Helpful PCS moving guide

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PCS moving guide

Every year, more than 450,000 military members respond to a relocation order. This often involves leaving behind possessions, friends, family, relationships, memories, pets, and even inheritance items, says one military spouse in an open letter on Facebook.

Since you have to say goodbye to everything and everyone you know as you relocate to a place that’s unfamiliar to you, it’s important to come up with a plan before you begin a life in a brand new community. It’s wise to know your rights and what you’re entitled to as well as what it’s going to take to relocate ahead of time. 

What is a PCS move?

A permanent change of station (PCS) is a relocation order for an active duty member of the military. It is also considered to be a long-term assignment, and it involves moving from one duty station, or a place where a member is assigned for regular duty, to another duty station. Your final PCS move will land you in your home of record at your retirement, which signifies the end of your military career. 

How often do you receive PCS orders?

The long-term aspect of a PCS move is about two to four years in length, which is also the frequency regarding how often they take place. The months between May and September are when the most PCS moves take place, and according to TIME Magazine, 40% of all PCS moves happen in the summer. 

If you know that you are going to PCS, but haven’t yet received your orders, it’s a great idea to start planning ahead. Early on in the covid-19 pandemic, all military moves were stopped, though the Transportation Command has stated that the backlogs are now clear. Know that there is a possibility that you could potentially wait a while, and then end up not having to move at all, although that is not the typical case. 

14 tips for planning your PCS move

It is extremely important to plan ahead for a PCS move so that everything goes as smoothly as possible. There are many things to consider and numerous action steps that you can take to help you feel more prepared.

Get organized

A great way to get prepared for your move is by becoming more organized. Consider purchasing a PCS binder that can hold any and all relevant documents that you’ll need to take with you, including passports, medical reports, dental records, shipping documents, school-related documents, and the PCS orders themselves.  

It’s also a good idea to make additional copies of your PCS orders just in case you misplace them somewhere down the road. Another course of action that you can take when trying to get organized is to create a checklist. Then, strictly adhere to it. Use a PCS move checklist like this one or take advantage of a tool like Plan My Move to create a custom checklist for your PCS packing process. 

Take inventory

When you embark on your PCS move, you’ll be given a list of the items you’re allowed to take along. These are called your PCS entitlements and your local transportation office will be there to help you identify your specific entitlements.

The list that you will receive will be the authority on the matter. However, the following items are usually permitted:

  • Pets
  • Firearms
  • Alcohol
  • Consumables
  • Household appliances 
  • Flat-panel TVs
  • Lawn furniture
  • Privately-owned vehicles (POVs) and parts
  • Motorcycles and dirt bikes
  • Personal boats
  • Professional books or other media
  • Mobile homes or tiny houses
  • Utility trailers

Don’t try to bring perishable items, like food, jars filled with liquid, or anything that can spoil. Keep in mind that the movers may also not pack items such as food, batteries, or candles.

Keep your essentials with you

Be sure to keep essentials that will be required for the general activities of daily life close by. This is yet again another reason to get a strong binder for your PCS move. At all times, you should know the exact location of items like personal ID, passports, marriage licenses, insurance cards, credit cards, debit cards, and car titles.

Be as flexible as possible

It’s important to plan for the unpredicted, or expect the unexpected. Some dates may change throughout the process. Try not to terminate lease on exact dates that shipments, like your household goods (HHG) shipments, take place and give yourself a little bit of leeway.

It’s also good to update all forms of communication, like cell phone numbers, emails, and any other points of contact so that communication is easy and goes uninterrupted. Always make yourself available for communication between the hours of 8AM and 5PM. 

Reference resources that can answer your questions 

Throughout your move, there may be times when you are overwhelmed with information overload and you will need assistance in clearing up various matters at hand. Lucky for you, there are many points of contact that are available to you for help regarding specific requests.

  • Use the relocation assistance office as a resource for general relocation information and support.
  • Call the Defense Personal Property Management Office (DPPMO) at (833) 645-6683 or 833-MIL-MOVE toll free if you are having trouble contacting your local transportation office.
  • Visit the PCSmyPOV website for privately-owned vehicle shipping and storage. 
  • Check out Military One Source for a full list of helpful resources. 

Get appraisals for expensive items

The government does not pay for appraisals during a PCS move, but it’s still a good idea to conduct them. Consider it an investment for any potential lost or damaged items.

It’s also recommended to record the conditions of valuable items like artwork, collectibles, heirlooms, expensive furniture, and electronics like TVs using any smartphone device. Furthermore, locating any receipts that you may have will help you file any claims if needed.

Don’t pack valuable items that are tiny in nature like jewelry, coins, stocks, or bonds, but rather bring them with you by hand packing them and keeping them close by.

Schedule your move

Military members that are making a PCS move will need to fill out an application with the Defense Personal Property System (DPS). You will have to create an account if you haven’t done so already.

This is where you will create your orders for shipments such as household goods, unaccompanied baggage, non-temporary storage, and the personally procured move. It’s a good idea to use a personal email to have a copy of these orders ready so that you can readily answer questions regarding weight limits, delivery addresses, and specialty items that need to be moved.

Opt for personally procured move

If you have a team of family members, friends, professionals,  or acquaintances that are willing to help you move yourself, then it is possible to do so via the Personally Procured Move Program (formerly Do-it-Yourself [DITY] Move).

The program is entirely voluntary and you’re able to use your own vehicle, a rented one, or a borrowed one and the government will also provide you with $25,000 worth of insurance coverage as well as reimburse you for up to 95% of your expenditures. You can also use the entire program or just parts of it, and still opt to order shipments like the HHG.

There are several advantages to taking on a PPM move like money, time, and total control. That being said, it will definitely be a workout for you and whoever is helping you.

Get prepared for packing day

Start moving day by knowing where your essential items are. It’s a good idea to either lock these items in a car or have them on you. If you’ve chosen the military movers for moving, it is now on them to start packing your things – and not only will they pack, but they will label everything as well.

It can be difficult for some to watch others pack their items for them, and the larger your house or family is, the longer it will take. For this reason, you should consider dropping children off at a sitter or family member’s house, or finding another way to keep them busy so that they do not become bored.

Also note that since it isn’t you that is packing your items, it’s possible that they will be more susceptible to being thrown around since the movers don’t know what the items are or what they mean to you. Wrap and personal items that may be fragile or of high value to you in bubble wrap or towels so that they will be safer from damage throughout the move.

Familiarize yourself with firearm laws

For starters and as stated previously, transporting your firearms is allowed. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it is allowed to ship firearms to yourself during a PCS move even if your move is across state lines. That being said, you still need to make sure you are not in violation of any state laws in your new location.

You’ll more than likely have to take part in some disassembly of the firearm including removing the bolt, firing pin, trigger assembly and any other arming parts. In addition to this, you’ll want to make sure you contact your local transportation office to get a clear understanding of the rules.

Think about your pets

If you are moving across state lines and are moving with a pet, the first thing you should do is check with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to learn about the rules and regulations. You will also want to find out what the rules are at your specific installation. It may be the case that three will be a limit to the amount of pets that you are allowed to have.

When it comes to moving day, consider having someone watch your pet while everything is taking place. Furthermore make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations, and consider getting it a tag that has your contact information on it. 

During your trip, it will be important to seek out pet-friendly hotels as well as remember to stop at rest areas to feed and take care of your pet.

Minimize travel costs

Take a snapshot of all of your bank account and credit balances and build a comprehensive budget. Make sure that the money is accessible to matter where you are during your move. Budgeting and government assistance will also help you to not overspend. 

It is extremely important to understand what the government will and will not cover during your PCS move. The same goes for any additional insurance that you might need that may help you avoid potential financial disasters due to lost, stolen, or damaged items or vehicles.

When it comes to lodging and overnight stays, consider using FedRooms. Hotels under contract with GSA for the FedRooms program offer Government employees discounted rates for official travel.

Handle issues with your transportation office

It’s important to note the movers inventory list and to check it before parting ways. If anything goes wrong, or if a disagreement arises, do not attempt to argue with the mover directly. Instead, call your local transportation office and have them sort it out.

Unfortunately, there are many reports of both good and bad experiences. Know that damaged goods, discrepancies in reported weights, and lost items can occur. It’s always best to leave the disputes up to the professionals so things don’t get worse.

Post PCS move

As soon as the move is done, it’s time to start updating all of your personal information. You want to go to the bank and change your address right away. Have them give you bank statement with your address on it so that you can use it to acquire other personal documents like:

  • Billing addresses
  • Car insurance
  • Driver’s license
  • License plates
  • Shipping addresses
  • Employers
  • Internet and utilities

Preparation is key

Moving can be one of the most stressful things we do as human beings. There is so much to think about in such a short span of time, and even the simplest tasks at hand may sometimes seem daunting or overwhelming.

That’s why it’s best to be as prepared as possible so that things operate smoothly on a moving day. Having a solid plan will be one thing you will definitely thank yourself for later on.


Do military movers pack for you?

Military movers will pack everything for you during a PCS move unless you have opted for the Personally Procured Move Program. They will even label all of your items for you.

When should I schedule my PCS move?

You should try to schedule your PCS move before or after the peak of peak season.

How should I prepare for PCS movers?

You should prepare for the PCS movers by wrapping fragile items, and organizing items so that the movers can move as fast as possible. Considering finding a sitter for children as it will be a full day event.

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