You’ve got orders! Now what? Moving is as much a part of military life as separations and deployments. The unknowns can be stressful, but the adventure of a new place is something that makes being married to a service member unique. With the right amount of planning and research, a Permanent Change-of-Station (PCS) move can be a positive experience.
The PCS Toolkit will help you prepare for before, during, and after the move – download your copy for the step-by-step process. In addition to the formal checklists, we decided to ask the experts – as in those who have a few moves under their belt courtesy of the United States Armed Forces – what they wished they had known besides the usual advice.
So, here we go. You found out where you are going. What should you do next? And what do you avoid?
Navigating Your First PCS
DO crowdsource for information: Who better to give insight into a local community than the military families already there? Social media provides an easy outlet to get an up-close look at any locations. It is easy to connect with boots on the ground who can answer those in-the-weeds questions that require more personal details. A simple search on Facebook using the keywords of the new installation can help you find groups and pages by specific location. Check out AHRN’s What You Need to Know Installation Features.
DON’T judge a duty station by its reputation: I know, we just said ask the people. But, on any given day you can find any number of people who have loved and hated where the military sent them. While you are in information gathering mode, allow yourself room to still be open-minded about your new zip code. In most cases, a duty station becomes what you make it.
DO make a PCS binder: Yes, we are living in a digital world, but sometimes there is value in a good, old fashioned system. You will want to be organized with all of the documents pertaining to your move, including a copy of those orders, along with life’s important documents (birth certificates, marriage certificate, social security cards, signed lease, POAs, wills).
DON’T start spending money before you confirm your entitlements: This is so important. There are few things worse than flying blind into the financial end of something as big as a move. Confirm your entitlements with the installation’s personnel administration and build a budget so that if you are going to be spending outside of your estimated allowances, it doesn’t catch you off guard.
DO consider using a host family: Your service member’s unit can assign you a designated point of contact (often referred to as a sponsor) at the new duty station to help you with the information you need about the local area, schools, etc. Typically, the military will try to assign someone who has similar life circumstances to you, because they will be your best go-to source of relevant information.
DON’T move until you have actual orders in hand: Unfortunately, it can happen. You are sure that you are going to live in x, y or z because your service member’s boss told them so. But, remember how I mentioned that moving and deployments are certainties in military life? So is the unexpected change. Don’t put a security deposit down on a new house until you have those official orders.
DO pack a last day and first day box: The number one tip shared by fellow movers was to put together a “go bag” for the departing and arrival duty stations. The idea is that you are going to need to spend some time without your stuff. So rather than running to the store to keep picking up daily necessities, designate a box or bag for them. Examples would be a shower curtain, paper towels, toilet paper, hand soap, and paper products.
DON’T solely rely on the movers to inventory your belongings: Take photos of and/or video of all of your possessions and their condition prior to packers’ arrival. This documentation will make it much easier if any of your goods arrive damaged or if you have to go through the claims process.
DO check to see if your new installation has a loan locker: When you arrive at your new location, you are going to be without the bare essentials like a table to eat on. Some installations have loan lockers that allow you to borrow everything from furniture to utensils for free.
DON’T forget to revel in this experience: For all of the stress that can accompany moving, this is still a significant milestone in your military life. There’s a chance that all of the planning will still lead to unexpected changes that you have little control over. There’s also a chance that this location may be where you meet your next best friend, have a child, build a career, or any host of things.
Enjoy the journey.
For more tips on PCS moves, check out our guide to Planning Your First PCS.
Bianca Strzalkowski is a freelance writer and editor. A proud Marine Corps wife of 14 years, she has experience in news reporting, social media management, and content marketing. Prior to her freelance writing career, Bianca was the Deputy Director of Membership for Blue Star Families. She is media trained and has appeared in interviews for television, radio, and print to include Fox News, CNN, and Oprah. Currently, she serves as an Advisor for The MilSpo Project and is a content strategist for the Homefront United Network.