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Relocation Made Easier, Part 1: What to Expect and Pre-Move Tips for Your Next PCS

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This is Part 1 in a four-part series covering nearly every aspect of a military PCS move.

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Click on the above image to enlarge.

Introduction to Military Moving:

Over 40 million people move each year, and about 18 percent of those are military moves. Considering an average American moves approximately 12 times in their life, it’s no wonder that moving is considered the 3rd most stressful event in your life.

Now, try to imagine how many times a military member moves during their career. Using an average of one move every two to three years, (sometimes even more depending on the Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS), this can amount to a lot of moves to look forward to if you are in the military!

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When I met my husband in the early 1990’s, I had only one major move throughout my entire childhood. That all changed the first time he got orders. After hurrying down to the Justice of the Peace to get married before our three weeks to report to his next duty station were up, we then embarked on a two-decade adventure that netted 17 moves in 11 different states spanning every time zone in the nation. In one epic move, we had 5 days to report to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In another memorable move, we lived in a tiny hotel room for weeks while we looked for a rental home in a market that offered very slim pickings. In one other move, imagine my surprise when I unpacked our trash can …with trash still in it. I believe I still have some boxes in storage to unpack, left over from two PCS moves ago.

Does this sound familiar? Or, did I just scare the dickens out of you first-time PCS’ers?

Whether you are new to the military and about to start your first PCS move, or a seasoned dependent whose packing skills are down to a science, one thing can be certain: military moves can be stressful.

In this 4-part series, I am going to share some tips that, if someone had shared with me instead of having to learn the hard way, may make your next move a breeze instead of a tornado.

The PCS Timeline: Things to do before your move

Three Months Before:
  • Get moving dates and travel allowance estimates: Determine if you wish to do a DITY (Do It Yourself) move, or have the government move you through a professional moving company. (A DITY move often provides the opportunity to ‘earn’ a few extra dollars at the end of the move, but not always.)
  • Research housing and child care options in your new city: Every military base has a “blacklist” of rental properties (and/or questionable or unsavory areas) you should avoid. Contact your base housing office for advice and resources, and always stick with a reputable realtor to help you find the best possible housing options. Ask around for referrals to reputable daycare centers. Many times you will find on-base daycare, but you have to reserve a slot in advance. (Hint:  always ask about military discounts or incentives.)
  • Begin planning your budget: Nothing is worse than finding out mid-move that you don’t have enough funds to cover the costs. Keep in mind that many of the expenses are reimbursable, but if there is a delay in processing you will need to have your living expenses covered in advance. Call your new utility companies to get the exact amounts you will need to pay your deposits. Don’t rely on using your old deposits to pay your new deposits. Many times your deposit refunds will not come before new deposits are due, if at all. You will need a cushion for emergency expenses. (Hint: there will be emergency expenses.)
  • Spouses should start their job search: For the first nine years of our military journey, I was fortunate enough to work for a nationwide company that transferred my job to each new location. From there I entered into a contract with the government as a GS-13 level employee. I was lucky, as most spouses have to start from scratch with each move. Military spouses should familiarize themselves with all the tools available to assist them in their job search, taking advantage of any potential edge. Military Spouse Preference (MSP) is a program developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to help ease the interruption of a spouse’s career when the family must move due to permanent change of station orders. MSP gives the military spouse applicant an additional 5 or 10 points on his or her civil service examination score for certain competitive positions. Because this is a DoD program, however, military spouse preference only applies to appropriated fund positions within the Department of Defense and its branches for positions at grades GS-15 and below.
Two Months Before:
  • Find a bank in your new town: While many banks can be accessed from out of state via their ATM network, having a local branch for your banking needs makes life easier in the end. Ask about offers and incentives for military banking or obtain other free checking options.
  • Look for on- or off-base housing: Chances are, there will be a waiting list to obtain on-base housing. You will likely receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to cover your off-base housing costs. (Your BAH will be offset if you live on base, no matter what.) The BAH rate is determined by each zip code, so your rates will vary from duty station to duty station. Always keep your housing costs within this budget to avoid a budgeting disaster. You can access the BAH calculator here. (Hint: keep in mind that most rental contracts should have a clause allowing you to break your lease early without penalty in the case of receiving orders for a military move. This is the law just about everywhere, but do not sign a lease if it does not have this clause included. This saves you headaches later if the landlord wants to play the “I’ll-keep-your-deposit-despite-what-the-law-says” game.)
  • Notify creditors of your new address change:  Once you’ve secured proper housing, notify your creditors as quickly as possible of your new address. There will likely be a delay in the forwarding of your mail, so the sooner you do it the better.  (Hint: switch to online bill pay to avoid late fees due to any mail delivery delays. Telling your creditors you paid late because you didn’t get the bill before the due date is not a valid excuse. They will charge late fees and be within their legal right to do so. Don’t blow your budget by paying unnecessary late fees!)
  • Obtain copies of medical and dental records: Medical and/or dental records tend to get lost in the transition. Always hand-carry your records to your new duty station by obtaining copies in advance. This is especially important if you are registered on the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). (Service members on active duty enroll in the EFMP program when they have a Family member with a physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder requiring specialized services. Every branch of the military offers this program. You can learn more about the EFMP program here.)
  • Transfer school records: Each state or locality will have different requirements for school enrollment. Call in advance to find out what is required and request a transfer of records with existing schools well in advance. This will help avoid any delays in enrollment and provides you the opportunity to secure appointments for required vaccines or physicals.
  • Start packing the non-essentials: While government-contracted movers are required to personally pack your household goods (HHG), you can start purging items you won’t need, or identify items you will need. Start with your closets and garage. This is a great time to plan a yard sale!
One Month Before:
  • Finalize housing in your new area: If you don’t have a place to move to by this time, it’s time to kick it up a notch and find something!
  • File a change of address through the Post Office: You can pick up a change of address form at your local post office, or you can file your change of address online: USPS Online Form.
  • Contact utility companies and adjust services: Contact your existing utility companies to let them know your last date of service along with your new address information to forward your deposit payments and/or final bills. Also be sure to contact the utility companies in your new area to set up new service and pay your proper deposits in advance.
  • Notify your employer and get references: It is highly recommended that you give at least a two weeks notice to your employer, preferably more. Also, get references before you move, as they are exponentially harder to obtain after you have moved. Employers and co-workers tend to provide them more willingly while you are still physically present on your job. Reference letters will certainly help you in your job search in your new location.
  • Hold a garage sale or donate unwanted items: Government moves are based on weight with limits set by rank of the service member. The higher your rank, the more weight you will be allowed to move. Do not get stuck in a catch-22 of having to pay for excess weight if you can avoid it, as it can be extremely costly and an unwanted surprise. We once received a bill for more than $5,000 for excess weight due to a paperwork snafu. Imagine our shock! If you can generate additional funds through a garage sale or bless someone with your donated goods, all the better.
  • Arrange overnight stays for moving days: If you have friends or family along the route of your move, ask them in advance if you can stay a night or two. This will reduce your moving costs and provide you with a much-needed opportunity to keep in touch with your loved ones. Making hotel reservations in advance may provide you with early-bird discounts and will certainly reduce the after-midnight desperation to find a hotel when everything is booked full. If you are traveling with pets, make sure you ask about their pet policy in advance and add any deposits required to your moving budget.
  • Consider hiring a maid service for your move-out clean: This will save you time and stress, and best guarantee a return of your rental deposit. I wrote a two-part series titled “Confessions of a Maid Service Owner” which gives you ways to hire a maid service and save money. Be sure to check it out!

Following these tips will help you transition into your moving day with less stress and a lot more confidence. Do you have any additional tips, stories or advice you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

Next up in the series:

Part 2:  Moving Day Tips – Ways to save time, energy and your sanity on your moving day

Part 3:  Children and Relocation – Making a PCS Move Easier for Children

Part 4:  Your Final Delivery and Tips to Know After Your Move – Questions like “What are the movers required to do?” and “How do you file a claim?” are answered in this section


About the Author:
Torrey Shannon is a Blue Star Mom and wife of a severely injured veteran.  After her husband’s injury in 2004 due to a gunshot wound to the head, the Shannon family spent three years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC.  After dealing with the invisible wounds of war on a daily basis for the last 8 years, Torrey continues to share her experiences and help others who are going through the same hardships.  She is a freelance writer for a variety of publications and has been seen in multiple media outlets featuring her advocacy work. You can learn more about Torrey by visiting her blog at TorreyShannon.com.  You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest.