Saturday, March 11, 2006

Master First-Time Departure List

For all of you soon to leave FSI for post, here's a list of things you'll need to do (but remember that this is the 'no spouse, no kids, no pet, no car' list; any of those 4 things will increase your tasks exponentially):

1. Keep in mind that Moving is Expensive. Not just the move itself, but the whole moving season -- there are goodbye parties and dinners for all your departing colleagues, and it can really drain your budget. Be prepared!

2. Travel Orders -- get these as soon as possible from your HR tech, as they are (at least nominally) necessary for a lot of what you'll be doing. Officially, these should be issued 90 days prior to your departure. At the latest, you'll need them 5 days before your packout. Your CDO and the FSI travel office can help put pressure on your HR tech to issue your orders, if need be.

3. Arrange packout, flights, and consultation times / hotel reservations* -- this should be done approximately 2 months before your departure date, sooner if you're moving during the peak season (i.e., summer). NOTE THAT ALL OF THIS CAN BE DONE AT FSI! There is no need to deal with anyone at Main State to schedule your move; simply talk to the nice folks in the FSI travel office, located in Building E across from the Health Clinic. Moving can be scheduled Mon, Wed, Fri, while flight and hotel reservations can be made any weekday. Most people schedule their packouts to take place during their DC consultation days. For hotels and flights, first make a temporary reservation, then confirm after scheduling consultations with DHS*. (Use the contact information provided in ConGen to arrange your consultations.)

4. Remember that a single person is only allowed 250 lbs (including packaging) in her or his UAB. Ask the movers to bring a scale; otherwise, you will be charged for any excess weight. Some posts will charge you a storage fee if your UAB arrives before you do, so don't get overzealous about sending it out early. Oh, and be sure that the warehouse in Hagerstown has an inventory of your storage items on hand before your things are sent from storage. Without an inventory, your shipment could be delayed in customs while your post country's CBP equivalent merrily tears open all your boxes... The Hagerstown folks are great, so just call them and they'll check to make sure that your file is in order.

5. If you have anything in storage you would like sent, tell the moving guy in the FSI travel office -- he will arrange to have it shipped to your post. If you are sending only part of what you have in storage, you will need to travel to the warehouse ('SA-25', and no, the shuttle doesn't run there!) in Hagerstown, MD to 'Aggregate and Segregate' (A/S). You are allowed one A/S prior to post departure; otherwise, one must pay to access the warehouse.

6. Make sure your vouchers are in order at least one week before your packout, NOT one week before your departure -- if you have any discrepancies to work out (i.e., they think you still owe money on the initial travel advance whereas you are pretty sure you don't), you'll want to be able to access your voucher records. This proves rather difficult if said records are already en route to post.

7. Medical Stuff -- all posts require you to be subjected to some sort of vaccine, pill, or shot; even Japan required typhoid pills. All these are available free of charge in the FSI Health Clinic, located in Building E; the clinic advises that you begin receiving any necessary treatments approximately 6 weeks prior to departure. If you don't yet have your travel orders, you can also show them your 'letter of appointment' (which your CDO should send you by email after your post assignment is confirmed) to receive the required treatments.

8. Diplomatic Passport -- You can apply for this in the Foreign Service Lounge (FSL), located at Main State, rm. 1252. There is a passport window in the back of the lounge. You'll need a copy of your travel orders or letter of appointment, and passport size photos (available for free in Main State, rm B266 -- best accessed through the joggers' entrance, otherwise you're liable to encounter a minotaur trying to find it). There is also apparently some form required which I was clueless about, but which the nice lady at the window pooh-poohed, saying, "Oh, nobody remembers that." So I wouldn't worry about the form...

9. Wait until about 45 days prior to your departure to apply for your dip passport; that way, as soon as you pick up the passport from the FSL, you can look it over, think, "Cool! I'm a diplomat," and then hand it right back and ask for Your Visa. This will also require travel orders or letter of appointment, pictures (which the photo people in B266 will have given you), and finally that you know the name and phone number of the person you're replacing, unless your position has been newly created. Why on earth they had to know this, I don't know, but they did; you can figure it out using the email global address system, or ask your CDO. NOTE THAT THE PASSPORT / VISA WINDOW IS ONLY OPEN FROM 9AM - 2:30PM! But the B266 photo room is open longer...

10. At the FSL, you can also pick up packets of instructions / materials for mailing official letters to post. These letters are supposed to be sent 4 to 6 weeks prior to your actual arrival date, and should include that date in the letter. When you give a return address on the letter, use the FSI mailing address, not the physical address. They are happy to give you a card with this address on it in the Registrar's office; they can also tell you your post's address, in case you can't find it on the State intranet.

11. More important than the official introduction letter is your Arrival Notice. This is a cable your HR tech sends to post, outlining your travel plans. There is an arrival notice form in the Registrar's office for you to fill out and then fax to your HR tech. This should be done as soon as you have firm travel plans.

12. Check out of FSI -- this is the very last thing to do before you leave FSI; basically, the Registrar's office just wants to make sure you've jumped through all the above-mentioned hoops. They'll give you a check-out form, which you must take from one part of FSI to another to be signed. The whole form need not be filled out, however; ask the office workers in the Registrar's to specify what actually needs to be signed, and what you can ignore. Mostly, you need to show:

a) your vouchers are in order
b) you've returned all study materials to your training department (language, ConGen, etc.)
c) you've signed the book in rm 1304, ending your FSI email account. If you don't sign this book, it delays opening your new email account at post. (This is assuming that the computer office at FSI actually does delete your account after you sign, which they almost never do... Expect a delay at post.)

13. If all of this sounds relatively easy, that's because it really is. Just rely on the FSI travel office and the Registrar for any other information you need; they're great, honestly, and will happily suffer through all of your questions and concerns.

*This applies only to those officers departing for their first consular tours...


Consul-At-Arms said...

Great post, I've linked to you here:

Katie said...

Thanks, but note that I've changed the date of the post!