PCSing to South Korea? Here’s what you need to know
(Photo: Unsplash, Mathew Schwartz)

Receiving the news that you and your family are moving to South Korea may not be expected. If you’re like me, you may have cried at the news or even cursed the heavens for this “roadblock” in your projected life path. As someone who has lived in South Korea as a non-command sponsored spouse, I can assure you that there’s no need to fret. Much like any PCS, as long as you have your ducks in order, it can and will be a smooth transition. Remember that every base is what you make of it. Living in South Korea is no exception.

Command sponsored vs. non-command sponsored

In a nutshell, a “command sponsored spouse” means that the government pays for your journey to South Korea, and you will most likely be required to live on base. A “non-command sponsored spouse” means the government does not pay for your trip, and you will need a form for your active-duty spouse to live off base with you. This can be easy or more difficult to acquire depending on the specific base. Even if this is the case, alert your spouse’s squadron commander/first shirt that you (and children if you have them) will be joining so that they know you’re on the peninsula.

It can be easy or challenging to move your family, depending on your active duty spouse’s job and base. Many spouses decide to live at home in America; others decide to go along for the ride. Discuss this with your family to decide what is best for you. I know many families who have brought kids and pets to South Korea on a non-command sponsored assignment and loved their time in Korea. It is indeed possible.

SOFA visa stamp

When you decide to live in South Korea, you will need a SOFA Visa Stamp in your passport, so you may be allowed to stay with your spouse for the duration of their assignment. You will need a copy of your orders, military ID, and passport in order to receive it. The SOFA visa is only required if you are in the country more than 90 days at a time. If you get the visa, your spouse cannot draw BAH for where you previously were. US military law enforcement aggressively enforces this with severe penalties for violators. The process is simple and straightforward. Do not worry about this visa until you have arrived in country.

Bringing pets

Wait, you can bring your pets along? Of course! In order to bring pets into the country they will need: A titer blood test (make sure you have at least three months prior to your move to complete this); updated rabies shots; a completed health certificate done more than 10 days before your flight; a USDA stamp on the health certificate.

It is highly recommended to take your pets to a military veterinarian. Not only is it cheaper, but they have done this process many times. They also have the ability to sign and stamp as part of the USDA, which cuts out an extra step for you.

Don’t forget to book them a ticket on your flight. Be diligent about checking airline rules and regulations for pets. Some airlines (like American) won’t allow your pet on the flight if it is over the Pacific. In my personal experience, we brought two cats as our carry-ons with United Airlines and didn’t have any issues. In fact, they have the best pet policy I have seen. If you have a larger dog that will go in cargo, be prepared to shell out a lot of extra money to bring them along. It will be expensive, but 100 percent worth it to have your furry family member along for the journey.

Remember to book a pet-friendly TLF while you search for a place to live off-base.

Bringing your stuff

The phrase “less is more” is absolutely key with this PCS. As much as it hurts in the beginning to say goodbye to half of your kitchen items, you will find that you do not need most of what you own. Before your move, make a list of the household items that you use every day to see what is worth hauling over.

Cars can be shipped to Korea, but you can easily buy a cheap one to last the short assignment.

If you get there and realize you needed something that went into storage, check out the local Facebook yard sale page to find what you need as chances are someone else is selling it. Don’t forget that South Korea is an industrialized nation, and they have many awesome department stores and malls to shop at for whatever you need.

Travel opportunities

Living in South Korea opens up many doors for travel opportunities you may have never expected. Tickets to Thailand, Vietnam, Japan–I could go on and on–are quite affordable and only a quick hop away. Even traveling within the country is simple as South Korea has an extensive train, metro, and bus system. Be sure to download Seoul subway apps and translation apps to help guide you. It may seem scary and difficult at first, but you’ll be a pro in no time.

Your neighbor to the North

You probably aren’t thrilled to live in South Korea because of North Korea, right? I will be the first one to tell you, stop listening to Western media’s take on North Korea. I am not telling you to be uninformed or delusional because that doesn’t make you an informed citizen. Please keep in mind that many Western news outlets rely on sensational pieces to keep their viewership up. I first heard news about North Korea from my friends and family in America. Much of it was over exaggerated and only contributed to fear mongering.

That said, it would be unwise to not be prepared for possible circumstances. Keep a go bag ready (for peace of mind) complete with water, non-perishable food, food for your pets, jump drives of important documents, cash (both American and Korean won), and weather-appropriate clothing. When you arrive to your base, your spouse’s squadron commander will have more information for you.

Keeping an open mind

Take a deep breath–it’s hard to live in a foreign country! Give yourself some credit that you are strong and can handle this. It will be a culture shock at first, but know you aren’t the first to experience this. Once you know your way around, meet some familiar local faces, and settle into a routine, it will feel like any other assignment. Take pride in knowing that not many Americans have this unique experience. Attend cultural events, try the culture’s foods (they may surprise you), attempt to learn some Korean, and never stop exploring this part of the world. Besides, if you stay cooped up in your house and don’t make any effort, you will definitely be miserable. It’s all what you make of it.

By Elizabeth Seis