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What is UAB or Unaccompanied Baggage: Get ready to PCS OCONUS

What is Unaccompanied Baggage

Grab your FREE UAB Checklist to ensure you are prepared for packing day!

What is a UAB or Unaccompanied Baggage shipment?

Whoa! There are a lot of military acronyms coming your way, so here’s a little breakdown:

  • UAB- Unaccompanied Baggage
  • HHG- Household Goods
  • PCS- Permanent Change of Station
  • OCONUS- Duty station outside of the 48 contiguous United States (overseas)

UAB, or Unaccompanied Baggage, is a smaller shipment of household goods that arrives before your main shipment when you PCS OCONUS. The UAB shipment goes by plane, while your larger HHG (household goods) goes by boat. The Unaccompanied Baggage is supposed to arrive shortly after you arrive at your duty station to bridge the gap between your arrival and the arrival of your stuff. Sometimes, the UAB is called your express shipment, so you may hear it referred to by a different name.

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Purpose of UAB

Typically, it can take up to 90 days for your HHG to arrive, so you want to ensure that your UAB contains all the minimal items you need in your home to wait out that time. Because these items are arriving by plane, you must be mindful of what you are packing. Some duty stations will have a “welcome kit” or a “loaner kit,” so inquire about that possibility before you send your UAB. You may be able to maximize your shipment with more clothing or school supplies if linens and kitchenware are available.

We bought this camping set of dishes to put into our UAB. It was great because it didn’t weigh too much, and we had a full set when we arrived. Check out the link here:

Light weight dishes for UAB

What to pack for Unaccompanied Baggage

I think of the Unaccompanied Baggage as my BIG first-day/last-day box. So these are all I would want/need if I’m house camping or living in an empty house. Linens, towels, clothes, small electronics, minimal kitchenware, pet beds, games, etc. If your house is not furnished, you may want to think of air mattresses and small TV stands for furniture. For a full list, check out my FREE checklist. But essentially, you should take advantage of the weight allotted to make yourself as comfortable as possible while waiting for your stuff to arrive.

UAB checklist

This has been our favorite European adapter and surge protector. Check out the link here. *Note: I couldn’t find the exact one on the American Amazon. The one in the picture is from Amazon Spain. However, I would have some adapters ready to go, especially if you have teenagers!

European adapter

What not to pack for Unaccompanied Baggage

Regarding moving with the military, packing up our UAB has been quite the experience. Those movers? Super strict. They went through everything with a fine-tooth comb, checking for stuff they wouldn’t pack. They even brought their own scale! The first time around, once that scale hit the max weight, bam! Box sealed, end of story. Not a single extra pound was allowed. And on our last move? Man, they were picky about what they could take because of size. I had some taller stuff I wanted to bring, but if it didn’t fit in those regular cardboard boxes, it didn’t go.

Unaccompanied Baggage
Unaccompanied Baggage: Check the size of the boxes BEFORE your movers get there.

So, here’s the deal: if you’re gearing up for an OCONUS move, be ready for those Unaccompanied Baggage pack-outs to be a bit of a hassle if you’re not prepared. Before the movers show up, it’s wise to double-check the regulations and make sure you’re all squared away. Have a backup plan if they give you grief about taking certain items. Trust me, it’ll save you a ton of stress in the long run.

UAB Non-packables

These bags can be great for organizing your move as you get ready. Check out the link here.

UAB packing process and how to plan

One thing that helped me organize the three shipments (UAB, HHG, and non-temp storage) was dedicating three separate areas for each. When packing up our last house, I designated a “nook” upstairs and a shelf downstairs for our HHG, and then when it came time, I brought everything into one area for the UAB. This helped when the packers arrived, so I didn’t have people packing the wrong items in different rooms.

Designated area for our HHG
The designated UAB nook

As I alluded to earlier, I wish I had planned the sequence of our packouts differently this last time. In my head, I thought it sounded best to wait for UAB to be last because it was stuff we were still using until the last minute. However, due to the restrictive nature of the UAB, I would have scheduled this move first just in case there were items they would not take. That way, I could have put those items in storage or HHG and not have had to give them away or ask family to hold them. Lesson learned!

So, for the next move, I will schedule UAB first, then HHG, and non-temp storage last. It may mean that I have to arrange to borrow some items from friends and neighbors, but I think it’s better than having to throw perfectly good items away!

If you’ll be without furniture for a while, check out this Amazon air Mattress with a built-in pump!


Here are some links that were super helpful when preparing for our UAB and writing this article. As always, check with your Transportation Office for the latest updates to rules and regulations.

If you are PCSing and trying to organize and declutter, please check out these articles:

Have you done a UAB move before? Is there anything you would add to help fellow travelers out? Please comment below and let me know about your experience or something you would add!

12 Responses

  1. You are a gold mine of information for anyone making a military move. Overseas is particularly difficult, military or not. These tips are so helpful, especially trying to figure out what to put in the UAB pack. I think you could make a book out of all of these tips!

    1. Thank you so much Seana! It is definitely a niche, but there’s so many little things that I’ve learned along the way. I just hope I can help a fellow military spouse with their adventures. Thank you so much for taking the time to read!

  2. I had to laugh at all the acronyms – they reminded me of my early days of working for the provincial government. Every department, program, and job title had an acronym, and they were used in memos as though everyone knew what they stood for. For a long time I assumed that PSW stood for “public social worker” but later learned it stood for “parental support worker.” Now it’s called something else again!

    1. Even after 18 years, there are times when my husband is telling me something military-related and he might as well be speaking another language. Too. Many. Acronyms. 🙃

  3. I admire your flexibility. Moving isn’t easy, and having the restrictions you mentioned only complicates things. Timing, weights, and choices become important. Fortunately, you are an expert at military moves and offer excellent advice to novices.

    You’ve got your acronyms down! I appreciate the education, Jana.

    1. Thank you so much!! Yes, this life makes your prioritize and consider your “stuff” from a very different perspective. Thank you for taking the time to read!

  4. What a wonderful detailed list of tips and information for military families, you’re such a pro and it’s a blessing to have someone who focuses on this specifically.
    I had to reread some of the acronyms.

    1. I can get very lost in the land of acronyms- and then to add more confusion- different branches have different names for things with even MORE acronyms! I have to try and keep it all simple somehow! Thank you so much for reading. 😊

  5. This is a fabulously detailed explanation of moving for military families, especially the list of items you should NOT pack! Not being from such a family myself (and not having had clients who were), I really appreciated the explanation of abbreviations. You might want to create a definition page somewhere on your site so you can link to these words when they pop up in the future (and so you won’t have to explain them every time).

    I can see this being a stellar resource for families to use over and over.

    1. I will be definitely be making that index (and i think I will include military holidays too!). Thank you for taking the time to read, and yes, I hope that this can help provide a valuable resource for other military families!

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Jana Arevalo- Declutter Coach, The Organized Military Life

Hello! I'm Jana

Hi! I’m Jana! I have been a military spouse for 18 years, and I am experienced when it comes to PCS moves, organizing new spaces, and creating more efficient systems for my family. I understand the feeling of anxiety and overwhelm that can come with clutter, and that’s why I love helping military spouses, busy moms and small business owners declutter and organize their homes, digital lives and paperwork!

I am an Amazon Associate as well as an affiliate with Share-a-Sale and List & File, Military Life Binders. I receive a small commission (at no cost to you!) if you purchase through my links. Thank you!


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