We’ve created a comprehensive guide to help military families master the moving process. Read on to learn a little more about:
- How stateside and overseas moves work
- Forms that you’ll need to complete before your move
- Information that you need to know before you move to a new country
We’ll also link you to a few additional resources that you can use to plan your move effectively.
What is a PCS Order?
A permanent change of station (PCS) order is the military’s way of telling you that you and your family will be moving soon. However, there are several steps in the moving process that you’ll need to go through before you can actually start packing up your household goods to start your move.
You don’t need to worry about beginning the moving process before you or your military spouse receives their assignment notification. Though each branch of the armed forces processes assignment notifications in its own way, most branches will alert you through an email, phone call or notification from a supervisor. Note that receiving an assignment notification is not the same thing as receiving your official orders. However, it’s recommended that you begin researching your military base using the government’s MilitaryINSTALLATIONS tool and to explore housing resources, military community advice and more about employment opportunities for you or your spouse in your new duty station.
Your moving and travel process will officially begin when you or your spouse receives your official orders. These official orders will include your rank, the duration of your job or training, information on which family members should come with you, and more. There are 2 types of orders, and the order that you receive will inform how much packing and transportation you’ll need to plan for when heading to your new base.
- Permanent change of station (PCS): A PCS order occurs when you’ll be assigned to a new duty station for 20 or more weeks. In these circumstances, you should plan for full moving services, including packing up most of your home, belongings, and immediate family.
- Temporary Duty (TDY): Unlike PCS orders, TDY orders require you or your military spouse to stay in their new location for more than 31 days but less than 20 weeks. Specifications will be included on your orders. For temporary moves, it’s common to only bring a small percentage of your possessions, and your family members may be required to stay home.
After you’ve learned which type of move you can expect, you can begin choosing your moving process and preparing your family for your new adventure.
How Do I Get Started With a PCS Move?
The moving processes that you have access to with PCS orders will vary depending on where you and your family are headed. There are 2 types of destinations that you may be assigned to.
- CONUS: “CONUS” stands for “continental United States.” If you have a CONUS PCS move upcoming, it means that your new location will be somewhere in the connected 48 United States.
- OCONUS: “OCONUS” stands for “outside of the continental United States.” If you received an OCONUS order, it means that your new home may be in Alaska, Hawaii or another US territory not connected to the lower 48 states. OCONUS moves also constitute international moves, which can be a bit more complicated for you and your family. Moves are also labeled OCONUS if you are traveling from Alaska, Hawaii or another international territory.
The moving process you can expect will vary depending on where you’ll be traveling to.
For moves within the continental United States, you have several moving options that you can choose from. Some of the most commonly used options include the following.
Do-it-Yourself (or “DITY”) moves
Sometimes referred to as a “personally procured move” or “PPM,” a DITY move allows you to select your own moving company to handle your moving services. After covering the cost of your move, you’ll receive a reimbursement for your moving expenses at a later date.
Choosing the right company to provide your relocation assistance is important. Use these tips to find the right transportation services provider—and to avoid moving scammers.
- Ask for recommendations: If you know other military families who have done their own move, you may want to ask if they have any recommendations when it comes to choosing a service provider. This is the easiest and fastest way to locate a reliable company.
- Check with the BBB: The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a fantastic resource that you can use to locate a well-reviewed moving company in your area. Simply enter your location and specify that you’re looking for a moving company to instantly begin comparing accredited and non-accredited options near you. You can even sort by BBB grade, which can give you more peace of mind when you select a company.
Ask for licensing information: If you’re traveling outside of your state, your moving company will be required to be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA is a government body that regulates moving companies operating on an interstate scale.
To confirm that your movers are registered with the FMCSA, ask for a USDOT number. A USDOT number is a unique identifier assigned to each registered moving company by the FMCSA. After you receive a company’s USDOT number, use the FMCSA’s Company Snapshot tool to verify its licensure status and view records on accidents and inspection failures. Avoid companies that make it difficult to access their USDOT numbers. You can also search the Company Snapshot tool with an MC Number if your moving company of choice has one.
Keep in mind that your reimbursement for your military move will not be instantaneous. If using the DITY option, be sure that you have enough in savings to cover the initial cost of your move. Also, be sure to keep all receipts and contracts so you can receive the most accurate reimbursement possible.
You’ll also need to be sure that you complete the following forms to ensure that your PPM move is approved:
- Standard Form 1038 — Advance of Funds Application and Account (for advanced operating allowance)
- Certified empty weight ticket for each shipment with name, your Social Security number, and signature of weight master
- Certified loaded weight ticket for each shipment with name, your Social Security number, and signature of weight master
- Original DD Form 1351-2 — Travel voucher or sub voucher
- Copy of registration for any boats or trailers that you’re bringing along with you
Do not proceed to hire a moving company until you’ve done your research in your area, completed all necessary forms, and been approved for your move. You can learn more about the DITY moving process here.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of coordinating your own move, you can allow the military to plan and complete your move through the Defense Personal Property System, or “DPS” for short. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to schedule packing and unpacking services through DPS as well.
To get started, learn more if you qualify for a DPS move and create an account with the DPS system. If you’re preparing for a dual property move with an active duty spouse, visit your local personal property office to schedule your move. After uploading your PCS orders, complete DD Form 1299 and Form 1797. If this is your first PCS, you may need to manually complete your shipment documents with a transportation counselor who can answer all of your questions on delivery dates and entitlements. To learn more, contact your local Personal Property Processing Office.
With a partial DITY move, you allow the military to move some of your household goods (HHG) while you travel with other goods and receive reimbursement later. Some military members choose this option when they have a large number of valuables that they want to keep safe, or they own a few things that military movers will not agree to transport due to liability issues.
Though completing an international move can feel like an intimidating and daunting task, you’ll be happy to know that most of the paperwork process is the same for OCONUS assignments as they are for military members who are stationed within the United States and using a DPS move. In addition, you’ll also receive a per diem rate to cover things like meals and incidentals as you travel. However, there are a few considerations that you’ll need to take into account before you begin packing.
You may need to get a passport
If you and all members of your family don’t already have passports, you’ll need to get them before you travel anywhere abroad. This includes travel to Canada and Mexico.
You can learn more about the passport application process and download relevant forms through the Department of State’s website here. Keep in mind that if you have young children, their passports will expire more often than the adults in your family. Be sure to check the expiration date on each of your family members’ passport expiration dates well before your moving date arrives, as it can take months to renew or receive a passport.
Connect with your overseas sponsor
Though moving abroad can feel like an impossible task, the Department of Defense will provide you with plenty of resources that you can use to make things easier. One of the most important resources that you’ll have is your overseas sponsor.
Your overseas sponsor will be a current service member located at your destination who can help you complete your paperwork, connect with housing and childcare resources, and more. If you don’t receive information on an overseas sponsor when you receive your OCONUS orders, be sure to request one.
Research Command Sponsorships
If you have children and they are not listed as moving with you, you’ll need to receive a Command Sponsorship or Accompanied Orders. These orders will help ensure that you receive additional entitlements to cover the cost of your child’s medical care and housing. They can also raise your weight limit on your shipment, which can help you put fewer items in storage. If your spouse or children are not listed on your orders and they’ll be traveling with you, you must request a Command Sponsorship through your chain of command.
With an OCONUS move, you’ll ship your HHG in 2 separate shipments. Your first shipment is called your “unaccompanied shipment.” This shipment should include basic necessities that you’ll need as soon as you arrive at your new station. Some examples include baby supplies, extra clothing, diapers, and other day-to-day must-haves. Your unaccompanied shipment will arrive at your destination before you do, so you won’t need to worry about overloading your baggage before flying.
Your second shipment is your household goods shipment. This shipment will contain everything else that you won’t immediately need upon your arrival. Some examples include furniture, excess children’s toys, and other items that you’ll need to make your life more comfortable. Your household goods shipment may arrive after you, so be sure that you clearly mark all items that you need to have as soon as you arrive as “unaccompanied items.” This will ensure that these items aren’t placed in the same moving truck as your household goods.
OCONUS moves can be a bit more complicated because there are strict weight restrictions on the number of items that the military will cover for shipment. Thankfully, if you own more things than can fit within your weight allowance, the military will help cover the cost of a storage unit and storage services until you return from abroad. Contact your local transportation office to learn more about reimbursement for storage unit services.
Preparing For Your PCS
Preparing for your first PCS can be a daunting and stressful process. One of the easiest ways to prepare for a major move like a PCS is to downsize your home. Even if you aren’t going overseas with a weight limit on your shipment, downsizing can make it significantly easier to make your way into your new space with less stress.
- Walkthrough your home and decide what you must have and what you’re okay with getting rid of. If you have a large number of items that you don’t want but are in good condition, you may want to consider donating them.
- Focus on sorting your items 1 room at a time. This can make the process of downsizing significantly more manageable.
- Start as early as possible. The last thing that you want is to be rushing to pack and get rid of used items before moving across the country—or across the world.
Remember that no matter if you’re moving 1 state over or across the world, the DOD will assist you in making your military life as comfortable as possible for you and your family. If you have questions about your upcoming move, speak with your superior or explore the Military OneSource website here, which contains tons of valuable information on making the PCS process less stressful.
Military Moving FAQ
How long does it take for the military to move your stuff?
This will depend on where you’re headed. If you’re traveling within the continental United States, your things will arrive within a week of your arrival. International transportation can take significantly longer due to import and customs regulations.
What will military movers not move?
Some of the items that military movers will not move include:
- Perishable food items
- Large containers of cosmetics
How does it work when the military moves you?
If you’re moving within the continental United States, you have the option to hire your own team of movers after receiving approval from your service branch or to allow the military to coordinate your move on your behalf. If you’re heading overseas, you will ship your household goods in 2 separate shipments.
Do military wives travel with their husbands?
The answer to this question will depend on your spouse’s deployment. If your spouse is an active-duty military member and they are traveling on a PCS order, you may be able to travel with your spouse to their new station. However, this is not always the case—be sure to check your spouse’s individual orders for more information.