Read this before your first PCS move

by | Jun 10, 2019 | Military Life, New Military Spouse, Overseas, PCS | 18 comments

The problem: You just got your first PCS orders! Why you should keep reading: You want to know what to expect and some tricks for a smooth move.

What is a PCS move?

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 three PCS moves in the past nine 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 eight hours away, the farthest I had ever lived from family. We had been saving up to buy our first house, so we visited the area 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.)

“We did a DitY move where we packed and moved ourselves. It was an opportunity to pocket extra money. But we will never do it again! ~The Seasoned Spouse

So, for weeks I packed our stuff into moving boxes. 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.

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 three 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.

“Nothing is ever certain, so try not to get your hopes up for a particular location.” ~The Seasoned Spouse

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 military 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 one 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.

Read this before your first 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 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 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.

These are the tips you need before your first PCS move! #milspouse Click To Tweet

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 colored labels! (Amazon 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 two, it takes additional time to locate new service providers, schools, doctor, dentist, babysitter, etc. It can take even longer to find myself a job or make new friends. 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.

“It can take a year to feel fully settled in a new home after a PCS move.” ~The Seasoned Spouse

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. Once you have orders, you can research your next duty station with input from fellow military families using the website PCSGrades.
  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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  1. mommynaptimeblog

    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.

    • Lizann

      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!

  2. Domingo Reiman

    This was an excellent read! Tank you very much for sharing your effort with others. Wish your all the best.

  3. Diana Jaime

    This was very useful information! Thank you! My husband is in A school right now which coincidently is in another state from where we are and where we are going. We have a POV and he would have to come home first to do our move and finally drive CROSS-COUNTRY with our 2 year old. lol I feel super excited for the new adventure but I feel like I’m going crazy not knowing what to do first, or how many days they allow for us to make the drive, find a home, etc. I wanna do things right and want to help as much as I can but it seems that he is the one who has to do it all. Any suggestions?

    Kindest Regards, (Currently Scrambled lol) New Navy Wife and Mom, Diana

    • Lizann

      Hi Diana, glad you found this page! And welcome to military life, haha. It’s very stressful, so try to just take one step at a time. You can sign onto Plan My Move at and it will give you details based on your husband’s specific orders (dates, rank, distances, etc.) There is also a new app called My Ultimate PCS which gives you checklist and can help you stay organized. He has to be the one to request base housing, but you can look off base by yourself. He should also get 10 days of house-hunting leave when he arrives (but that depends on the unit, so I can’t promise that.)
      We did a cross-country move with 4 kids, and it was very stressful but honestly not as bad as I feared. We had 5 days of paid travel, but you can stretch it out longer, you just only get reimbursed a certain amount for so many days of hotels. We saved money by staying at National Parks and visiting friends along the way. I wrote some tips for car trips with kids here: I hope that helps and I wish you luck with the move!

  4. Nixe Noctem

    I need help!! The packers arrive TOMORROW! And my husband hasn’t been given a single day off to do anything around the house as far as PCSing our home. He’s had to do PT and work every single day. But his battle buddy who is single w/ 0 kids, and lives in the barracks, was given 10 business days OFF to do what he needed on base and in his barracks room. They’re the same rank. My husband and I have one child (whom is 18 months old.) They let my husband clear medical, transportation, CIF, etc, but then required him to go to work as well. He cleared all that in 1 day. They had him sitting in a room staring at a wall. They wouldn’t let him be here with me and our child to help, and I have health problems that his COC is very aware of. Additionally, this past weekend he couldn’t help as he was basically on 48 hour duty as punishment (he had to drive to the CQ desk every 45 mins and get the NCOIC on duty to sign a paper, and call his NCO at designated times who had to verify with the NCOIC at the CQ desk that my husband was showing up on time), plus he had to write a 1000 word essay during the same weekend, and show up all this week (our last week) to PT 15 minutes early. This was his very first counseling in his entire Army career (he’s been in for over 4 years), and was 3 mins late due to our car breaking down. So he was punished. So it’s been hell on us, our family life, our married life, etc. Any advice? And aren’t they supposed to give him X amount of days to do things..? Including at home? They told him, “We own your ass until you leave, don’t think we won’t take your rank or your pay,” word-for-word. Also, I missed a doc appt this past Friday, due to his NCO, as he and I share one car due to finances. He actually even made a point about punishing my husband’s “wife and family” for his actions. I wish I was making this up. I really do. We are going halfway across the country (Southern part of the Midwest to the Upper East Coast.) But my husband doesn’t deal with things well. I’m older than he is, so it’s been harder as our maturity levels are different, plus they’ve been trying to make his life harder and harder. I’ve seen a noticeable change in this past year, and a bigger change from the time he left his old unit and went to this one (even though he changed units, he essentially stayed at the same military installation.) I wish we could reschedule moving and clearing housing due to his COC doing this to us. I just am at a loss of words and can’t handle anything else. Our 1 car was $1,000 to get fixed, which we don’t have, plus we are about to leave here! I’m so glad to leave. This place is hell, no one likes it. Almost everyone we knew here has gotten out of the Army, and it was due to THIS place. I would say the name but I’d rather not. I’m sure people could guess, if they’ve ever been in the military OR have been a military spouse for a good bit of time. Anyways. I need someone to talk to (no one here), and advice. Are they able to do that to him, as far as the punishment goes for a first time offender, and not giving him any days at all to clear? He is allowed to have tomorrow off, but he still has to do PT and show up early. He is only allowed off because he is supposed to be here when the movers are here. That’s the only reason. Otherwise he would be at work until he signed out to drive to the next duty station. Ugh. Anyways, I appreciate your time! Thank you.

    • Lizann

      Nixe, that sounds horrible and I am sorry your family is going through that. It sounds like poor leadership. Technically, the CO is probably allowed to do that– unless the service member has been approved for leave. In a normal situation, he could request mass, or elevate a complaint up the chain of command. Because of the imminent PCS, I don’t think there’s any time for that. At this point, I think you just need to gather the last of your strength and patience and just get through tomorrow! I sincerely hope that things go better at your next duty station. 🙁

  5. Tracie

    Very imforming article! Thank you!
    My husband and I got married in April of this year. We have one son together and were told we would get bah for the time he is on basis and AIT training. He joined in july and was on basoc by middle of August. He recently graduated basic October 31st,2018 and now is in AIT. We recieve his base pay each month, but have not recieved any bah. My question is, how would we get bah and how long does it take for us to receive it once it is known we need it… His AIT is only 6 weeks and we were hoping to save as much as possible for the move, finding a new house, anything that could happen unplanned. Haha. Please help I am just worried we are going to have to move and be on a waiting list for on base housing and not have enough to stay somewhere temporarily. We are both new to this and want the move to be as easy as possible! 🙂
    Thanks in advance for any advise.

    • Lizann

      Hi Tracie, good question. BAH should begin once he either moves into private housing (like renting off-base to live with you) or moves into gov’t housing (living on base in a house with you). During school situations, he may qualify for partial BAH, since he is living in a barracks or similar building. It’s definitely a good question for him to ask his leadership, because I don’t know exactly when it kicks in, but you will want to make sure that you are listed properly on his paperwork so he can receive it.

  6. Destiny C Motto-Ros

    My husband has been reserved for 8 years he just singed active and we movie out of state he leaves next month (when do we get to go with him), we have 3 kids 5 year old, 2.5, and 9 months. I got saving receipts, what other things should I know like for the kids school and medical? I’m trying to inform myself as much as possible. We habe never moved out of state so this is big for us.

    • Lizann

      Hi Destiny, I know it is a lot to process! You may want to do a Google search for “PCS Binder.” It is not required, but many spouses use it to gather their essential moving paperwork and info in one place. You can also use the new app My Ultimate PCS.
      For the kids school, you will want to keep with you (not pack in boxes) Birth certificates, shot records, previous school records or report cards, and any EFMP/doctor information. Once you move, you will also need to show proof of residency with a rent/mortgage form and a utility bill.

  7. Abby

    This was very helpful. I wanted to know when my husband gets assigned his duty station can we immediately go with him?(we have two kids a 11 year old and a 6 month old). He is doing his boot camp now and we haven’t received where his duty station will be.when will we know where we are moving? And do they allow us to go with him to tech school if it’s more than 6 month?

    • Lizann

      You’re very welcome! So yes, once he gets actual PCS orders to his first station, you and the children should be listed on the orders and be able to move with him. He will use those orders to apply for housing for the whole family near or on his next base.
      As for tech school, that sometimes depends on the branch or school. Typically, if it is longer than 6 months the family is included on the orders and given the option to move with him to the school. But other times, the school orders only provide accommodations for the service member (in a barracks or type of hotel on the base). Family always has the OPTION to stay put or to move on their own dime, but you will only be reimbursed for a move and receive housing if the dependent family members are listed on the orders.

      • Abby

        Ok thank you so much, another question how likely is it that we will go overseas for our first PCS? And, if we go overseas do they pay for everything as well? Shipping our things and getting plane tickets?

      • Abby

        Thank you so much, I have another question. How likely is it that we get our first PCS orders for overseas? If we do go overseas how does that work?(shipping our things and getting plane tickets) I also want to continue going to school would they work with me so I can continue overseas?

  8. Lizann

    He Abby, overseas orders really depend on the type if job he ends up doing. He should get an indication during school which type of job and orders he would get. But yes, when you get overseas orders they cover the plane tickets and moving your things. Overseas bases have Education Offices which work with several US colleges and universities. So it is possible to continue a degree online, depending on your field.
    If you get overseas orders, I have several posts to help walk you through that process too!

  9. Abby

    My husband is in the Air Force he’s going to Mississippi for his tech school for 6 months to a year will they pay for us to go with him and will we get bah?

    • Lizann

      It depends on the school and what accommodations they have for students. 6 months is the typical threshold to have family accompany the service member, so it could go either way. If the family members are listed on the orders, then yes, they will pay BAH for your accommodations and should cover the move too. If his orders are unaccompanied, then you could still choose to go, but would have to pay out of pocket.



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