Military PCS Advice

Military PCS Advice

Smooth Move – PCS Tips and Advice

The last move we had was by far the toughest and worst move of the past 20 years.  What made this one such a challenge?  This time, we had three young children age 5 and below, our scheduled move date was in between Christmas and New Years, and we just did not prepare like we should have prior to the move.

Depending on your personal, job, and family circumstances, you may or may not have a lot of time to devote to pre-move preparations.  Here are some things we learned along the way and some things we wish we had done that would have eased the pain in the move.

We’ve organized our lessons learned based on the “problem” or headache that we encountered and how to best solve it through preparation and organization.

For families with kids, we’ve underlined all of our kid-specific emphasis items in this article.

Each PCS service members and their families learn a little bit more about how to improve their PCS experience – read our tips in this article.  Please add your “lessons learned” as a comment below this article so that we can all share and benefit.

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Lessons Learned

1. Sleep in your own Bed

If you have a family with children, at some point during the packing and moving process, you will have to move out of your home and into a hotel.  Some families will elect to do this the night prior to the packers arriving at the house – this is to keep the area free of small children (for safety concerns).  One thing to remember is if you properly coordinate with your moving company, they will leave your beds and bedding intact and pack them last.  If you have a large home a pack-out can take as long as three days – that means you could have three more days where you could sleep in your own beds!

2.  Label the Boxes, Stupid!

Movers tend to rush and they seem to often cut corners when labeling boxes.  Look on the side your moving boxes – they all come with elaborate labels with many blanks to fill out and boxes to check.  Movers like to do the minimum work so that they can pack your home as fast as possible.  This means they tend to spend very little time writing down what the contents of the boxes are and what room they came from.

To fix the haphazard labeling of your boxes, the first thing we like to do is explain to the movers that they need to label each box by room and each closet specifically.  We also like to post a big “sticky” note on each of your major rooms labeling that room – indicate your kids’ names on their bedroom doors, label the “guest bedroom” and which room is the “family room” versus the “living room” etc.  Therefore, boxes with linens from the Master Bedroom should be labeled “Master Bedroom Linens”, etc.  Sounds easy – but most movers screw up this step.

Another thing you can do is follow behind your movers and with a different colored marker (Red or Green, etc.), label your critical boxes (bedroom linens, towels, baby bottles, kids’ video games, etc.) so that you can quickly find them and unpack them at your destination.

3.  Hold on to your Bedroom Items

One thing to remember, the packers will likely only leave your beds and bedding there but will pack every single thing else in your bedrooms.  This means if you have other crucial items you want to keep handy or items you need to use, make sure you separate them from the packers.  This includes everything that may be on your nightstand such as alarm clocks, reading glasses, cell phone chargers.  Families with kids – don’t forget items that may be on the floor of your bedrooms such as humidifiers, noise machines, baby monitors, special bedtime books, and anything on your baby changing table that you require.  Your packers will pack your entire bedroom unless otherwise told.

4.  Bathroom Items – Watch the Liquids!

Just like #2 above, the same thing goes for your bathroom.  Obviously you will pack your personal travel toiletries.  However, don’t forget that many moving companies will refuse to move liquids (especially opened bottles).  So, your expensive perfume and cologne collection may be in jeopardy unless you pack and carry them in your vehicle.  Many families store medicine in their bathrooms (medicine cabinets, etc.) – don’t forget to pack whatever medicines, over-the-counter items, and your prescription drugs or the packers will pack them and you won’t find them until you unpack all of your boxes at the destination.  For families with kids, don’t forget to pack separately your kids’ bath soap, baby lotion, favorite bath toys, and any children’s medicine stored in their bathroom.

5.  It’s all about the Linens and Towels

Your movers will pack all of your linens and towels.  However, unless instructed to (or unless you do this your self), they will simply label all of the boxes as “linens”.  If you have several different linen closets, they will likely not label any of the boxes differently and it will be a big guessing game when you are unpacking at your destination to find the right sheets and blankets for your different bedrooms and to find the right box with bath towels.  This can be especially painful after a fill day of unpacking at your new home and all you want to do is take a hot shower and hop in your own bed.

If you have room in your vehicles, what I recommend is packing one set of linens for all of your beds (and your children’s beds) plus one set of towels and carrying them in your vehicles.  Once you reach your destination, you know where your bedding is and you are ready to take showers, make the beds, and go to sleep.

6.  Know what’s in your Garage

Most people store a lot in their garage.  Many families end up with those large blue plastic Rubbermaid containers (the movers call them “totes”) full of Christmas ornaments, camping equipment, winter clothes, etc.  Your movers will pack all of your “totes” but, they will only label the boxes as “garage totes”.  So, when you arrive at your destination you will probably have 30 boxes unloaded in your garage labeled “garage totes”.  All that does is waste your time during your unpacking.

Help the movers by labeling the Rubbermaid containers – just attach a piece of duct tape or masking tape and write on it with a black marker indicating what is inside.  Be specific – “Wife Winter Clothes” or “Kids’ Toys” etc.  And then explain to your movers that whatever the tote is labeled is how they need to label their moving boxes.  We moved from a warm Florida climate to a northern state in the middle of winter – it was crucial to know which boxes in the garage had our winter clothes as soon as we arrived!  A lot of your kids’ favorite toys may end up in the garage during your packing process – make sure you label those totes aptly so that you can immediately unpack these toys at your destination.

7.  Separate your Professional Gear

For military service members, your “Professional Gear” does not count towards your weight allowance.  Professional Gear includes uniforms, military-specific gear (such as deployment bags, combat kit, protective gear, helmets, pelican cases, footwear) and professional books and publications.  This may amount to several hundred pounds in weight – so it is a good idea to segregate these items and put a large note on the pile so that the movers know it is your “professional gear” and to weight them separately from the rest of your household goods.

8.  Don’t Forget your Storage Unit

Many families nowadays have storage units.  A lot of families will end up getting a storage unit during the “de-clutter” phase of preparing to list their home for sale prior to moving.  Make sure you factor in time and effort to empty that storage unit and bring everything back to your home (your garage) before the movers show up.

Storage unit items tend to be stored in those same Rubbermaid blue plastic containers.  Make sure you follow the advice in #6 above and label those Rubbermaid containers so that your movers know how to label the packing boxes.

9.  Keep your Important Documents

Everyone has important documents such as social security cards, birth certificates, passports, check books, marriage certificate, etc.  Many families keep such items in a fire-proof box (good idea).  Before the movers show up, make sure you separate which of these documents you want to hand-carry, and which you will let the movers pack.  Also, don’t forget your work-specific documents such as your Security Clearance paperwork (Form SF-86, etc.), certification cards, ID cards, LES, military orders, medical records, flight records, and personnel reports.  You may want to hand-carry those items too.  Families with kids should also hand-carry childrens’ shot records and written prescriptions (both will be required at their new schools).

By reading the above lessons learned, hopefully you will be able to make your next move a smooth one and at least avoid making some of the mistakes we made!

Related Articles:

Military PCS Information
PCS Move-in Advice
How to File a PCS Damage Claim
PCS Reimbursements

TRICARE for your Family

Upon arrival at your new duty station, you will be required to enroll your family in the local TRICARE office (usually co-located at your military treatment facility).  This is a good time to re-evaluate your family healthcare situation and decide whether you prefer TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Standard.  TRICARE Standard grants your family the freedom of choice in doctors and the flexibility to seek a specialist or follow-on care without first getting a primary care referral (saves your family a lot of time and head aches).  For more information, check out our section on the benefits of TRICARE Standard Supplemental Insurance.

Military Pay Questions

Military Pay entitlements change when Service Members deploy. For more Military Pay information check out our Military Pay section.  OurDeployment Pay section details entitlements while a servicemember is deployed overseas.

Military For Sale By Owner

PCSing soon?  Are you looking to sell your home?  Perhaps you are looking for a new home to buy or rent. is the place to go.  Here you can list and browse homes for sale and rent.  By selling your home “by owner” you save a lot by avoiding the high commission rates that realtors charge.  With an easy to navigate, powerful search interface, this website is the premier for-sale-by-owner website!

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  1. USMC Major says:

    If you have a storage unit, the military moving benefit includes packing and pickup from a storage unit or your military office if you are senior enough to have one. No need to stress about moving your storage unit stuff back home, just include it in your move paperwork with the distribution management office or whatever your service is calling the move managers these days. I have done this before and it was a life saver. We downsized to a small apartment because I was deployed for a year and put most of our stuff in storage. It would not have fit in our tiny apartment when it was time to move. You can also have part of your shipment delivered to a storage unit as well (or your military office), but that must be in your paperwork up front so the boxes can be on a separate inventory.

    • military4life says:

      USMC Major,

      Thanks for sharing – I’ve forgotten about this benefit on my past moves too. Without knowing the movers would pickup from my storage unit, I’ve crammed dozens of SUV-loads of stuff back to my home from the storage unit all during the chaos of prior to my PCS.

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