The McGuire Commissary at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., won the Director's Award as DeCA's Best Superstore.

Commissaries and Exchanges

Love paying sales tax and full price? Right. Who does? Fortunately, you've got a sweet inside deal — the military exchange system, with tax-free shopping and discount goods and services.

Every service branch has its own exchange system — either a post exchange or PX, or a base exchange or BX — and they're all operated separately. But if you're eligible to shop at one, you can shop at any of them:

 

Service branch

For info and locations

Army and Air Force Exchange Service
or AAFES

Shop My Exchange and AAFES store locator

Marine Corps Exchange or MCX

My MCX and MCX store locator

Navy Exchange Service Command
or NEX

My Navy Exchange and NEX store locator

Coast Guard Exchange or CGX

CGX and CGX store locator

 

Why shop the exchange? Let's just count the reasons.

  1. You save cash. Shop tax-free. Get name-brand stuff for less than department store prices. Keep more of your hard-earned paycheck.
  2. Support your community. A large part of the profit from your exchange goes right back into the installation. The exchange system also employs a lot of military family members.
  3. Shop safely online. You can shop 24/7 through secure websites. Get free shipping on purchases over $49 when you use your Military STAR® credit card.
  4. Pay and return easily. Your exchange accepts all major credit cards, your Military STAR® card or personal checks (with an ID). And most exchanges have generous, no-headache return policies.
  5. Get all your uniform needs — everything from standard uniform needs to the perfect shade of shoe polish. Plus, gear and wear that shows your pride.
  6. Get special deals overseas. Discounts can make deployments easier, for example you'll save on calling cards. If you're stationed overseas for at least 30 days, you may be able to buy a car tax-free and ship it back to the U.S. at no cost.
  7. Everything. Electronics. Tactical gear. Clothes for everybody. Small to major appliances. Bath and personal care. Cellphones and computers. Fitness equipment and food gifts. You name it.

What's an exchange?

It's basically a retail store, typically set up like a department store or a strip mall with smaller shops and service vendors nearby. Many installations have an exchange, some with uniform shops, barbershops, laundry and dry cleaning, gas stations and convenience stores, fast food outlets, and lawn and garden shops.

Who can shop at an exchange?

You can shop at the exchange if you're in one of these groups:

  • Uniformed-service members (active, reserve or retired)
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Honorably-discharged veterans with 100 percent service-connected disability
  • Department of Defense civilian employees stationed outside the United States
  • Authorized family members
  • National Guard members not in federal status
  • Military members of foreign nations
  • Survivors

So what's the commissary?

Commissaries are basically your neighborhood grocery store, located on military installations worldwide.

  • The commissary sells food and household items almost at cost (plus 5 percent). That means, on average, you can cut nearly a third off your grocery bill, compared to in-town shopping.
  • Sometimes you'll save more, with savings of 50 percent or more during commissary special case lot sales.
  • Added bonus: stateside commissaries are rolling out in-store Wi-Fi so you can download digital coupons for even greater savings.

Who can shop the commissary?

Commissaries are exclusively for the benefit of service members and their families. Check here for details. Basically, you're in if you are:

  • A uniformed-service member (active, reserve, retired or in training).
  • A Medal of Honor recipient.
  • An honorably discharged veteran with 100 percent service-connected disability.
  • A Department of Defense civilian employee stationed outside the United States.
  • An authorized family member and survivors.

You don't have to be in uniform to shop, although sometimes it might get you head-of-line privileges.

The Defense Commissary Agency operates 240 commissaries, including those overseas. Check out their website, Commissaries.com. The site offers rewards cards, coupons, online ordering, curbside pickup, savings, sales events in communities for Guard/reserve members, and a lot more.

What's the Status-of-Forces Agreement and what does it have to do with military stores?

With this agreement, your legal status as U.S. military personnel is protected in your host nation. Your privilege to shop in military stores is almost always covered, but sometimes, as they say, "restrictions may apply" for you or your spouse. Here's why:

  • Sales might be restricted because products sold in overseas commissaries and exchanges pass across international borders, making them custom, duty and tax free (limiting them).
  • Depending on where you’re traveling, some agreements don’t allow you to buy rationed items.
  • Similarly, some agreements also impose a monthly spending cap, depending on your situation and family size.
  • Finally (not surprisingly), there are limits on items that could be resold on illegal markets outside the installation.

Where can I find out about regulations in my area?

Your military command usually publishes the military exchange and commissary regulations for your area. Or you can check with your installation pass and identification office.