Expert Tips for Your First PCS Move
As you gear up for your first military move, you probably have some concerns and questions about what’s ahead.
Wouldn't it be nice to hear from someone who’s been where you’re going, someone who will give it to you straight, while sharing some helpful advice and pitfalls to avoid?
We’ve got you covered! While the logistics of any PCS move can be overwhelming, here are a few basics to get you started:
- PCS 101: Military Move Must-Do’s
- 10 PCS Hacks
- 11 Things to Know Before Your First Overseas PCS Move
- Everything You Need to Know Before Your First PCS
- 12 Steps to Your Best PCS Move Yet
And then, sit back and join us for a chat about all things PCS with some experienced voices and friends of MilitaryByOwner.
1) There’s no such thing as being over prepared.
Even the most seasoned military families know the importance of advance prep before a military move.
Photo from Canva
Take the time to understand the process - whether it's your first move or your tenth, whether you are a spouse or the service member. It's worth taking the time to track down current, accurate details about how to set up the move, the steps in the process, and how to handle if things go wrong. When you understand the process, it's so much easier to set yourself up for a successful move. It doesn't eliminate things going wrong, but you have the things you need to address when it does!
Every move is different. Even if you’ve done it many times before— each time different things happen. Keep up to date on the process from where you are leaving and where you are going to. Join all the Facebook groups for the new location as soon as you know where you’re going. Ask questions and ask for help when you need it. Utilize Military OneSource...it’s the best resource for PCS info.
Start decluttering/downsizing way in advance of orders. If you’re going overseas, find out about specifics: moving cars, storage, process for pets, paperwork, and medical screening. Have low expectations for the process, and then you’ll be happily surprised when plans don’t change, shipments arrive on time, paperwork isn’t delayed, etc.
As soon as you get orders, start purchasing gift cards to grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon, and drug stores every time you go to those places for use when you get to your next duty station. That way, when the PCS expenses start becoming too much, you have backup ways to pay for necessities.
2) Time to organize!
Organizing your tasks into checklists and your belongings before the movers arrive is one of the most important steps in the PCS move process.
Photo from Canva
I love organizing, so when it's time to PCS, I go room to room and ask myself four questions:
1) What do I want to get rid of? Then I sell, donate, or throw away.
2) What will be going with us and not be packed/shipped? This includes both things we need for the next few weeks until we get our stuff (like towels or important documents) AND things movers won’t pack (like wine). I then move it to a room that we block off or label the items “don’t pack.”
3) What needs to be cleaned before it is packed? (i.e., dog beds or bath mats)
4) What needs to be separated from other packed items? (i.e., putting shoes in a bag so they aren’t packed with clothes, which has definitely happened to us!)
Categorize like items together in your home: books, pictures, curtain rods (with the hardware taped to them), decorations, etc. Make stations of these "like items" in your home so the packers don't have to lug all the supplies to every single room. For example, all our breakables go on the dining room table, then one packer just has to wrap all of them in one location versus all over the home. We've minimized breakage this way since all the fragile things go together in boxes.
Lists. Lots of lists and a place to keep them. List what is going in your HHG [household goods] and what is going in the car [for stateside move]. Scan the important papers onto a flash drive and put it somewhere safe. List everyone you need to notify of change of address. Lists keep things organized and it feels so good to cross something off.
Take all important papers, orders, titles, marriage license, jewelry, etc., and lock in your car and move yourself. I always have an important document file folder and a file folder for PCS documents, receipts, weight tickets, etc., and the two folders never leave my side.
Get rid of any excess. Empty your garbage before the movers come because they will pack it. Label the doors to the rooms (master, kid 1, kid 2, etc.) and then have a second set of signs to label the doors at the new house on delivery.
If you have a pet, consider what is needed to move/ship them as soon as you get your orders as the process can take a while! Use space bags for linens and towels so they stay clean in transit. Unpack the kids room/playroom first so they settle in and have somewhere to be while you are trying to get things unpacked everywhere else.
Take photos of high value items. Double check everything on your high value list and be sure to double check and open the high value items as they are unloaded. If you have brand new furniture/items, make sure to let the movers know you want to be alerted of any damage they note for those items on the forms— then double check the condition noted before signing.
If you’ve already changed your address on your credit/debit cards, make sure you learn the new zip code for when you are pumping gas along the way. And notify the credit card company of your travel dates. Oh... and you are not responsible for feeding the movers. (That’s a popular question I see asked frequently). Take a breath and remember it will all be over soon!
Photo from Canva
Designate a cupboard/room to store things you don’t want the movers to pack!! We usually use a bathroom and put a “do not pack” sign on the door.
Put everything that'll fit in a gallon-sized ziplock bag into one. If you use plastic leftover dishes, use this as an excuse to get rid of your old ones and refresh— this can apply to other things too, budget permitting.
Have a binder with all your important info. Include multiple copies of orders (especially if you're staying in military hotels), pet records (hotels need these, too), important documents, passports/birth certificates/etc. Include your checklists here too so it's all together!
Plan on EVERYTHING going wrong. A lot of it will. It's easier to roll with the punches if you don't think it's going to go smoothly.
Our first PCS was overseas!
Create a PCS binder or stay organized; don’t skip this step. Keep everything in one place including orders, important documents, passports if applicable, checklists, paperwork, etc.
Understand there may be some out of pocket expenses and prepare, especially if you are PCS’ing overseas and plan on taking your pet.
Research research research. It will be less of a financial shock when the time comes if you do research now and get prepared. Don’t forget to apply for a dislocation allowance; many do not know about this.
Downsize and declutter. If the military is moving you, don’t pack any small valuables with HHG. Take pictures of everything high priced before they come to pack you up. Do not sign the inventory until you have checked that everything is marked in the correct condition. You don’t want movers claiming that your items were already broken. It has happened before. Lastly, start thinking about all the experiences you’ll have, no matter where you’re going! PCS’ing is a hard process, but try to remember the adventure is only beginning
3) Don’t neglect self-care.
While it may sound cliche, you truly can’t take of everything and everyone else if you don’t take good care of yourself.!
Photo from Canva
Military spouses are sometimes so concerned that everyone else is okay with the move (kids, service member, pets) that we aren't even aware of the fact that we might not be okay. Know that it takes a while to adjust to a new home AND find new connections. Many times, it took me the better part of a year before I got comfortable.
Remember to take care of yourself as you move. Get enough sleep, eat well and move your body!
Moving is a task-heavy event, but it’s also an emotionally weighty one. There are so many boxes to check, so much the military requires of us for a PCS. It may seem easier to plow through the checklist and set aside the emotions that come with it. Easier, maybe, but not better in the long run— so, my PCS advice is to listen to your heart.
Make time to talk with your spouse—and as a family, if you have kids. Have intentional conversations about the coming changes, concerns or fears, or what you look forward to or hope for. I know, a positive attitude is the military spouse’s stock-in-trade, but it’s also important to acknowledge sadness about the friends and places you’ll leave behind. You can be sad and hopeful at the same time. The emotions of transition are complex, and everyone needs time and space to process them. As a military family, you can be one another’s best support, and that starts with honestly sharing how you feel about each transition.
Jen McDonald (me!):
Give yourself time and grace to get used to a new location. Whether it’s a new state or country, culture shock is real, even down to whether you call your drink soda or pop. Begin exploring little by little and take your time adjusting. And then get out there!
4) Mind the Details
PCS checklists are a lifesaver, but here are a few other details you don’t want to let fall through the cracks.
Photo from Canva
Understand the importance of changing your contact information and when to do so. Put in an address change with the post office about a week or two before you move. While moving, call the banks and credit cards and let them know of your new address. Do the same thing with DEERS. Do the same thing with your cell phone company just in case you have to dial 911 from your new location. Car insurance is trickier. If you call your carrier to get a quote before moving, they might change your policy before you even move (happened to me twice).
On packing and moving days, the pets should be in their own room, in a pet carrier/kennel outdoors, or even at another house. You don't want to end a long day with the late-night question "Honey, kids, has anyone seen the cat?"
If you’re currently renting your home, notify your landlord of your upcoming move. But don’t do this until your orders are firm, as orders are known to change and you don’t want to be without a place to live. If you’re living in military housing, check with the housing office ASAP for their move-out requirements.
If you own your home, begin preparing to put it on the market. If you're a homeowner, you may be considering the question: should I sell or rent out my home? Get tips for this decision in our resource PCS Ahead: Should I Rent or Sell My Home?
5) Remember to keep your sense of humor about it all.
Anyone who’s been through a PCS move or two says to keep your sense of humor during the process, because it’s true. When faced with some of the craziness of a PCS, sometimes you simply must laugh instead of cry. Some stories are truly stranger than fiction. Here are a few we also included in our ebook, You Gotta Laugh: Funny PCS Stories We Had to Share.
Photo from Canva
Christy Shields, MilitaryByOwner Customer Service and military spouse:
Traveling from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Irwin, CA—a quick 2,500-mile jaunt—my husband and I did a partial DITY (PPM) move. We had our van with a topper, and a UHaul truck towing a boat.
We were traveling with our huge Rottweiler and three kids, ages 1, 3, and 5, who all happened to have a raging case of chickenpox (the kids, not the dog). Their faces were so misshapen that we couldn’t take them into any eating establishments. I remember standing in a parking lot in Texas somewhere – hot as hades, dog panting, the whole family licking drippy, sticky, ice cream cones. There was a moment of silence, and then my husband and I began laughing hysterically, unable to stop, because, I mean, what else can you do?
During another move, I ended up taking a long cross-country flight with two bottle-drinking little ones. Barely making it to the airport on time, my sister dropped me and all my baby accoutrements at the airport curbside. On her way home, she happened to glance to the side and her stomach dropped as she noticed my cool little travel pack loaded with 6 baby bottles…
During one of my husband’s long deployments, I prepared for another overseas move, shipped our vehicles, and dealt with the mountain of paperwork where I was living in Germany with our four kids.
After several days of packing out, I exhaustedly stood in the doorway, watching the last moving truck trundle down the street. I kid you not, the phone rang at that exact moment and on the other end was my husband…telling me that our orders had completely changed and he was being assigned to a different base.
For a split second, I envisioned myself running after the truck and waving them down. Not that it would have helped, but it seemed reasonable for a moment! I couldn’t believe I would need to redo all the paperwork, reroute the vehicle, and figure out who to notify. The whole scenario ended up with me at the transportation management office, Power of Attorney and other paperwork in hand. A little overwhelmed, I desperately (and kindly, I hope!) asked for help. I did bring a plate of cookies along…
And it all worked out. The military takes care of its own!
Photo from Canva
It’s difficult to set a decorating style for your home when you’re always on the move. But during one PCS, I was excited to deck out the kitchen in retro 1950s diner décor. The inspiration came from a Formica table with shiny chrome trim that I’d recently inherited from my grandparents.
Due to a mix-up with delivery timing, our goods were transferred into storage crates and delivered to us later. Our seasoned military friends cringed when we mentioned the word “storage,” and we soon understood why.
When the delivery truck finally arrived, everything that had been packed with care was now crushed together into giant wooden crates. Apparently, instead of taking five minutes to unscrew the legs, thus making the table flat to fit in a condensed space, the workers who’d placed our items into the storage crates simply tore the table legs apart from the unit.
It must have been like breaking crab legs at Red Lobster. It was painfully obvious what had happened to my table, as one of the loose table legs had a triangle-sized piece of Formica hanging off the end of it. I wanted to cry, but my boiling anger prevented my tears!
If you're experiencing your first PCS move, we’ve love to hear how it’s going. And if you’re a seasoned mover, please leave YOUR best tip or story in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Looking for more PCS move tips? Take a look at our free library of PCS ebooks.