One of the great benefits of joining the Foreign Service is that the State Department pays for my move. In fact, they arrange for everything. But, that does not make it easy.
The hardest part of the whole moving process may just be figuring out what is going on. When I move to DC in two weeks (actually, moving to Arlington), I will be staying in a corporate apartment, which is fully furnished. In that regard, it is like a hotel room with a kitchen. I am likely going to be there, however, for several months up to a year. So, in that regard, it is my home and I want to have MY things with me. So, I have to figure out what to bring with me, what to put in storage and how all this works.
Separating my stuff
Everything that I own will be classified into one of three categories. First, you have the stuff that I will bring with me. Since I am driving to DC, this is everything that will fit into my car (I will probably make more than one trip). If I were flying, this would be what I could fit into my suitcases and would be limited by airline weight restrictions (usually 50 lbs./bag X 2 bags). Since I take this stuff with me, I will have it as soon as I get to my post (or in this case, training in DC).
The second category is called Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB). These items are shipped, by air, to your post or training (since I live so close to DC, my stuff will not be shipped by air). Including the weight of the packaging material, this is limited to 250 lbs. Typically, it arrives a few days to two weeks after you do (I will likely get mine on the day I move into my new apartment). The UAB will generally include more clothes and other items you want relatively quickly at post, such as DVDs, linens, some cooking utensils, etc.
The third category is called Household Effects (HHE). These are the big ticket items and the rest of the stuff you couldn't fit into the previous categories. Items such as TV, furniture, appliances, etc. Generally, these items are shipped by land or sea and can take several months until they arrive at post. The maximum weight of HHE is 18,000 lbs (9 tons). During training, most of these items are stored at a facility in Maryland. When I go to my first post, I can bring 7,200 lbs of HHE with me if the place is furnished or the whole 18,000 lbs if it is unfurnished. My total shipped/stored weight can never exceed 18,000 lbs.
So, to start this whole process, I walked around my apartment and inventoried everything. When printed out, all of my worldly possessions add up to six pages. Not sure if this makes me happy or sad. Then, I categorized everything into one of 9 categories (Furniture, electronics, Artwork, Miscellaneous, Kitchen, Bathroom, Linens, Dog Stuff, clothes and storage).
Then I went through the list and decided what I wanted to store, to bring with me, and to put in UAB. Most of it was pretty easy. All the furniture was going to storage, most of the clothes were coming with me or going UAB. Some things were more difficult. Should I bring more cereal bowls? (yes) How many towels should I bring? (Two) Should I bring my blender? (No.)
Now, I am at the point where I am physically separating these items. Most of the HHE stuff is going into the den in my apartment. The UAB stuff is sitting on my dining room table. The hardest part is how to deal with HHE items that I plan to use until the day of the packout. For example, my bathroom and kitchen rugs. I am still using them and they need to be washed before they are packed away, but I don't know how much time I will have to wash stuff on the packout day.
When to move?
From the day that the movers come and take my stuff, I will be living on the government's dime (Thanks, everyone). But the government has lots of rules and regulations to figure out how and when they will pay for per diem. It is probably easiest if we work backwards.
I start training on February 16, 2010. As of that date, they will pay for my housing at the local rates. This means actual costs up to a maximum for lodging (it varies, but for DC is around $200/day) and a flat rate for meals, incidentals, and expenses (around $70/day). Once I have been in training for 60 days, they cut these rates in half. After another 60 days, it is cut in half again. It remains at this rate until I finish training. Since I am staying at Oakwood, all of my lodging is paid directly to Oakwood and I only get the MI&E money.
It is not practical for me to move to DC on the day that I start training, so the regulations allow me to arrive in DC two whole days before I start work. So, I can move to Oakwood on February 14 (Happy Valentine's Day). They also pay for my drive here, which if I were coming from California would allow me lodging and MI&E for the trip. Since I am only 52 miles away, I will only get paid for my mileage.
For a variety of reasons, it is not possible to expect all pack-outs (where the movers pack and load up your stuff) to happen on the day you leave for DC. The pack-out, may occur anywhere from 1 day to 10 days before you actually leave for DC. Recognizing that you can't really live in your home after it has been packed out, the government will pay for up to ten days of post-packout, pre-departure per diem (including lodging and MI&E). You can only used this per diem in the place of the pack-out. Because I work in DC and car pool in from Fredericksburg, I was hoping to stay in a hotel closer to DC to cut down on my commute the last week. That is not an option. Right now, my packout is scheduled for February 10, which will have me in a Fredericksburg hotel for only 4 days (I was originially scheduled for 10 days).
The most daunting aspect of all this per diem is that (with the exception of Oakwood) I have to pay for the costs upfront and I will get reimbursed later on. So, if I miscalculate, I will be screwed.