The dreaded PCS, or “permanent change of station.” Across the country or across the globe, PCSing can be a big hassle for military families. Furniture, pets and belongings all have to find their way to their new destination somehow; not to mention the stress of paperwork, packing and getting to know a whole new area.
Whether it’s a move you’ve been longing for, or a one-way-ticket to the armpit of America (definitions vary), PCSing involves a lot of moving parts. Here are some tips on the best way to PCS — stateside or worldwide.
CONUS / Stateside PCSing
When you’re stationed in the U.S., you generally have the option to move yourself. This is known as a contiguous move, or CONUS (the lower 48 states).
Many military families will choose to load up their cars and drive to their new station. This is called a full DITY, or do-it-yourself, move. When the military moves some of your stuff and you move the rest, it’s called a partial DITY.
If you’ve been living in a house, chances are you have a fair amount of things to move, and you’re going to want to get them from point A to point B with the least amount of effort possible. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Get your government allowance
The government will pay you an allowance that equals to 95 percent of what it would cost to move you. If you go over this, it comes out of your pocket. If you spend less, that extra money will be taxable, so you’ll need a W-2 form when you do your tax returns.
2. Ask movers about military discounts
If you’re hiring movers outside of the military, or renting a moving truck, make sure to ask if they offer a military discount. Many times they will not advertise this.
3. Do not buy boxes
99% of the time, someone on base will have boxes they are getting rid of. Post on military spouses’ Facebook pages or ask around for some help. This is an easy way to save a few bucks moving.
4. Color code boxes based off rooms
Blue stickers = kitchen, red = living room, etc. This will make unpacking go a lot faster, and you won’t be trying to discern the illegible marker on your scattered boxes.
5. Plan a route before you leave
Even if you have to go old school and break out a map, this will make things less stressful when you’re finally on the road. Note gas stations, restaurants and hotels that you’re planning to stop at.
6. Be financially savvy
It’s easy to spend money on a road trip. Pack a cooler for the car with food and drinks so you spend less money eating out. Also, keep all your receipts, no matter how small the price was.
7. Don’t give valuables or breakables to movers
Whether you have outside contractors or military movers, don’t give them any important stuff. You don’t want to lose anything of high value, or find Grandma’s 100-year-old china set in pieces.
8. Feed your movers!
It might serve you well to have a sandwich or two on hand. Hungry movers, military-hired or not, do not make for a happy PCS. They’ll be more inclined to treat your items with care if you show them some kindness and consideration.
OCONUS / International PCSing
When you’re moving OCONUS, which is to Hawaii, Alaska, or internationally, the military will be moving you. This is a full military PCS.
While you don’t have to worry about carting all your stuff across country yourself, there are some finer details to take into account when it comes to OCONUS PCSing.
1. Make sure you have passports, visas and other paperwork in order
You’ll need passports and possibly visas for your entire family. The military will issue you a federal passport for PCS travel, and if you intend to do any personal traveling while stationed OCONUS, you’ll need a non-federal passport as well. You can look into getting those here.
You’re also going to want other paperwork completed; for instance, if you’re moving with a service member, you, your kids and any pets you have need to be listed on their orders to relocate with them. Keep a “PCS binder” with all important paperwork stashed in it in case you need it.
2. Cut down on your stuff
The thing about no longer living in America is that you probably won’t have as much space. Add this to the complications of overseas shipping, and you might want to get rid of your non-essentials. You can either put them in storage at your own cost or do away with them completely.
3. Know your restrictions
There are restrictions on things you can take with you to certain countries. Learn these restrictions, and understand how to deal with them. The military will pay to ship one car overseas. Any pets will require a rabies vaccination form, a DD Form 2209, and an International Health Certificate stamped by the USDA within one week prior to traveling (most international health certificates are only valid for one week, instead of 30 days like domestic ones). You can take two pets per household.
4. Plan your accommodations and research the area
Are you going to live on base or off? Some overseas installations don’t have room on base, so you’ll need to plan for housing accordingly. You can make on-post hotel arrangements if you don’t have housing right away. Also, do some research on the immediate town or city you’ll be staying in; know the common language, local customs and places you can go that will be American-friendly (you may want to learn to say things like “where is your restroom?” in the local language).
5. Remember: you’re not alone
Moving to a new place can be tough, especially if you’re the tag-along and your service member is deployed or sent to training the second you arrive. Use resources like your military family support center, or try to make friends with other spouses. You’ll thank yourself later.