PCS'ing to Hawaii
PCS’ing to Hawaii

So you just received confirmation that you’re headed towards the islands. Should you be ecstatic? or nervous? No need to worry. Here’s your guide for PCS’ing to Hawaii.
1) Housing
Decide whether or not you want living in military housing. Generally speaking, getting a decent house might take a while. If it’s PCS season, prepare to camp out in a hotel room. It’s hit or miss with housing, some houses are really nice and renovated. Others… not so much. Some are right on base. Others can be a drive. If you decide to live in housing, remember that you pay for utilities now (since 2013). If you decide to live off base, remember that some (aka most) places don’t accept pets. Neither on-base or off-base is safer than the other. Don’t let anyone fool you, there are crimes in housing too. If you decide to live off base, keep in mind the traffic. Generally speaking, there’s the windward side (east), the leeward side (west), town (Honolulu and surround areas), Central (Pearl City, Mililani, and surrounding areas), and the North Shore. Each area has its pros and cons.

Local tip: economy permitting… you might want to look into buying. BAH is ridiculously high. If you sacrifice a little living space or time in traffic, you could find something somewhat affordable and pocket some BAH money with the VA loan all while building some equity.

2) Culture
Forget what you heard. “Locals hate the military”, “They’re unfriendly” yada yada yada. No. Locals hate people who are close-minded and complain about everything but don’t make any attempt to make the best out of a situation. Indeed you may be far from family. But think about it this way. Millions of people save up their whole lives just to be able to visit Hawaii. You and your family are able to move and live there on the government’s dime. You’ll hear “aloha” more times that you can count but embrace it. No, and I mean no one, is in a rush to do anything, so you shouldn’t be either. Show aloha and you will receive aloha. It’s easy as that. Also, Hawaii is the only place you’ll see military officials with leis on their necks.You pretty much receive a lei for any special occasion.

Local tip: Leave your shoes outside or by the door when you go to someone’s home. It’s a respect thing. Don’t worry, they will not get stolen. You’ll probably be living in flip-flops (“slippahs”) anyway so it won’t make too much of a difference.

3) Travel
Plane tickets home can be expensive. It helps to fly home during the off-season. On the plus side, airfare to the other islands or to Asia and Australia are cheaper as opposed to coming from the mainland. So if you’ve got the travel bug, here is your chance! If you’re driving a lot, gas on base is usually cheaper. Costco is a great choice as well. Traffic is horrendous. Anyone will tell you that. If Oahu ever finishes that rail, it might get better. Even with the construction, it will always be a nightmare. The lanes downtown are also teeny tiny as are the parking garages. If you have a big truck, you might have to be that jerk that takes up two spots. Speaking of trucks, Since the speed limit is no higher than 60 anyway, people can ride in the bed of a truck legally.

Local tip: 99% of the time, if there’s no sign, feel free to make your own parking spot anywhere. Lawns, beaches, parks, dirt. If it fits, it’s good.

4) Budget
Hawaii is expensive, no doubt about it. There are ways to save money. Shop at the commissary. Buy used items for larger ticket items: vehicles, furniture, appliances. When people leave the island, they don’t want to carry these things with them so on craigslist or facebook yardsales pages, you’ll see a lot of posts about “moving sales”. Check these out first before you make any major purchases. The Aloha Swap Meet is famous so venture there for any gifts or items you may use. The MWR, or MCCS for Marine families, are quite extensive due to being OCONUS. More often than not, most activities are little to no cost. Your COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) is also higher here. With proper budgeting, you will not go broke.

Local tip: Kama’aina is a new word that you will use frequently. It means “local”… or in Hawaii business terms “having a military id”. You can get kama’aina discounts on hotels, events, and activities with your military id.

5) Entertainment
Load up on music. You’ll hear the same music over and over and over again on the radio. Not to mention for whatever reason, you’ll hear the newest music at least a month later than on the mainland. Better yet, become accustomed to island music. No, no, not just Don Ho but there are contemporary Hawaiian reggae artists and stations that are quite popular. Concerts are also popular, but be prepared to line up early for tickets. The same goes for sports activities as well. Visit ITT or LTS (otherwise known as the military ticket office) to learn about all of the activities and excursions that are available. More than likely, you’ll probably do them more than once, but hey, “there’s always the beach”.

Local tip: Locals like to make their own fun, so you’ll see a lot of house parties, or intramural leagues for sports, and you’ll probably see a lot of people have a garage full of stuff just for going to the beach. Get social, get active, and make your own fun!

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Is there a lot of crime?

On the whole, Hawaii is a relatively safe state with less instances of violent crimes compared to mainland. If there is a violent crime, it will take up the local news for a long time since it happens so infrequently.

2) What’s the weather like?

Really? 9 times out 10, dress for warm weather. However, ALWAYS carry an umbrella with you in the car or office. Rainy weather comes out of nowhere it seems.

3) Do I have to learn Hawaiian?

Not technically. But you will pick up on pronunciations, common words, and slang. Da Kine, Howzit?, Lanai, Ohana, Wahine, Kane, Keiki, Slippahs, Pau, Haole, and of course… Aloha…

4) Will I get island fever?

Maybe. Especially if family and friends come to visit. You’ll end up playing tour guide and visiting the same things over and over again, i.e. Pearl Harbor/Arizona, Dole Plantation, Luaus, North Shore. There are plenty of activities in Hawaii, you just have to explore.

5) Is it hard to find my way around?

By highway, no. Once you’re in residential areas or downtown, probably. You’ll start to laugh at your GPS’ pronunciation of street names.

6) Will I stay in a hotel for long while waiting on housing?

It depends. I’ve seen one week waits to 6 months waits. Be sure to get a TLA approved hotel. Call early and often. They book up fast but they also have lots of cancellations as families move into housing.

7) Where’s all my stuff?

On a boat. If you did not send unaccompanied stuff early, you might have to wait a while. Check out the lending closet on base if you’re still waiting for stuff but have your house already.

8) Are the military bases nice?

Indeed they are. Most of them are right by water (Sorry Army/Schofield). Most of them also rent out beach cabins or beach campgrounds for ridiculously cheap. Have you ever camped on a beach and watch the sunrise or sunset? Spoiler alert: It’s amazing. If you’re not one for the outdoors, there is the Hale Koa Hotel (a military hotel) right in Waikiki.

9) What about my pets?

Sending a pet is not as hard as everyone makes it seem. Get your paperwork in on time, and you’ll be fine. MWR also offers kennels to take care your furry pals if you leave the island for a vacation.

10) What’s the nightlife like?

Waikiki has a bustling nightlife. There’s everything from fancy nightclubs to hole-in-the-wall bars. Beyond those city limits, nightlife doesn’t exist. Unless you count stripclubs.

11) Is the school system bad?

Like on the mainland, it depends on the district. I’ve heard Mililani and Moanalua schools are the best for public schools. If you have the extra cash, send them to private school (there are some of the best in the nation here).

12) Are there a lot of bugs?

Yes. Learn to make friends with geckos. They come in your house and eat the bugs. Don’t come near the feral chickens. They carry bugs.

13) What’s the food like?

Cuisine is very much based on the people, so there’s a lot of pacific rim influence. Lots of barbeque and sushi. You can get rice with everything and soy sauce anywhere even at Denny’s.

14) Is there good shopping?

This one is for the ladies. The best shopping is either in Waikiki or at little boutiques along the coastline. If you like your items to be unique, learn to shop online. For example, formal dress shops on the island keep a running list of what military ball their dresses will be at, so you know if someone will have that dress already.

15) What about natural disasters?

Flood Watches and Tsunami Warnings are the most common. I highly recommend you follow local news channels for the latest updates.

Any other suggestions or questions? Aloha and Mahalo for reading…

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13 Comments on Guide To PCS’ing to Hawaii

  1. 🙂 You. Are. Awesome! My husband just got word that he (we) was selected for orders to Hawaii and I have been petrified. This blog post has me super excited!!

    • No Problem! I was scared about PCS’ing to Hawaii too. Any duty station place is what you make of it. Glad I could be of some help! Aloha!

      • Hi! My husband and I will be arriving in Hawaii in less than 6 months! I am super excited yet nervous and just want some updated insight on the moving process!

  2. We are PCSing to K bay at the end of June. I am super excited and nervous :). I’m not sure how the travel will go with three kiddos, but we will make the best of it all! I would like to make some friends ahead of time!

    • We were at Kbay! If you can, live on base. It’s so convenient and the houses are not bad, and they are literally walking distance away from the beaches. It’s a great community to make friends! Aloha!

  3. Oh I really wish I’d read this when we were PCSing! I have to say Hawaii was definitely a really hard adjustment for me but slowly but surely I’m learning to like it (just in time for us to leave of course!). Definitely sharing this!

  4. For couples without kids coming to KBay, I suggest living in 802/Hana Like housing. It doesn’t have A/C (you can install your own window units) and it isn’t quite as nice as forrest city, but it’s cheaper and you’ll be pocketing BAH. My hubs and I have been in our apartment for a little over a year and we really love it.

  5. My husband just said something to the effect that if we have cavities or problems like that, it can screw up our chances with our orders. I cannot find any information on that fact, yet 3 days after we got our orders and 5 months before we actually leave, I’m getting knots in my stomach about it; anything at all that might screw up our chances to live in Hawaii. Wondering if you have any info on that?

    Btw this is an amazing blog and totally quelled some of my fears about moving. Thank you for writing this!

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