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De-Stress your Military Move with Checklists

Even if you are the type of person that gets all excited about travel and seeing new places, I bet that even you get stressed about a military move. Permanent change of station (PCS) orders come whether you are ready for them or not. But, there are resources available to make PCS as smooth a transition as possible. De-stress your military move with these checklists.

Unlike a move in the civilian world where spouses can attempt to schedule the move at a convenient time when they can take off work, or kids are out of school, or nowhere near a holiday season, a military move can happen at short notice, anytime of year, regardless of your personal schedule. It is the nature of the beast that soldiers are needed wherever and whenever and there is no predetermination that can be relied upon with 100% certainty.

This past year, my husband and I figured that we could be relocated to any one of 10+ military posts. We hoped we would be assigned one of our top three and we made tentative plans should that occur. Luckily, due to our communicating together and to senior officers about our preferences, we did receive orders to our first choice post in Oahu.

The next step was surviving the move. My husband was busy transitioning out of his current role and preparing for his new position in Oahu, and I was training my replacement at work. In addition, we had to get our pets processed through the quarantine system, finish remodeling our home in Missouri and put it on the real estate market before we left the mainland, and I was pregnant with our first child. Though we were thrilled at the prospect of Oahu, we were not expecting a baby when we put in the request; moving and settling into a new home while pregnant is not an easy thing.  I had so many questions about who to contact and what to do, but my husband did not have all the answers; moving with a family was new to him too.

Everyone has a similar PCS-story because life does not stop for a military move. You have to be able to juggle many schedules and deadlines at once. And, dropping any ball can have dire consequences. For example, not getting your pets paperwork completed in time can results in weeks or months of quarantine in an overseas move – a very expensive and stressful situation.

There are tried-and-true tools available to you to make the military move as smooth and uneventful as possible. Many of these resources are online, but do not hesitate to go to your current post/base and discuss your move with your vet, your doctor, and the local organizations there to help you, such as the Transportation office.

The first step is to wait to receive your orders. Do not assume that because you are told you will be relocating to place X that you will not find yourself suddenly on orders to place Y. Wait for orders before making any arrangements. Double-check that your report date, your unit, and your spouse and family members are correctly listed on your orders – if they are allowed to accompany you at all.

The second step is to schedule a meeting at the transportation office or use the online Defense Personal Property System (DPS) to make and manage your own arrangements. DPS has online tutorials, presentations and FAQs to help first-timers with the process.

If you go with the transportation office, bring a copy of the orders and a list of questions that may have already arisen.

  • What moving options are available?
  • When are the available pick-up and delivery dates?
  • Can you crate your possessions?
  • Can you do a DITY move?
  • What costs are reimbursed?

The name of the transportation office varies by service branch: Joint Personal Property Shipping Office (DOD); Traffic Management Office (Air Force); Installation Transportation Office (Army); Personal Property Shipping Office (Navy/Marines); and, Household Goods Shipping Office (Coast Guard).

The third step is to contact the family center at the new post/base and ask about their relocation assistance program. This is a great jump-start on finding out things such as on-post amenities (is there a commissary, a PX, schools, a health clinic or hospital, a vet?), on-post and off-post housing options, etc.

The fourth step is to take care of housing if you are living in government quarters, both leaving your current home and arranging for a new one. There are several regulations to abide by when moving out of government, on-post housing like trash disposal, damages, painting, cleaning, etc. If you are planning on living in government housing at your new installation, call the housing office and get on the wait list; wait lists can sometimes result in months of waiting to be assigned housing and are based on a combination of rank, position, and first-come-first-serve. This system also varies by branch.

The fifth step is to schedule a meeting with the finance office at your current installation to ask about relocation benefits and other options to make your move less of a drain on your bank account. Prior to your meeting, know whether your family (and pets) are moving with you and ask questions about covering the costs associated with moving a family like plane tickets, luggage, shots (if required), temporary housing, rental cars, shipping vehicles, etc.

Read my blog on “Saving Money while PCSing”.

The sixth step is to choose a type of move: either let the military make the arrangements for you through their preferred shippers, or do a Do-It-Yourself (DITY) move (aka Personally Procured Move). Decide on your type of move and make arrangements for truck/POD rentals or schedule your pick-up and delivery dates as soon as possible. Keep in mind, the peak period for moves is May through August and schedules fill up quickly. Once you have requested the dates, do not assume they are set; dates are not guaranteed until they are specifically scheduled with the Transportation Service Provider.

Estimating the weight of your household goods can help you decide what type of move is optimal for your family. A good rule of thumb is to assume 1,000 pounds per room.

Shipping your personally owned vehicle (POV) typically consists of personally delivering your vehicle to the nearest Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). You must have several types of documentation on hand, including title (or a letter from the loan company permitting you to transport the vehicle), proof of insurance, driver’s license, and a few copies of orders. A complete list is available through the transportation office. Your car must be empty of personal items (though you may be permitted to ship a high chair, pack ‘n play, stroller, etc. in the vehicle) and all liquids. Before dropping off your vehicle at the VPC, the exterior must be freshly washed. Plan on spending at least 1 hour at the VPC.

Read my blog on DITY moves, “To DITY or Not to DITY…”

The seventh step is to get organized.

Create a personal “moving calendar” with a to-do list, important milestones and dates, contact numbers and links to key websites; excel is an excellent tool for this. Your to-do list should include sorting and packing the house (especially the closets and garage), paying and transferring your bills and accounts, enrolling children into school, and obtaining medical records (people and pets). For example, I worked backwards from my husband’s report by date to estimate when to ship the car, the pets, when to arrange to pack up the house, time to locate a new home, and when to schedule delivery of our household goods to our new home.

Avoid excess weight charges by disposing of possessions you no longer need or use before moving. And, for multiple shipments, schedule packing and loading on different dates for each shipment and separate the goods in different spaces in the home. Luckily, we had time to root through the nooks and crannies of the house. It helped us to designate areas of the house for certain things. We had “trash”, “donate”, and “sell” piles in the garage, and we held several garage sales prior to moving to reduce the clutter and get organized simultaneously. One room in the house was for items to go into long-term storage in our hometown while another room was for items that needed to go on the plane with us. Also, keep in mind that often you are permitted to pack a few boxes for immediate delivery to your new duty location so that you have bedding, dinnerware, some clothing, etc. on hand right away. Find out the allowances for your move in advance and plan accordingly.


Military OneSource provides information on managing expenses, coping with stress, locating housing, managing shipments and much more. Use it! Here is a list of resources that will prove very handy during your upcoming move:


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