This has been the most confusing part of moving to South Korea, for us and for you guys too. So I wanted to clear the air and let you know exactly what we’re doing.
The regular, military way, to go to South Korea is becoming Command Sponsored, or accompanied. This just means that your spouse’s command has approved their family to join them. The military will pay for all flights, for the moving expenses, and will house you on post if there is room. You will also be required to go for two years instead of one.
However, we’re not doing that. We’re going Non-Command Sponsored (NCS).
First, why go that route? Simply put: Brandon really really REALLY didn’t want to go for longer than a year. He has his reasons and I respect that. But I didn’t want to be left behind while he had all the fun. That wasn’t an option for me. So we went back and forth trying to decide what we would do, until a Captain here told him, “just bring your family over unaccompanied! Lots of guys do it!” That sealed the deal. Best of both worlds: He gets a year there and I get to join him!
It is NOT as scary as you might think. And YES, I can do this. Because, funny thing, the Army doesn’t own me. They can send Brandon all over the world because he signed a contract, but they can’t stop me from moving to South Korea if I damn well want to. Right? If right now, I wanted to pack up Penny and move to, say, Russia… they aren’t going to stop me.
So… maybe you landed on this blog for the first time and are trying to decide about your South Korea experience. Let me help you with some research I’ve already found. Mind you, I’m not even in Korea yet, but I have chatted with a lot of people and feel pretty confident in my answers. Here’s the low-down:
1. Where will we live?!
If your spouse goes unaccompanied, you can choose to remain where you are or be moved to your home of record (ours in CO). Now, in Korea, you will HAVE to live off-post. Since you’re not approved to live there, they won’t have space for you on-post. When your spouse arrives in Korea, they will have to request a waiver to live off-post. In most cases, because this is always command based, the soldier will be granted this waiver, especially once the command learns that the family will be overseas with them.
2. What about money?
When you arrive, you do a whole bunch of paperwork to be approved for OHA (overseas housing allowance) with dependents. This means you will lose BAH back in the US, and be able to pay for your home in Korea. OHA only covers your housing, so you will not make any money off of it, you will not get the extra. You will also get money for utilities, of which you can earn the difference.
3. How do you get over there?
You will have to purchase a plane ticket for yourself and any children out of pocket. The military will not pay for your travel to and from South Korea. Same with any pets you bring (though they are never paid for by the military). You will also have to take care of tourist passports and visas.
4. Can you use the commissary and exchange?
Yes! You will be given a rations card, just like those who are command sponsored, and be able to shop on post like all the rest.
5. What about healthcare?
This is space-available. That means, you can be seen, but only if they have room for you after the command sponsored people get in first. You can also be seen off post just fine. But you WILL have access to healthcare.
6. What about schooling?
I don’t have any school-aged kids, so this wasn’t going to be an issue with me. However, just like healthcare, you are on the bottom of the totem pole. If there is space after all the command sponsored kids get in, then you will be given a chance to enroll your kids in school on post. Consider homeschooling maybe?
7. How much stuff can we bring?
Your soldier will be allowed a certain weight allowance for his belongings. Ours is fairly high, practically half of what we have altogether, so we have a lot of room to include everything we might want/need. We will send whatever we need with Brandon’s shipment and then when Penny and I come over, it’ll be whatever we can pack in a couple suitcases! We’re going to be getting a furnished apartment (very common over there) and living with the bare essentials. Think of it as an adventure!
8. But what about all your other stuff? What happens when you leave Korea?
It’ll stay at your old place! So in our case, in boxes at the in-laws house. When we move, the Army will take our stuff from both Korea and Colorado and ship it to our new duty station.
9. Can you drive in Korea?
Unfortunately, because my husband is going unaccompanied, he won’t be authorized a car. Ours will be staying back until we return! I’ve heard, though, that he can request a waiver to drive and we will be allowed to purchase a car and get Korean driver’s licenses. From what I’ve heard, the drivers there are a bit scary, so I might just opt out for a year. We’ll be living in the city with plenty of public transportation, so I think we will just learn that! And get walking!
10. What happens if North Korea goes cray-cray and you need to be evacuated?
Don’t worry. They will evacuate you. You’re a citizen of the US-freaking-A and they will get you out!
Honestly, going NCS isn’t as scary as they try to make you believe. Once I did my research and talked with people, it definitely sealed the deal for me. There was no reason to separate our family unless we had to (i.e.: deployment.) Don’t think of orders to Korea as a death-sentence, think of it as an opportunity to see a part of the world you might not otherwise get to see!
That’s all I have for now. Do you have any questions?