PCSing to Hawaii? We’ll Help You Weigh Your Options

PCSing to Hawaii? If you are on PCS orders to Hawaii and have no clue where to begin trying to figure it all out, we are here to help. I was born and raised in Hawaii, and I have personally PCS’d with my family six times. I’ve lived all over the island of Oahu for a total of 10 years–including three years of being stationed on Oahu.

If you are being reassigned or PCS’ing to Hawaii and one of the many bases or stations here, including Schofield Barracks, Pearl Harbor, Hickam AFB, Wheeler AAF, Fort Shafter, Fort DeRussy, Tripler AMC, or Camp HM Smith, then this blog will be very informative and should help you figure out the right place to live!

Military Move (PCS) to Oahu – Real Estate Edition

An aerial photo of a beach in Hawaii

Your first decision is to figure out whether or not you want to live on base or off base on Oahu. Below, I’ll provide some of the overarching reasons that I think you would be much happier living off base on Oahu.

In a recent article, Honolulu Civil Beat stated that “99% of all military housing is operated by private landlords, with about a dozen large companies dominating the programs. Nationally, about 30% of military personnel live on base, and about 70% choose to live off base”.

More than 70% of service members choose to live off base in Hawaii–for good reason. If you live on base, your BAH is paid directly to one of the two private companies that hold a monopoly over the base housing system here, leaving you dealing with repair issues and possible repercussions from your command if you choose to make even valid complaints.

They know that they will get their rent, so they have no drive to give tenants a timely response when an issue arises. On the other hand, if you live off base, you get paid your BAH directly, you’ll have limitless options regarding what you choose to do with your BAH.

If you’re PCSing to Hawaii and choose to live on base, you may join the list of service members that have made the same decision because getting a home on base “seems like the easiest” choice in the moment. Now that I have hopefully encouraged you to weigh your decision to live on or off base, let’s talk about factors to consider when you’re deciding which areas and types of communities that Oahu has to offer!

Considerations when PCSing to Hawaii

A list of BAH Rates for those stationed in Hawaii

What is a budget that you can afford in Hawaii?

BAH and COLA can go a long way if you decide to purchase. For an E-5 with one dependent COLA and BAH total just under $3,500 per month. After speaking with a loan officer, you will likely find out that you can afford a lot more than you think because of low interest rates for VA loans, no primary mortgage insurance (PMI), and very low property taxes. 

Furthermore, the $126,000 that you would have lost if you lived on base or rented would instead likely be realized as profit when you sell your home after your 3-year tour! Remember that there are also many homes on Oahu that would allow you to pocket money every month after your mortgage and utilities are paid. You pocket the difference between your BAH/COLA and mortgage/utility payment. Contact me for more information on contacting a trusted local lender! Below I have included a current BAH chart by rank and grade for your convenience.

What size property and types of amenities are you looking for?

Determining these two major components of the home search will surely help to expedite the search and offer process and help you and your agent concentrate on looking in the appropriate areas. Below are a few of the areas that I recommend looking at based on their proximity to bases, desirability, and lower price per square foot.

Are you PCSing to Hawaii with pets?

If you are moving to Oahu with pets, then I am here to tell you that it is not nearly as difficult as people make it seem. I have moved to Oahu with three pets, and the process is clearly explained on the Department of Agriculture Animal Quarantine webpage. Specific fees are waived for active-duty soldiers transporting their animals to Hawaii. But if you find that the cost exorbitant, I recommend looking at the SPCA website to look into a grant that they offer to active-duty soldiers who have monetary issues with relocating their pets. You must apply for the SPCA grant three months before the animal moves, so don’t delay.

Commute Times on Oahu

If you are interested in commuting times to and from each base and city, look at the chart below! The shorter/first number reflects a no traffic commute time, and the longer/second number reflects a rush hour (0700-0845, 1500-1830) commute time. Below that chart, I also included a map of Oahu with all of the major cities and military installations on it.

Mililani 20-60 MIN 8-10 MIN 20-60 MIN 20-25 MIN 30-60 MIN
Wahiawa 30-70 MIN 7-10 MIN 25-75 MIN 25-60 MIN 35-75 MIN
North Shore 45-80 MIN 15-20 MIN 45-60 MIN 40-80 MIN 75 MIN
Pearl City 15-45 MIN 15-20 MIN 15-55 MIN 20-55 MIN 30-60 MIN
Aiea 15-25 MIN 15-20 MIN 10-30 MIN 15-40 MIN 25-30 MIN
Ewa Beach 25-60 MIN 20-35 MIN 30-60 MIN 30-60 MIN 45-60 MIN
Kapolei 35-70 MIN 20-25 MIN 30-45 MIN 30-50 MIN 45-75 MIN
Honolulu 20-45 MIN 35-60 MIN 15-40 MIN 15-35 MIN 25-60 MIN
Kailua 25-35 MIN 35-45 MIN 25-45 MIN 25-45 MIN 10-15 MIN
Kaneohe 19-27 MIN 30-40 MIN 20-35 MIN 20-40 MIN 10 MIN

Oahu Areas We Often Recommend If You’re PCSing to Hawaii

Map of Oahu Military Bases

Ewa Beach and Kapolei/Makakilo

The Ewa Beach, Makakilo, and Kapolei areas seem to be the most popular, military-centric part of the island for a few reasons. A $12 billion rail system originates between Kapolei and Ewa Beach that should be completed soon (possible home value appreciation?). There are new shopping malls and restaurants such as Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, and countless local eateries to choose from.

Additionally, the beach is down the road; the water park is up the road, and you’ll have oceanfront homes, golf course homes, and mountain/Diamond Head views to choose from! If you are looking for a very family-oriented community with pools, parks, and sidewalks throughout, then Kapolei/Makakilo/Ewa Beach is your best bet. 

Furthermore, a substantial quantity of new housing is being constructed in the Kapolei and Ewa Beach area. The homes tend to be larger than traditional Hawaiian homes and seem to fit military lifestyles well. Most (if not all) of the newer neighborhoods are very clean, and you will always see people exercising and children playing throughout the day!


Mililani is an ideal area to live in if you want to live between the North Shore, Kapolei, and Honolulu proper. The school systems in Mililani are known to be great as well! Mililani is split into two areas, Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka (meaning mountain in Hawaiian). Mililani town is a little lower in elevation and offers homes at a slightly lower price point (still great neighborhoods) than Mililani Mauka, but the houses are older.

With that said, Walmart, movie theaters, gyms, and most of the restaurants are in Mililani Town. Just one mile up the mountain from Mililani Town, you will enter the newer (1990’s-2000’s) neighborhoods of Mililani Mauka. Here there are running trails, underground telephone/electric wires to make the streets look cleaner, and cooler temperatures for sure. Mililani Mauka seems to be an area where homes do not go on the market as often, so if you love the area, please contact me, and I’ll let you know immediately when something in the area hits the market!

Pearl City/Aiea

If you’re PCSing to Hawaii to work at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Pearl City/Aiea occupies a large portion of the Pearl Harbor shoreline and is located about 10 miles NW of downtown Honolulu. Regarding neighborhood feel, it is mainly urban but has a good mix of single-family homes and condos alike. I would say that mainly locals live in Pearl City/Aiea, but a growing number of service members are moving into the area.

Pearl City is also home to Pearlridge, which is Oahu’s 2nd largest shopping mall! The mall is so large that it has a tram that connects the two levels, both of which have an abundance of restaurants. Overall, if you don’t mind living in a closely spaced urban environment with moderate traffic, Pearl City/Aiea might be for you!


Kailua and Kaneohe are both close to Marine Core Base Hawaii and offer a small beach town feel. These Windward neighborhoods are generally more spread out than cities in/near Honolulu and almost always have a good breeze running through them. Kailua and Kaneohe have homes that start at $300,000 and go up to $45,000,000. Both towns are known for boutique shops, restaurants, Whole Foods, Target, and a decent-sized mall. The beaches are white, and the water is crystal clear and blue! If you like a beach town feel with a small knit community, Kailua or Kaneohe might be the place for you!

Let’s Connect

Photos of Joe Hanley, veteran, real estate agent, and author of this article

I am definitely a real estate broker that is yearning to gain your business and trust but my first hope and the intention of this article is to impart the knowledge needed to help you to feel confident in PCSing to Hawaii and purchasing a home on Oahu. If you have any questions about anything at all, real estate related or not, please feel free to reach out to me by phone or email!


Joe Hanley, R(B), MRP, Veteran
License #RB-23386
Cell: (808)861-6783


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Milagros C. Caparas

August 12, 2022

I want to rent my master bedroom a studio type to military personnel. It’s located in Ewa Beach. It’s ready now. I’m asking $1200 plus $50 in utilities Private entrance 1 parking use of community pool. Please let me know. Thanks

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