8 Tips to Prepare for Your First PCS Move

1st Lt. Kathryn Bailey, a Black Hawk pilot with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, goes over a checklist of her household items with her movers. (U.S. Army/Karen A. Iwamoto)
1st Lt. Kathryn Bailey, a Black Hawk pilot with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, goes over a checklist of her household items with her movers. (U.S. Army/Karen A. Iwamoto)

PCS season means lots of boxes, packing and moving trucks. It also means planning, organizing and stress.

But with a little planning and some great tips, you can make your first permanent change of station (PCS) move a great one. Over the years many of us have stockpiled the best PCS tips from either personal experience or advice from seasoned military spouses who have been there and done that a dozen times.

Here are 8 important tips to help you prepare for your first PCS move:

1. Start the official process as soon as orders are in hand. According to officials at the Naval Station Norfolk Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) Relocation Office, the time frame for service members to receive orders can vary from five months to two weeks prior to their report date to the new command. Regardless of where you fall in that time frame, you need to get moving on the moving process as soon as those orders are received.

Starting early is particularly important if you're PCSing during the peak summer season from May to August when it may be more challenging to secure the pickup and delivery dates you want. And because offices may be understaffed or orders might be delayed, things can get cray fast. Bottom line: be proactive and don't procrastinate.

2. Visit your installation's transportation office. So what's the first step in the moving process? Take a visit to your local installation's Transportation Office or Personal Property Office to receive a relocation briefing, says Mitch Chandran, an Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command spokesman.

It's important that you learn all of your options, including the option to move yourself. Make a list of questions to ask, and speak up if you don't understand something.

3. Go online. A second way to manage your move is to go online. The entire military move system is organized for troops through Move.mil, and troops and families will need to become familiar with it for everything from planning to filing claims later.

But there are many other resources, too. Military.com offers extensive PCS guides. PCSGrades.com can help with tips and tricks. And Military OneSource also offers an online "Plan My Move" resource which can help with points of contact, information about benefits and other planning tools.

4. Make a PPM decision. Previously known as a DITY or do-it-yourself move, the Personally Procured Move (PPM), allows you to be reimbursed by the government to move your own belongings. Good planning might even result in a profit! If you're interested in a PPM, ask your transportation office for more details.

5. Sign up for on-base housing. Think you'd like to live on base? Contact the housing office at your new installation and ask how to get on the waiting list. Some waiting lists are quite extensive so be prepared to find alternative living arrangements while your name inches to the top of that list.

If you'd rather buy or rent, visit websites like Military By Owner or USAA's Home Circle for listings in the area.

6. Create a PCS binder. Organization before a PCS is essential. A great way to keep track of important documents is to create a PCS binder. Use the binder to store everything from birth certificates to powers of attorney to packing checklists to calendar pages with important dates.

7. Get friendly with base family services. Each branch calls it something different (for example, the Navy calls it the Fleet and Family Support Center), but all family service centers provide a wealth of knowledge free of charge, including relocation information, budgeting tips and employment resources. Call yours and make an appointment to speak with a relocation assistance specialist.

8. Research your new installation. Ideally, you should take a road trip to check out your new location, but that's not often possible. If a road trip isn't in your future, head over to Military.com's Base Guides, where you can learn more about the area you're moving to as well as important contact information.

If you've been assigned a sponsor, take advantage of having access to someone with firsthand knowledge of the area you will soon call home. No sponsor? Tell your service member to contact their new command and learn if they can get one.

Looking for a detailed PCS checklist? Click here to print out checklists to help you create a timeline from three months prior to your move to after you arrive at your new destination.

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