If you or your spouse receives a permanent change of station (PCS), you probably need to make a decision about where to live. Depending on your branch, marital status and rank, you may have the option of living on- or off-base.

On-base military housing, including utilities, is usually fully covered by your basic allowance for housing (BAH). If you choose to live off-base, you can use your BAH to offset your costs. The amount of your BAH depends on your rank and the cost of living in the area.

The Considerations

There are a number of potential advantages to living on-base, including:

  1. Convenience. Unless it’s a crowded post with a wait list 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. Affordability. 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. Community. Another benefit of living on-base is the camaraderie you’ll find among your neighbors. You’ll be surrounded by people who understand the military life and can provide support during deployments and other challenges. 
  4. Amenities. Life on-base may come with perks like a gym and pool at no extra cost, as well as convenient shopping at the commissary.
  5. Safety. For the security of you and your family members, a military base is one of the safest places possible to live. 

While there are certainly a lot of advantages to living on-base, living off-base has potential advantages as well, including:

  1. Privacy. 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 servicemembers who have chosen to live off-base.
  2. 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 just want a small apartment, you might be able to rent something for less than your BAH and pocket the difference. (Don’t forget about the cost of utilities and commuting, which could offset any savings.)
  3. Flexibility. You may have more control 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. 
  4. Choice of schools. If you have children and a particular school in mind that’s far from the base, you may want to find a home closer to the school. 
  5. Opportunity for ownership. If you expect your PCS to be truly permanent and you like the area, you may want to explore the benefits of buying your own home. If you’re only leasing, though, make sure that you include a military clause in your lease in case you have a sudden change of orders.

Choosing where to live can be intensely personal, but no matter what you decide, you can rely on Navy Federal to provide convenient and low-cost financial products and services that follow you wherever you go. Learn more about the home-buying process, and when you’re ready, Navy Federal can help you find a mortgage that brings you home. Looking for more insight on military relocation? Check out insights on our Military Life page.