A big reason why many people sign up to serve Uncle Sam is for the opportunity to see the world. Travel gets expensive fast, so being paid to experience a new country and culture is a pretty sweet gig.
With that said, not all duty stations are created equal, and one person’s paradise may be another’s hell. Everyone will have different work environments and life experiences. For those of you preparing for an OCONUS PCS, check out our 12 tips for a painless PCS.
(And for those of you with animals, here’s a guide on the tricky process of PCSing overseas with pets).
If you look at the military as your chance for grand adventure, these are our top 10 overseas bases to be stationed at:
10. Camp Fuji — Japan
Camp Fuji might just be the Marine Corps’ best kept secret. While there are some other Marine stations in Japan, this one is situated at the base of Mt. Fuji, near the little town of Gotemba. It has beautiful sights of the volcano, and a rich Japanese military history (yes — samurai!)
Fuji is simply too small to maintain family housing, so this is more of a solo station for younger Marines. It serves as a combined arms training area, with more than 34,000 acres, and even a place to practice beach landings. The approx. 200-strong group of Marines stationed there stay busy with maneuvers, volunteer programs, and the ever-popular “Fuji Night” at the Roadhouse Enlisted Club.
The good thing about such a small installation is the tight-knit community that grows from it.
9. Fort Buchanan — Puerto Rico
As a U.S. territory that’s super close to home (in fact, in the same timezone as the east coast), PR can be your “home away from home”. Friends can even visit you without a passport.
However, you won’t be getting San Juan confused with your hometown. It boasts otherworldly rainforest hikes and waterfalls, stunning beaches, and the third-largest cave system in the world. Scuba-diving, snorkeling, and all other water sports are popular activities.
The food is very typically tropical, and always fresh. In fact, you may never eat at an Ivar’s again after being stationed here. One thing to be aware of is hurricanes. They do happen, and PR was very recently ravaged by one that killed nearly 3,000 people.
8. Ramstein Air Base — Germany
Ramstein AB is one of 36 American military bases in Germany. This means that there is a HUGE military presence in Ramstein, which is almost its own “little America”. This base is also located near Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and around 30 minutes from the French border.
Besides the military presence, another benefit of being stationed in Germany is the proximity to many other European countries, such as France, Italy, Austria and Poland. The opportunities for travel are endless. Ramstein also boasts incredible vineyards, beer gardens and regional breweries, with a great transit system to shuffle you from destination to destination.
A downside to German culture is that it can come off cold and rather blunt at times, but the area around Ramstein itself is very friendly to Americans. Much like our Pacific Northwest, German winters are dull, grey and chilly.
7. RAF Lakenheath — England
Much different from the other regions represented on this list is Suffolk, England. It’s situated about an hour outside London, and a round-trip to Scotland can be easily made within one day. RAF Lakenheath is a Royal Air Force station that hosts U.S. Air Force personnel, including the 48th Fighter Wing.
Housing is known to be top-notch at Lakenheath, as it’s newer and updated. Though you can travel to bigger cities, Suffolk itself is a quiet, countryside town, so you really get to choose the kind of experience you have stationed here. Go to Cambridge for excitement and entertainment, or stay in Suffolk and enjoy small eateries and local pubs.
A downfall of RAF Lakenheath is the weather in England. It’s drab and rainy much of the time, and not particularly warm outside of summer.
6. Fort Buckner — Japan
Unlike the rural area of Camp Fuji, Fort Buckner is located on the exciting island of Okinawa. With beautiful and exotic sea life, lush greenery, and classic Japanese architecture, Okinawa gives soldiers a real taste of life in Japan.
There are a ton of military bases in Okinawa, so your chances of getting stationed there are pretty high compared to, say, Spain. The biggest thing to get used to is just how different it is from the States. Everything is smaller — the housing, vehicles and city space. Food is expensive, like with all islands. The people are almost always extremely polite and respectful, which may be a shock depending on where you’re from.
Basically, you just have to make the most of it. There’s no reason to move to a foreign country if you just want another version of America. Seize opportunities to travel to other Asian countries, and enjoy the beautiful beaches and local cuisine Japan has to offer.
5. Army Garrison Yongsan — South Korea
For soldiers who like city living, this is one of your few opportunities to experience it from an Army post. Seoul, South Korea is a big, impressive metropolis, with towering high-rises and advanced public transit. They are also incredibly technologically advanced — with apartments that lock electronically, have wired intercom systems, and heated floors. Literally.
If you like the city, you also probably enjoy nightlife, and should spend time in the Itaewon district. There are also parks and museums that are more family-oriented. Overall, there’s lots of activities, and an amazing food scene that will make you never want to leave.
Unfortunately, there are plans to return the 630-acre installation’s land to the South Korean government. They are set to kick off in July 2020, though the transition will likely take awhile. If you want to experience Yongsan, go now!
4. Naval Station Rota — Spain
Rota is a coastal town on the southernmost tip of Spain. It is known for its beaches, calm waters and bustling boardwalk. On-base living is similarly attractive, with features like a drive-in movie theatre and an aquatic center.
Gibraltar, Cadiz, Portugal and Morocco are within a few hours’ drive, so TAKE ADVANTAGE! This little area is called “the Florida of Europe”. A drawback is the amount of tourists, but there’s something for everyone in Rota, whether you like nightlife or a quiet day on the beach.
Living in Spain can come with quirks; the slow pace of the locals, and the lack of skin coverage are big adjustments from America. But with short winters, and coastal summers topping off at almost 100 F, who can blame them?
3. Naval Air Station Sigonella — Italy
Located on the Mediterranean, NAS Sigonella calls Sicily its home, a 10,000 square mile Italian island (the largest in the Med Sea). It is literally called the “Hub of the Med”. Divided into two bases — the NAS I and NAS II — it is one of the best personnel support facilities in the area.
Sicily is a storied island that has overseen ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, German, Spaniard, French and Austrian influences. You can still find Roman and Greek amphitheatres, temples and baths. There is no shortage of pristine beaches — both black and white sand — and even an active volcano that you can hike into.
Some other perks: great wine, great weather, and great schools. DoDD schools are some of the best, and there’s even a Navy Campus representing several universities.
Some stuff to watch out for: crazy Italian drivers and roads, and eye irritation due to the volcanic dust from Mt. Etna. Respiratory conditions like asthma may also act up.
2. Andersen Air Force Base — Guam
Along with Naval Base Guam, Andersen AFB offers a new perspective of the little island of Guam. It’s a U.S. territory, with English as the predominate language… and it’s also in the middle of nowhere; 3,300 miles west of Hawaii, and 1,500 miles east of the Philippines.
Many who have been stationed there laud its gorgeous beaches and picture-perfect weather. The water is almost always swimmable and crystal-clear. And besides just beaches and ocean, there are tons of challenging hiking trails, waterfalls, and jungle scenery.
Andersen AFB itself is critical to military operations, being the only Western Pacific base that can permanently hold heavy strategic bombers like the B-1B, B-2, and B-52. Housing is a bit older and smaller, as can be expected outside the U.S. Living on an island can also be difficult cost-wise, due to everything having to be shipped in.
Temperatures on this island stay between 75 F and 88 F ALL YEAR, with a high percentage of humidity.
1. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay — Greece
This installation is listed at number one simply because Crete, Greece is way too cool not to. However, let’s get one BIG downside out of the way: NSA Souda Bay almost exclusively houses unaccompanied sailors, meaning families are a no-go.
Crete is an island off Greece that is the site of Europe’s earliest recorded civilization, the Minoan people (2700-1420 BC). It is both historically and culturally rich, as Greece’s largest and most populous island. The best thing about this hub is that there’s always something to do. Explore ancient chapels, ruins and museums; get a taste for fresh cuisine; and make some friends with the locals, who are known to be friendly (and commonly speak English).
Aesthetically speaking, it doesn’t get much better than Greece, with rolling green hills, bright blue ocean, staggering coastlines, and unique architecture. The beach of Elafonissi glows bright pink in the sun.
Crete is known for its mild, rainy winters and hot summers. The minimum temperature hovers around 48 F in January, and it gets as hot as 84 F in July.