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For military families, choosing to live on or off base can often be a difficult decision. My family and I have lived both on and off base, and before moving to each duty station we ask ourselves the following questions to help us better understand which housing option is right for us.

What is the community on base like?

Each base has different community offerings, and a little research can go a long way. It is helpful to check out the base’s Facebook pages to see what their housing company, the library, and the MWR accounts are posting about. If the community looks active online that is usually a good sign that they are active in person, too. It is also key to reach out to your military friends and see if they have lived at your future duty station or if they can connect you with some who recently has. It’s been extremely helpful to hear from as many people as possible, who have been stationed there, in order to get a better idea about on base culture.

How does BAH for the area factor into your financial situation?

BAH is an extremely important factor for military families to consider when moving to a new duty station. BAH gives you parameters for what is affordable in terms of buying or renting off base so that you can refine your search. Because BAH varies so greatly, it is vital to know what it will allow you to afford. A helpful tool is the BAH Calculator, which you can find here.

Are you in a financial position to buy a home?

Buying a home is a big decision and it may be right in one location but not in another. That is okay! It is important to assess where you are financially, if buying a home is realistic, and what the real estate market looks like. You will want to connect with other military families who can refer you to realtors they know and trust in the area where you’re headed.

Do you or your spouse need to leave the military bubble?

Some service members and their families love working and living in the same place, others need separation, and for some it depends on the location. This question is important to consider every time you PCS so that you can know where each family member is mentally. Some people love working, shopping, and participating in most events on base. Others may have a desire to become more involved in the local community. There is no right or wrong answer, you just have to know what your family wants and needs.

What is the surrounding area like?

With a PCS, not only does your physical location change but often your personal needs will change too. For example, your future base may be an hour from an amazing city with a lot to offer, so you compromise and rent or buy a home halfway between the city and base. Or perhaps your next duty station is in a very rural and isolated area and living on base will provide more support and resources. The area, and what it offers, is not something to overlook.

My family and I discuss our answers to these questions and then make a pro/con list for on base housing versus off base housing so that we can decide on the best course of action. We have moved four times in five years and this system has served us well; I hope it will help you, too!

Bio: Diana Caroe is a military spouse of 6 years and mum of two, living wherever the Army sends her family. She has a background in language education and currently works in digital marketing. In her free time she enjoys reading and a good cup of tea. You can find her on Instagram at @diana.caroe or LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/diana-caroe.

Diana Caroe