Should You Live On or Off Base?

couple house hunting

When you begin planning for your next PCS, one of the first things to consider is whether to live on or off base. The options are simple. The choice is not.

As a service member, you receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) that can be used toward rent or a mortgage. If you live on base, the BAH is deducted from your paycheck. The amount of BAH you receive depends on your geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status.

So, how do you decide? It depends on your personal and financial circumstances. To help you make your choice, we've given you 10 things to consider before choosing where you will live.

10 Things to Consider for Your Next PCS Move

1. Living on base offers convenience. Unless it's a crowded post with a waitlist for housing, opting to live on base is pretty low-hassle. Not only will you not have to deal with the stress of finding a place to live, the location means you're close to work.

2. Consider the affordability factor. It may be easier to live within your budget if you choose to live on base, as you likely won't have to cover expenses for housing or utilities. Since you won't be renting, you won't need to come up with a security deposit and first or last month's rent in advance -- which is especially helpful in high cost-of-living areas like Hawaii.

3. Private housing offers more variety. Off-base living comes with more choices for housing, both in terms of type and quality. If you're stationed in an area where housing costs are low, or you want a small apartment, you might be able to rent something for less than your BAH and pocket the difference. Keep these two things in mind when renting or leasing a home: the cost of utilities and commuting, which could offset any savings, and whether you have a military clause in your contract in case you have a sudden change of orders.

4. Living on base surrounds you with people who understand the military community. Another benefit of living on base is the camaraderie you'll find among your neighbors. Fellow military families understand the unique challenges of military life and can provide support during deployments and other difficulties.

5. How many pets do you have? What about maintenance? You may have more flexibility over maintenance and decorating off-base. Military housing may involve inspections and rules about how to maintain the lawn, number of pets, types of outdoor displays, etc.

6. Some bases offer free amenities. Pool and gym memberships can take a chunk out of your paycheck. Life on base may come with perks like a gym and pool at no extra cost, as well as convenient shopping at the commissary.

7. Consider the choice of schools. If you have children and a school in mind that's far from the base, you may want to find a home closer to the school.

8. Do you like your privacy? Sometimes distance is a good thing. If you prefer to separate your work and home life, living off base offers a clear distinction between the two. Your neighbors are likely to be civilians or other service members who have chosen to live off base.

9. Living on base offers a sense of security and safety. Military bases are, on average, safer than comparably sized American cities. However, no place offers 100% security. Proper safety measures should be taken regardless of where you live.

10. What about buying a home? If you expect your PCS to be permanent and you like the area, you may want to explore the benefits of buying your own home.

Choosing where to live is a personal decision, and as a service member, your home is important. It's where you relax, rest, and enjoy your free time. That's why it's essential that you find the fight housing every time you move.

Find a VA Loan

Our VA loan finder can match you with up to five rate quotes from different lenders. Check it out now!

Story Continues