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Military PCS Move: 10 Essential Tips


October 29, 2022

When you joined the military, you knew it could mean moving a lot. But you still may feel overwhelmed when you get your PCS orders. Most Americans consider moving more stressful than divorce.1 And a military PCS move (no surprise!) has additional layers of red tape.

We’re sharing nine tips to help you and your family through your PCS move, no matter whether it’s CONUS or OCONUS.

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Planning for Your Military PCS Move

Military members know planning is everything. Fortunately, there are some helpful resources and tips to guide you in creating a plan that will make your move as stress-free as possible.

1. Use Your Military Resources!

A good plan makes any job easier. Military OneSource provides great tools you can use to create a customized moving plan just for you. You can generate a personalized checklist with their online tool, Plan My Move, by answering a few simple questions.

Plan My Move includes guidance on everything from telling the kids you’re moving to making hotel reservations for the actual trip. (Remember to ask for a government lodging rate!)

Other resources include the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS tool, which provides detailed information about every installation, from schools to utility companies.

2. Decide Whether a DITY or Partial-DITY is for you

Your first big decision is about how much of the move you’ll do yourself. Some people prefer to have the military hire movers and handle the whole thing. That’s a lot less work, but it does require giving up some control of the process.

A do-it-yourself move (also called a DITY or PPM, for “personally procured move”) puts you in the driver’s seat, but it also means you’ll be doing all the work. If it’s been a while since you’ve moved, make sure you don’t minimize just how much labor is involved. A cognitive bias called the planning fallacy2 means we humans are prone to underestimating how long something will take, and it’s easy to fall prey to that when you’re moving.

A partial DITY could be the way to go if you want some involvement with the move but would rather offload much of the heavy work to moving professionals. It allows you to pack and move your fragile, personal, or sentimental items yourself while putting the rest in someone else’s capable hands.

3. Start a Folder of Move-Related Information

As soon as you get your PCS orders, put them into a special folder – either a physical one or a cloud drive you can access any time – that will hold all moving documents. Use it to keep receipts and the spreadsheets you may create to compare housing or daycare options.

Remember, even the most organized people experience some chaos when moving. Keeping your essential documents in one place will help.

More Moving Help for Members

4. Declutter: Don’t Move Things You Don’t Need or Want

Getting rid of your old junk will keep you under your weight limit – and that can save you money. It also cuts down on the frustration of unpacking. If you use your coffeemaker every day, you don’t want it hidden among boxes of unused kitchen gadgets.

Sentimental items aside, if you haven’t used an item in six months or more, it’s time to consider whether you truly need it. Also make sure to dispose of food staples, toiletries, medications, or cosmetics that are past their expiration date.

Moving Tips for a CONUS PCS

Most military families will experience at least a couple of CONUS moves. Moving within the Continental United States might seem easy compared to a move to Hawaii, Alaska, or another country, but no move is without challenges. Focusing on what’s important will help.

5. Prioritize Your Family’s Well-Being

Housing. Childcare. A job for your spouse. If these big-picture items are vital to your family, focus on them as soon as possible. During a move, it’s easy to get preoccupied with relatively minor things. Focus instead on what your family most needs.

6. Enjoy the Journey

Moving within the continental US may require some driving. Plan a route that includes fun stops – either visiting extended family, touring an interesting museum, or taking a hike at a great state or national park.

7. Get Help With Moving Stress

Your kids might have thought moving was exciting when they were little, but now they don’t want to change schools. Likewise, your spouse might have been chill about your first move, but this time, they’re worried about getting a new job or helping the kids adjust. Every move is different. If needed, you can seek non-medical counseling to help you handle the transition.

Moving Tips for OCONUS PCS

Moving outside the continental United States is a big deal! That’s why an OCONUS move requires extra planning and support. Whether you’re moving to Hawaii, Alaska, or another continent, your family will never forget this adventure. These tips apply to any move, but they’re especially important for OCONUS moves.

8. Don’t Be Shy About Using Military Resources

Your family deserves support! Use the available resources to make the transition smooth. For example, request a military sponsor. Talk to someone at Personal Financial Management Services about the move. And don’t be shy about asking for non-medical counseling.

  • Take advantage of your military sponsor. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone of a similar rank with experience in your new environment show you around. If you weren’t assigned a sponsor, reach out to your installation Military and Family Support Center.
  • Get financial guidance. You can get confidential, short-term counseling to help with budgeting and money management from Military OneSource. Call 800-342-9647 to schedule an in-person, online, or telephone counseling session.
  • Find support for the stress of transition. Don’t be shy about seeking out seek non-medical counseling.

9. Put Extra Care into Your ‘First Week’ Box

You and your belongings might be separated for a while. It’s important to have a well-planned first week box for your immediate needs. This is especially true for an OCONUS move. Not only will you potentially find yourself without your essentials, but you may not know how to go about replacing them if you’ve moved to a new country.

10. Take advantage of language learning and translation options

If moving to a foreign country, knowing the language will help you to feel more secure and have more fun.

Moving is rarely anyone’s favorite activity, and military moves come with extra levels of complexity. But fortunately, you’re not without support. Using the resources available to military families will help you make a smoother transition to the next phase of your military career.


  1. Americans say moving more stressful than divorce, having children, Fox News Oct. 1, 2020
  2. Exploring the “Planning Fallacy”: Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times