. They check under your hood, lights, and everything. The inspection can last a few hours to half the day. It’s nothing like it was in the US of just blowing your horn and turning on the lights. Nope, they check it all!
Another thing you must get completed to your US-spec vehicle is a light conversion. So as you may already be aware, in the UK, you drive on the left-hand side of the road. The UK spec vehicle’s steering wheel is on the right side. So the light conversion is needed to curve your lights inward to the road. The light conversion will run you about $250 – $300.
Additionally, if you do not have fog lights on your vehicle, you will have to get that installed as well. And the fog in England can get very thick and heavy.
Once all of that is complete, you can apply to register your car. Finally. You will register your vehicle on base at the Security Forces Pass and ID office.
7. Getting a license & driving in England
Once you arrive in the UK, stop by the AFRC to get a copy of the Highway Code. You can also go online to study the Highway Code, Road Safety, and Vehicle Rules. This book will familiarize you with the rules, signs, and speed limits of the roads.
Can I drive in the UK with an American License?
Yes, you can drive in the UK on a US license for one year. However, military members PCSing to England from the US will have to get an Air Force License. To get a license, they will administer a test on base. Don’t worry, though, because people will be there to teach you about driving in the UK before taking your test. At least it was like this for RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall. It may be different for the other RAF bases.
Then once you pass, you will get your license on base as well. You must have a valid US driver’s license with a date that will take you through the duration of your tour in England. Without a US license, you cannot get an Air Force license.
On your Air Force license, it also includes a fuel permit. This fuel permit is needed to get gas on base. The gas prices on base are much cheaper than those off base, so you will want to get that AF license and permit ASAP.
You have to show the cashier your license every time you need to get gas, and they check to see if your car registration is on the permit. You cannot fuel up someone else’s car unless you have Power of Attorney over that car. Yes, they are that strict.
What happens if you don’t have a US license?
I highly recommend getting a US license before moving to the UK. It could take upwards of 6 months or more for approval for a UK license. It’ll be much easier to obtain your license in the US and drive right away without waiting.
Please make sure your license won’t expire while in the UK. You will go through hell to prove why you need to renew your licenses while living overseas. It’s hard to do, especially if you don’t get it done before it expires. The DMV in the states will take you around the ringer…Trust me, I’ve stayed overseas longer than I intended, and my license expired.
8. Looking for Housing in UK
Looking for housing can be challenging, especially in a foreign country. The houses in the UK are much different than in the US. The homes tend to be much smaller and closer together.
Whether you are moving to England solo or with a family will determine what kind of housing you will like.
If you would like to live close to the base, housing is available. For example, near RAF Mildenhall, there are housing areas called Beck Row and West Row. Then right outside of RAF Lakenheath are housing village called Lord’s Walk.
If you prefer to live further away from the base, there are several good cities to live in. You have Newmarket, Brandon, Bury St. Edmunds. Then further out from RAF, Lakenheath is Cambridge.
Finding the right home
Don’t just rely on the pictures you see on the website because the house looks different in person. When I say different, I mean smaller. So yes, check things out online to get an idea of the houses and the area, but you must go in person. It’s good to check out the neighborhoods and see if there are any convenience stores, grocery stores, shopping, and nearby schools.
If you want to see more info on houses and the differences from the US, see my post here.
To caveat, getting into a house off base will be expensive. They require you to pay the first month’s rent and deposit right off the back in the UK. So if your rent is £1500 and your deposit is £2000, then that’s a lot of money to shell out at one time. So ensure you save up some money for the BIG PCS move to England because it is expensive. You can ask for an advance to help pay the first month’s rent through the Housing and Finance office.
Housing office for assistance
You must find housing within 30 days of PCSing to England, or you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Technically it’s supposed to be 60 days to find accommodation, but they will try to kick you out by 30 days. If you don’t find a house by then, you will have to move to a short-term rental, and they will start your OHA.
9. Applying for base housing
On the other hand, if you want to live on base, apply for housing ASAP. Even if you are torn between living on base or off base, apply for housing anyway. The waiting list is usually crazy, and houses go quickly.
**The webpage to start the process is the Housing Early Assistance Tool (HEAT) website.
In retrospect, the houses I’ve seen on RAF Feltwell and RAF Lakenheath are nice. These houses are similar to American-style homes with an open floor concept. They are big, spacious, and modern.
If you want to see more info on houses and the differences from the US, see my post here.
10. Establishing a Bank Account in England
To pay your bills in the UK, you must open up a local bank account. The local currency in the UK is the British Pound. The Pounds account you must open also called a Sterling account.
There are a few banks on base that you can open an account with.
Keesler Federal Credit Union
KFCU is a US Bank that is on base that you can set up an account here. They have Sterling and US dollars accounts.
Community is another bank on base that you can open to use as a UK pound sterling.
Additionally, for military members to open an account, you must present a copy of your travel orders, CAC card, and other personal info.
I’ve been a member of Keesler Federal for over ten years now, so it was a no-brainer to continue with them. However, since there is a US-based bank, I was told I couldn’t use Keesler to pay my UK bills, which isn‘t true. I can pay utilities and rent through Keesler Federal. I just have to fill out a form and get more info from the billing company.
Anywho, I reluctantly opened an account with Community Bank as well. And I still have both accounts but prefer to use Keesler. It’s just more convenient working with them versus Community Bank.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to open an account on base, you can use a local bank, and some people prefer that.
Here are a few recommended local banks:
Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank, HSBC, and Natwest
11. Paying Bills in the UK
Paying Rent and utilities is pretty different from the US. For one, you MUST have a sterling account to pay your bills. Secondly, most Estate Agents require you to pay rent automatically through Bill Pay. You will have to fill out paperwork and set it up through your bank as a part of the lease agreement. This paperwork includes the rental amount, sort code, date of withdrawal, etc.
Then, you will most likely have to do the same for your cell phone bill, electricity, etc.
Further, utilities in England, such as the water and electricity bills, are calculated differently than in the US.
For instance, at the beginning of our move into the house, we had to read the meter every month or two and input it on the website to get an accurate bill payment. Yup…I’ve never done that before in my life.
Some things in England are of the Stone Ages, but eventually, they catch up. Now I have a smart reader installed, which has helped a ton.
12. Getting a cell phone after PCS move overseas
Should you bring your cell phone with you?
Yes, if you have a cell phone from the US, you can bring it. Before leaving the states, contact your cell phone service company and ask them to unlock your phone. You cannot start a new cell service plan if your phone is locked with another company.
When you arrive at London Heathrow airport, you can purchase a SIM card right away to have a source of communication. If you don’t know what company you want to start a plan with, you can get a pay-as-you-go SIM card. It’s pretty much what it means. You can choose how much data you need (say 10-100 GBs), pay for the card, and insert it into your phone. Then once that data runs out, you can “top-up” and pay for more data using the same SIM card.
There are many cell phone companies in the UK, but the three major ones are EE, Vodafone, and Three. I chose to go with Vodafone. Most people I know either have Vodafone or Three. Each company has its pros and cons. Both companies have dead spots around England where you don’t have any service, especially on the base. However, I’m pretty satisfied with using Vodafone, and they have a Roam Further plan where you can use your cell phone in different countries while traveling.
One thing I like about England, is the cell phone plans are cheaper vs US. The plan I have with Vodafone is only £38 ~ $51 for unlimited data, text, and talk with free roaming in 50+ countries.
In the states, a plan like that would be well over $150+!! Crazy, right?!
13. Healthcare for military PCS move to England
Military members and dependents are still covered under Tricare health insurance when moving overseas. You will have to transfer your Tricare coverage from your last base to Tricare Overseas Prime.
There are hospitals and clinics on base to make routine appointments and see the PCM.
The hospitals on base will be the primary place you go for all of your healthcare, dental, immunizations, etc. However, if they don’t have the type of specialty doctor you need, that’s when you will get referred to see a local doctor off base.
14. Kids school in England
If you are moving to England with children, contact the School Liaison Office to get information on registering your child for school. They can also give you information about the schools on base and off base.
Additionally, go to the DODEA’s schools’ Facebook pages for more info. The DODEA schools around RAF Lakenheath are Feltwell Elementary School, Lakenheath Elementary, Middle and High Schools.
Overall thoughts for PCS Move to England
The PCS Move to England from the US has been a journey. Yes, it will get overwhelming at times, but as long as you prepare and take it one day at a time, you will do just fine.
All in all, moving to the UK has been a wonderful experience, and I’m glad we took the plunge.
I hope you will enjoy your stay in the UK.
Further Reading for moving Overseas and Living in the UK
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