Aloha and welcome to the PCS Guide for the island of Oahu, Hawaii.  I hope that this guide will help answer your questions and provide some insight on what to expect when PCSing to the beautiful island of Oahu.  First, this island has over ten military installations representing every service and two four-star headquarters.  Most service members will be stationed at Schofield Barracks, Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH), Camp H. M. Smith, Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC), or Fort Shafter.  After receiving PCS orders, some service members may be provided a sponsor, who can offer valuable information on moving to Hawaii. Now, the planning begins! 

Pets- Take Action Quickly

Pets are family members and should be treated as such.  Please take the time to understand the Hawaii state laws regarding PCSing with a pet.

Hawaii is rabies-free and has a quarantine law designed to protect residents and pets from potentially serious health problems associated with the introduction and spread of rabies.  All dogs and cats are required to comply with Hawaii’s dog and cat import requirements.

Cats and dogs are required to go through quarantine. How long one’s pet will remain in quarantine depends upon when the service member initiates his/her pet’s pre-arrival checklist.  I highly recommend discussing the move and pet requirements with your veterinarian as soon as you’re informed that you’ll be PCSing to Hawaii. If you’re able to complete the significant steps prior to your flight to Hawaii, your pet may be eligible for 30-day, 5-day, or direct release from the Honolulu International Airport (HNL).  If you do nothing, however, your pet could be quarantined for 120 days upon arrival. For more information, click below.

If you need help or want more information, Island Pet Movers is a veteran owned and operated pet relocation service.

Household Goods (HHG) - Down Size Now

When planning your move, you must determine which household goods will ship and what is better left behind, since living space is significantly less in Hawaii.  The average size living area is approximately 1,200 to 1,500 sq. ft. for a 3-bedroom/2-bath single family home.  Not only are homes significantly smaller than on the mainland, but storage space is also very pricey.

I recommend taking video and/or photos of all of your belongings before the movers show up, and consider additional insurance coverage if you’re moving high-value items.  Recommend purchasing insurance or maintaining your current coverage throughout your PCS move; filing a claim through your prospective Housing Offices can often be frustrating and insurance can mitigate loss/damage challenges. 

Temporary Housing Allowance (TLA) - Where to stay

Upon arrival to Oahu, newcomers should report to their respective housing office immediately.  If you haven’t arranged temporary lodging prior to your arrival, your housing office will direct you to installation lodging.  If installation lodging is available, you will be placed on TLA status and stay at there.  If there is no availability, lodging will provide you a list of TLA approved hotels.  Be sure you check the hotel rates and charges.  For instance, you may not want to choose a hotel that charges $25 a day for parking when there are other options that don’t charge parking fees.

I highly recommend searching the web for “TLA approved hotels” and calling the hotel to confirm its charges.  Also, ensure you obtain a “Statement of Non-Availability” letter prior to making any reservation at a TLA-approved hotel.

If you are house hunting, or in the middle of a home purchase, many commands will give service members and their families 60 days of TLA.  Service members may request more time if needed. 

Transporting Your Vehicle POV to Hawaii – Options based on your situation

As some service members may already know, the military will only pay to ship one POV at government expense.  Many families have two cars, which poses the question: what do I do now?  I would recommend looking at this situation and considering three options.

First, if you have an older vehicle that’s worth less than $5,000 dollars, consider selling it prior to your PCS.  You can often find an older car here on Oahu that may cost a little more than it would in the states, but will still be less expensive than shipping your old car.  Craig’s List or the on-post vehicle sales lots (“Lemon Lots”) are great options.

Second, if you have a newer second vehicle, you may want to ship it to Hawaii yourself.  If you are not stationed on the West Coast, you could drive your vehicle to one of the ports and save yourself anywhere from $250 to $1,500 dollars.  From ports in the west coast, you can expect to be charged approximately $750 to $1,000 for transport charges to Hawaii and wait anywhere from two weeks to over a month, depending on the weather, schedule, and season and location you are moving from.  Summer PCS season is a busy time for the transport companies!

Third, you can hire a full service transportation company to pick up your vehicle and ship it to Hawaii.  They may also require you to drop it off near your current location.  The price for this service depends on the type of the vehicle and from where you are shipping it.  This process may take anywhere from four to eight weeks.

For a quote, visit pashahawaii.com

For Military Shipped POVs: Once you arrive on Oahu, contact the Vehicle Processing Center at Horizon Lines to arrange for pickup.

Horizon Lines Terminal (0730-1630): 855.389.9499 / 1601 Sand Island Parkway Pier 51-B, Honolulu, HI 96819-4357

Firearms Registration- You must register your firearms within 3 day

Upon receipt of your HHG, military members must register their firearm(s) with the state of Hawaii and the installation on which you plan to live, if you intend to reside on post/base.  Honolulu Police Department (HPD) requires firearms to be registered within three days of receipt of your shipment.  Failure to register your firearm(s) could result in a felony possession of firearms charge.  Service members must physically bring their unloaded firearm(s) to the Firearms Division of HPD for inspection, along with HHG paperwork, proper identification and proof of ownership.  You will also be fingerprinted ($16.50 fee), photographed and placed on the FBI watch list.

If you plan on living in military or privatized base housing, you must register the firearm with the base security office.  You will need to bring your military ID card, proof of HPD firearm registration, and proof of residence.  You can refer to Oahu’s Military Directory (808) 449-7110 for additional registration information.

Registering Your POV- Take advantage of the Non-Resident Certificate Form

If you ship your POV, you have 30 days to register it with the Hawaii Department of Motor Vehicles.  Visit the Hawaii Department of Motor Vehicles Information webpage for additional information.

If you are not a resident of Hawaii, ensure you take advantage of the Non-Resident Certificate form.  Non-resident active duty military personnel must submit a properly completed Non-Resident Certificate, Form CS-L (MVR) 50, for each registration, renewal, or transfer transaction. Form CS-L (MVR) 50 and Form CS-L (MVR) 50A are available through your S-1 or Military Personnel Office.  Your unit can provide additional information.

In order to register a POV, you must first have a Hawaii Auto Insurance policy and pass the Hawaii State Safety Inspection.  Like other states, most auto-centers have Hawaii State Safety Inspection services.  I would highly recommend asking someone at your unit for a reputable auto shop and call ahead to verify.  Once your POV passes inspection, and you have the Non-Resident Certificate, you’re ready to head to the DMV.  The lines at the DMV can be unusually long, so plan appropriately.  You will need cash or a check; the DMV doesn’t accept debit or credit cards.

Note on Hawaii State Laws:  Driving and talking on your cell phone without a Bluetooth device is against the law!  Passengers are allowed to sit in the back of a pickup truck bed only when all the seats are already utilized inside the truck cabin. Motorcycle riders are not required to wear helmets while off base; however, while on installation, helmets and other protective safety gear are required.

Schools and Child Care- Do your research

GreatSchools.org s an excellent resource that can provide you with school ratings and performance metrics.  Some families decide to send their children to private schools, which can be very expensive.  Childcare is also quite costly so check with your installation’s Child Development Centers (CDC) for availability.  If your CDC does not have availability, each service has its own childcare assistance program. Click below for more information.

Homeschooling is also popular on Oahu and there are various homeschooling networks; consider conducting a simple online social media search for more information. 

Understanding Your BAH, and COLA – COLA is calculated Every Two Weeks

It is important to understand your pay and tax-free subsidies prior to making an educated decision on housing. Hawaii’s Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is often confusing for people moving here because Hawaii is considered an overseas assignment. Below are some quick facts to help you understand how it works.

  • BAH- BAH is tax-free money for service members to house themselves and family members.  BAH rates are based on grade and whether or not you have dependents.  Once you arrive on island, your Hawaii BAH should begin on the day you sign in to your unit.  If the BAH rate drops during your tour in Hawaii, you will be grandfathered in at your previous higher BAH rate.  If the BAH rates rise, your BAH rate will increase to the higher rate. 
  • COLACOLA is a tax-free allowance to help service members and their families off-set the high cost of living in Hawaii.  COLA rates are based on pay grade, years of service, and number of dependents.  COLA rates are calculated every two weeks.  If you use the below COLA Calculator, understand that it is only half a month of COLA.

Housing- Rent, Base Housing or Purchase

When PCSing to Hawaii, military and their families have three options. They can purchase a property on the market, rent a home off installation, or live in on-base/post housing or other privatized military quarters.  I, personally, have done all three.

Renting Off Base – There are a few perks to renting a property off post. First, you are off installation and get to leave your place of work at the end of the day (hopefully). Second, as long as you pay the rent, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything else except paying for utilities.  Third, unlike post/base housing, you can chose where on the island you would like to live (assuming you find something in your price range).

The downside of renting a property off base can make it very challenging for you and your family if you aren’t careful.  First, finding a rental property can be difficult, especially during the high-volume PCS seasons (summer and winter).  Second, the rates for renting homes are quite high and continue to rise with the housing market. When I rented a home in Mililani in 2014, my rent increased by $100 every year.  You may also be required to pay the first month of rent and a deposit.  Third, if you are PCSing for a three-year tour, like most service members, you may have to move to another rental property if the homeowner decides to sell the property.  Due to the rising home prices, homeowners are increasingly deciding to sell their rental properties.  Fourth, homeowners may charge a significant amount for a pet deposit or may not allow pets in their home.  This often makes the rental search more challenging and typically raises the cost of renting for service members with pets. Fifth, by Hawaii State Law, if the homeowner doesn’t live on Oahu, they must have a property manager.  This can be challenging for home repairs and communicating with the homeowners.

Base Housing – Most services have moved to privatized base housing, which means a for-profit company operates the housing.  Oahu base housing is often recognized for its long wait lists and for charging full BAH.  Some housing locations even control A/C usage and other amenities.  I highly recommend researching the available housing communities prior to putting your family on the wait list.  Facebook and other social media are great resources for seeing how current service members feel about their on-base housing experience. Living close to work and on post amenities is definitely an advantage, and installation housing can be pet friendly as well.

Purchasing a Home – If you would like to invest in yourself and not invest your BAH in base housing or rental properties, buying a home is a fantastic option.  The best time to buy a home is when you first PCS to Oahu.  Military members and their families are usually allowed ten days of “Permissive TDY” for “house hunting” and up to 60 days of TLA to look for and purchase a home, depending on the service member’s Chain of Command.  Most of my service member clientele have utilized their permissive TDY after they in-process with their unit.  Purchasing a home using the VA loan is a great option and the cost of using your VA loan is less than most people estimate.  Please read below for a few VA loan facts.

Honolulu Board of Realtor FACT: Median price of a home on Oahu in 1985 was $158,600. In July 2015, the median price of a house was $710,000. Based on historical sales data, values double every 10-15 years on Oahu.

  • Oahu’s current VA loan benefit limit is set at $721,050.  This means, if pre-approved for a VA loan, a service member/ veteran can buy a home at 0% down up to $721,050.  If a service member intends to use more than the $721,050 limit, a down payment of 25% is required of the difference.  The county limit is $1.5 million dollars. 
  • If you’ve already used your VA loan in another location, you may still have enough eligibility to purchase a property here on Oahu.
  • When using your VA loan, you will NOT be required to pay Mortgage Insurance, the VA loan rates have lower interest rates, and there is a lower credit score requirement.

Another misconception service members have is in regards to their buying power using their monthly BAH.  Please click the below button for a chart to better explain buying power.

Homes on Oahu usually sell very quickly and our market moves much faster than most housing markets on the mainland.  This is great for homeowners selling their homes.  I explain this to service members when they are worried about selling their home in the future.  I invite potential homebuyers to research the housing market and see the increasing home values, especially on the Westside or “Leeward” side of the island. 

Contact me for more information about the past and current housing market.  I can also send you a list of great VA Loan specialists that can provide you more information and get you started on researching your home loan options.

Mahalo! 

I truly hope this guide helps you and your family in preparing for your upcoming PCS to the island of Oahu. If you have any questions about your upcoming PCS, please contact me and I’ll be more than happy to assist you.  The island of Oahu is a beautiful place to live and there are so many great places to see and explore.  Please be mindful of the land and people.  Help keep Hawaii beautiful and take advantage of your time here.  Now, its time to get motivated and excited about your upcoming PCS!

Additional Resources

VA Loan Guide

BAH Chart

Great Places to Hike