Moving to a foreign country like Germany can provide some unique challenges such as finding housing, picking out cell phone plans, and figuring out what to do with your four-legged friends. This guide will help you plan ahead so you can get to lifting that stein of crisp pilsner as soon as possible. Prost!
Do you plan to live on or off base?
If you’re still debating, here are a couple of tools to help you. The DoD has a handy Overseas Housing Allowance calculator to discover what you’re authorized monthly for housing and utilities. Keep in mind, that unlike living off base stateside, you aren’t able to pocket your excess housing pay if you don’t use the full amount. You will also have to get your rental agreement approved by the military housing office before you begin receiving your OHA. If your housing is not approved, you won’t get paid, so don’t sign a rental agreement until you get the all-clear from housing.
If you plan on living on base, you’ll need to complete an application ahead of time for you and your family. You’ll also want to check the requirements based on your branch of service. For example, Army E-5s and below are required to use on-base housing. If you’re in the Air Force, housing regulations don’t apply to you. Keep in mind the base housing is often significantly smaller than what you’re used to stateside, so plan what household goods you’ll take with you carefully.
If you’re more adventurous and plan to rent housing in the local community, Service Credit Union has an international bill pay service that simplifies paying rent, utilities, or other housing-related fees in the local currency. Setting up a banking account with Service CU is simple, and all their services are accessible via mobile app or online, so you can easily set up one-time or recurring payments with low fees. This way you don’t have to hassle with ATMs (and high exchange fees) or visit the finance office for a cash advance. They also offer third party renters’ insurance, which is an absolute must if you’re renting.
Traveling with pets
There is good news and bad news when it comes to taking your pets with you to your new duty station.
First, the bad news. Germany has very serious breed restrictions, meaning any “bully breed” dogs, such as pit bulls, American Staffordshire Terriers, or Bull Terriers are classified as dangerous dogs and are subject to local restrictions. However, if you can prove your dog is a service animal, local authorities can make exceptions. German customs has a helpful webpage with more information about dangerous dogs.
The good news is that Germany does not require incoming animals to be quarantined, provided they are microchipped, up to date on rabies vaccinations, and come with a certificate of health from a veterinarian. The USDA has an online guide for traveling with your pet to Germany if you want more information.
Shipping your vehicle
The military allows you to ship one vehicle on their dime, unless you’re a dual military couple, in which case you can each ship a vehicle. Getting your car shipped overseas requires some planning ahead and it can take 30 days or more for it to reach your destination. It’s worth keeping in mind that gas on the economy is much more expensive in Germany, so if you aren’t driving a fuel-efficient car or purchasing fuel on base through AAFES, you might reconsider selling or storing your current vehicle and investing in something more economical for your time abroad.
If you decide to ship your vehicle, you’ll need to drop it off at a Vehicle Processing Center (VPC), by appointment only. There are only 38 sites nationwide, so you may have to drive a couple hundred miles or so. Your car will need to be clean, vacuumed, and free of personal items or accessories that aren’t part of the vehicle, with the exception of a car jack and tire iron. There are some required documents you’ll need to have on hand, which are available here. US Transportation Command has an online manual with everything you need to know about prepping and shipping your vehicle.
If you do decide to purchase a local vehicle, Service CU also has auto loan options for new and used vehicles, including motorcycles and campers. A website like Military AutoSource can help you find a new or used vehicle and deliver it directly to you.
International driving permit
Before you leave U.S. soil, you and any licensed driver in your household over the age of 18 will want to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). AAA and AATA are the only two entities inside the U.S. that can issue these permits and you will need to apply for them while you’re still stateside. IDPs are valid in 150 different United Nations countries for one year from issue date, so you can cruise through the EU without worry. If you’ve already moved overseas, you can still get an IDP, it just may take longer to receive it. You can apply for one here.
Provisions under NATO allow military service members and their dependents with U.S. drivers’ licenses to obtain an international driving permit, known as the U.S. Forces Certificate of License. If you’re Army, you may hear it called the US Army in Europe (USAEUR) license. To get this, you’ll have to access your Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) account with your CAC and take the certificate course. Your on-base transportation or licensing office will then conduct a drivers’ test and issue you your permit. There’s a handy 98-page manual for the German test you should read ahead and get familiar with traffic laws.
Service CU has several international banking services to make your purchases secure and stress free. They are part of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) initiative, which allows you to make payments from your Service CU bank account directly to any institution within the European Union. Service CU also participates in a network called V Pay, which replaces credit and debit cards, since many European retailers don’t accept them. Your V Pay card connects to your Service CU bank account, allowing you to make secure purchases across the SEPA. You’ll be able to move relatively freely (currency-wise) within the EU, removing the hassle of having to exchange cash or Euros or incur hefty exchange fees if you withdraw money at an ATM.
Or if you decide you want to refinance your current loan, they offer those services as well.
Cell phone service
There are a few options for keeping you connected while you’re in Germany. Most major American cell-service providers have add-on international plans, which may or may not come at a hefty price. More often than not, you’ll compromise speed for the convenience of an international plan. For example, certain providers offer you unlimited data, texting, and calling, but only on a 3G network.
Some people prefer to enter into a cell phone contract through one of the major providers such as Telekom (a T-Mobile company), O2, or Vodafone. Conveniently, German cell plans allow you to roam throughout the EU without extra charges. Make sure you pay attention to the terms of the contract so you’re not saddled with payments long after you’ve left Germany.
If you’ve got an unlocked SIM phone, you might prefer to play it fast and loose by purchasing prepaid SIM cards, which are available at convenience stores and groceries. Or, you can enter into a SIM contract, which provides you with month by month services, depending on what level you purchase.
The European Union is rich in culture, tradition, and history, and Germany sits at the heart of it. Within a day’s drive of Germany, depending on where you’re stationed, you can find the Swiss Alps, Paris, The Netherlands, or even London. If driving doesn’t appeal to you, many people prefer to travel by train across the EU. Hit up your first real Oktoberfest, visit one of Germany’s thousands (yes, thousands) of castles, or tour the oldest brewery in the world, founded nearly 1,000 years ago. The possibilities for travel are endless, so make the most of your time overseas and explore all that Europe has to offer.
Many Germans also speak some English, but it’s always helpful (and frankly, considerate) to try and learn some conversational German. If you’re self-motivated, a book like Speak German in 90 Days might be a good place to start. Or, if guided learning is more your style, Duo Lingo has online-based mini lessons to help you start to learn German.
Moving overseas has potential to be an incredibly exciting change. Germany and Europe have so much to offer – delicious food, travel, historic sites, and endless opportunities for new experiences. Take the stress out of the move by exploring your options and planning ahead. Gute Reise!
This article is sponsored by Service Credit Union