Guam, to Live on Base or Off Base? That is the Question.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So, you’re getting ready to PCS to Guam…not only are you uprooting your life, once again, but you are moving your family and positions halfway across the world. Perhaps you’re familiar with this beautiful, remote island in the Pacific and know other spouses that can help guide your search for a place to set up your new home? OR perhaps like me, you have absolutely no clue what you are doing, what to expect, and have never stepped foot on a military base except to complete an overseas screening.

One of the biggest decisions to take into consideration when moving to a new duty station is where you want to live.

As my husband and I started preparing for our move to Guam, we pretty much determined ahead of time that we wanted to look for an apartment off base. Within days of arriving on island we found a realtor who showed us several off-base apartment options, one of which we ended up signing. We lived off base for a little over a year – we loved our apartment, being centrally located – easy access to both North & South ends of the island – and OMG the view! However, once our initial lease was up, we made the decision to move to NBG (Naval Base Guam) for our remaining time due to my desire to live closer to friends for a long upcoming deployment.

Having spent a solid amount of time living on and off base on Guam, I can say that both come with their pros and cons. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, however, the ideal living situation is always going to vary from person to person based on lifestyle, preferences, and priorities. 

Here are what I believe to be the most important considerations to take when deciding if on/off-base housing is right for you and your family:

Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA)

(CONUS is BAH, OCONUS is OHA. More on acronyms, here). Take a look at how much you will qualify for with OHA and decide if that is enough to cover your family off base. While rent off base can be expensive, you should have no issue finding a place that is covered by OHA. It’s also important to note that OHA is use it or lose it – there is no pocketing what you don’t spend like with BAH. Of course, if you decide to live on base, OHA is a non-issue.

Cost of Utilities

Utilities off base can be very expensive, remember you’re running that A/C 24/7!

Rank and Size of Family

Your spouse’s rank and/or the size of your family is going to play a large role in determining the size/type of house you qualify for on base. Some families find that they can get a house off base that is larger and more suitable for their family than what they would qualify for on base.

Proximity to Base Amenities

Explore what all is located on NBG ((ie: Commissary, Elementary School/Middle School, NEX, Beaches, etc.) and decide if you want to have quick/easy access to these. If so, living on base can be very convenient. There are also several housing options that are off base in the Santa Rita area that are still very close! We personally lived out in Mangilao so it was a bit of a hike some days.

Whether you decide to live on or off base, I absolutely encourage you to get out and explore the island! Despite its small size, Guam has a plethora of activities to offer.

Living off base for the first year opened my eyes to a lot of places that I probably would not have discovered as early on had we initially chosen to live on base. We also had a pretty incredible panoramic view of the ocean that you just won’t find in base housing.

So why did we move to base then? Well – I made a lot of friends and connections during that first year with a group of spouses that happened to live on base. With our husbands’ deployment schedules projected to keep them out to sea for the better half of the next year and a half, I figured being able to walk to my friend’s house with a bottle of wine to share sounded pretty appealing. Not to mention, when my husband was home, his commute was incredibly short so we got to maximize a little more time together!

Everyone is going to have different preferences when it comes to base housing vs. non-base housing. One is not inherently better than the other and that is because what is best for someone else and their family may not be what is best for you and your family! Hopefully, this has at least help in guiding your thought process. Good luck!

And remember, in our military spouse lifestyle – no place is permanent. So don’t worry about getting stuck – another PCS is just a few years (or months) away. For more resources on Guam, check out our ultimate guide.

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