If you’ve received PCS orders for a move to O‘ahu, or even if you already live here – aloha and welcome! Here on O‘ahu, there’s a substantial military presence and all branches are well represented, given the strategic location of the Hawaiian Islands. There are a number of military bases dotting the island from East to West. If you’re coming from the mainland, you may want to maximize your time in this tropical paradise–enjoying the natural beauty, warm climate, beaches, and outdoor activities that living in Hawaii has to offer.
We think there are some tremendous advantages to renting or buying a home off base while you’re stationed in Hawaii. Not the least of these is being able to pocket some of the high Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) currently afforded to active-duty personnel who are stationed here. Relative to other places, the BAH is quite high in order to keep pace with the high cost of living in these islands. Your BAH, coupled with your Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) can also help you to invest in a home and grab a slice of paradise for the long-term. Whether you’re here for a year or for 10 years, we’ve put together some of the reasons you may want to consider living (and buying a home) outside of the gates, if your role or your spouse’s role enables you to do so.
1. Save Money
Living off-base means you’re able to find accommodations (whether you rent or buy) that fit within your budget. You don’t have to give up your entire Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). If you shop around, you can find a home with rent or mortgage payments that are lower than your BAH, and you can bank (and spend or invest) the balance. This is a huge perk for many families since Hawaii is an expensive place to live. Padding your savings or having a little extra cash flow for island adventures is a great feeling.
2. Enjoy More Freedom
When you choose off-base housing, you’re in charge. You get to shop around, explore different neighborhoods and different housing types (single family, condos, apartments, duplexes — the sky is the limit!). You can be in control of your move in and move out dates, too. Also, you’ll have the freedom to explore the local culture, choose a different grocery store (Whole Foods? Down to Earth?) and a different school district for your kids. It’s all up to you!
3. Make Your Home Your Own
Renting and especially buying a home in Hawaii means you get to personalize your space, which is really important to many people. If you’re a renter living off base, your landlord may let you plant a garden, paint your rooms in a shade of your own choosing, or perhaps hang some curtains in the kids’ room. Living on base has a lot of rules and restrictions, but most landlords off base are happy if you’re making improvements to their home, and are pleased to rent to reliable military personnel and their families.
If you decide to buy your own Hawaii home, the sky is the limit! You can paint, change out the flooring, replace your kitchen cabinets. You can be as Chip & Joanna Gaines as your little heart desires. Heck – install that farmhouse sink in the kitchen that you’ve always wanted! The canvas is all yours and the palette of colors is much wider when you’re safely in your own little piece of paradise. Using VA Loans and USDA loans, active duty service members and veterans are often able to purchase with zero money down, with the right credit history and income.
4. Build a Community
Your move to a military housing community usually means you’ll have an instant community of like-minded friends and families, where you’ll be quick to make friends and settle in. That sense of instant community is true here on O‘ahu, even if you’re living off base. For one thing, it’s a pretty small island (approximately 600 square miles) and there’s a strong sense of community that stems from the culture here. We are known for our aloha, after all.
Living off-base, you’ll still have a close-knit community of active-duty service members, especially in areas close to the various bases across the island. There are pockets of the island that have lots of active duty military personnel, just like you. So you’re bound to make friends quickly, no matter where you decide to live. You’ll be surprised at how small O‘ahu feels, once you’ve settled in and get to know a few people. Lots of residents compare it to living in a small town, even though there’s a big city here that serves as an anchor for business and commerce.
5. Put Down Roots
Related to building a new community and having freedom is the promise that you may have fewer moves if you live off base. Military housing availability is determined by rank and family size and you’re often at the mercy of the housing community when it comes to where you can live. If your family size changes, you may have to pack up and shift to a new home on base. Off base living means you’re not likely to have to pack up your dishes again until you get new PCS orders.
6. Enjoy the Hawaii Lifestyle
You can choose to live on O‘ahu’s fabled North Shore, a surfing haven for amateurs and pros from around the world. Or you might choose to rent or buy in Kailua, just blocks from the miles of powder sand that the Windward Side has to offer – not to mention direct access to Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH). The Windward side of O‘ahu is also a very short commute across the H-3 to Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH), and very convenient to downtown Honolulu via the Pali Highway.
Perhaps you’re craving a little city life? Honolulu has lots of nightlife, shopping, and cultural activities, as well as amazing beach parks and access to watersports of all kinds. Whatever your preference, living outside the gates allows you to more readily explore and experience everything Hawaii life has to offer–year-round hiking, snorkeling, surfing, running, kite surfing. You name it, Hawaii has it! While many of the bases have beach access, you have so many more choices when living off base and each part of the island has its own special vibe. From bustling Kakaako to quiet Kaneohe, there’s a neighborhood for everyone.
7. Get More House for Your Money
You might find your dream home off base that’s within your BAH budget, but that also boasts that extra bedroom you’ve always wanted for guests, or more closet space for you and your spouse, or even a 2-car garage for your motorcycle tinkering. Dream big! In Mililani, for example, a neighborhood with easy access to many of the military bases on the island, including Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter, families enjoy their very own, private backyard swimming pool. Off-base living means you can enjoy a few features that you won’t find living behind the gate.
8. Dine Out With Ease
While military housing communities try to cater to your every need, with NEX shopping, community centers and fitness facilities, they aren’t really a hub for eclectic and wonderful restaurants. One of the best off-shoots of Hawaii’s cultural diversity is that we have so much great food here! Ethnic food from every corner of the world is well represented across the island and for a lot of people, being able to walk out their door for a night out is very appealing.
9. Gain More Privacy
One of the perks touted by many military singles and families who choose to live in a local neighborhood is “escaping the fishbowl”. You can leave your work behind as you leave the gates. Maybe you prefer not to have your personal life under scrutiny from neighbors who may also be your colleagues at work. Living off-base affords you a little more privacy, as well as distance from the stresses of your job.
10. Spend Less Time in the Car
Sure, living on base means that your workplace is right there (usually). But in Honolulu, where traffic is some of the worst of any city in the entire country, this might mean that your non-military spouse is fighting traffic morning and night to get to their job in downtown Honolulu and beyond. Depending upon the type of work and it’s location, living off base may make better sense for you and your spouse – so that you can split the difference. As we mentioned earlier, neighborhoods like Kailua and Kaneohe are right next to MCBH, Haleiwa on the North Shore is one of the closest neighborhoods to Schofield and Fort Shafter.
11. Reap Some Rental Income
Investing in property here in Hawaii is a great financial move! We can’t stress this enough. It’s a hot real estate market that always desirable and constantly growing in value. Making the right investment while you’re here, with the incredible stability of a military career on your side is a great choice. No matter how long you plan to stay in Hawaii, you can easily rent your property if you wind up living elsewhere. There’s a very robust rental market here due to the military and due to tourism, so you can rest confidently in the knowledge that you’ll be able to find renters to pay your Hawaii mortgage later on if you have to PCS to a new location. Many service members miss the Hawaii lifestyle once they’ve moved on, and are eager to come back later in life – whether it’s to work here in a civilian role (and there are lots government contract jobs) or when they retire.
12. Have Lots of Pets
Most military housing limits the number of pets your family can have, so living off-base can be much more pet-friendly for you and your fur babies. Many bases or stations also have breed restrictions. If you choose to live off-base and especially if you decide to invest in your own home in Hawaii, you can have a whole Noah’s Ark of pets, if that’s what you’d like to do!
13. Enjoy A Sense of Place
Hawaii is rich in diversity and culture and it’s one of the things that makes living here so special. Living off-base means you can make connections with friends from other cultures and from all over the world! With so many unique neighborhoods to choose from, you may find a whole new tribe of civilian friends with similar interests to yours, and you may just open yourself up to all kinds of new experiences you may not have exposure to at home: new food, art, culture, languages, and activities. Get out there and try surfing while you’re here, or take up hiking the many trails to get a new perspective on this beautiful place.
14. Send Your Kids to Great Schools
In some cases, you can find highly rated public schools for your kids off base. In the very desirable Kailua neighborhood, for example, Kainalu Elementary and Kaelapulu Elementary are both conveniently located to MCBH, beaches and all kinds of amenities and shops in Kailua, and they have ratings 9 and 10 respectively (on a 10 scale). Waikiki Elementary School is also given a 10 rating and as the name suggests, it’s close to tons of beaches, restaurants, shopping, and amenities in the heart of Waikiki. Plus, there are lots of excellent private schools on O‘ahu, if that’s in your budget.