How to decide between off-base and on-base housing options overseas
On our second night in Germany, my husband and I found ourselves huddled up around the glow of my laptop long after our little ones had gone to sleep. My stomach churned with anxiety as we browsed the rental listings to see what was available within our price range in our new community overseas.
I had so many questions, but they all boiled down to this: Should we accept a house on base if we are offered one right away… or should we jump at the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture? As I considered the ramifications of both choices, an overwhelming list of ups and downs cluttered my thoughts.
If you have both options, choosing to live on or off base is one of the many difficult decisions military families are faced with during PCS season. When an international location is added to the mix, the process gets even trickier. Currently researching (read: stressing out over) off-base versus on-base housing overseas? Take a deep breath. Here are a few tips to help you make the best decision for your family when deciding to live on or off base during your overseas tour.
Consider your unique circumstances, needs, and personalities.
Your service member’s job, your family’s size, and your comfort level overseas, just to name a few, may affect the way you feel about living on or off base. For example, larger families may find they would have more space in an off-base rental while a family expecting a deployment may have better peace of mind staying on the military installation. Sitting down and talking about the options together is a great way to see how everyone is feeling about the move while keeping each family member included in the process.
Connect with military families in the area.
Learning from others’ experiences is a fantastic way to gain insight on what to expect from your new surroundings. Join private Facebook groups, make connections in the USAA member community, and chat with people you meet when you are out and about. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and carefully consider any advice that comes your way.
Wait to make a final decision until after the housing brief.
Even if you are leaning heavily towards one option, I recommend keeping an open mind until after you’ve heard all the housing representatives tell you about your home away from home overseas. What the experts have to say regarding your specific area may sway you one way or another. For example, knowing the housing office would work with us to inspect and approve our contract with a local landlord helped us feel more comfortable about renting a place off base.
Weigh the pros and cons.
Now that you’ve attended the housing brief, you have a better idea of the options you must choose from. Grab a piece of paper and write down as many positive and negative aspects as you can think of for each option. To get you started, here are a few we came up with...
Living on-base. Benefits of living in government housing include many comforts of “home,” heightened security, and being closer to military community resources, like schools, childcare facilities, and shopping centers. Utilities are also covered, and some locations have air conditioning while off-base facilities may not. Negative aspects to consider are less space (especially in stairwell housing), the possibility of long wait lists, and missing out on the opportunity to truly immerse yourselves in your host nation.
Living off base. There are many plus sides to renting a house on the economy overseas, but there are also quite a few unnerving downsides. When you choose your own house, you can be pickier about what you are looking for. Getting to experience local life is also a huge perk for many. The downside to living off base could include unexpected expenses. For example, in Germany, many households are heated with oil instead of gas, and tanks must be purchased once or twice a year, as needed. Instead of simply paying a bill each month, you will need to be disciplined enough to set aside a large amount of money over time to save up for the cost of new tanks. Fluctuating exchange rates may also affect how much you will be paying for rent and utility bills in US dollars from month to month, and the language barrier could prevent you from communicating effectively with your landlord if any issues arise.
What if we regret our decision?
Keep in mind, no decision is permanent. If you choose to live on the local economy and end up wishing you hadn’t, the military may cover one additional move to base housing. Check with a representative on your installation to find out what your backup options are before signing a rental contract. On the flip side, it’s possible to move off base if you change your mind after receiving a housing offer.
Ultimately, the decision is yours to make based on what is best for you and your family.
My husband and I ended up renting a house in a small village not far from the military installation, and it served us well during our time overseas. However, we had friends that lived happily on base and had zero regrets when time came for them to move on to the next duty station. It really depends on your family members’ individual lifestyle preferences.
Whether you choose to live on or off base, I urge you to make the most of the opportunity you have overseas! It is truly an incredible, life-changing experience.
Are you moving overseas? Which option are you leaning towards and why?
Been there, done that? How did you decide between on-base and off-base housing options overseas?