PCS Move: Your Way or the Highway

The PCS move is one of the most stressful military events primarily for two reasons: moving is stressful; and most members of the military do not know much about it. Service members especially. Here are some explanations and advice.

PCS stands for “Permanent Change of Station” move, and it applies when your service member’s new duty station is more than 50 miles away from his/her old duty station. Because you have no choice to accept the orders, the government is required to pay for the move.

There are three ways to execute a PCS move. The first is a government contract move, where your local TMO (Traffic Management Office) will verify your orders and contract a commercial moving company to pack, ship, and unpack your stuff. The second option is a Personally Procured Move, or PPM, allowing you to pack, ship, and unpack your own stuff-all for which the government pays you 95% percent of what it would cost them to contract a commercial mover. The third option is a combination move, where a part of your goods are moved by the government, and you move the remainder.

The government imposes a weight restriction on PCS moves based on rank and whether or not the service member has dependents, and will not pay for any weight moved by you above that restriction. For example, if you move 10,540 lbs by commercial mover (which the mover will determine), and your limit is 10,000 lbs, then you will be liable for whatever the government doesn’t pay-though for an extra 540 lbs, your liability will be small.

​ You can find the updated move weight allowances at TMO, or via a quick web search.​

Covered here are the three main types of move–government contract, personally procured (do-it-yourself), and combination–as well as travel claims while moving, OCONUS (Outside CONtinental United States) moves, combining move with a service member’s leave, and finally initial moves and marriage.


To procure this kind of move, you will have to visit TMO with a copy of your orders in hand. You can usually get orders online a month or two before you leave, and that is sufficient for TMO. All they’re going to do at that meeting is put you in their system and tell you to wait for a call from a commercial carrier.

The next thing that happens is a call from a carrier. If you don’t receive a call within a week of visiting TMO, then call TMO again and let them know you’ve been shafted. In any case, the commercial carrier that calls will be your point of contact for the rest of your move. You will set a packing and pick-up date (when your stuff gets packed and loaded), and contact them if you have any issues along the way, or when it comes to unloading your stuff at your new location.

The carrier will show up at your house and inventory your stuff prior to the packing date. They do this with a computer and it usually takes less than 30 minutes. That visit determines if they need two days to pack, or two days to load, or whatever. Then, on your packing date, they will come to your house and pack your goods for you. DO NOT pack anything yourself, unless you are willing to assume liability for any breakages. The best way to handle this part is to set aside those things you will travel with, and mark them clearly. Also identify your valuable goods and make sure you know their value-they will be packed and accounted for separately. Finally, separate and identify all professional gear of the service member, as those things don’t count for weight allowance.  The moving company provides all packing material, and packs all of your items for moving.

DO NOT LET THE PACKERS LEAVE until all your items are packed. If they try to, don’t sign their paperwork and call the carrier while they are at your house. If they just leave, then call the carrier and complain. They are contracted by the government to pack and move everything, so don’t let them get away with a sloppy or incomplete job.

Once everything is packed, the movers will load your furniture and boxes. After they drive away, you have to account for everything left behind. Take it, leave it, throw it away-according to the movers, if you sign the paperwork then you attest that the movers did their job. At that point, they will drive your stuff to your new location (it’s not uncommon if they stop at other locations on the way; movers typically load more than one set of goods into a truck at a time).

Once they arrive, they will call the number you gave them on your contact information, and ask if you can accept delivery. If they can’t get a hold of you, they are required to wait 45 minutes for you to arrive. If you’re there already, then great. But it’s OK if you’re not. Many military families use their PCS move for a vacation. The movers will store your goods near your new location for up to 45 days. All you have to do is arrange a delivery date at your convenience.

Again, when they come to unload your stuff, know that they are required to unpack your stuff, assemble any furniture they pulled apart, place it the room of your choosing, and remove the packing material BEFORE THEY LEAVE. It’s ok if this takes two days. Make sure you supervise the unpacking and note any broken items. If you miss one or two, you can let the moving company know later.


You can move yourself. Ninety-five percent of the cost of moving can equate to several thousand dollars, depending on your weight of goods and distance of moves. If you choose this route, you must pack move, and unload your items yourself. But keep receipts for all expenses because the government will reimburse you for the following: renting trucks, trailers, and installing tow packages; purchasing boxes and packing material; and tolls and weight charges

To receive your money, you will have to weigh your moving vehicle empty AND full, from which they will determine the weight of your goods. All other expenses you must account for by receipts.

Generally speaking, you won’t be reimbursed until several weeks after you present all your paperwork at TMO on your new duty station. To offset the large out-of-pocket costs, you may request advanced travel payment.

This type of move works best if you are on a restricted timeline, and a commercial mover won’t be able to move you on time (something that happens occasionally when PCS orders are issued suddenly). Also, it may be a lucrative opportunity if you have the time and resources available, or a relatively small amount of personal items-if say, you have no children and live in a small apartment. Families may exercise this option and choose to use a low-cost moving service they procure themselves (such as PODS or other container-moving services), although the government won’t reimburse container rentals.

To procure this kind of move nowadays, you will sign up online. TMO should help you with any difficulties with the website.

Be warned that the government has moving companies bid for contracted moves, and that is the standard to which they will apply the 95% incentive. So odds are less than they were that you will make money if you hire your own moving company, though handling the packing yourself may increase those odds.​


You may choose to use both the government contract option and the personally procured option for your move. In this scenario, you will arrange for a government-contracted commercial mover as described above, and have them ship whatever you’d like. You then move the rest via the personally procured option.

As with a standard PPM, you can be reimbursed for moving expenses, but you must keep receipts and get an empty and full registered weight reading of your moving vehicle.

The big thing to remember is that your weight allowance does not change. The sum total of weight of goods moved by the commercial mover and goods moved by you must not exceed your weight allowance. As an example, if your allowance is 10,000 lbs, and you have the movers ship 8,500 lbs of it, then the government will only reimburse up to 95% of the cost to move the remaining 1,500 lbs in your allowance.

This move option works best if you have large, expensive items or a lot of expensive items that you’d prefer to move yourself, or if you know you will exceed your weight allowance and you don’t want to have to pay a moving company after the fact. Also, if you have a pickup truck and you can easily move a bunch of items yourself, you may stand to gain some money this way. Just remember that “whatever you pack in your car” does not necessarily count as goods-the government is not responsible for moving the items you travel with, because that is covered in your travel entitlements.


So, all your stuff is packed and gone (or ready to go). Now how do you get to your new location with your family? There really is only one way within the United States (excluding Hawaii, which counts as OCONUS)-drive.

The best advice when it comes to deciding what you will take with you is to load the car as if you’re about to leave right before the packers come (in a government contract move). That way, you know realistically how much stuff you can handle. Realistically, that will be impossible while trying to take care of all the details of moving.

Most people find out that they decided to bring much more than they initially thought. Good advice is to carry whatever normal luggage you would pack for a multi-day trip, and let the movers handle the rest. See below for a Temporary Lodging Entitlement (TLE) that allows you to stay in a hotel for 10 days after you arrive…ideally until after your goods arrive. Your service member should bring all uniforms he/she will need upon checking in, because it is not unknown that a commercial carrier will take up to six weeks to deliver your shipment. This is especially true for OCONUS moves.

Also keep in mind that you need to travel with important papers, such as orders, birth/marriage certificates, powers of attorney and wills, passports, and the like. Sometimes items are lost in shipment, and you won’t want to have to replace or hunt for items later.

The government will pay or reimburse costs of driving to your new duty station for up to two vehicles. It will not pay to ship cars, so generally both you and your spouse will be driving (unless you ship it yourself, or have someone else drive it with/for you). Here are the entitlements you receive.

Mileage. Based on the official distance between your old duty station and the new, the government will pay a fixed rate per mile to cover gas, vehicle wear, and driving costs (i.e. tolls).

Per Diem. Because you are traveling at the behest of the government, you will receive a daily sum to cover food and sundries of $78.00 per day. On the days you start and end travel, you will receive only 75% of the per diem.

Lodging. For multi-day trips (over 500 miles) you will be reimbursed for lodging expenses. Be warned, however, that the government will only pay a certain amount per room, based on the cost of living in the area you’ve stopped. It generally equates to a mid-range hotel room such as you’d find at a Holiday Inn or Best Western. The best way to figure this out is to ask the hotel, “do you offer the government rate?” They’ll say if they do, though they will need to see your military ID and possibly your orders before they ring you up the reduced rate.

Temporary Lodging. When you arrive at your duty station, you may not yet have a place to live. That’s OK! While you tell your moving company you can’t accept delivery and check in with the Housing Office on your new base, you can stay at a hotel or the on-base temporary quarters while you look for a place. The government will reimburse you for up to 10 nights.

Dislocation Allowance (DLA). This is an allowance that is meant to cover the cost of moving your home to a new place: utility shut-off or start-up fees, address forwarding, and all other expenses. The amount of the allowance is based on rank and whether there are dependents. It must be requested BEFORE moving-it won’t automatically be added to your travel claim.

All of these expenses are paid initially out-of-pocket, which means by you. Keep receipts of hotel rooms for reimbursement later. Once your service member checks into his/her new unit, he/she will submit a travel claim that will include all lodging expenses. A week or two after that, the travel pay (mileage, lodging, and DLA) will be paid out. Of note, you may request up to 80% of your expected travel pay as an advance-in that case, the other 20% will be paid after submission of travel claim.


When you receive orders to Hawaii, Europe, or Asia, additional moving considerations apply. For starters, you can’t do a Personally Procured Move. Also, you will be flying. Basically, the same steps apply as for the government contracted move, only the government will move up to two vehicles (which must be drained of all fluids before being loaded), and your goods will ship via freight-which means by ship. The upshot of all of this is that you will receive your goods in 6-8 weeks after you’re loaded up.

For the personal travel part, TMO will help you select travel itineraries that meet your schedule, though expect the government to pick inexpensive tickets when able.

Overseas travel means you will likely want to use your temporary lodging entitlement. Also, contact the base housing office to help you navigate the difficulties of choosing a home and working with local movers.

A final note: other countries’ laws about vehicles can be stringent. For example, in Japan, each car must have JCI, or Japanese Comprehensive Insurance. It lasts 3 years, but it costs $3,500 or so. Make sure you have an idea about what your American car will cost in gas, insurance, and detours around narrow roads before you decide to bring it with you. Leaving it here or selling it, and buying a local car wherever you end up, may be the best option.


How much time do you have to travel to your new duty station? That’s determined by the distance you will be moving. The allowed travel time is one day for the first 500 miles, then one more for every 350 miles after that. If your distance is 1,950 miles, then you will receive 6 days: 1 – 500 miles; 2 – 850 miles; 3 – 1,200 miles; 4 – 1,550 miles; 5 – 1,900 miles; 6 – the last 50 miles to your destination.

You will also receive four days of ‘proceed,’ a fixed amount of extra time for packing on the departure end and unpacking on the arrival end. So, for the 1,950 mile move above, you can count on receiving 10 days total to move. You’ll have to arrange your pickup and travel plans to allow you to complete your move within that time.

But what if you want a little vacation, too? Often times service members in operational units are deployed once or twice during a ‘tour’ (three-year assignment), and while they’re home they too busy training for a break. This is certainly possible, because as long as you and your service member make it to your destination and he/she checks in before his/her ‘report no later than’ date (found on the orders), you can take as much time as you want.

So, continuing the example above, perhaps you want to take a road trip and see some family. You get a Government Contract Move, and with your stuff happily packed up and ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ you pile into the family car and head off on the road with 20 days until your ‘report no later than date.’ You may use all 20 days for your personal travel plans, as long as you arrive in time for your service member to report. Every day you are ‘gone’ beyond the allotted travel (based on distance) and proceed days–in this case, 10 days–will be charged to the service member’s leave balance. In this case, that would be 10 extra days.

The take-away is that all the time you have between departure and reporting are yours to use, provided you have enough leave. If, for the example above, you only have 5 days of leave, you can always arrive PRIOR to the ‘report no later than’ date, and check in then–at that point, you are back in the proverbial saddle at your new base and unit.


The PCS move is only offered to service members. So, bottom line: if you aren’t married and an official ‘dependent,’ you don’t get moved. Also, the PCS move is only offered in conjunction with orders. What does this mean for your relationship?

If you get married while your service member is stationed in one place, there is no PCS move. The government will not move you from your home to be with your service member. This is not a problem if you both live (and have your stuff) in the same geographical area. But if you live elsewhere, your options are either to move yourself at your own expense, or wait until there is a PCS in the future. More on that at the bottom of this section.

If you are married and then your service member joins the military, he/she will go to initial training (‘Basic’) on what are called Temporary Duty Orders. There will be no move associated with those orders. After he/she completes training and is assigned a unit, however, he/she will receive an ‘initial move,’ which IS a PCS move from your home to the new duty station. The same considerations detailed above apply.

It is possible to schedule two ‘pick-ups’ during a PCS. This would be used if a service member had goods left in storage somewhere outside the geographic area of his/her base, or was married during the old tour, and wishes to pick up your goods on the way to the new duty station. This is an administrative hassle, and the government will ONLY pay up to your weight limit, and only for the the distance between the old base and the new. Therefore if you guys are moving from Texas to California (1,500 miles), but have stuff in Pennsylvania (2,500 miles from California), the government will pick up the stuff in Pennsylvania, but only pay the carrier for the official mileage from Texas to California. You will be liable for the remainder (1,000 miles of moving the weight of your stuff in Pennsylvania).


“Thanks for the explanations,” you might say, “but what do I need to know? Can I have a checklist to help me out?” Well, sure. Here they are, specific to each stage and type of move:

Government Contract Move

– Receive Orders.

– Visit TMO

​. Ask time allotted for move​

. Ask for government contract move. Request Dislocation Allowance (DLA).

– Wait for call from commercial carrier. (If you don’t receive one within a week, contact TMO.)

– Schedule packing date, pick-up date, and inventory date (when the carrier visits your house to inventory your stuff) with the carrier.

– Prior to packing date, separate high-value items, travel items and professional gear (‘pro-gear’).

– On the packing date, supervise packing crew. Ensure high-value items are accounted for separately, and pro-gear marked so you won’t be charged for its weight. DO NOT SIGN PAPERWORK until you are satisfied they have packed EVERYTHING.

– Check all your rooms one last time to make sure the packers have packed everything. Then sign the paperwork and file your inventory lists.

– Make sure you call the carrier THAT DAY if you have any disagreements or problems with the packing crew (such as their leaving early).

– Supervise the loading on the pick-up date.

– Once you goods are loaded and driven off, execute your travel plans.

– If you make it to your new location before your goods, be on hand to accept delivery when they arrive (if you have a place yet).

– If the goods make it first, or you’re not ready for delivery, schedule a delivery date at your convenience (within 45 days).

– When the movers deliver your goods, supervise to make sure they assemble all furniture. Be ready to unpack boxes as they are unloaded so you can give the movers all packing material (you won’t want to have to dispose of it later).

– DO NOT SIGN PAPERWORK until all furniture has been unloaded and assembled and placed in the room of your choosing , and the packing material is loaded back in the truck. Of note, you can’t make the movers wait while you unpack all the boxes…unpack as many as feasible, however, to limit the amount of boxes and packing paper you will have to dispose of later.

Personally Procured Move (PPM)

– Receive Orders.

– Visit TMO. Fill out packing list (estimated) for goods. Request dislocation allowance (DLA)

– Keep all receipts for renting vehicles, tow packages (if applicable), and moving supplies.​

– Execute your move. Make sure you weigh your moving vehicle(s) empty AND full on registered scales (usually found at truck stops). Keep receipts for weighing fees.

– If you personally contract a moving company, make sure they weigh your goods.

– At your destination, turn in all receipts to TMO.

Combination Move

– Receive your orders.

– Visit TMO and declare you will be using both types of moves. Fill out packing list for goods you intend to move yourself. Request dislocation allowance (DLA).

– Follow Government Contract move checklist for those items you will have moved by the carrier. Make sure you have the items you will move yourself separate when the carrier comes to pack and load

​- Follow PPM checklist for the items you will move yourself.

Travel Checklist for PCS

– Pack:

– required uniforms
– seasonally appropriate clothes
– toiletries for a trip
– important documents
– sentimentally valuable items (photographs)

– On the day of departure, begin your trip. Keep all hotel receipts.

– At your destination, the service member will submit all days of travel and hotel receipts on a travel claim.


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