Can I visit a military base?

by | Apr 12, 2018 | Military Life, New Military Spouse | 49 comments

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A military base can feel like a whole new world as soon as you pass through the base gate. But first you have to get through the gate. Here’s what you need to know the first time you visit a military base.

My first military friend was a girl I met in high school. I was a civilian who had spent zero time thinking about the military for my first 16 years of life. When a new girl joined our class, I was fascinated to learn that she lived at a nearby military base. She invited me to visit her house, but told me I would have to stop at the gate so she could meet me and escort me onto the base. She drove with us past brick buildings and houses that all looked the same. She said funny things like, “there’s the PX, I love shopping there. And that’s the Commissary.” I didn’t know what she was talking about, so it was a bewildering experience!

Now I can laugh at my teenage confusion. I have spent the past six years living on military bases. Before that, we lived off-base in two other states. Base buildings and resources no longer confuse me and I have learned enough lingo to find my way around. Now my family and friends are the ones who are confused when they visit a military base!

Your first visit to a military base may be when you attend a Homecoming ceremony to meet your service member after deployment. Or it could be when your military boyfriend lives in the barracks or your girlfriend invites you to visit her on base. Either way, there are some unique things you should know before your first visit to a military base.

Here are the rules for visiting a military base.

How to visit a military base as a civilian

Most military bases have multiple gates, and each one has armed guards. To enter a military base, you must show your dependent ID card (if you are a military spouse) or have a military sponsor (your service member.) A service member can sponsor non-military guests on base. But they will need to either fill out a sponsorship form in advance or meet you in person at the gate.

  • If you are the passenger in their car, you simply need a driver’s license. A military service member or spouse can sponsor one guest in their own vehicle, as long as that person has valid photo ID.
  • To bring your own car on base, the service member will need to request a base pass, which should be done at least a week before you visit. They will need your full legal name, driver’s license number, address on driver’s license, and your birthday.  A pass is temporary and can only be used during the dates listed. When you arrive at the gate, you will have to show your driver’s license, which the guards will scan to see if you have a pass listed in the system. Be prepared to also show car registration and up-to-date insurance, since they are allowed to ask for that too. If you are driving a rental car, you may show the rental car paperwork.
  • Your sponsor will need to be with you most of the time you are on base. You aren’t able to do much without a sponsor or ID card.

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Things to know when you first visit a military base:

  • Dress code: Yes, there are dress code expectations on a military base, even for visitors and guests. These are posted at the public buildings and offices. Generally: flip flops, belly shirts, workout attire, and baseball hats should not be worn inside. Some bases enforce the rules more than others, but it’s best to not wear anything too revealing if you will visit any base buildings.
  • Flag ceremonies: Each morning on base, flags are raised at a short ceremony called Reveille (French for ‘wake up.’) If you are outside and hear bugle music, you should stop walking and face the nearest flag pole. Once the flag is raised, there is a quick bugle blast, then everyone is free to move again. The flags are all taken down at sunset, at a similar quick ceremony called Taps or Retreat. The same rules of respect apply.
  • Exchange: The Army and Marines call it a PX (Post Exchange), the Air Force calls it a BX (Base Exchange), and the Navy calls it an NEX (Navy Exchange). But it’s all the same–a department store located on base. This is similar to a Kohl’s or Target. You can find home goods, furniture, decor, clothing, shoes, gifts, etc. To purchase anything, you or your service member must show a military ID.
  • Base Housing: On some bases, housing areas are segregated by rank or number of children. The housing is for service members who are married. Many of the houses will look similar because they were all built at the same time. Some neighborhoods look like apartments, while others have single family homes.
  • Gas Stations: All military bases have at least one gas station. The prices there are always slightly lower than they are off base because the military negotiates unique prices with its vendors. You typically need to show a military ID card to pay.
  • Commissary: The Commissary is the base grocery store. Commissaries sell food tax-free, so it is usually a little cheaper than stores off base (depending where you live.) You need to wait in one long line to check out, and you must show a military ID card when you pay.
  • Gyms: Military bases have excellent gyms which are available to all service members and their families. There is usually at least one main gym with great equipment and amenities, then there are smaller gyms located throughout base housing. Access is free, but you will need an ID card or your sponsor with you.
  • Movie Theatre: Each base has its own movie theatre, and it is WAY cheaper than theatres off base! Tickets are often $3 or $4, and the movies are new releases that are selected for their popularity in the young military community. Before each movie, the National Anthem plays.
  • Bowling Alley: Bases usually have a bowling alley too. There are bowling leagues, Family Nights, birthday parties, and teen nights. It’s a fun place to gather with friends on a weekend.
  • Chapels: The base chapel can be used for multiple religious services, and there are usually chaplains from several different religious backgrounds. Typical services include Catholic, Protestant, Gospel, Orthodox, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, and sometimes Muslim. A chaplain is also trained as a counsellor, so you can talk to them about all kinds of topics–marriage and divorce, anxiety, mental health, or abuse.
  • Hospital or Clinic: A base hospital serves all military families. Tricare health insurance covers visits to the base hospital for service members and ID card holders. If you do not have an ID, go off-base to an Urgent Care center or Emergency Room for any medical emergencies.
  • ITT Office: ITT stands for Information, Tickets, and Tours. They provide tickets to local attractions and events at a discounted rate for military members and families. If you are going to any show or amusement park, you can save money by getting tickets through them.
  • Bank: If you need an ATM, you can find some on base for local banks or for military banks like the Navy Federal Credit Union.
  • Family Center/ Community Activities: The military has an amazing amount of programs to support families. And most of them are completely free! There are classes to help you before, during, or after deployments. Community Services offers annual events to celebrate holidays, and they sometimes host guest concerts on base. You can find these events advertised on the base website.

Whether you first visit a military base for a day or a week, I hope you have a great visit and aren’t intimidated by the military world!

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49 Comments

  1. Rachel A Hill

    I just found your blog and hope you may be able to help me. My husband’s job just got contract for erosion control at the Little Rock Air Force Base, but we are unsure if he will be able to enter the base. He is a convicted felon, currently on parole. His company isn’t even sure if he can get the clearance to work there (non-violent, no current warrants). If you have any tips, I would greatly appreciate any advice. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Lizann

      I’m sorry, but the base gate guards require a background check before letting anyone on base, and a felon on parole would not be allowed access to the base. In some cases, an exception would be made if a sponsor with a valid military ID completed the paperwork for him and escorted him onto base as their guest. But he would not be allowed to drive through the gate on his own, even with a work contract. His company should probably contact the specific base for more details.

      Reply
    • Emma

      My friend and I are 17. She is a military dependent with an ID not living on base. We want to go to the Tim Hortons on base. She doesn’t drive so we would have my car. Can she get me on base?

      Reply
      • Lizann

        That depends on the gate guards. Be sure you have your car registration and insurance paperwork with you and up to date. They may ask you to stop by the visitor center and register before continuing on to the base.

        Reply
  2. JAZ

    Hey, I’ve visiting a friend you works as a marine in Cali and i’m visiting him in a few weeks. I was wondering if i’d be able to stay on base with him and how ?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Hi, thanks for reading! You can’t stay with him in the barracks, but if he lives in base housing you can. He would sponsor you as a guest. You should provide him your driver’s license number and address, and then he can go to the Pass and ID office in advance to get you a pass.

      Reply
      • Carolina

        Hello, I want to go to see my boyfriend, I have to pay for a gate fee to see a boyfriend inside base?

        Reply
        • Lizann

          No, there’s no fee! You just have to bring your driver’s license or valid ID. He can also meet you at the gate and escort you on.

          Reply
  3. SONIA M SCIPIO

    I have a guest that has a valid Mexican Consulate ID I just wanted to know if he is eligible to go in to the base for one day as a guest inside the military?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      I’m not sure about that particular situation. I would recommend asking a gate guard or calling that base Pass and ID office to check.

      Reply
  4. Lindsey

    I have a houseguest pass. My bff is having a baby at tripler and im supposed to bring her mother in law to visit. Does she have to get a day pass or will my pass cover her.

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Hmm, if she is the passenger and has a valid ID (driver’s license) she should be ok on your pass. But it would be best to check with the gate guards ahead of time.

      Reply
  5. Emily

    If you don’t want someone visiting you while you live on base can you or their spouse deny the person a pass? Long story short my husband just joined the Army and we dont get along with some of his family and we dont want certain people to visit.

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Yes, I suppose you can do that. I mean, civilians can’t get on base without a sponsor. But I would recommend he talk to them about it first and use that as a last resort.

      Reply
  6. Taylor Fox

    Hi I want to visit my boyfriend at A School and the only hotels are on base how would I go about making him, my sponsor?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      If he is not able to apply for your pass ahead of time (he would need your address and driver’s license number and to complete paperwork at the Pass/ID Office), then he could always meet you at the base gate and use his military ID to escort you onto base. Military ID holders are allowed to bring 1 guest onto the base. You don’t need a pass then, but you should be prepared to show your driver’s license if the gate guard requests it.

      Reply
      • Taylor Fox

        Does he have to stay with me at the hotel?

        Reply
        • Lizann

          He doesn’t have to, no. He may need to be there to check you in initially, but it is up to the unit leadership when he gets time off and where he is allowed to stay during that time.

          Reply
          • Vikki Smith

            I lost my new I’d and can’t get an earlier appointment at DMV but I have a cleaning job at a base in DC. I have all paperwork and an old expired id.Can I use it with birth certificate and social security card?

          • Lizann

            It will honestly depend on the gate guards and the current security levels at that base. Typically, they would ask you to pull into the visitor lane and go into the visitor center to show your paperwork. But with Coronavirus, I’m not sure if all visitor centers are operating full time. So you will just have to try and see what they say at the gate.

  7. Michele

    Hello, I have visited the Hale Koa Resort in Hawaii with a military friend at the time. Can civilians be sponsored by a military service man and stay at military installation without the service man being present?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      That hotel is a DoD resort, not a military installation. Yes, the service member needs to make the reservation and sign you in, because rooms are for military members and guests only. But once they sign you in I believe you can stay there without them.

      Reply
  8. Amanda Howe

    Hi I’m not sure whether rules change for US Military serving in the UK or not or whether the rules are different if it regards MP’s but I have never dated anyone in the military before and I am looking for some help with regards to visiting the barracks he is currently stationed at.

    He is an MP stationed at barracks in the UK currently, and I wondered whether I can visit him using the same rules re sponsors etc in your blog or whether things would be different. He has mentioned me talking to his Commanding Officer though.

    Any help would be gratefully received.

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Rules can vary for different countries, depending on the local agreement with the American government. It would be best to follow your boyfriend’s directions and speak to the CO or the gate guards at that particular base.
      Also, getting on base is one thing. Visiting the barracks is an entirely different set of rules and restrictions. So follow the directions they give you so you don’t get him in trouble.

      Reply
  9. Jenni

    I’m going to pick my son up for leave. I know I need my ID and car info (insurance/registration) but do I need any paperwork my 2yr old daughter?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      No, you should not need any extra paperwork for a young child. They are covered under your pass.

      Reply
  10. Ralph telles

    I am a retired army 1sg and I want to take my daughter and husband on to Camp Pendleton in my car. Will I be able to, also I will coming from New Mexico. Do I still get a pass 1 week ahead of time. Years ago it wasn’t that hard to get on base, why so hard now?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      If you still have a retired military ID card, it should be no problem to just drive on. Without an ID card it would be wise to request a pass ahead of time. Your daughter would just need a legal form of ID like a driver’s license. Sometimes they ask for it, but not always. I just give people the background for days of security check so they won’t be turned away or caught by surprise.

      Reply
      • Ralph Telles

        I have my ID, What about the daughter’s husband going in too. Can I take my small dog in also who is ceritfy as a emotional support animal fo PTSD reasons (he also has a ID) Thanks

        Reply
        • Lizann

          The dog should be fine. You would only need the service animal paperwork to get into certain buildings on base.
          Anyone in the car should have a valid form of ID (like a driver’s license). That is usually all that is needed if you have your retired military ID card.

          Reply
  11. Ralph Telles

    Thanks alot it will ease my mind.

    Reply
  12. Shaunita bensin

    Hi I have a boyfriend who is in the military and I need a pass to go see him. Where should I go to obtain one and how long does it take to get it? What information is needed? How long is the pass good for?

    Reply
    • Jeanmarie Andradez

      I’ve a friend in the Army. He’s stationed in Florida. He wants me to come and visit him. As I was getting ready to call the airline to make arrangements for my flight, he texted me that they’re asking him to pay 300.00 dollar’s so I can stay with him on base. Is this true? It just doesn’t seem right. This just sounds fishy.

      Reply
      • Lizann

        Have you ever met him before or seen him in video calls? Or is it possible he is part of the internet scam where people pose as service members and ask for money?
        Because no, there is no fee to stay with someone, and visitors are not allowed in the barracks at all. There is an Inn or Lodge type of motel on most military bases, and civilians can stay there if a service member makes the reservations. They are slightly cheaper than a regular hotel. But then you would need to go through the gate by yourself, so people usually make their guests reservations off base.
        So yeah, it sounds fishy and I would definitely ask more before doing anything!

        Reply
  13. grace

    Hi. I’m looking to visit my boyfriend in Japan. Am I able to make the reservation to stay at the hotel on camp fuji with him?

    Reply
  14. Anthony

    My wife and I have a friend whose husband is on deployment and she lives on base with her three children. It sounds like his deployment is going to last much longer than first expected and she is not coping well. Is their a way for local civilians to get a pass to check on them or help them out when needed, or does she just have to meet us at the gate every time?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Yes, you can stop by the Visitor Center near the gate and request a temporary pass. They may ask for her information to be on it the first time, but it can have a time limit that extends for several months before it needs to be renewed. After receiving the pass, you can go through the gate without her.

      Reply
  15. Ralph Telles

    Thank you for your advise. Had no problem going onto Camp Pendelton with just showing my Retired I.D. did not ask my daughter for I.D. They also showed me respect due my Rank.

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Wonderful, glad you had a good visit!

      Reply
  16. Claire

    I have newly got my spouse id card but i was wondering if i can use it to visit any base or does it have to be the one my husband is stationed at? We are currently in different countries and i haven’t used it to access the base here yet. Maybe i need someone to sign me in the first time?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      The dependent ID card is good anywhere! It doesn’t have the base listed on it, so it works for all bases, Commissaries, PX stores, etc.

      Reply
  17. Logan

    Hi I am currently dating a guy in the Air Force. We have been together all through high school and left after graduation for boot camp. Now that he is at a base I want to visit. I am 17 will it be an issue to visit him without an adult?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Age shouldn’t be a problem. Just have your driver’s license or other valid ID, and follow the instructions in the article. He can escort you on as his guest too.

      Reply
  18. joy

    First time visiting our son. He is single and lives in a dorm. Are parents allowed to sleep in their dorm for a 4 days visit? If so, what does he needs to do and how long it takes to process the approval? Can we go in and out of base without him?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Is he at a military academy? No, parents can’t stay in those dorms. If he is on a regular base they are called barracks. Visitors are not allowed overnight in the barracks either.
      There will be a military Inn or Lodge on base where he can make you a reservation at a discount rate. Or you can stay off base at a regular hotel or motel.

      Reply
  19. Stephanie Ortiz

    If my mom has a card for base and she wants to bring me as her plus one can we bring my children too the are 11, 4 and 2? For do we need to get a visitors pass for the kids?

    Reply
    • Lizann

      Minors should be able to accompany without any additional ID. So yes, kids are fine!

      Reply
  20. Joy

    My boyfriend stationed in Stuttgard Germany he wants me to visit him,what do I need to get on the base? I don’t know if it’s the same rules in Germany and here in the states.
    Thank you in advance

    Reply
    • Lizann

      There will be additional requirements in Germany–they may want your passport number, for example. He should be able to learn the requirements for hosting a visitor from the security office before your visit so you can both make the right arrangements.

      Reply

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