Military personnel are posted either CONUS or OCONUS. This means within the Continental United States or Outside of the Continental United States. We have thousands of personnel stationed OCONUS, both on and off military bases. Horatio has been in the Navy for 27+ years and we’ve spent 17 of those living OCONUS, including Hawaii, Scotland, China and Taiwan. There are pros and cons to all situations and living OCONUS is no exception.
Here’s what you need to know:
Living OCONUS can be great.
- Travel opportunities. If you live in Hawaii, you can explore all Oahu and the other Islands have to offer using the discount given to residence. Yes, Hawaii life is expensive, but if you take advantage of the Commissary and Exchange for shopping, you can save money for adventures on and off of Oahu. If you are stationed out of the United States, you can travel to nearby countries and gain world knowledge to which you (and your kids) would not otherwise have access. While stationed abroad, we’ve visited: England, France, Germany, Holland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, all over China, and more. We’d never have been able to do this if we stayed in the US.
- Friends. You meet people outside your normal circle. This is something that happens by nature of military life, whether you stay CONUS or not, but by living OCONUS, the chances to meet and befriend people from all over the world are plentiful. My Facebook friends list includes people from more than 30 countries!
- The Food! Wow! I don’t even know where to start with this. Sure, in the US, you can get pretty much any type of international cuisine, but nothing is the same as when you experience it in the local country of origin. Living overseas might even shape your eating habits. Young Harold thinks nothing of having ramen soup for breakfast. He’ll eat stinky tofu and other “delicacies” at any time of the day.
- Free (sort of) Travel. Depending on where you are based, if it’s a hardship posting, like China, the government will pay for one or two R&R trips home during the duration of your stay abroad.
- Cultural Exposure. If you have kids, you can show them a world they’d never see back home. By living in China, our kids have seen a culture that is very different from our own. They have absorbed the culture and think of some of it as their own now, but have also come to deplore the way the country runs. They appreciate America much more than if they’d never left.
Living OCONUS can also be a challenge.
- Internet. Depending on where you are stationed, you might have internet obstacles, big or small. Even if you live in a friendly, English speaking country, access to some websites will be restricted. Most of all, streaming sites, which restrict subscribers by region. In order to watch a Netflix show from abroad, you must use a service that tells the site that you are are in America, when in fact you are not. I will not mention the type of service for fear that the keepers of the Great Firewall of China will crack down even further on it. In China, we also have to use these services to use Google products, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. and sometimes the services themselves are blocked, so we are stuck without these privileges.
- Travel. Getting home is difficult. Travel to see family, whether for pleasure, a break from a hardship post, or for a family emergency, is limited, tedious, logistically challenging and often expensive. When we lived in Taiwan, the trip home took nearly a full day. We’d have to fly from Taipei to the West Coast for 15+ hours and, after clearing customs and immigration and enduring a long layover, another 5ish hours to our family’s home. It’s a tiny bit less to fly home from China. Long travel days are hard on most people, but think of doing it with a newborn, or a toddler, or both, or several kids, without your spouse. Military spouses do it all the time. Travel days are no joke, but we do them because at the end of them, we get to be back in our home country, America, and with loved ones whom we haven’t seen in a long time.
- Shopping. Food and clothing and other products that we have grown accustomed to in the US are scarce and expensive overseas. Thankfully, as government employees, we have access to shipping through DPO, APO, FPO or diplomatic pouch. These are all government postal services that allow us to ship things to our overseas postings using US mail rates. Our expat friends do not share this luxury. I feel very lucky to be able to order from Amazon, Target, Walmart and others. I just have to wait 2 weeks or more to get my packages. I admit to having an unhealthy relationship with Amazon Prime. I’ve raised plenty of money for my favorite charity, Gateway to Hope, through the AmazonSmile program. It’s easy, you sign up with your favorite charity, shop through smile.amazon (dot) com and money goes straight to the organization. I’ve given $72.36 as of December 03, 2019, just by buying things I’d needed (or wanted)! Through this program, all charities have received $156,109,909.51 as of November 2019! Amazon is not paying for this plug. Also, I encourage you to shop through Rakuten (formerly ebates). I’ve gotten over $1500 back from them since I joined many many years ago. (They aren’t paying me for this post either.) My point is, if you are posted overseas, you’ll probably do a lot of online shopping, especially if you don’t have access to a Post Exchange or commissary, which we don’t. So, you might as well do something good for a charity and for yourself while you’re at it!
- Cultural Differences. As I said above, cultural diversity is a great thing to discover. However, some cultural differences are better left undiscovered, but are unavoidable. I’ll mention squatty potties, for one. I won’t go into great detail here, but you can read about it in these posts that I wrote more than 10 years ago. Traffic, sanitary habits, smoking in public, to name a few, are unpleasant when they are not what you are used to experiencing. Cultural differences can make adjustment to a posting overseas difficult, but it is worth the effort. The Pros definitely outweigh the cons.
I’ll leave it there, 5 pros, 4 cons. There are more of each, but I encourage you to discover them for yourself. I wouldn’t trade our time overseas for anything. We’ve had invaluable experiences and our children, all four, are better citizens of the world having lived life as third culture kids; but that’s a whole other post.