PCS Checklist [Most Critical Items to Plan and Organize]
You’ve received a permanent change of station or PCS announcement and you need to start planning. This process can go one of two ways
- It can be incredibly smooth with as few bumps as possible, or
- It can be highly turbulent with unforeseen errors at every turn.
You don’t want to fall into that second category.
Planning and preparation are everything for military families going through a PCS, and we’ve helped hundreds of people through this process. Our PCS checklist will walk you through everything to ensure you leave no stone unturned.
1. The Planning Stage
The average military family will move as often as once every three years. That does not mean it gets easier each time. It’s important to plan immediately and stay organized between moves to prevent the last minute race to the finish, which is why a PCS checklist is useful.
- Organize all important essentials
Organization is key so having important documents like passports, marriage licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, contact information, and housing info in a safe place.
Consider putting all of this information into a binder so you know exactly where it is when it comes time to start packing. Losing essential travel documents or identification can lead to someone even being left behind during a PCS.
- Plan out all transportation
It’s never too soon to start thinking about transportation. If your PCS is overseas, you’ll need to figure out what to do with your car. Items like furniture and large appliances will likely require specialized transport as well.
Keep in mind that the military will pay to move pretty much anything depending on the way it’s factored into your agreement. You could always drive the car if it’s a stateside relocation but you could save wear and tear on it by shipping it if the military will pay for it.
- See if there are military flight discounts
If you’re flying for your relocation, there are many flights that will offer discounts to military members.
The key is to look for discounts that apply not only to your flight, but to your luggage as well. You need to keep in mind that transportation timelines will not always fall perfectly in line so you’ll want to bring certain things with you on the flight to ensure you have them when you arrive.
You’re able to have 1,000 pounds of unaccompanied baggage by air. But again, that doesn’t mean it will arrive with you so be careful when choosing what goes in these bags.
- Learn about your destination
Sometimes you get so caught up in the planning and preparation that you forget you’re actually leaving one place and moving to another. The military will often help by providing information about your destination but doing your own research can help as well.
Consider looking at what the local towns are like, what types of activities there are, and read about the schools if you have kids.
Look into information about hospitals, child care, and recreation. Doing this can help lessen the burden of a stressful situation.
2. Securing Housing
Next on your military PCS checklist is to secure housing. You’re leaving one home and moving into another, which means you’ll have to figure out where you plan to live. In the military, there are a number of options based on your family situation and time of service. Go through this PCS move checklist and make sure to follow these steps.
- Figure out what kind of housing you want
This may not always be a choice but if you have an option you’ll want to think about it. This should be at the top of your PCS moving checklist.
Private military housing is when you receive a housing allowance and live in a community with other military members. Single military housing usually consists of a barracks-style building where military members live together or in their own room.
These accommodations do not cost anything for the member but they’re only available to single members with no dependents.
Buying a home requires the most investment but it could be a good option if you have a family and believe you’ll be at your next assignment for a while.
ARC Relocation offers a military rebate program that will not only help you find a home in your new location but can give you up to $3,000 towards selling your current home and purchasing a new one.
- Consider temporary housing
If you have to sell your current home or move out of a place you’re renting before relocating, you may need to find temporary living quarters.
Being in-between living arrangements is a scary situation and not something a military member should have to deal with. The military will likely pay you for temporary housing as well.
- Look into the Defense Travel Management Office
The DTMO exists to help you with your move. They can help explain various costs you’ll run into, the difference between a PPM and a GPM, and how you can make the most of the reimbursement the government provides to you.
- Get Pre-Qualified for a Mortgage
Keep in mind that a pre-qualification is sometimes required before a real estate agent will even show you a home. Having this done before the move will help you tremendously.
Use a free credit app like Credit Karma to get an idea of where your credit is and figure out how much money you can put down on a house. These two factors will help determine what kind of house you qualify for.
3. Packing For The Move
You have a lot of choices when it comes to the packing and moving stage. A DITY move is when you handle everything yourself and the military basically provides you with a lump sum to do so.
This is great if you have experience but not if you’ve never done it before. You may end up having to pay out of pocket if you run too high on expenses. Following this military move checklist can help reduce the chances of an unfamiliar situation.
- Determine what type of military move reimbursement works for you
Depending on your years of service, where you’re relocating to, and your rank, you’ll be able to choose how you want to be compensated for changing your station.
In the case of a DITY (do it yourself) relocation, the military pays you based on what you have and where you’re going and you’re free to spend the money how you like as long as you get where you need to go.
A GPM is a government procured move. In this case, you have zero flexibility on when and how you move. But, the upside is the government handles everything for you including packing.
The downside is that they choose when you pack, move, and they handle all the money so you’re completely at their mercy.
There are various hybrid options as well. Understanding what all of these moves are will help you choose the option that makes the most sense for you.
- Planning your baggage
I mentioned previously that you’re allowed up to 1,000 pounds of unaccompanied baggage on a plane. The number increases to 2,000 pounds as a family.
Make sure you don’t pack your daughter’s favorite stuffed animal in this baggage because it could be a few days before you see it. You want to plan with your arrival in mind.
- What do you need immediately?
- What do you need tomorrow?
- What do you need next week?
- What do you need next month?
- What do you need next year?
So on, and so forth…
Think about these questions as you’re packing. If you need it right away, don’t pack it on the plane. If you need it next month, don’t pack it in a bag you plan to check on moving day.
Even besides air travel, ground travel has weight limits as well. There are overall PCS weight limits you need to abide by depending on your dependents and various other factors.
4. For The Family
Traveling can put a strain on the family dynamic and turn an otherwise happy family into a disgruntled mess.
Try to do everything you can to make the trip fun for your children. If they’ve been through a PCS before, they know what to expect but that doesn’t mean it has to be stressful.
- Turn the trip into an adventure
If you have young children consider downloading an app or playing car games that make the process more fun for the kids. Find fun hotels to stay in that include activities like indoor pools and arcades.
- Understand how this can impact child custody
Child custody laws are confusing as they pertain to military relocation. It’s important to understand your rights as the relocating parent or the non-military parent. The SCRA contains a lot of valuable information on this subject.
5. Settling In
Once you arrive at your new location you might be feeling exhausted and drained. That’s normal. Don’t expect to unpack everything and have the whole house set up in a few days.
Take your time and allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Follow these last few steps on your PCS checklist when you arrive in your new home.
- Do you have a dislocation allowance?
When you’ve reached your destination you might think the military moving benefits are over but that’s not the case. A dislocation allowance or DLA is another reimbursement you can receive that is separate from your PCS allowance.
This allowance reimburses you for some expenses you encountered during the travel process. These can include food, snacks, drinks, tolls, gas, and car repairs.
- Reach out to the community
If you’re a military spouse it can be easy to feel alone sometimes. You might feel like you’re stranded on an island but military communities are some of the easiest places to make friends because everyone is going through the same thing.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and advice, join local activities, and stay in touch with friends from your old assignment.
PCS Checklist: FAQs
How early should I start planning for my PCS?
As soon as you receive your PCS announcement, you should begin planning. Give yourself as much time as possible, even if it’s a year or more in advance. Proper planning and staying organized can help prevent last minute issues.
What are my housing options for a PCS?
You have several options, including private military housing, single military housing (barracks), buying a home, or temporary housing if needed. Consider your situation, timing, and length of stay when deciding. Get pre-qualified for a mortgage if buying.
How much baggage can I take on my military flight?
You can have up to 1,000 lbs of unaccompanied baggage per family member on military flights. Carefully plan what goes in each bag based on necessity and arrival timeframe. Don’t pack immediate necessities in unaccompanied baggage.
What kind of reimbursements are available when I arrive?
You may qualify for a Dislocation Allowance (DLA) to reimburse certain travel expenses like food, gas, repairs, etc. This is separate from your PCS allowance. Save receipts and file for reimbursement.
I hope this PCS checklist helps make things a little simpler for you throughout your move. There’s a lot to think about and many things can go wrong along the way. Just remember that your military move doesn’t have to be stressful if you plan ahead.