PCS Tips: Dealing With Packing and Movers

(U.S. Air Force/Kedesha Pennant)
(U.S. Air Force/Kedesha Pennant)

During a permanent change of station (PCS) move, panic can set in as you realize there's a major problem in what was supposed to be a finely tuned packing and moving system.

Here are some tips and insider secrets for helping your move proceed as smoothly as possible.

Prevent Problems with Your PCS Movers

You can take some steps to minimize potential troubles with the moving process:

1. When requesting your move, be sure to accurately estimate the amount of belongings you are moving, and include any items that might require special handling. If you are not sure about your estimated weight, round up.

2. Confirm your dates with your moving company shortly after they are assigned during your move. By making contact with your moving company or the packers, also known as agents, who have been assigned to your move, you'll have a better idea of who to call if something goes wrong.

3. Before your move date -- at least nine days in advance, but the earlier, the better -- work with the moving company to do your pack-out survey. Point out areas that may contain more belongings than is immediately obvious, such as thoroughly packed closets. Also be sure the surveyor notes your special crating needs.

4. Allow a few days between the scheduled end of your pack-out and the date you need to be out of your house. Use your temporary lodging benefits to give yourself a cushion in case the pack-out takes longer than expected.

5. On the day of the move, don't wait too long to start calling if your packers and/or movers don't show up as scheduled. If they said they'd arrive at 8 a.m. and they're not there by 8:30 a.m., call.

5. Be prepared to ask for some sort of compensation from the moving company if they don't perform to the terms of the contract. You may ask for a night's hotel accommodation, or for them to purchase air mattresses, or whatever will "fix" your situation.

Read More: Moving Checklist and Quick Reference Guide (DPMO)

What Do You Do When Your Movers Can't Get on Base?

All movers are supposed to pass a background check by their employer before being put on a job. If your moving company ignored this rule, it could create a problem for you.

The Defense Department provides bases with general guidance on criminal background check rules. However, base commanders are allowed to add even more stringent rules.

If your movers call to say they can't get on base, make calls to both the transportation company you're working with, as well as your base transportation office, to inform them. They will provide you with next steps.

What Will My Movers Pack in a PCS?

Letting the military pack and move you instead of doing it yourself often makes the process easier -- but it could also mean you have to leave behind (or move in your car) all the things that the packers and movers refuse to put in their van.

What the military movers will and will not pack has a lot to do with liability. Think about it: If they pack liquid, and that liquid somehow leaks, it could get all over your stuff and ruin it. And they are liable for that. Same goes for batteries, which could leak acid, or things that could melt into liquid like candles.

Read More: Lithium Batteries Will Soon Be Banned in Some Military Moves

For that reason, your local military transportation office will probably warn you that the movers will not pack food, batteries, candles and more. The truth is that those are simply general rules. What the movers will and will not actually pack often depends on which company is hired to move you, where you are going and the time of year and temperature outside.

So, will the movers pack your _________ [insert thing here]? Here's a semi-definitive list. But, again, remember: All of this greatly depends on the specific packer who walks into your house.

Will the movers pack my candles? Technically, they're not supposed to. But whether they actually will, depends on the time of year.

Will the movers pack my batteries? Probably not. They are also supposed to have you remove batteries from all electronics, including toys. And as of May 15, 2023, a ban or at least a limitation may be imposed on moving lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices. You may need to ship these separately.

Will the movers pack my food? Probably, if it's dry food sealed in its original container. Canned food depends, since that might break and leak all over your other goods.

Will the movers pack my trash? Probably, if you don't take it out or make it clear that it's trash.

Will the movers pack my cat? Believe it or not, it's possible. So be careful. It's probably not on purpose, but if your cat is hiding in your box spring, for example, the movers will pack it. Many a cat has died this way. Surprising numbers have also survived.

Will the movers pack my houseplants? No. They won't pack anything that's alive, at least not on purpose.

Will the movers pack my lotion? Technically, they're not supposed to, but it depends on the mover.

Will the movers pack my cosmetics? Yes, if in small containers. Movers are unlikely to pack large bottles of anything liquid, including cosmetics.

Will the movers pack my stuff if I pack it first? The movers are supposed to pack everything themselves so they can note what each box contains and its condition.

Will the movers pack my alcohol? Stateside, yes. Overseas, yes, if it doesn't violate international laws.

Will the movers pack my cleaning supplies? Likely not, since cleaning supplies can do serious damage if they leak.

Will the movers pack my fish tank? Yes, if it's clean and empty. They will not pack it if it's full of fish. Same goes for your rabbit cage, hamster wheel or any other pet habitat.

Will the movers pack my trampoline? Yes, but it must be disassembled. Same rule for all outdoor equipment, including swing sets.

Will the movers pack my garage gym? Yes, but keep in mind it will count toward your overall household goods weight, and you'll have to pay for any extra weight out of pocket.

Will the movers pack my great-grandmother's dishes? Yes, but do you really want them to? Consider moving very breakable items yourself.

Will the movers pack my hot tub? Yes, if you warn them ahead of time, plus empty it and disassemble it as much as possible.

Will the movers pack my piano? Yes, but, remember it will count toward your overall weight. And, like with the hot tub, you must warn the movers ahead of time.

Will the movers pack my deep freezer? Yes, but make sure it is empty, turned off and defrosted.

Will the movers pack my waterbed? Yes, but only if it is drained.

Will the movers pack my kayak? Yes.

Will the movers pack my mounted pull-up bar? Yes, but you need to unmount it for them.

Will the movers pack my guns? Maybe. They have a list of what types of guns they can and cannot move. And they will not move ammunition.

Should You Let the Movers Pack Your Underwear?

PCS moves are the source of endless controversy and discussion in the military community. Move yourself or let the movers pack you? Tip them or buy them lunch? Bribe them with your leftover booze or pack it in your car?

But all of those questions pale in comparison with the mother of all military PCS move questions: Do you, or do you not, let them pack your underpants and other, ahem, sensitive items?

On the one hand, just let the folks do their jobs. On the other hand, is messing with your bedroom items really anyone's job but yours?

If you let them pack everything, consider these tips:

  • Pack your unmentionables in plastic bags so they aren't touched by other hands.
  • Hide things you don't want to be seen inside other items, like sweatshirts or T-shirts.
  • Ask for a box and pack sensitive items yourself, making sure to use lots of paper just like the movers do. (Note: When packing your own boxes, the moving company may not be held responsible if they lose it. But honestly, are you going to claim them in detail on a loss form if they lose that box?)
  • If you take bedroom items with you, use caution when packing. For example, if you're going to be stopping anywhere along the way, make sure the things you want to be kept hidden, stay hidden. The last thing you want is your toddler coming out with something on their head when visiting your in-laws.

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