6 Tips to Your First PCS

6 Tips to Your First PCS

Your First PCS

6 Great Tips to Help Navigate Your First PCS

Perhaps you’ve been expecting it for months, perhaps it comes out of the blue, a complete surprise. But it’s here, and you’re not quite sure what to do. It’s your first PCS (Permanent Change of duty Station) as a family and, all of a sudden, life has just kicked into high gear. However, there’s no need for panic, because we have 6 great tips that will help take some of the fear and stress out of your first PCS.

       1. Make the Tough Decisions Now

Many of these decisions will be based on where you are currently located and where the military is sending you. Some of the things you will need to decide are:

  • Will you sell your current home (if you’re a homeowner)? Will you buy, rent/lease, or live on base/post in your new location?
  • Will you sell your motor vehicle(s) or will you ship it/them? Generally speaking, the military will only pay to ship one car if you’re are PCSing outside of the continental United States (OCONUS). Any extra cars, or any cars inside the continental US (CONUS), are shipped at the expense of the service member’s family.
  • Will you be leaving children in the care of others? Believe it or not, this does come up. Your child in the middle of their senior year might be better off staying with a family member so they can finish out their school year. Generally speaking, if you are a family with an EFM (Exceptional Family Member) the military will not send you to a duty station where your child’s health needs cannot be met.
  • Will you be bringing your family pets with you? Will they be staying with family or friends? There are a lot of things to know about taking your pets with you to a new duty station.
  • Will you be doing a DIY move or will you have the military hire out movers for you? There are benefits and drawbacks to both and you’ll have to decide which works best for your situation.

       2.  Flexibility is Key

Even if you have orders in hand, they can change at the last minute. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already bought your surfboard and island wear for Hawaii. If the orders change and you are now headed to Alaska, trade in your surfboard for snow boots and your island wear for a warm winter coat. It’s difficult to maintain your cool when stuff like this happens, but it’s important that you learn to roll with the changes and make the best out of the new situation. Luckily, last minute changes don’t occur too often. Don’t get your heart too set on any particular location. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than brokenhearted.

      3.  Be Prepared

This one is truly important. Being prepared will save you time and wasted effort down the road. Granted, when you are given short notice to PCS, some of these may be harder than others to complete before your move.

  • Get hard copies of medical and school records. Relying on the medical clinic and schools to forward your documents can mean an endless round of frustration and phone calls.
  • If you’re shipping your car make certain it’s empty even of car seats and has less than 1/4 tank of gas. Take photos with time/date attached the day you take the car to the shipper.
  • Hand carry all your important documents; passports, social security cards, power of attorney, marriage certificate, etc. Don’t trust the movers to handle these and, if you are doing a DITY move, don’t pack them in a random box. Make certain they are clearly labeled and you know where they are at all times.
  • If you own firearms, do not let the movers pack them. Secure them yourself and check all applicable state laws if driving. If you’re flying, check with the airline. Sometimes airlines have different rules about how they want firearms packed. Find out the new duty station’s policies regarding firearms if you will be living on base/post and always follow your new state laws. If you are moving OCONUS, you may not be able to take your firearms with you. Have plans in place to sell, transfer ownership, store, etc. your firearms before you depart.
  • Go to your new state DMV website and find out what you need to do regarding a new driver’s license and vehicle registration. Active duty members usually don’t have to change their license, but military spouses usually do need a new license and registration. Often within 30 days! Knowing up front will make it less of a hassle on the back end.
  • Make certain your pets are micro chipped and up to date on all shots. Get identification tags for your pet’s collar and photograph them. Remember that some cities have ordinances regarding certain breeds of dogs. Some base/post housing does as well. Make certain you check in advance.

PRO TIP – Hawaii is different from most other states regarding animals. Contact the Animal Quarantine Station (hyperlink to for further details. Snakes are not allowed in the State of Hawaii outside of the Zoo. If you are shipping OCONUS contact the embassy or consulate of the country to which you are moving.

  • Get rid of old, broken, no longer used items. It will make the move easier for you both before and after. Yard sales and ads on Craigslist are effective ways of getting rid of all of the extra that you don’t want to take with you to your next duty station. In the event you have left over items that you can’t get rid of, you can always contact your local thrift store and they should be able to pick up any unwanted items. Plus you’ll be helping out your community.

       4. Moving Day!

Take a deep breath, you’ll get through this! Just follow these easy guidelines. Please note that this list is meant for those who opt to go the route of having the military coordinate your move.

  • Remove your pets from the packing area. It’s not urban legend that pets have been packed up along with household goods. They have. And yes, if your kitten is hiding in a box, the movers will tape that box up and send it on its way, never knowing that your furball was trapped inside. It’s far easier to designate an empty room for the animals, their kennels, dishes, etc. Don’t forget to put a big DO NOT ENTER sign on the door so a mover doesn’t accidentally let your pup out to run away. Animals can get easily frightened by change (not to mention the noise) and they may choose to bolt if given the slightest opportunity. Keep your pets safe and away from the chaos.
  • Designate another room, if possible, for the things you will need the final days you are there, as well as the luggage you’ll be traveling with. Usually you will get a second move date of small household items; bedding, cooking/eating utensils, etc. because often your move date for the movers and the move date for you to leave the house are two separate dates, sometimes weeks apart.

PRO TIP – Secure all your valuable jewelry yourself. Get a small case that you can put it all in and then put that in your carry-on luggage. High end items need to be claimed on your moving forms and many movers prefer you keep that stuff with you so that they’re not liable if it wanders away somehow.

  • Make certain items in one room are for that room. If baby Joey’s binky should be in his room, but it’s currently in the kitchen, it will get packed with the kitchen stuff, making it harder for you to locate on the other end.
  • Finally, everything in your home will get packed if you are not careful. That means your kitchen garbage can. WITH the garbage inside it. It happens often. Make certain your trash is taken out. If Sue leaves pizza crusts on plates under her bed, you will find them, when you unpack on the other end.

PRO TIP – The movers will unpack your boxes for you on the other end. But they won’t place any items anywhere. They’ll take the box to the designated room, open it, remove the contents on the floor, counter, etc. and leave it there for you to place, taking the bubble wrap, paper, and empty boxes with them.

Navigating First PCS

       5. Involve the Kids 

Moving is a stressful time for everyone and the uncertainty of moving somewhere new, a new school, new friends, etc. can make it a strange and scary time for children. By involving them in the process of the move they feel they have a say in the things that are going on and can work to make the move a more effective and peaceful process. Here are a few ideas:

  • Put them in charge of the animals on moving day (if they are old and responsible enough)
  • Have them contribute no longer wanted items to the Yard Sale and have them help run it
  • Make certain they get all their friends addresses, emails, and phone numbers so that they can keep in touch with their old friends
  • Plan a special day together, as a family, to do some things that the kids want to do in their (soon to be) old town. Remember to take lots of photos of your time together
  • Ask them how they feel and remember, they are giving up something (friends, sports, etc.) by moving away
  • Get them excited about the new town by talking about all the interesting things going on there

But how do you know what’s going on in your new location?

       6.  Research Your New Location

Find out all you can by researching the new duty station and the town it resides in. A great way to do that is to download our mobile app MyBaseGuide for both Android and iPhone. With the app, you can find out the weather, news, events, places to eat, the lowest gas prices, etc. all for your particular duty station. With it, you can find out all sorts of great things about your new home.

Best of luck in a successful, stress reduced move, and welcome to your new duty station!

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