13 Tips for a Military Move to Washington, D.C.

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A move to Washington, D.C. conjures up a variety of feelings for military members headed to the National Capital Region (NCR). Some look forward to city life and access to creature comforts often absent in far flung military towns, but some dread the expense and traffic so commonly moaned and groaned about. Either way, PCS orders say you’re headed to D.C., so get on board — the pace of life moves fast here!

Because this locale can be intimidating, MilitaryByOwner has set out to capture and share the pertinent tips to for making the transition to Washington, D.C. manageable. Update your Google maps, download a cheap gas finder app, link up your credit card for your E-Z pass, and you’ll be well on your way to making the nation’s capital your new home.

Here are the best tips you need to know.

  1. Although many refer to Washington, D.C. (D.C. or the District) as their duty station, and even say it is the city where they live, Washington, D.C. is often a catch-all name for many locations. Yes, there are duty stations with addresses exactly in the District like Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard, but many other cities and bases are located throughout the NCR and people live in not only in D.C., but in Virginia and Maryland.
  2. You’ll see the term NOVA often. It’s short for Northern Virginia. This expansive area contains large cities like Alexandria and McLean and is home to big bases such as Fort Belvoir, The Pentagon, and Marine Corps Base Quantico.
  3. Maryland is represented in the NCR through Walter Reed Medical Center, JB Andrews, Fort Meade NSA and sometimes even all the way up to Annapolis for those serving at the U.S. Naval Academy.
  4. It’s very common to be stationed at one of the NCR bases, while choosing to live closer to a different one. This happens for many reasons including unexpected job changes, access to better schools, simpler commutes, and affordable housing. When buying or renting a home, military members routinely consider if future PCS assignments will keep them in the area and try to find somewhere to live convenient to multiple destinations.
  5. It’s never really too early to begin planning a move to D.C. There’s a lot to learn. Find a map and start familiarizing yourself with the major interstates. I-95, 395, and 295 are just a few of the interstate numbers that are part of a way of life here. Take notice of where the cities lie within the web of interstates and roads. A Metro map is also a good reference to have. Metro stops can be crucial for avoiding traffic, but it’s likely you’ll pay more in real estate to have this convenience.
  6. It’s a smart idea to save a surplus of cash to have on hand for the move. Rental deposits, reestablishing household items, and eating out are likely going to be more expensive than your previous duty stations.
  7. Start networking with friends and their friends for opinions of where to live. Locals have the best insight on day-to-day life and the details that make or break a PCS. Affordability, access to public transportation, commute issues, and local schools tend to be the most important topics discussed.
  8. Summer is a typical season for PCS travel across military destinations, but it’s particularly busy and haphazard in D.C. The sheer number of people coming and going means extended times for goods in storage, delayed deliveries, and even lost shipments are not far from norm. Stay vigilant and remain in contact with your incoming housing office and try to access the moving companies directly (especially truck drivers) if possible. Familiarize yourself with the military’s and moving company’s insurance policies as well as any renters insurance you may have.
  9. The D.C. real estate scene isn’t one to go alone. It often has challenging circumstances like multiple bids or cash offers to compete with. It’s recommended to work with a real estate agent knowledgeable with the hyper local area you are looking to live. There’s a lot of nuance to a military home buying, so it’s even better to find veteran or a military spouse real estate professional who gets your lifestyle.
  10. If you are unfamiliar with a reverse military clause, read up on what it is because this type of clause is not uncommon in D.C., but most renters don’t take the time to notice the insertion into the lease. In short, if a military landlord thinks they may return to their house due to a PCS or retirement, they can write a statement that dictates the tenants have to vacate within a certain time frame, usually 60 days. This goes back to the fact that many military members are stationed in the NCR repeatedly.
  11. Go out of your way to take advantage of the plethora of free and low-cost options for employment, education, attractions, and general fun. Dozens of nonprofits and military friendly companies provide military families excellent opportunities throughout the area. The USO, Blue Star Families, and The National Military Family Association have a substantial presence and offer support on many levels.
  12. The region is bursting with bucket list items. From the iconic monuments to stage shows and so much more, prioritize the must see and do events. Some, like the White House Easter Egg Roll or Fourth of July on the Mall, take some planning in advance to get the most out of the experience. At the same time, however, jumping in the car to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity is often the case.
  13. Say yes to everything, because the time living in Washington, D.C. moves quickly. Remember, non-military families across the country plan for months to take a weeklong vacation to the Capital and won’t ever return after they depart. You have the good fortune of trying it all out over a couple of years and taking once in a lifetime memories with you.

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Because there is so much to learn about being stationed in Washington, D.C. MilitaryByOwner has written an ebook filled with the information you need to have before arriving. It’s free, immediately available, easily downloadable, and waiting for you!

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