Tips for Moving with the Military: Things I Wish I’d Known My First PCS

This post was originally featured on our sister site, Germany Ja. We feel it has value for our readers here, as well.


Moving-with-military | www.germanyja.comIn the military, PCS is just a fancy acronym for “Hey, you’re moving!” The acronym stands for Permanent Change of Station, but as all military families know, the move is never permanent. Some families will move every 2-3 years, while others may live at one duty station for 4-7 years. One thing that’s for sure is military families get really good at this whole moving thing. The entire process can be super stressful (and never gets any more fun to do year after year), but after the first 2 moves, you begin to get it all down to a science. Housing office meetings, TMO scheduling, out-processing, packing, unpacking, TLF living...I feel like I could write a book about it all myself! 

Here are some basic things I wish I had known my first PCS with the military:
  • Don’t pre-pack anything in boxes. The movers will just unpack it and re-pack it to their liking. The reasoning behind this is because the movers are liable for any items they break during your move. If you pack it and it breaks, that’s on you. It’s their way of protecting you (and themselves) should anything happen along the way. If you have anything in large Tupperware bins (i.e.-holiday decorations, keepsakes, old clothes, random storage items, etc.), they likely won’t re-pack those. It is a good idea, however, to organize your belongings and throw out anything you know you’ll never use at your new duty station. Downsizing & simplifying are two of the perks of moving every few years!
  • It’s always a good idea to have a few snacks and drinks (like water, tea, gatorade) on hand for your movers. It can be a long day (or multiple days depending on your moving poundage) packing up and labeling all of your precious belongings, so snacks help to keep their energy up and crankiness low. If you’re feeling extra sweet (hint: just do this anyway!), buy the movers lunch. Nothing fancy or expensive, just something to show them you appreciate them taking good care of your stuff. And after their full and happy, I guarantee they’ll be extra careful with your grandmother’s antique vase.
  • Anything you don’t want the movers to touch, LABEL IT! You can even go as far as placing all those things in a closed-off room and telling them whatever’s in that room…stays. Believe me, if you don’t tell them or show them what NOT to pack, they’ll pack it all. I’ve heard horror stories about folks getting their household goods weeks or months later and realizing the movers packed their garbage as well. I’m sure that smelled lovely! If you’re a super organized Type A-mover, you may also want to color code your boxes with tape or stickers to designate what boxes go in what room when you get to your new home. I’ve yet to try this, but I hear lots of good things from fellow milspouses who’ve tested this technique.
  • Keep a watchful eye, but don’t hover. It’s a tough thing, watching strangers touch your personal belongings, but hovering over them and dictating what you’d like to have in what particular box is overkill. There’s a fine line for helpful monitoring and nagging over-protectiveness. Nit-picking and having unrealistic packing ideals won’t make them go faster and it sure won’t make for a happy packing environment. I know, I know…it’s YOUR stuff. You want to make sure it’s packed away safe and sound (and that no one’s stolen anything), but have a little faith that your movers know what they’re doing. I’m sure packing your house isn’t their first go-round. If you want them to take particular care of precious items or see something you rather them pack differently, then politely ask them. Or better yet, find a way to get those items to your new location yourself. We kept all of our fine china in my parent’s basement for our move overseas. Just didn’t want to chance it. If you do notice your packers completely disrespecting your belongings, call the moving inspector and let them know immediately so they can remedy the situation. DON’T take matters into your own hands!


  • Put your bedding, sheets, curtains, pillows, towels…anything fabric (aside from clothing) folded nicely in those giant Ziploc moving bags. They are absolutely wonderful for keeping moisture out and dirty hand prints off your linens. That way, when you finally get them back, you can just pull them out and not worry that they’re moldy or soiled.

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  • You’ll have to take down everything of your walls (the movers won’t do that). For all the screws, bolts, photo hangers, curtain tiebacks, mounting fixtures, etc. (the little things that help hang something to your wall), place them in labeled baggies and store them all in one box labeled “DECORATIVE HARDWARE”. Then you’ll easily find them all in one place ready for hanging. Such a timesaver!
  • Have the movers and packers lay down moving cloths or cardboard boxes for them to roll their dollies over and pack (or unpack) heavy items on in your home. This way, you’ll save your precious floors some serious scratches. If you do find any damage to your home, address it with the movers and with the moving inspector before the movers leave your home.
  • Make sure to pull out any important papers, passports, bills, password sheets, medical info…anything you might need to keep your life going while your stuff is moving, don’t let the movers pack those! It’s a good idea to have a “PCS Binder” full of all the important paperwork you might need in one organized place, that way you won’t be wracking your brain looking for Sally’s shot record when you register her for school in your new town. Here’s a great list of things your PCS Binder should include.
  • Make sure to talk with your moving inspector pre-move to find out what items the movers will or will not pack. Most moving companies will move any non-perishable food items (i.e.-boxed dry food, flour, rice, pastas, canned goods, etc.), but anything half-opened they’ll leave for you to discard. I’ve had moving companies tell me they won’t move candles, batteries, alcohol, opened liquids/toiletries, lighters, cooking oils, aerosol cans/sprays or anything that could be flammable. In our recent transatlantic move, alcohol was permitted (as long as the state we were moving to allowed for it) and they packed my candles & batteries. Proof every company is different…so ask before chucking them out! Hiding half-opened toiletries wrapped up in Tupperware bins is also a trick of the military moving world, but you didn’t hear that from me! 😉
  • If you’re moving abroad (OCONUS locations), the second you can start making plans (scheduling movers, out-processing, being medically cleared, no-fee passports, etc.), DO IT! Don’t wait until the last minute to do any important things that will help you get abroad. You know the military works on their own schedules, so being ahead of the game on your end can save you a headache later. Also, it’s wise to stay ON TOP of whomever you need to to get stuff done. Don’t be afraid to pester the housing office, TMO, your sponsor, EVERYONE…if you need something done ASAP. Sometimes things fall through the cracks during peak PCS season. Don’t let that something be you!

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Any move is stressful, but moving with the military can be a different beast of its own. You might think you’re out of control, but take heart, you’re not! You have many military entities in your corner during the moving process, so don’t let the stress get the best of you. PCS season can be exciting, too! Moving to a new city, starting over, experiencing new places and making new friends…think of the possibilities! Take a deep breath, make lists, and go forth with minimal worries. It will all get done!

Note: Casey originally posted this article on her site, but has graciously shared it with us here as well. She has even more PCS tips on her site!