What you really need to know before your first PCS move

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In the military, a PCS move stands for Permanent Change of Station. This is when a military member has orders to move from one duty station to another. The military will pay them to relocate their family and their belongings to the new station. A PCS move can be stressful and exhausting, but it is a regular occurrence for most military families. I get a lot of questions from people planning their first PCS move. After 3 PCS moves in the past 9 years, I can tell you more about your options and what to expect.

My first PCS move was from Virginia to North Carolina. My husband and I had been married for just over a year, and already had a baby girl. We were excited to stay on the East Coast, close to our families. But I was nervous because they would now be over 8 hours away, the farthest I had ever lived from them. We had been saving up to buy our first house, so we visited the area a few times before the official move to look at homes, close on a property, and then paint it before we moved in. We decided to do a Do-it-Yourself Move (DitY move, which is now called a PPM), where we would pack up our own belongings and move them ourselves. The military would cover our moving expenses and also pay certain compensation for the weight of our goods and the mileage of the move. It was an opportunity to pocket some money by doing the work ourselves. (The standard military move is when professionals pack and move your goods, but you don’t receive additional compensation.) So, on moving day, we rented a U-Haul, rounded up some friends, and packed up our 3-bedroom apartment. We drove to North Carolina, and had to unpack it all. It was So. Much. Stuff. We vowed not to do a DitY move again, and have let the military move us since then! If you are doing a DitY move, stock up on moving supplies using this affiliate link. You don’t pay any extra, I just make a small percentage from anything you buy.

Do you get to choose where you move next?

Haha, that’s funny. The military is famous for sending people to bizarre places to serve “the needs of the military.” So even though service members may give input or fill out a top 3 list, ultimately the military decides where to send you and you don’t really get a vote. However, with that said, if a service member has a reason to request a particular duty station or job, then they should start by talking to their Monitor. Sometimes the military will work with you to get a preferred location. But nothing is ever certain, so try not to get your hopes up.

When and How are you notified about a PCS move?

Typically, the military member knows when their current orders will expire, and they can guess when they will receive their next orders. However, there are so many factors to consider that it is never the same. Sometimes a school must be completed before orders can be issued. Orders can also be changed at the last minute. Occasionally, the service member has the option to extend their current orders for 1 or more years. So it is hard to predict when you are notified of a move. But the process will generally be the same. The service member’s Admin shop (S-1) will notify them that they have orders. Or they can log into their military account to view Web Orders. Nothing is final until they have hard copy orders, which gives the service member the authority to schedule a PCS move.

What are the logistics of moving?

There are so many choices you have to make when you move, and a lot of paperwork, too. If you move overseas, there is even more to do. Some helpful tips and acronym translation are found on Military.com. But when you are moving within the United States, here are some of the steps:

  • Once the service member has orders, he or she can take a class on base about the moving process. Paperwork and details will be reviewed there.
  • Go to move.mil to set up an account, enter your orders, and set up your packing dates and moving details. Any problems should be discussed with your local Transportation office.
  • At IPAC (Installation Personnel Administrative Center), you can request some of your moving allowance to be paid to you ahead of time. This is called Advance Pay, to help you pay for renting vehicles and hotel rooms, since the military reimbursement will take at least a month. You can choose how much pay to receive in advance, but remember that it will paid back with automatic deductions from the service member’s salary.
  • As you prepare to move, save receipts for any moving expenses. Most charges now are supposed to go on a Government Travel Credit Card, but if this is not issued, then the service member will need to request reimbursement.

What should you clean out when you move? 

One of the first things you can start doing when you get orders is to begin cleaning out your house. This is a great opportunity to get rid of old, broken items. You can also have a yard sale and save up some money for your move. There is a lot to consider about your next home, and you won’t always know all the answers. Here are the main things to get rid of:

  • Furniture that won’t fit in the next house. (King beds, sectional couches, and dining room sets are usually the biggest culprits.)
  • Old or damaged furniture that will likely fall apart during the move.
  • Backyard items like trampolines, swing sets, play houses, patio furniture, grills, smokers, fire pits, and lawn care equipment are often too bulky or heavy to be covered in your move. If you go over your allotted weight limit, you will be charged for each extra pound.
  • Appliances that won’t work at the next home, like washer and dryer, microwave (if the next one is built in), and small appliances you don’t need or use.
  • Bulky items like craft and hobby supplies, children’s bikes, strollers, outdoor toys, baby clothes and maternity clothes, baby equipment like bouncers and high chairs.
  • Liquids or hazardous materials, like paint, cleaning chemicals, auto oil, propane, spray cans, etc. Follow local laws to dispose of these items properly.
  • Go through books and toys to give away or sell any that are no longer loved.

Get organized with labels, binders, and more, using this affiliate link:

How long does it take you to adjust to a new place? 

For me, it usually takes a year to actually make friends, learn my way around, and feel settled in the new home. The moving process itself takes a matter of months, not weeks. Even if I can get unpacked within a week or 2, it takes additional time to locate new service providers, schools, doctor, dentist, babysitter, etc. It can take even longer to find myself a job. Between all the costs of moving, paying bills from the previous station, paying security deposits at the new station, and refurnishing the new home, it is usually several months before our household budget levels out into anything ‘normal.’ So you have to be very patient and be prepared for the move to disrupt your life for about half a year.

Top 5 tips for a successful move?

  1. Start planning early. Even before orders, you can start cleaning out the house or do a yard sale.
  2. Save money in advance. Before you even get orders, start saving at least $100 each month to prepare for the moving expenses. Even though the military reimburses some of your moving costs, there are tons of additional payments like closing out your bills at one location, paying security deposits at the new location, buying a different vehicle, setting up utilities, etc. Try to predict your expenses and plan for them.
  3. Stay organized with a PCS binder. Save all your moving documents and paperwork in one place, along with copies of legal documents like ID, passport, car registration, marriage license, etc. Make sure to hand carry it with you, not pack it in moving boxes!
  4. Be patient and flexible. Moving is stressful, and you can never plan for every possibility. Things will change suddenly or go wrong. Try to laugh with your spouse and adjust as things change.
  5. Remember that many things can be replaced. Don’t waste weight and space on items you can easily find or replace at the next duty station.

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2 thoughts on “What you really need to know before your first PCS move

  1. Receipts! They didn’t tell us we needed to keep receipts. But thankfully, I did! Did you know they can consider the DLA “advanced pay” if you can’t provide receipts/proof you used the money for moving expenses?

    I didn’t. But they can. Thankfully, I got one of those pencil cases that have the binder ring holes and put every receipt in it. Even gas station drink/bathroom stops. It added up to several hundred dollars over the course of the move.

    • Yes! You’re right, everyone needs to save receipts whether it is a full military move or a Do it Yourself PPM. That’s how you get reimbursed, and it really does add up! I’m so glad you saved yours. The pencil case is a great idea. We put them in our accordion binder with all our important documents. Thanks so much for sharing your insights!

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