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Military Spouse and Family Moves 101

Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force
Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force

Frequent moves are one of the best -- and worst -- parts of military family life. On the one hand, you have a chance to see corners of the country or even the world that you might not have seen otherwise. On the other hand, moving is stressful and potentially pricey. The good news is that moves do get a little easier over time.

But whether you're an old pro or brand new to the military moving game, there's always something to learn about PCSing. That's why we put together this easy PCSing 101 guide for you. 

What is a PCS and how do I do it?

A permanent change of station (PCS) is military jargon for "moving." How you get your stuff from one corner of the country or world to another depends on where you are headed and what kind of move you want to do.

For contiguous United States moves, known as CONUS (aka the lower 48 states), you have several moving options. You can select a personally procured (also known as do-it-yourself or DITY) move, for which the military will reimburse you through a complicated calculation that doesn't always seem entirely accurate. You also can select to let military orchestrate and conduct your pack out and move through teams of packers and movers. Or you can do a combination of those two things called a "partial DITY" in which you are reimbursed for moving some of your own items while allowing military-hired movers to do the rest.

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You can learn more about personally procured moves here and read some great tips for making it go smoothly here. Or, if you're going to allow the military to move some or all of your household goods, you can learn about that process here.

For overseas moves, known as OCONUS (including Hawaii and Alaska and U.S. territories that aren't part of the lower 48), things get a little less complicated in some ways, and a little more complicated in others.

If you're going to a foreign country, you're going to need passports and possibly visas for your entire family. You can read about getting those here.

Since there are tighter restrictions on how much stuff you can take with you, the military will pay for you to put some of your belongings in storage while also paying to ship the rest of them. It'll also pay for you to ship one car overseas. It won't, however, pay for you to move your pet, and there are some other considerations with moving pets, as well.

Moving overseas can be daunting and scary, but these two sets of tips here and here should make it a little bit easier.

Getting ready for your first PCS? These eight tips may be just what you need.

Is a PCS as expensive as it sounds?

If you're thinking "wow, moving with the military sounds kind of pricey," you're right, it can be. While the military pays up front or reimburses you for most of your PCS costs, a lot of cash may leave your bank account before the check comes through.

That's why experts recommend that you keep a PCS savings fund handy, as well as a variety of other good financial practices. You may also be able to access a pay advance for the move, although that may not be a good idea for everyone. Here are six easy PCS savings tips that everyone can use.

If your service member has a Government Travel Card, you may be required to use it to pay for reimbursable PCS expenses. Just remember: You may still have to pay off the bill out of pocket if the government doesn't reimburse you quickly enough, so having a PCS savings fund is always a good idea.

What if my stuff breaks?

Bad moves happen to everyone at least once, and items you did not think could break will break. The military has a claims process for your items to be fixed or paid for through its portal, but using it can be tricky. This handy guide walks you through the process.

How in the world am I supposed to get a job if we keep moving?

We've got you've covered -- check out our awesome spouse employment help page.

What is the best way to make it through a PCS with my sanity?

PCSing is hard on everyone, including the kids. Take our advice, though, and don't make these stupid mistakes.

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