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The Ultimate Guide to a PCS Move

All military families will experience a PCS at least once. PCSes are so common that most military personal can expect at least one PCS every 40 months. As such, they must be ready to conduct a PCS move to a new and unfamiliar location. 

During a permanent change of station (PCS) move, your entire family must pack up and move soon after you get the order. As such, a PCS move is more logistically challenging than a civilian move. However, you can ease some of it by staying organized. 

Preparing for a PCS move is not difficult if you know what you are doing. By reading further, you will learn what you should do as soon as you get the order. We will also go over the services you are entitled to when going through a PCS.

What are PCS Orders?

With over 400,000 service members going through PCS every year, you can expect to receive one more PCS order throughout your military career. While most people find them stressful, you might have joined the military because of them. You wanted the chance to see the world. 

That does not mean that it will be easy. Military moves require more paperwork and other logistical nightmares than anything outside the military. To make sure everything goes smoothly, you must understand what your orders are, have a moving strategy, and then prepare your family to move to an unfamiliar neighborhood. 

What is Inside a PCS Order?

Understanding your orders is easy enough. A PCS is a long-term assignment that you usually get every two to four years. A PCS order is a document that details where that assignment will be located.  The Department of Defense (DOD) issues these orders to facilitate and determine the details of your move, which can be for training or a job. 

Each order will tell you your new permanent duty station (PDS) location. It will also tell you if your move is within the Continental United States (CONUS) or Outside the Continental United States (OCONUS), which can include Hawaii, Alaska, or any U. S. territory along with anything overseas. 

Other pertinent details include: 

  • Your rank
  • The purpose of the move: job or training
  • Estimated duration of the station change
  • The issuer’s name
  • Issue date
  • Authorized locations
  • Order number

Collectively, this information should be all you need to complete the paperwork and begin your PCS move.

How does a PCS move work?

Luckily, a PCS move is not immediate. You have some time to gather your things and make the appropriate choices before you go. For the most part, a PCS move works like any reassignment or move. It is only the duration and logistics that make them different. 

Assignment Notification

It all starts with an assignment notification. While each service does it differently, you are usually notified of your move a few weeks in advance of the actual orders. This notification can come as an email message, a phone call, or an in-person notification from your superior. 

Please note that the notification is not an order. However, it is a signal that an order is coming, and that you should start preparing for it. As such, it is strongly recommended that you get filing all the necessary paperwork as soon as you get the notification. You may also want to start looking for a new place to live. 

Available PCS Moving Options

When you receive a PCS order, you can choose one of three types of military moves:

  • Personally Procured Move (PPM) or do-it-yourself (DITY) relocation
  • Household Goods (HHG) or military-procured relocation
  • A combination of the two often called a partial PPM or partial DITY

All three types differ in the amount of work and expense you must do, but they will all get you where you need to go. For instance, a PPM gives you full control over the process, but you must do and pay for everything yourself. If you are heading overseas, you can even place some of your stuff in stateside storage until you return.

However, you will be stuck with a PPM if you received a last-minute PCS. 

Relocation Assistance and Resources

You can save money and stress by letting the government do some or all the work. You might still need to move some of your stuff on your own, but you will be reimbursed accordingly. 

You can find the necessary relocation assistance online or through your installation. Most bases offer a Relocation Assistance Program to provide the information and support you need to travel to your new duty station and settle down. This support can come in the form of newcomer orientations, pre-departure briefings, childcare, school liaisons, job availability information, and other services. 

How do You Prepare for a PCS Move?

Regardless of the path you choose, your moving process begins as soon as you receive your orders. The process requires you to visit your transportation office along with establishing a few military real estate accounts. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to do these things as soon as possible once you receive your PCS move orders. 

Acquire Military Real Estate Search Accounts and Moving Documentation

To that end, you should establish a Defense Property System (DPS) account on various military move resource websites. Then, you will want to pick up a base or post guide for your new assignment. This guide should come with a telephone directory, maps, and a military buyer’s guide. You will also want a list of military-ready homes you can buy or rent.

Searching for a home and not sure where to start? Active Duty Passive Income offers both an in-house lending team to help you with your VA loan — and an extensive real estate agent network to assist you with finding you the best home for you at your new location. Get connected with either (or both!) here: Search for Agent or Lender

Create a PCS Move Checklist 

With your home search underway, you can start preparing for the rest of your move, and creating a checklist is a good place to start. With everything going on, it is very easy to lose track of your stuff during the move. A checklist can keep you on track, and the DOD already has a few sample PCS checklists you can follow. Check online or with your transportation office for printable copies. 

Create a PCS Budget Plan

Moving is an expensive endeavor. Fortunately, the DOD provides allowances that can cover all or some of your PCS housing and moving costs. You will find allowance tables for these benefits, per diem rates, and other budgeting tools in the Defense Travel Management Office. You may even qualify for the relocation assistance program. 

However, the government will not pay for everything. Therefore, you must create a budget plan for your PCS move that includes any allowances you can get along with your resources. Please note that this includes anything you must pay upfront. For instance, you can have your mileage and toll expenses reimbursed if you decide to drive your car to your new CONUS location, provided you save your receipts. 

You can use any online PCS calculator to estimate your allowances, or you can do it yourself. You can then compare your estimate with your allowance so you can plan the move accordingly. Either way, you will want to split your allowance into both PPM and HHG components to reap the best outcome. 

Schedule Your PCS Move

Before you head out towards your new home, you must file for the move with your transportation office. You will find the required forms and documentation in DPS. The transportation office will assign a moving company to you once they process your forms. 

Depending on your situation, your documents must include:

  • Estimated pick-up and delivery dates and locations
  • Estimated shipping weights of everything you will bring with you
  • Your preferred moving company
  • Any professional book, paper, or equipment you may have
  • Any other specialty equipment such as guns, boats, vehicles, and large electronics

Keep Track of Everything on Moving Day

Once moving day arrives, things will happen quickly, but you must stay on top of it as much as you can. As strangers will be coming in and out of your home, you should place your kids and pets with friends or family if you can. If not, you should leave them in an isolated room. This separation should keep them calm throughout the process. 

With your kids and pets safe, it is time to put away your PPM items. You can place them in your car in your driveway or locked in your garage. Either way, you want to keep them somewhere safe. You do not want to risk losing anything. 

Once the movers arrive, you must keep track of them as they move through your home, taking special note of their inventory documentation. Make sure your item descriptions are clear and easy to understand. Once everything is packed, you must get the driver’s phone number so you can stay in touch with them. If anything goes wrong, let your transportation office deal with the movers on your behalf. 

File the Appropriate Change of Address Forms

Once you arrive at your new location, you must ensure you file the appropriate change of address forms. 

Some of the more common ones include:

  • USPS
  • Social Security Administration
  • IRS
  • Your bank or credit union
  • Your employer
  • DMV and voter registration
  • Insurance
  • Utilities
  • Subscription and delivery services
  • Credit cards and other lenders
  • Internet and mobile providers

Never fall into the trap thinking that the DOD will do them for you. The sooner you complete them will reduce any potential complications that could arise. 

How long does a PCS Move Take?

While a PCS can come every two to four years, the duration of each move can vary from one to the next. This mostly depends on the destination. Most people will have a day for every 400 miles traveled, but the duration can be different under specialized situations. 

Please note that your PCS move begins once you receive your orders, but you get to choose your moving day. The DOD will also notify you of any upcoming PCS orders a few weeks before you get them. Therefore, you have some leeway time to prepare your stuff before you go. 

From there, the duration of your PCS will depend on how fast you can file your moving documentation. You cannot begin packing up until the government approves your type of move. So, you should try to get things files as soon as possible. 

Know and Understand Your PCS Move Allowances and Entitlements

When you get a PCS order, you have lots to think about. Moving is already a challenging logistical situation without the military additions. To make things worse, you can receive a PCS order at any time with little warning. 

Fortunately, the government provides several authorized PCS move entitlements (services) and monetary allowances. These entitlements can ease the headaches that can arise when you must pick up your life and family and go to an unknown neighborhood. 

However, you will want to see which services and allowances are available to you about six months before your move. Some of these entitlements require you to file the appropriate paperwork, and you want to have everything in place by moving day.  

We provided a list of the more common PCS services and allowances below. This list will get you started, but you should check the DOD webpages and your base’s personnel support office to get a more accurate list. 

Pre-Move Housing Search Leave

When you get a PCS order, you are also given a 10-day, permissive Temporary Duty (TDY) at the new locations so you can search for a new home. This TDY is usually given a few months before your move, but you are restricted to the continental United States. You must also pay for your travel and lodging, but you will not be charged for the leave. 

You can add the extra 10 days to your PCS move or take them months in advance. Either way, the extra leave exists so that you can check out potential living arrangements are your new station. However, you are not entitled to this service if you will be living on a base or ship. 

Temporary Lodging Expense

Along with the TDY entitlement, service members are entitled to a Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE) allowance for the duration of the 10-day housing search. The TLE will partially lodging and meal expenses for you and your dependents while you stay in temporary housing. You can take it either at your losing duty station or the new one. You can even split the allowance between the two. 

Only available during CONUS PCS moves, the allowance lets you reimburse your expenses up to $290 per day. Generally, you will be given temporary quarters at a Navy Lodge of Air Force Inn, but the TLE will cover your stay at a local hotel if necessary. 

Please note that the TLE is not the same as the per diem allowance you get while traveling. It is specifically for temporary housing before or after your move. 

Temporary Lodging Allowance

Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) is the OCONUS equivalent to the TLE allowance. If you are being sent overseas, you can stay in temporary housing for up to 60 days or more, and have the government pay for it. You also get up to 10 days of TLA before your move as well. 

The allowance includes both lodging and meals for you and your family at your new location until you find someplace permanent.  

Dislocation Allowance

If the cost of relocation exceeds your owner allowances, you can seek a dislocation allowance (DLA) as well. The DLA partially reimburses you for any uncovered relocation expenses that occur during your PCS move. Your allowed DLA depends on your rank and dependency status. 

Travel By Privately Owned Conveyance

If you own a private vehicle, you can use it to move yourself and your family to your new station. The government will reimburse you for the use of your privately owned conveyance (POC) up to $.19 per mile during your PCS. However, this rate can change depending on the number of authorized travelers coming along with you. 

PCS Move Per Diem Allowance

During your move, you can have some of your travel expenses reimbursed on a per diem basis. This includes any lodging, meals, tolls, and anything else required to get you to your new station. 

Your Per Diem allowance depends on your mode of travel. If you will use your POC, you will get a flat rate of $142 for each authorized travel day. If you are traveling commercially, your rate will be the per diem rate for your new PDS if you will arrive during the day. It switches to the delay point if you will arrive overnight. 

You can get this allowance for your dependents as well but at lower rates. Dependents older than 12 years old can receive seventy-five percent of your allowance, while dependents under 12 can only take half. 

Your Dependents Can Come Along if Approved

Whether you are transferring within CONUS or going OCONUS, you can take your dependents to your new location if authorized to do so. The government will even reimburse their expenses if they travel with you via commercial means. They get rolled into your per diem allowance if you travel using your vehicle. 

This allowance even applies if your dependents must travel via military aircraft to your new location. Just note that you will only get reimbursed if you fly using an American flag-carrying airline. The only exception is if the airline is assigned to you or if an American airline does not fly to your new station. 

Household Goods Transportation and Storage

As mentioned earlier, you are entitled to have the government ship your stuff between your duty stations. Most service members can ship up to 18,000 pounds, but allowances can vary by grade and number of dependents. This allowance also includes an additional 1,250 pounds for consumable goods. 

If your cannon fit all of your stuff inside your new home, you can opt to place them in non-temporary storage. The military will cover the storage expenses for the duration of your assignment. 

This entitlement and allowance are separate from any reimbursements you can get for arranging your shipments. You can mix and match the two as needed. 

Limited Overseas Household Goods Transportation

If your orders are taking you overseas, your orders may indicate that the government has provided furnishings are your new station. If this is the case, your HHG allowance may drop to 2,500 pounds, or about a quarter of the full HHG weight, including anything not provided. You must also place your remaining allowed items in non-temporary storage.

Do-It-Yourself Transportation and Storage

If you prefer more control over how your items get shipped, then you can opt for a PPM move. During a PPM, you can ship your household goods through the moving service of your choice. You must handle all the communication and planning with your movers and realtor, which can add stress and problems if you are not careful. 

Fortunately, you can split your items between a PPM and an HHG move. For instance, you can use military moving services to handle your appliances and other larger items while keeping the smaller stuff to yourself.

Mobile Home Transportation

If you live in a mobile home, you can take them home with you to your new station if it is within CONUS, Alaska, or if you are moving between the two. You can even have the move reimbursed if you have commercial transporter move it for you. This reimbursement will include any required permits, carrier fees, pilot car rental, and any road fares and tools. 

If you plan on moving your home yourself, the government will reimburse you for the actual costs of the move. That reimbursement includes 36.5 cents per mile for gas and tolls if you have a self-propelled home. 

Regardless of how you claim this allowance, you are limited to what the government would have paid for your maximum HHG allowance. 

Transportation for Your Vehicle

For an OCONUS assignment, you can have the government ship your vehicle to and from the new assignment. This entitlement also includes any travel expenses required to reach the shipping port, and to pick it up from the receiving port. 

However, the military can apply restrictions to this entitlement depending on the needs of the new station. For instance, only those with grade E-7 or above can have their vehicles shipped to Korea. 

Despite these restrictions, you can also request a replacement vehicle at your new assignment if it will last for four years. 

If your move is within the CONUS, then you are only entitled to this allowance if you are medically unable to drive, changing your homeport, or if the travel time would exceed the appropriate allowances. 

Personal Vehicle Storage

If you cannot take your vehicle to your new OCONUS assignment, you can have it stored for the duration of your assignment. 

PCS Move Tips

Moving is always stressful with or without the military angle. A lot of things must go right to ensure your move goes smoothly. Any setback can lead to disaster. As such, you may want to take some precautions to keep you calm and collected so you can handle anything that pops up.

To that end, the following PCS move tips are known to work as others have used them in the past with great success. 

Listen to Music

Music can calm your nerves when overwhelmed. So, never overlook it. You are free to listen to anything your heart desires. So, make or find a moving playlist or two. You can have a playlist for each step of the move to help you get in a groove. You can one for the housing search, filing the paperwork, packing up, for the move itself, and for unpacking at your destination. 

Know Your PCS Support Number

Each branch of the military has a phone number you can call if you need help moving or understanding your PCS orders. You can use the numbers we listed below, or you can find them on your branch’s website. 

  • Army: 1 (800) 762-7186
  • Coast Guard: 1 (833) 551-0887
  • Marine Corps and Navy: 1 (855) 444-6683
  • Air Force: (210) 652-3357
  • USTRANSCOM: 1 (833) 645-6683

Acquire Appraisals for Your Expensive Items

While you may take every precaution to prevent damages, your items can still break or get lost while in transport. Because of this, you want to get insurance for any items that are difficult or expensive to replace. You also want to take a video inventory of your items so you can have some way to prove their pre-move conditions. 

Take special care if you are taking firearms with you. You want to know the ownership laws in each state you must pass through to reach your destination. 

PCS Traveling with Pets 

Before your move, you want to make sure your pets are healthy with up-to-date immunizations. Otherwise, try not to spook your pets and try to maintain their daily needs including water, food, medications, et cetera. They can become unpredictable when entering unfamiliar surroundings. 

If you must, be prepared to calm a panicked pet. You may also want to use microchips or I. D. tags to help find your pets if they get lost. 

PCS Travel with Family

If you are moving with your family, treat your PCS move like any move. For instance, you may want to hold a family celebration to break the news to them, describing all the new adventures and friends they will have. This is especially important if you have young kids. Let your children take part in the planning. For instance, you can let them decorate the moving labels and boxes. 

Going by Yourself

If you will be traveling to your new station on your own, you should be prepared in case you have to live without furniture for a few days. Therefore, you may want to take a pillow with you in case you must sleep on the floor after a long day of traveling. 

You also want to make sure your ID or driver’s license is up to date. Expired IDs can get expensive and can lead to issues when getting past the gate guard when you arrive at your new base. 


While stressful, a PCS move does not need to be complicated. These permanent station transfers can go smoothly if you take the right precautions before your moving day arrives.


Kelly Madden

Kelly Madden

Kelly is a 14-year Air Force spouse, real estate agent, real estate investor, and virtual assistant. After starting out as an intern with ADPI in 2019 and later acting as ADPI’s blog coordinator in Jan 2020, Kelly is thrilled and honored to take on the role of ADPI’s new Community Manager as of November 2020. She looks forward to building our community and supporting our members throughout their real estate investing journey.
Kelly Madden

Kelly Madden

Kelly is a 14-year Air Force spouse, real estate agent, real estate investor, and virtual assistant. After starting out as an intern with ADPI in 2019 and later acting as ADPI’s blog coordinator in Jan 2020, Kelly is thrilled and honored to take on the role of ADPI’s new Community Manager as of November 2020. She looks forward to building our community and supporting our members throughout their real estate investing journey.
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Our team strives to educate, mentor and empower active duty service members, veterans, spouses and military families to reach financial freedom through creating passive income through real estate investing. Our goal is for Active Duty Passive Income (ADPI) members to own as much of America as possible.