When you receive orders to PCS to Germany, there’s a bit more on the to-do list than usual. Doing it alone is stressful enough, but if you have a family, a pet, a spouse (or soon-to-be spouse!), then your to-do list gets longer. And once you arrive, there’s even more that needs to be done, all while jet lagged.
Plus, as any spouse knows, trying to get any information from your soldier is futile. But don’t worry – we’ll outline the basics for you on what to expect when moving to Grafenwoehr, Germany with the military.
*Although this guide may seem specific to Grafenwoehr/Vilseck Army bases, the fundamental “PCS principles” can be applied to ALL US military bases in Germany.
What You Need to Know Before Arriving in Germany
Some of these items are requirements, while others are just suggestions. Either way, we recommend taking care of these things before you PCS to Germany!
COVID-19 Update: Bavaria News has current information about infection rates and travel guidance throughout the area.
Passport and States of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stamp
Already making your travel plans? Check out our top 10 destinations to visit when you PCS to USAG Bavaria!
You will also receive a no-fee passport with a SOFA stamp. You cannot use this passport for traveling! This passport legally permits you to reside in Germany as a dependent of a military member.
As of 2020, if you don’t receive your SOFA stamp before leaving the States, you’re legally allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days without it. But it is best to have the SOFA stamp before moving to Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) issues IDs to family members and keeps track of the benefits they qualify for. Your family should already be enrolled before you PCS to Germany.
And they will need to make an appointment to update their information once they arrive at Grafenwoehr. The ID office is located in Building 244. As of 2019, this pre-arrival check list will tell you which documents you need for your appointment.
Tricare and EFMP screening
The Grafenwoehr health clinic has limited options and services, and so the U.S. Army requires families to have an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) screening. This ensures that you and your family will have the necessary medical resources while abroad.
We highly recommend you do this sooner rather than later. If it turns out you have a condition that the OCONUS clinics can’t treat, they may not be able to PCS to Germany.
Pro-tip: Join some Facebook groups before arriving. I recommend A Perfect PCS to Germany, Grafenwoehr Vilseck Military Spouses, Grafenwoehr/Vilseck Army Wives, and Bavaria Army Wife Travelers if you live at USAG Bavaria. Ramstein/KMC Spouses and Ramstein AB Spouses are great for those who PCS to K-Town!
If you plan to drive in Germany, your U.S. driver’s license cannot be expired. Once you pass the written exam at Building 301 (where you will also have your car inspected), you will receive a license that is only valid if your U.S. driver’s license is current.
Arrival in Germany: The First 48 Hours
The first few days you PCS to Germany will be a whirlwind. But the better informed you are, the better prepared you can be!
Landing in Germany
The Patriot Express will land at Ramstein Air Force Base, which will be a 4 to 6-hour drive from Grafenfwoehr (also spelled Grafenwöhr if you’re using a German keyboard). After a bit of paperwork and processing, you will either go to the hotel on post, or a hotel in a nearby town. And you’ll be exhausted.
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First, you made your way to Baltimore airport, then you probably sat in BWI waiting because the flight is delayed for one reason or another. And once you arrive at Ramstein, you’re not sure what time of day it is, you’re 80 percent sure you have all your own luggage and children, and then you wait around for another hour (or maybe just 15 minutes?) before you finally make it to your hotel room.
But you’re very jet lagged, so you’re too stressed about missing your alarm for breakfast and the bus to take you to Grafenwoehr. Or maybe you’re not stressed at all, in which case, good for you.
Arriving in Grafenwoehr
The bus ride from Ramstein to Grafenwoehr is long, and no one I’ve met has ever reflected on it fondly. After the hellish journey previously described, sitting in a metal can with 30 other people crawling down the autobahn is…not relaxing. (Unless you’re able to sleep through the whole ride.)
When you finally arrive to Grafenwoehr, you’ll go to the Welcome Center in Building 244 (which will essentially be your home base for the next two weeks). After some other announcements and paperwork, you’ll meet your sponsor – hopefully.
First contact with your sponsor
Your sponsor is someone in the unit who has been designated to help you adjust to life as an American in Germany. They’ve already jumped through the hoops and can offer insight into your current situation.
Since COVID, sponsors have also been responsible for showing you housing options so you can quarantine at home when you arrive. Want a head start? Learn all about the housing communities on/off post in our FULL military housing guide!
Ideally, you’ve been in contact with your sponsor, who has at least set up your hotel reservation and your APO mailbox. If they’re unresponsive or non existent, keep poking your gaining unit for a sponsor to help you with this!
They will need a copy of your orders (or signed offer letter if you’re a civilian contractor) to open up the mailbox. Once the box is set up, you can start sending items to yourself (max weight is 70lbs per shipment for Grafenwoehr).
*Quarantined personnel can now request mail delivery once you arrive.
And they’re supposed to meet you at the Welcome Center because you won’t have a car and you need to get your luggage to your hotel. Plus, you won’t have a German SIM card yet, so you can’t call a taxi.
Pro tip: Install WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger before leaving the States. As of 2020, they are the most common forms of instant messaging internationally. You don’t necessarily need cell phone service to use them – just a wireless connection, which you should have at the Welcome Center.
Check in to your hotel
Hopefully you were able to secure a reservation at Army Lodging on post. We say “hopefully” because it will make your life easier, not because it’s a luxurious accommodation. (Although the staff is extremely friendly and they have freshly baked cookies every day!)
Pro tip: Army Lodging almost always has job vacancies. For a spouse or family member looking for a job on post, consider checking USA Jobs for any openings – the location you want to search is “Grafenwohr” (no umlaut).
If you’re not staying at Army Lodging, you’ll (hopefully) be in a Gasthaus in Grafenwoehr. They’re certainly different from American hotels, but they’re nice nonetheless. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re moving during the summer, there is no air conditioning.
Alternatively, you can stay in the cabins at the Wild Bavaria Outdoor Adventure and Recreation (B.O.A.R.) Center. While they are technically located in the Grafenwoehr Training Area (GTA), you will still need to go through the I.D. check to come onto main post.
Looking for something to eat? There are plenty of restaurants in Grafenwoehr that are walking distance from your hotel!
A Note About Vilseck
If you are assigned to Vilseck, you will still go to Grafenwoehr. In fact, most of your in-processing activities will take place at Grafenwoehr. And while this guide to PCSing to Germany refers to Grafenwoehr, it also applies to anyone moving to Vilseck.
You will quickly learn that, while Vilseck and Grafenwoehr are two different towns, the entire base is considered the Grafenwoehr Training Area. As of 2022, most events and activities take place at Grafenwoehr, the PX is better, the gym is bigger, and there are more restaurants. But Vilseck has Dunkin’ Donuts and a furniture store, so that’s considered a win.
Pro tip: Looking for a ride? Take advantage of all the transportation services, including the free shuttle bus that goes to/from Rose Barracks & Tower Barracks, Netzaberg, and all the other convenient locations around the Garrison. You’ll also find information on public transportation options, car rentals, and taxis.
The “Tank Trail” connects the two posts, and it takes about 20 minutes to get from one to the other. In the first few weeks, you will need to take the free shuttle bus, or hopefully your sponsor can drive you to where you need to go (that’s also part of their responsibilities).
PCS to Germany: You arrived! Now what?
First, congratulate yourself – you survived.
The next few weeks will be full of orientations, house hunting, local exploration, job searching, lack of sleep, and boredom. But if you follow our checklist, your PCS to Germany will be smooth sailing! Next up: shipping a car overseas…