Geographic Bachelor-ing


I often get questions about people who are considering a geographic bachelor tour, and wondering about their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and their finances.  Geographic bachelor (or “geo-bach”) is the unofficial, slang term used when a military family chooses to have the family live in a different location from the service member.  The term does not apply when the military makes the decision to separate the family, such as when a service member has orders to a location that is not currently able to support family members.

For starters, remember that BAH is almost always based upon duty station for regular Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves.  From the website:

The policy decision to use duty location as a basis for BAH is based on the desire to compensate members for the typical housing cost near the member’s duty location. Once the duty station is known, the BAH compensation is fixed, regardless of where the member lives. Were the member’s residence location to be used as a basis for the allowance, there is the concern that this would cause a member to choose the residence location based on BAH. In some cases, this may lead to a member choosing to live further from the duty station, simply to receive higher BAH. In other cases, when a member commutes from/to a lower cost area, the members would find the BAH to be lower, even though the commuting expenses are higher. The Services decided to base the allowance on the duty location with the full knowledge that members would still be free to live where they choose, but that this decision would not affect the BAH amount.

Geographically separated families (geographic bachelors) are normally eligible for BAH based on the member’s duty station. Each Service budgets for support of a certain number of members and families at each location. If a growing number of people decide to leave their families in Washington, or Tampa while the member PCSs to Mt Home or Ft. Hood that could skew the budget and service support planning for these locations. Also, a fundamental philosophy of military service is that members, with their families, create a better work environment and esprit de corps when they can be active participants in the local base and community.

In years past, the services provided various levels of financial and organization support to geographic bachelors.  Several year ago, all five services have stopped offering free barracks space to geographic bachelors.  At this time, a rare few bases with excess rooms will let married members occupy either for free or at a cost.  Charges can vary, but average around $25 to $30 per day.  Those service members will also be required to vacate the barracks whenever asked, possibly with minimal notice.

Of course, there are always exceptions.  From the same Defense Travel website,

In certain circumstances, with specific approval of the Secretary of the Service concerned, a member may be granted an exception to receive BAH based on the dependent’s location. For example if a member has a sick child that requires medical attention only available in a certain location (say Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC), and the member receives a PCS order, the member might leave the family in Washington and request BAH eligibility for that location. Such exceptions do not ordinarily apply to spousal employment or other personal choices.

Unusual orders can also result in BAH for the family’s location.  For example, when my husband was stationed out of Norfolk, but physically in Africa, he received BAH for my family’s actual location because his orders fell under a particular designation that did not require us to PCS to Norfolk.

When considering geographic bachelor-ing, assume that the service member will receive BAH for their duty location and that the family will be supporting two households on their regular income.  The service member can then choose to seek housing on-base, get an apartment or share house, or buy an RV to live in.

Geographic bacheloring is rarely the economical choice, but there are times when a military family feels it is their best option.  Be sure you understand it thoroughly before making the decision.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • stephanie

    Moving to san diego after being stationed overseas. I receive BAH for the rate of my mothers home state. I am moving to san diego and wondered if I could live on base as an E3 and still receive BAH? If so, what instruction covers this policy?

    • bree

      Pretty sure that its only one or the other; live on base OR receive BAH

    • Kate

      Stephanie, why are you receiving BAH? Are you married, or is your mother your legal dependent? Once you return to the US, it is assumed that your dependents will live with you. Therefore, you will receive BAH at the rate for your duty station. You can ask if the command has any sort of accommodations for geographic bachelors (which is what you would be, sort of) but I would be surprised. You may be able to rent a barracks room for less than a space in town, but that would be up to the installation’s policies.

  • Rex

    Living in the barracks and receiving BAH at the same time is considered fraud. Cannot be done.

    • Kate

      Rex, that is not completely true. Plenty of people on unaccompanied tours receive BAH for their families and reside in the barracks at their unaccompanied location. In addition, installations are permitted to offer excess barracks space to those who are living separately from their family. It doesn’t happen often, but it is legal and it is not fraud.

  • Jessup

    Unless you are a geographical bachelor or on an unaccompanied tour …. then it can be done and it is in no way considered fraud. I have done it on multiple occasions with approval from the housing office, my command, and my servicing PSD. Everyone knew that my dependents were living in a different geographical location and I was still able to collect my full BAH and occupy a barracks room. I have included a link to CNIC INST 11103.5, please refer to enclosure 3 of the document “Eligibility and Assignment to Permanent Party Unaccompanied Housing” (begins on the 16th page)

  • Freeman

    what if you want to use your VA for this type of loan but you are no longer military. my wife just got a job in NC and I am still living in GA for several more months. We were told this is Trailing Spouse and not allowed but it looks like we could use Geographical Bachelor as long as it is our “family” primary residence. We don’t own a home in Ga, I will be renting an apartment until I move to NC. We want to buy so our kids can get settled in school for the start of the year and not have to change later from a rental to where ever we end up buying. Any thoughts??

    • Kate

      Freeman, a spouse is permitted to fulfill the occupancy requirements for a VA loan. This has nothing to do with geographic bachelor or trailing spouse, it is just a condition of a VA home loan.

      Any experienced VA home loan officer should know about this, or you can contact the VA for more information.

  • Natalia Toledo

    if iam a female soldier stationed at fort hood and my fiance is stationed in fort richardson would we be able to become geo bach after getting married?

    • Kate

      I’m not sure what you are asking when you say, “become geo bach.” Dual military couples who do not have other dependents and are not co-located are treated as single soldiers for purposes of BAH. This means that you will be subject to the same BAH rules as you were before your marriage. If your command authorizes BAH for your rank, then you will be authorized BAH. If your command does not authorize BAH for your rank, then you will probably not be authorized BAH. You can always put in a request, based upon your new marital status, but the command is not required to honor that request.

      • Natalia Toledo

        Do you know what a geographical bachelor is? If so do you know the process to be considered a “GEO BACH”? And im pretty sure i will not receive BAH because i woulbnt have a family to support but i would get seperation pay.

        • Kate

          Yes, I know what a geographical bachelor is, but there is no “process” because it isn’t an official thing. The term refers to any time a service member chooses to live separately from his or her non-military dependents. The military does not recognize this as an official status and it does not confer any benefits or allowances. It also does not apply to dual military couples.

          As I said above, the regs for BAH will not change because you marry. If you are not eligible for BAH now, you will not become eligible for BAH because you are married unless your command wants to permit an exception to policy.

          Dual military couples may receive Family Separation Allowance (FSA) only if they were previously stationed together as a married couple and one member receives orders to a different location. If you are not co-located at the time of your marriage, you would not be eligible for FSA.

  • Nick

    what is the determination for BAH if you go unaccompanied and your kids stay with your ex who lives next to your current duty station and your current wife goes back to her home state?

    • Nick

      Forgot to add, i do have joint custody.

      • Rico

        It depends on what is stated in your custody hearing. Local policy dictates wether you will rate BAH or not. i.e. A Marine PCSd to Camp Lejeune and his custody paper work said he got his kids 80 days out of the year. Well, he had BAH at his last duty station but lost it at his new one because local policy dictated 90 days or more to qualify for BAH. He was told generic or vague split/joint custody was not an acceptable paperwork.

      • Rico

        Also, he had to go through the paper work process to change the paperwork to reflect over the required amount…A huge headache between him and his ex.

  • Adel

    If my husband and I are stationed in Guam and moved but we decided that he would stay in Guam while i moved back to the states would he then be considered a geo-bach because i moved back? If so, how do we determine what BAH we would receive, BAH from Guam or BAH from San Diego (where i plan on moving/our home town), or none at all?

    • Kate

      Again, there is no official thing as a “geo-bach.” It is just a slang term for a service member who is living apart from his family. He will continue to receive overseas housing allowance (OHA) for Guam until he a) moves into the barracks, or b) PCSes from Guam. Such OHA will continue to be tied directly to the amount of rent being paid in Guam.

      If you apply for, and are granted, and Early Return of Dependents for reasons that benefit the government, you *might* be eligible to also receive BAH for San Diego. Howeve, ERDS are for situations such lack of medical care or lack of educational options and are not granted for personal preference.

      Moving back to the US without government sponsorship will be financially difficult. I don’t recommend it unless you have a really, really, really good reason. Many military families put themselves into financial trouble by making this decision without understanding all the implications.