Your First Military PCS Move: Everything You Need to Know

Andreea Draguleasa
Last Updated on April 29, 2024
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Moving with the military? We know it’s not just packing up boxes. A Permanent Change of Station (PCS) is a mission of its own.

With all of the paperwork, logistics and farewells, it can feel like you are facing a mountain. But worry not, we’ve got military moving tips all set to help you. Our goal? To turn that mountain into a manageable mission. Get ready to conquer your PCS move with confidence and efficiency!

Table of Contents:

Preparing for the Move

Your first step is understanding the military’s PCS process. Each service branch has its unique timeline and requirements. Start by gathering your necessary documents and ensure you meet all regulations.

Military veteran and current home stager for Blue Diamond Staging & Design Kasia McDaniel has moved 10 times in the last 25 years. As she learned during her moves, including an international move from North Carolina to Germany, knowing the rules can save you a few surprises.

There are a few differences between moving around the US and an international trip. Things like ordering foreign currency, dividing up which home furnishings will go into storage or come with you and making sure your cell phone is unlocked so you can get an international SIM card when you get there.” she said. 

Create a Detailed Moving Checklist

The first order of business for a stress-free military move is to create a detailed checklist. Consider this your mission briefing. Break down your move into manageable phases: notifying utilities, updating addresses, scheduling transportation — the list goes on.

Joshua Haley, the founder of Moving Astute and an expert at assisting families during military moves, recommends planning ahead and utilizing military resources.

“Create a detailed checklist and timeline to keep track of important tasks and deadlines. Take advantage of the resources available to military families, such as relocation assistance programs, moving counselors and information provided by your installation’s transportation office,” he said.

Declutter and Minimize Your Belongings

Now, look at your belongings. What is essential for your new home? Sort, prioritize and decide what to pack, donate and sell. By doing this, you optimize space and trim moving costs.

Remember, consider what can work in your new location when moving internationally. When moving domestically, you might have more leeway with what you take.

“We were glad we didn’t take small appliances that didn’t convert or need transformers. We bought a 220V vacuum and small kitchen appliances in Germany and sold them before moving back to the U.S.,” McDaniel added.

Housing and Logistics

To figure out the housing and logistics side of things, start by syncing with the military housing office or a private housing agency. Familiarize yourself with your housing options and eligibility, and make sure to confirm availability for on-base or off-base housing.

Plan for Temporary Housing

During your transition, there is a chance you might need temporary accommodations. Hotels, rental properties or base lodging facilities are all possibilities.

McDaniel shares what worked for her family during an international move: “We ended up splitting our time as a family where my husband left in July and we joined him a month later so we could pack up the house, sell a car, rent the house, etc. In the meantime, he got a head start on looking for a rental home in Germany so we didn’t all have to cram in a small hotel for two months. Luckily we found the ideal home two weeks after we arrived in August so we didn’t have to stay long in a hotel with five people.”

Arrange for Transportation and Storage

You can either opt for government-provided transportation or personally procured options. But what about your stuff?

“Consider storage options. If your new home isn’t ready or you need to downsize, look into military storage facilities or temporary storage solutions to safely store your belongings,” Haley advises.

“We rented a small storage unit (5’x15’) and put things like books, my wedding dress, tools, printer, and computers in there,” McDaniel added. “That way we knew there would not be any damage and we had access to it if we wanted. Plus, I also stored inflatable mattresses, sheets, blankets and towels so that when we came back, we didn’t have to stay in a hotel until our household items showed up two months later.”

Key take: Whether you are moving domestically or internationally, ensuring that you have a handle on your housing situation, temporary accommodations and storage options will help make your PCS move as smooth as possible.

Packing and Moving

Begin by packing strategically. Organize your belongings by category or room to simplify unpacking and ensure you use suitable packing materials and techniques to protect your fragile or valuable items.

“Begin by packing non-essential items and seasonal belongings first,” Haley said.

Label Boxes Clearly

Don’t underestimate the power of a good labeling system! Color-coded or numerical systems can indicate the priority or destination of each box. Be sure to keep a detailed inventory of each box’s contents for reference during unpacking. This will help you quickly locate needed items and ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Communicate with the Moving Company

Clear communication with your assigned PCS movers or transportation office is crucial. Provide them with any special instructions or specific requirements for the move. Remember, they are there to help, but they are not mind-readers, so be clear about what you need.

Packing and moving can be the most daunting part of a PCS move, but with strategic packing, organized labeling and effective communication, you will be well on your way to a successful transition.

Managing Finances and Documents

In this stage, preparation meets execution, ensuring a smooth transition and safeguarding against unexpected hurdles.

Prepare a Budget for the Move

Every successful move, especially when moving with the military, begins with a realistic budget. Estimate costs associated with the move, like transportation, housing and miscellaneous expenses. Also, consider the military’s reimbursement policies and entitlements.

“Some military branches don’t pay the military member back all at once for the moving expenses,” McDaniel said. “Military and government civilians have to use a military government travel credit card to pay for hotels, rental cars and food. If you don’t get reimbursed quickly enough by the government, you have to pay off the card with your own funds until you are reimbursed.”

Gather Important Documents

Document organization is crucial. Keep all essential documents like passports, visas, medical records and school transcripts in a safe and easily accessible place during the move.

When applying for a passport for her eldest child, McDaniel encountered issues with how Texas classifies documentation, causing a two-week delay. “I had no idea Texas provided a short version and a long version of a birth certificate,” she said. “To get a passport, you need the long version which has more information. I had to find a service online to act as my power of attorney, then had to stand in line at the Texas Vital Statistics office to obtain the long version which they overnighted to us.”

With an international move, you should also plan for additional time to obtain official military passports, which could take another 2-4 weeks.

Notify Relevant Parties of the Move

Last but not least, don’t forget to inform key stakeholders about your move. Banks, insurance companies and other service providers need to know about your change of address. Also, set up a mail forwarding service through USPS or a similar provider. (Here is a quick guide on how to do this.)

McDaniel offered insights for couples who have spouses that own a small business. Do they sell their business, move it with you or close it down?

“I ended up keeping my business on hold because I really could not work much overseas as a home stager,” she said. “I knew we were coming back to North Carolina so it didn’t make sense to close it because I could not get the same business name for 5 years once I did that.” A good starting point may be to look into the legal considerations that affect whether you can do business outside of the state where the company is registered.

Settling into the New Location

Taking the leap into your new location after a PCS move means unpacking strategically and nurturing fresh connections. Remember to retrieve any items you stored in military storage and integrate them into your new home. Unboxing should begin with the most essential items. Doing so provides immediate relief, making your new residence feel more like home.

As you start to unpack the less crucial items and arrange your furniture according to your preferences, your living space will slowly take form. However, settling in is more than mere home organization.

Engage in your new community by connecting with others who are also moving with the military.

“Reach out to military spouses’ clubs, online forums or social media groups specific to your new duty station,” Haley adds.

These networks, especially among families with experience in international moves, can offer essential support and practical advice.

Taking part in base activities, local clubs or support groups can help forge a sense of belonging. Explore your surroundings, meet your neighbors and befriend your colleagues. By actively forging these connections, you and your family will adjust faster, converting your new duty station from a foreign place into a familiar and comforting home.

Master Your Military Move

In essence, moving with the military and nailing the PCS move is about planning smart, staying organized and leveraging available resources. It may seem like a whirlwind of tasks and decisions, but remember, you are now armed with valuable PCS moving tips.

You are not merely surviving the transition; you are mastering it. So, take control of your military moving journey. After all, your next exciting chapter is just around the corner.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 27, 2023 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Andreea Draguleasa

Andreea Draguleasa showed an affinity for foreign languages and literature at an early age and started writing when she was 6. She studied journalism, advertising, and public relations at the University of Bucharest and worked as a content writer for a tourism agency and as a journalist for a magazine in the hospitality industry until 2010. After seven years as marketing manager for a Home & Deco online shop, she realized that learning something new every day brings her the most joy, so she went back to researching and writing informative articles. Through her experience traveling the world, she's picked up tips and resources she now shares on self storage solutions. When not writing about home organizing and storage, Andreea spends most of her time reading, playing video games, and spoiling her cat.
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