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How to Prepare for a Military PCS Move

by Lizann Lightfoot - April 6th, 2022

When you first get permanent change of station (PCS) orders for a military move, a thousand questions start running through your mind. If you are brand-new to this military lifestyle, you probably don’t know how to prepare for your military PCS.

Even if you're a seasoned MilSpouse, you might look around and ask, how are we going to move all this stuff? What about the car? And the pets? And the kids? Then, there are all the big questions about your new duty station – what will it be like? Where will we live? Schools? Jobs? Ahhhh!

No matter how many times you have moved before, a military PCS is stressful and can feel overwhelming.

Take a deep breath

Take a deep breath. You’ve come to the right place. Here at PCSgrades, we know that military moves are difficult because we have all been through them ourselves. We believe that the military community can support its members with helpful information and step-by-step guidance to walk you through the moving process. So whether this is your first PCS move or your 10th, we can help the process go more smoothly.

Military PCS 101: How to prepare for your military move

When you first get orders, you usually have several months before you actually need to report to the next duty station. Of course, this isn't always the case: Some families might only have a month or two to prepare (surprise!).

There are some tasks you can’t do until the week you actually move. But there are many things you can do now to prepare for your move.

Even if you don't have orders yet, you can start preparing for the inevitable PCS. The more work you put in ahead of time, the more successful your move will be.

Decide what type of move is best for you

First things first, there are three ways to complete a PCS move.

Option 1: Traditional military move

This PCS option involves a military-approved moving company who will come to your house, pack up all your things, and take care of shipping and delivery to your next home. The military covers this cost, so there are few out-of-pocket expenses for you.

However, there are downsides to a traditional PCS move. It's not uncommon for items to end up lost, damaged, or stolen due to moving company negligence.

Side note: want to make sure you end up with a reputable military mover? Check out our moving company reviews from military families just like yours, all for free on

Option 2: Personally procured move (PPM)

Your next option is called a PPM (Personally Procured Move) and used to be called a DITY (Do it Yourself) move. In this case, you wouldn’t use a military moving company. You hire a moving truck, pack and load all of your boxes and furniture yourself (or hire help on your own dime), and drive your belongings to your next location.

When you do a PPM, the military will pay you 95% of what they would have paid professional movers, so you have a chance to earn a lot of cash. However, the logistics of packing everything yourself and driving a moving van across several states can be very challenging. Additionally, you are responsible for anything you drop or break during the move.

Option 3: Partial PPM / DITY

Your last option is a compromise called a partial DITY or partial PPM. A moving company will be responsible for transporting most of your belongings, either in their truck or in a packing container you load yourself.

At the same time, you will transport some belongings on your own, in your personal vehicle. Many people move breakable items, family heirlooms, or other valuables using a partial PPM. This allows you to keep those items in your possession, assuring they do not get lost during the move.

With a partial PPM, the military pays to cover the moving company, and they will pay you a small amount for the things you transport based on their weight in your vehicle.

To see all the pros and cons of a PPM and decide if it is right for you, read our article here.

How to start the military move process

Once you have determined the type of move you want to do (traditional military move, PPM, or partial PPM), it’s time to make plans and take action.

Start by getting your official paperwork in order. You will need the service member’s report date at the new installation, then work backward to calculate leave dates, travel time, moving day, packing days, etc.

Once you have the hard copy of your orders, you can go to your local transportation office (TMO) to file your move request. They will review dates, schedule movers, and discuss which expenses will be reimbursed during your move.

Once your move is scheduled and assigned to a moving company, you will be assigned a Move Coordinator who is your one-stop shop for moving questions or problems. You can learn more about a Move Coordinator here. You can also use the Military One Source website to schedule dates, view paperwork, and learn about the timeline for your move.

How to prepare for military movers

If you are using military movers to pack out your belongings, some people will tell you that you don’t need to do anything to prepare for them. However, taking the time to prepare and rearrange before their arrival will help your moving day go much smoother and avoid frustrating problems down the road.

You do not need to pre-pack any boxes yourself. However, if you prefer to pack your own items like Christmas decorations, kids toys, clothing, etc., then simply leave the boxes open and unsealed. The military movers will need to verify the contents of each box for their insurance inventory. However, they will not repack the boxes you have already packed. Typically, they will just tape up your boxes.

Many people also prefer to pack their own “First Day Box” with essentials for their arrival at the new house. Include towels, a shower curtain, toilet paper, a few cooking supplies, and cleaning supplies to make your first night more comfortable.

Other ways to prepare for the military movers include:

  • Get rid of everything you don’t want to pack. Hold a yard sale, donate to a thrift store, or throw away old items. Dispose of liquids and chemicals the moving company won’t pack.

  • Set aside military Professional Gear (uniforms, books, and awards) and make sure these items are clearly labeled as such. Pro Gear does not count against the overall weight of the move, but it can only be subtracted from the total if it is packed and labeled properly on the mover’s inventory.

  • Take a photo inventory of all your valuables and electronics. Record product ID codes and show that electronics are in working condition. This will be important if something is lost or damaged and you need to file a claim.

  • Make a PCS binder or folder with all your essential paperwork for the move, including documents needed to apply for housing and schools. Hand carry this binder in the car (or on the airplane) when you move.

  • Clean out one closet or small room and mark it “Do Not Pack.” Place your phone charger, purse/wallet, essential paperwork, suitcase of clothing, toiletries, and anything else you will take with you in the car into this area so it won’t get packed in boxes. If you don’t have someone watching your kids on moving day, then try to keep them in this area.

  • Unplug electronics, wrap up cords, and place them in bags that are labeled with the device they match.

  • Take pictures, curtains, shelving, and everything you own off the walls so it can be properly packed. The movers are not responsible for taking anything off the walls.

  • Empty all trash cans so garbage doesn’t get packed! (Yes, this really does happen).

  • If you have items like books, toys, or craft supplies that are spread throughout the house, consider gathering them into one place to be packed together so you can decide where to store them at your next house.

How to research your new duty station

As you prepare for your military PCS move, you’ll be making important decisions about your future duty station. Before leaving your current home, you’ll need to decide where you will live next.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Will you choose to live on base or off base?

  • Do you want to rent or buy your next home?

  • Are there good school districts in the next town that will meet your child(ren)’s needs?

  • Will your spouse be able to find meaningful employment, and do they need to renew professional certifications to work in the new state?

All these decisions take time, and you will want to weigh your options carefully. The more research you do, the better you can prepare your family for the challenges of moving.

PCSgrades can help make your move a little easier, with trusted reviews by and for military families. Our site offers area guides for duty stations around the country, including on-base housing, off-base neighborhoods, schools, moving companies, and more!

We can also help connect you with a real estate agent and relocation advocate to help you learn more about your new location and find the right house for you. Don’t stress when it’s time to prepare for a PCS move. We are here to help!

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot, the "Seasoned Spouse" is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, her family has been through 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves. Lizann has raised 5 children and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is "Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses" published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann's articles and resources at