Military Families: A Guide to Moving

Chelsy Meyer  | 

Folding boxes, managing address changes, organizing movers, all while making sure you don’t accidently pack the trash. For many active military members, moving is a par for the course. When you’re told you’ll be changing locations, it can be daunting no matter how many times you’ve done it. In order to relocate without worry, you’ll want to organize your move, prepare for the worst, manage your finances, and take steps to make adapting easier. Often times it’s not just one service member moving, it’s the whole family. The trick to a seamless move in the military involves a lot of preparation.

Organizing Your Move

Before doing anything else, organize your move on paper. Fortunately, all moving expenses for current military members and often their dependents are paid for by the military. Even so, it is worthwhile to double-check your eligibility, and make sure you utilize moving services that don’t cost more than your military moving allowances will cover. Make a checklist, write down what needs to be done, and create a schedule of events. Look up the numbers for movers, write down a list of people to notify of your move, and begin organizing all that information into an easily digestible format. Sitting down and organizing your move will make things exponentially easier as the process goes on.

  • Gather moving information: It’ll be beneficial to have a folder designed to keep all of your important moving information. This would include PCS (permanent change of station) orders, moving forms, flight information, lease information, etc.
  • Figure out housing: Whether you’re moving on base, buying a home, or renting off base, you’ll want to figure out where exactly you’re moving. This can be a pain when you can’t be there to plan, but many military communities are experienced with PCS moves and will help you (and your family) with the process. If you do decide to buy, know that military families usually get better mortgage rates, so it’s best to discuss your options with a military financial advisor.
  • Update Billing and Mailing Addresses: Notify family, friends, jobs, schools, and all of your billing centers about your move. You’ll want to provide address changes, cancellation dates, or new information to certain parties in advance. Update your billing addresses for all monthly bills and let them know you’ve moved.
  • Make plans for the new location: Your new location will need a new school for your children, a new job for your spouse, new utility services, and insurance companies, among other things. Some of these don’t have to be an immediate change, but you’ll want to start organizing those needs so you’re prepared once you’re in your new location.
  • Make appointments: Your appointments can include financial services, dates for movers, real estate agents, vet visits, or doctors appointments.
  • Create a schedule: Make yourself a schedule for packing, phone calls, appointments, and making notifications. This will ensure you stay on schedule and nothing is forgotten. Make sure your schedule includes your obligations once you’re in your new location as well.

Preparing for the Worst

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst seems to be a common goal for many life events, and moving as a military family is no different. When you’re preparing to move, be sure you have a few things in place in case something goes missing, something is broken, or all of your belongings show up later than they were supposed to.

  • Making an inventory: You don’t have to make an inventory of everything you own, but the number of boxes and some of your more valuable items is a good idea. This way, you’ll know if something is missing immediately. You’ll probably be reimbursed for your move if you are choosing a do-it-yourself move over the military moving for you, but they won’t pay for lost or damaged belongings – so it’s best to keep track.
  • Taking photos: On the same note as making an inventory of your belongings, taking some photos wouldn’t hurt either. Not only will this help if something is missing, it’ll also help if something is damaged as well.
  • Emergency supplies: This will vary based on how many family members are moving and what ages those family members are, but having some emergency supplies – or at least a first day box will be helpful in your move. Include some entertainment items like cards or books, snacks, bedding, an air mattress, toiletries, and other necessities just in case your belongings are behind, or you need to stay in a hotel overnight.
  • Save money: Despite many military moves being funded by the military, it’s still a good idea to save money just in case paperwork gets lost, credit cards are held, or a wallet gets lost in the move. If you receive an enlistment or reenlistment bonus, save it for an emergency moving fund to provide a cushion if something happens or until you or your spouse has regular money coming in again.

Managing your Finances

One of the most important (but overlooked) aspects of a move in terms of your finances involves updating your billing address for your credit cards, bank statements, and other utilities. It seems sort of inconsequential, especially if you have a forwarding address set with the post office, but it’s an extremely important step.

Allowing sensitive information to go to the wrong mailing address can lead to serious issues with identity theft. If your identity is stolen and more accounts are opened and maxed out in your name, it can mean terrible news for your credit. Having credit issues or your identity stolen in the middle of a move is a stressful way to start out in a new place, so take the extra steps to keep your finances in order.

If you do run into credit issues as a result of identity theft, it can be difficult to protect it if you’re deployed. Luckily, you can still get some military loans with bad credit if you are affected, but it’s best to avoid the issue altogether. Change your address, keep track of important documents, and keep some cash on you just in case. Keeping important financial and personal documents is a great idea for a variety of situations anyway. If you deploy, for instance, it’ll be beneficial for your family to have all of that information easily accessible as well.

Make Adapting Easier

Moving for military families involves a lot of paperwork and organization, but it’s also emotionally taxing for the whole family. In order to help your move on a personal level, try a few things to help the family adapt. Explain the move to your kids, family, and friends in a way that lets them know that moving is a part of your normal, and while it’s sad to leave a familiar place, it’s also an adventure to go to a new one – and part of living life in a military family. Allow sadness, but also encourage excitement. Preparedness always makes adapting easier. If you have kids, help them adapt by showing them pictures of their new town. Research their new school together, and plan fun adventures in your new location.

You can expect a warm welcome at your new home, because the military also provides Family Readiness Groups, or FRGs, sometimes also known as Spouse Groups. Their function is to answer questions, provide an immediate companion and social liaison to the community, and help relocating individuals and their families immediately get acclimated. Your FRG can help your kids meet other kids their age, connect your spouse to other military spouses, invite you to parties and other events, and generally make you feel at home faster. Each branch has a slightly different way of organizing FRGs, so look into your moving destination and find out who will be there for you when you arrive.

Be sure to host a goodbye party for your kids, as well as you and your spouse or friends and family. Saying goodbye is difficult, but take a lot of pictures and keepsakes to remember all the people your family will meet along their journey while moving in the military.

Military families tend to change locations frequently throughout a military career. It can be daunting, but the more you do it the better at it you’ll be. After the first time the movers pack the trash because you didn’t take it out you won’t do it again. You’ll have your folder of information ready, you’ll have a timeline estimate in your head, and you’ll learn to cherish friendships you make everywhere. Organization, preparing for the bad, managing finances, and adapting to a new place all get easier with time. The better prepared you are, the more successful your move will be.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated October 10, 2017. It was originally published September 30, 2017.