I am blogging about this because it is information every fiance or newly married Navy spouse needs to know. Anyone with first hand experience, please add comments, and correct me if I have incorrect information or have forgotten an important detail.
When a sailor gets orders overseas, and I include Hawaii in this, he will receive orders which are either "Accompanied" or "Unaccompanied". Basically, with or without dependents. In order for the dependents to move overseas at the Navy's expense, they must be command sponsored. This is the approval from the sailors new command to have their dependents with them. It is far from automatic.
I cannot address every overseas command, but I do have many years of experience as an ET1/E-6 and as a dependent wife in Yokosuka, Japan. 12 years in Yokosuka, I learned a few things. I can give you the skinny on that, and then you will know what questions to ask for other countries and regions. I have read the regulations as they pertained to my junior sailors who worked for me and Navy wives who needed help.
Command sponsorship in Japan is granted to the dependents of sailors who are E-4 and above. E-3s and below can put in for waivers, but those are not routine and take time, months in fact. It is unusual for E-3s and below to have their families with them there. If a sailor does get their dependents approved, their overseas tour may be extended.
What does Command Sponsorship provide?
On base housing for E-4 and above. E-3 and below do not qualify for on base housing in Japan. Period. If not sponsored, the sailor will not receive the with dependents rate for BAH and COLA. In fact, junior sailors attached to ships may not have permission to live off base at all.
(BAH = basic allowance for housing, overseas it is OAH, or used to be)
(COLA = cost of living allowance to offset the expensive areas)
Travel: the Navy pays for the plane tickets for you, to and from. If not sponsored, you pay your own way. Concurrent travel means you travel with your sailor.
TLA: temporary lodging allowance. Pays for up to ten days of hotel rooms or Navy Lodge while looking for an apartment. Not sponsored? Nope, none for you.
Household Goods Shipment: to and from. This is important as single/unaccompanied sailors has far less of a weight allowance. Learn the term "geographical bachelor". That's what your sailor will be if you cannot go overseas.
EML leave: Travel back to the states to visit home of record. We had trips home between PCS orders even though we stayed in the same house in Japan.
Jobs: The on base jobs are offered pretty much only to command sponsored dependents. Off base you cannot legally work without a work visa.
Schools: dependent children who are not command sponsored must pay full tuition to attend DOD schools on base. It ain't cheap.
Visas: Command Sponsorship guarantees you are under the SOFA agreement for immigrant residency. Not being sponsored means you have to struggle with tourist visas and getting permission to reside in country. Without this visa, you must leave the country every 90 days. If your sailor is in Italy, not only must you leave, but you must stay out of the EU for a minimum of 30 days.
Personal mail box on base... this changes, I need updated info if anyone has it.
Without sponsorship you will have your ID card and access to base facilities such as the commissary, the NEX, MWR, and medical. They cannot refuse to treat you at medical, but basically you are on standby.
You are not eligible to ship pets unless you are command sponsored.
Do you need a passport? Yes. The sooner the better. Don't wait until you are married, you can always do a name change.
Do you need to clear overseas screening? Yes, this is mostly health and debt and criminal background checks. And immunizations.
Can't I just go? Sure, if you think you can afford it and want to deal with being on a tourist visa. A rental offbase cost more than an E-2 (or even an E-3) makes in a month. Over $2,000, easily.
Hard cold facts about living in Japan: You will live offbase in a tiny apartment. Nothing like you have experienced in the US, even the floors and appliances are different. If you find a place with appliances! We heated our tiny house with kerosene heaters and slept on the floor. Furnishing a Japanese apartment is not simple, you can't use your furniture if you didn't get a household goods shipment. You can't fit most American furniture into a Japanese apartment anyway. (Houses are few and far between, we got lucky). Rent and utilities are extremely high. Can you afford a car? Insurance? International phone? Internet? Not on the pay of a junior sailor! I promise you that. Gas was $10 a gallon when I left Japan. The dollar is low and weak right now (80 yen to the dollar, 2012).
I never met the wife of an E-3 or below who was happy trying to live on the economy. Never. One was nagging the chaplain to get her sailor a humanitarian discharge because she wasn't able to pay her rent and was lonely when he deployed. Another was sleeping on the couch of a friend. It is a hard life, no kidding around, straight up fact.
I'm not pushing for kids to get married just to get on the orders, but it is food for thought. Also, a sailor can still be sent overseas even if they are married and the spouse must stay behind.
I'm bumping this because I've been asked about moving overseas by several new spouse and a fiance recently. It is depressing, and more depressing is I rarely hear back from them with what happens. Did they get their waiver? Did it work out? I wish all the couples the very best, and know they have huge obstacles ahead.