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30 Things you MUST know Before PCSing to Germany with the US Military

stressed out about pcsing to germany

“PCSing to Germany was a breeze,” said No One. Ever.  

Moving to Germany

My wife and I arrived to Grafenwoehr Germany through the US military back in 2014 and haven’t looked back.  However, before we realized how incredibly rewarding it was to live and play in Europe, there’s 30 things you MUST know before getting here!  

Before we get into this list, you need to understand that prior to our arrival in 2014, there was hardly anything online that truly helped us PCS to Germany. No YouTube videos of the area, house tours, checklists, packing guides, we didn’t even have a sponsor… sound familiar?

Because of this, I decided to build my career around being the #1 online resource for helping US military families & civilian employees smoothly transition to Germany. 

*Although we’re stationed at USAG Bavaria, these tips are applicable to all US military installations in Germany, to include Stuttgart and the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC).

So if you’re stressed out about moving your whole life to a new country for the first time, or unsure on where to even begin, let me help you get started with these 30 MUST know items: 

Table of Contents

1. Hurry Up and Wait

There’s A LOT of things to do in a short amount of time.  I’m not going to sugar-coat this move, you’re gonna experience some pretty “sucky moments,” but literally EVERYONE feels your pain (or has at one point in time), so try to be mindful of the fact that you’re not alone.

There’s a community of people willing to help & support you (we’ll get there). Plus, after this stressful transition, PCSing to Germany is totally worth it!

Yes, even during a pandemic 😷

I mean… this may be your once in a lifetime opportunity to FINALLY explore Europe with your entire family!  If you don’t have some of the most important/expensive items done first, you’ll often have to wait till that’s done before moving on to the next step (such as your orders). So focus on these items first…

Getting excited about orders to Germany

2. PCS to Germany: Orders & Command Sponsorship

You MUST get your dependents (spouse/kids) on your orders. This will help kickstart so many things, such as your passports and getting on the housing waiting list (more of that in sec).

The only way to get hard copy orders and all your dependents on command sponsorship for an OCONUS (overseas) tour is by completing, and getting approval of the EFMP program first.

3. EFMP: Exceptional Family Member Program

Mandatory enrollment for Active Duty. All military members PCSing to Germany on an accompanied tour (with dependents) are required to have their family members complete the EFMP overseas screening.

Military health clinics have limited options and services overseas, so the DoD requires families to have an EFMP screening to ensure that you and your family will have the necessary medical resources while abroad.

EFMP screenings will check any of your dependents that may have a physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder requiring specialized services. The purpose of the screening is to identify potential medical, mental health and/or educational issues so that those concerns will be considered in the assignment process.

This must be cleared BEFORE you PCS to Germany. Learn more about the Air Force & Army EFMP requirements.

In order to speed things up, the Air Force has a 2-part EFMP process. Click on the “New Family Member Travel Screening (FMTS) process here.”

Also… you and/or your Primary Care Manager (PCM) will also need to fill out these forms for each family member:

Family Member Medical SummaryDD Form 2792

Early Intervention/Special EducationDD Form 2792-1

4. Passports

This one gave us a headache. There are 3 main passports you need when PCSing to Germany and they need to be current. It should not expire within 6 months of arriving to Germany.

1 – Tourist (fee passport)

2 – No Fee Passort

3 – Official passport + Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stamp

You don’t necessarily need all three BEFORE you arrive, but you should DEFINITELY apply for them. Active duty military members can get away with just military orders & ID when initially flying over, but all dependents (even infants) need to have a tourist passport (minimum) before arrival.

However, all should be aware (especially civilians) of the new Foreign Clearance Guide:

Effective July 1, 2021, there is a requirement to have your official passport BEFORE entering Germany.

“ATTENTION: Official Travel with a Special Issuance Passport (SIP) is mandatory for DoD Civilians and Eligible Family Members (EFMs), per DoD policy. However, if not in receipt of the SIP prior to departure, traveler must have on hand a memorandum from a DoD Passport Agent stating the SIP application was submitted. This memorandum must identify each applying applicant, date of submission, country of travel for PCS and VPAS ID. Boarding a flight on official travel status with a Regular (blue tourist) Passport is permissible ONLY with such a memo, which is to be presented to boarding officials, upon request.”

Note: The exception to travel using a regular passport and memo expired Sept. 30, 2021.

I realize this topic can get confusing so I made a video blog that explains it all.

5. PCSing to Germany with Pets

There’s no way you’re leaving the US without your fur friend, I get it. However, getting your pet overseas may be more stressful than getting a human over here, so get this done right away!

First off, check your military installation/housing rules on how many pets you can bring. For USAG Bavaria, you can only bring two pets maximum (cat or dog) into Germany (unless you have an Exception to Policy wavier). There’s also pet categories for authorized dogs in the country.

You can send pets via Patriot Express (cheapest option but limited spots), commercial flight, or a pet shipper. Regardless of each travel option, there’s many requirements you’ll need to take care of before they can fly – such as shots, chips, temperament test, health certificate, and registering your pet once you arrive (on-base clinic, TASSO, Rathaus).

I put together a comprehensive “PCS with a Pet” video blog to help you get started. Within the vlog, you’ll also find my recommendations on a pet shipper, kennel requirements, and dog care once you arrive.

6. PCSing to Germany with Kids

Most kids go to a DoDEA Europe school on-base, very few are home schooled, and even fewer American kids go to an off-base German school (but those are still options). Regardless of which school they go to, get them enrolled BEFORE you PCS to Germany!

If you have little ones (6 weeks – 5yrs), you especially need to get your child on the waiting list for the Child Development Center (CDC). It can take weeks or even months to get your child enrolled.

Learn more about what it’s like to live in Germany with kids.

Also… if your teen already has their driver’s license BEFORE you arrive to Germany, you might want to read up on how they could acquire a USAREUR driver’s license on-base.

The biggest differences from Patriot Express and a Commercial Flight

7. Plane Tickets (Commercial vs Patriot Express)

There are two main ways to fly over to Germany – Patriot Express (Rotator) or a commercial airline. The Patriot express is the cheapest option for you and your pets.

The flight leaves out of the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshal airport (BMI) and flies into Ramstein Air Base. I’ve outlined the pros & cons of both options for you, but if you want to save money, try to get on the Patriot Express as soon as you can (psst.. pet slots fill up FAST).

8. Shipping a Car

You have the option to ship your car to Germany from the nearest Vehicle Processing Center (VPC), but it’s not a requirement. The military will pay for 1 car to be shipped through a VPC, but any others is out of your own pocket. Keep in mind, roads are smaller in Germany, which means cars and parking spaces are smaller as well.

My advice: If your car is paid off, bring it. If you’re currently making payments on a vehicle (or two) and will NOT pay that off during your tour, sell it. There’s plenty of cheap, reliable cars to purchase here that’ll get you from point A to B.

I know how hard it is to get rid of your baby, but would you rather make ridiculous car payments while living overseas for the next 3+ years or would you rather spend that money on memories traveling the world with your friends & family? See what I did there… 😉

This is so important, yet I STILL hear from hundreds of people who do not or did not have a sponsor before they PCS’d to Germany.

You ABSOLUTELY need a sponsor to help you navigate through PCSing to Germany. Give them a copy of your orders so they can get you on the housing waiting list early, and set up your mailbox so you can start mailing yourself (Step #12).

Sponsors can also help you learn about job specific requirements, and can you pick a brother up from the airport? 

Civilians can request a sponsor through the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC), or through their gaining supervisor with a DA Form 5434.

10. How to Pack

There are three specific shipments when you PCS to Germany with the US military.

1 – Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB)

2 – Household Goods (HHG)

3 – Personal Luggage (what you bring on the plane)

There’s a strategy for preparing for each shipment and I’ve put it all together for you here.

11. Make TLA or Hotel Reservations

Make sure you have a place to stay once you arrive! Even if you don’t know your exact date of arrival, reserve rooms at lodging on-base and narrow it down later.

If there’s no room on-base, you’ll need a “statement of non availability” before going straight into temporary lodging so you can still be reimbursed. You are authorized Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) to cover your lodging and meals while waiting on a house (more of that in bit).

12. Set up your Mailbox

You can send/receive mail in Germany on-base through a “PO Box” or at your home physical address. As I mentioned above, after sending a copy of your orders, you should definitely ask your sponsor to open your mailbox before you arrive to Germany.

Prohibited items to ship to germany

As soon as that’s done, check your on-base weight limit allowance for individual parcels as well as unauthorized items. For example, at USAG Bavaria we can send up to 70lbs per parcel and unauthorized items include:

Weapon replicas, pressured air, zippos & lighters, kinder eggs, alcohol, medication, vitamins/minerals, supplements, protein powders, meat/dairy products, etc.

Psst… if you’re PCSing to Ramstein Air Base, you can set up your own mailbox online with this form. When you’re done filling it out, send it to 786FSS.postal.service.1@us.af.mil.

Prohibited items to ship to germany

13. Housing

What does housing look like?  What are your options?  How do I get on the waiting list?

One of the first things to know prior to moving into a new home is that housing is based strictly on rank, family size (dependents), and current availability.

This topic is so popular and has so many different parts to it that… surprise surprise, I went ahead and created a FULL housing guide with video tutorials for you. Inside you’ll learn about loaner furniture, housing locations, housing amenities, and the different housing categories.

Again, my biggest advice for getting a head start on housing is to get a sponsor to put you on the waiting list BEFORE you arrive. They can also share inside information about the different housing areas to help you with a preference for where you want to live.

Check out all my video housing tours, or see what houses are available NOW through the home.mil online database! Type in “USAG Bavaria” or whatever your future installation is in Germany.

14. Unlock your Cell Phone

There’s two options for having a phone plan in Germany:

1. Bring your own phone.

If you decide to bring your own phone, you must unlock it first! Ask your service provider about this and provide your orders as some providers will do it for free for military. Once unlocked, talk with your service provider about your overseas contract options and/or terminate your contract.

2. Buy a brand new phone.

If you decide to get a new phone when you PCS to Germany, it will come unlocked out of the box and you can use it in any country. No matter which option you choose, there are many service providers to go with such as Telekom, TKS: Vodafone, Google Fi, or your existing carrier.

When choosing a cell phone provider, keep in mind a cheaper option is a prepaid cell phone for kids, back up phones, or emergency phones for family members/guest visitors. 

You will, however, need to have a German bank account to pay your phone bills with an IBAN number. Don’t be discouraged, IBAN numbers are automatically assigned to you (like a US bank account number) when you sign up.

In some cases, German bank accounts are also needed for paying insurance, loans, and rent for your home (more of that in a sec).

Free international calls can be made with or without a data plan over WiFi through WhatsApp, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and/or Talkatone to name a few.

15. Banking

There are two main banks that most Americans use (on-base) to set up their “German bank account” – Service Credit Union and Community Bank. You can use these banks to pay bills for your cell phone and off-base house rent.

These banks will have ATMs on-base (only) and also at Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. You don’t need to cancel any banking in the US while living in Germany. Both banks are convenient, and speak English for any in-person banking needs.

For example, I have my main bank accounts and insurance through USAA, but I pay my German house rent and monthly phone bills through Service Credit Union.

But… you don’t HAVE TO use these banks! In fact, you’ll find that the conversion rates for these banks can be a lot higher than a German bank off-base such as Volksbank.

A quick test: When you PCS to Germany, take out $40 from a Service Credit Union or Community Bank ATM. Then do the same from a couple German bank ATMs and compare the conversion rates. If the difference is substantial with $40, think about the money you’re losing when paying your monthly rent (assuming you’re in off-base private housing).

Here’s some quick ATM tips:

– Accept or Decline the conversion? This will often be asked when you move to Europe – at a restaurant, gift shop, and/or on the ATM machine. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). When you need money from a different country, someone has to do the conversion. What it’s really asking you is, “Should I do the conversion or should your bank?” – the answer is “your bank.”

When using your out of country debit card (such as a US debit card in Germany), always “DECLINE the conversion rate” or “CONFIRM withdrawal in LOCAL currency.” These two options, whether you’re asked at the ATM machine or at a local shop/restaurant/etc will help you avoid the markup percentage during conversion.

– Always check the ATM transaction fees, even if “your bank doesn’t charge ATM fees.” ATM transaction fees in Europe are fees you pay from the company that “conveniently” put that ATM on the sidewalk “for you.” No one wants to pay a ridiculous markup percentage, an ATM transaction fee from the ATM company, AND a fee from your own bank for using the ATM.

Confused? This guy is way better at explaining it.

AFN Channels 1-21

16. Watching TV in Germany

For a small fee (off-base) you can watch American TV through AFN (American Forces Network), but you need a smart TV or Apple TV for streaming services like Netflix/Disney +. AFN comes with your home on-base.

Some streaming services will NOT allow you to use their applications because of “Geo-Restrictions or Geo-Blocking.” This restricts you from watching your favorite shows due to your geographic location.

In this case, you can try to get around this through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection (which I find to be spotty and unreliable at best).

However, VPN services like Express VPN or NordVPN will allow you to change your IP address to a US based IP address through your home router or fire stick. This “tricks” the streaming service into thinking you’re watching TV from the US and not Germany.

AFN Channels 22 - 41

17. Driving in Germany

Before thinking about driving in Germany, renew your stateside driver’s license immediately! You’ll need your US driver’s license current before they hand you your USAREUR license.

You can study before you get here and take the practice test through Joint Knowledge Online (JKO). Keep in mind you will need your USAREUR license for rental cars too. An international license can be acquired when you arrive to Germany, but it will not suffice for driving on-base.

The driving age is 18 in Germany and most European countries. If your teen doesn’t have their license BEFORE they arrive, chances are they won’t be driving overseas. It’s ok though, 99% of the high school kids aged 16 and up aren’t driving either.  

“For applicants under age 18 who already possess a valid U.S. driver’s license, their sponsor (ie: parent) must request an exception to policy.”

Take the bus, bike, walk, or ask your sponsor for a ride in the meantime.

18. Renter’s Insurance

Go over an up to date renter’s insurance plan with your respective agent to cover you for lost, stolen or damaged items during the move. Although you’re entitled to compensation, I would NOT rely on filing a claim through DPS alone.

Take the time to double cover yourself through a third party insurance company, back up all digital files on an external hard drive, and ensure movers are loading/unloading your things properly.

19. Know your Benefits when PCSing to Germany

Moving overseas with the government comes with many benefits for you and your family. Take some time to understand all your benefits and adjust your spending accordingly.

Some of the benefits already mentioned include insurance/claims for lost/damaged moving items through DPS, per diem for 60 days of Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) to cover temporary lodging and meals, Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB), Household Goods (HHG) shipment, Non Temporary Storage (NTS), POV shipment, Value Added Tax (VAT) forms once you arrive, etc.

However, a/o 2017, some of these benefits are now taxable for civilians. If you’re a civilian PCSing to Germany, you need to know about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). The TCJA made most civilian permanent change of station entitlements taxable. 

This means you will be taxed on items related to your U.S. (CONUS) and out of the U.S. (OCONUS) PCS move such as en route travel, lodging, meals, and transportation, Household Goods shipment, etc.

Learn how to use Tax FREE Gas in Germany with our FULL Tour of The Express: Shoppette

converting device used for 110V to 220V

20. Voltage in Germany

Know what you can and cannot plug into the wall BEFORE you PCS to Germany!

Make sure all appliances are compatible with OCONUS country voltage standards or use a converter/transformer when you arrive OCONUS so you can use your American appliances.

highlighting appliances that state the input of voltage

For example, standard voltage for electronic appliances in the US is 110V and 220V in Europe. If you’re bringing over your electronics, double check that it is both 110V & 220V. Most electronic devices will have this written on the product or on the actual wire cord itself.

It must say 220V or higher in order to work overseas, otherwise you’re going to blow it up! My packing guide video will explain this a little better for you.

21. VAT Forms

Value Added Tax forms. A VAT form allows you to make purchases without paying the 19% German sales tax. The US has an agreement with Germany so that eligible US service members may be exempt from paying VAT.

However, there are rules to follow and yep… you guessed it, I already created a complete VAT guide for you.

22. PCS to Germany: Cash is King 

This one is quick and easy to understand, but even a “veteran” like me gets it wrong. German’s love their cash and American’s love their cards. But we’re in their country, so make sure to ALWAYS carry cash on you when traveling around Germany. Which is a great segue into my next topic…

23. German Culture Shock

There are so many culture shock experiences that you’ll encounter when moving here. Some of them will make you angry (everything is closed on Sunday), some of them will make you laugh (peeing on the autobahn), others will completely make sense (put your hazard lights on to warn others of traffic ahead), but you should definitely learn all about them before PCSing to Germany – especially recycling!

I created a pretty long list of them here.

24. Join a Facebook Page

Spouses are always helping spouses – especially when PCSing to Germany. Don’t be afraid to ask the community for help.  Remember, we’ve all been in the same shoes. We all need recommendations on the local hair dresser, auto mechanic, food spots, dog boarder/groomer, newbie FAQs, explanation on a VPN again, etc. 

Here’s a list of the ones I use at USAG Bavaria: A Perfect PCS to GermanyGrafenwoehr Vilseck Military SpousesGrafenwoehr/Vilseck Army Wives, and Bavaria Army Wife Travelers.

Ramstein/KMC Spouses and Ramstein AB Spouses are great for those who PCS to K-Town!

25. Spouse Job Opportunities

Hot Topic. Let me be honest, finding a job on-base isn’t that hard, but finding a fulfilling job, or even a career as a military spouse overseas is SUPER difficult.

It only took me a couple months to become a substitute teacher, high school basketball coach, intramural referee, and a kindergarten aide on-base through USA jobs. I actually swallowed my pride and even took a job at a shoe store in the Grafenwoehr PX for about 1 month… but let’s not get into that (insert eye roll).

After we realized we could stay in Germany indefinitely, it took years for me to actually start my own business and make money through my skills/background as a videographer and online marketer.

My advice is to find something you enjoy on-base, create your own career as a home based business, or stay at home and do that “thing” you’ve always wanted to do – stay at home mom, earn your degree, volunteer, discover a new talent.

Your career doesn’t have to hit “pause” when you PCS to Germany. Time is on your hands (when does that ever happen?!). Think of this as an opportunity to rediscover yourself, work on what makes YOU better, find out how to maximize your talents, start projects that you’re passionate about, and don’t forget to lean on other spouses for inspiration!

Ouuu… I’m feeling motivated already, let’s keep up the momentum and talk about something fun!

taking a picture in front of rock formation at bastei bridge
Dresden & Bastei Bridge Germany

26. Cheap Travel

Ok, it’s what we’re all here for, travel. I’ve been living here since 2014, and my wife and I came here ONLY TO TRAVEL, so here’s what I can recommend.

Start local, then go BIG!

In other words, take the opportunity to know your local city first (even if it’s a tiny village). This is home base, so you’ll want to get to know the local butcher, local bakery lady, post office, playgrounds, bike trails, local history, etc.

Psst… Wanna see my home base? This is Weiden!

Once you’ve done that, take advantage of the closest train and airport for Euro travel. I would suggest finding the closest Ryanair flight from home and buy cheap plane tickets! They’ll charge ridiculous prices for baggage and leg room, but you can’t beat the airfare.

I recently just got back from Mallorca, Spain for €50 round trip.

Learn how others are maximizing their travel time when PCSing to Germany. Oh… and set travel goals!

New to the train system in Europe? Check out my beginners guide to riding the train in Germany!

If you want a consolidated list of ALL the travel opportunities in Germany, I created an entire travel blueprint specifically for US military personnel and their families below.

This military travel guide will save you a ton of time researching where to go and what to do.

Inside you’ll get:

  • – Local Travel
  • – Travel & Recreation On-Base
  • – Budget Travel
  • – Family Travel
  • – Seasonal Travel
  • – Bonus: Travel Goal Spreadsheet

27. Transportation from the Airport to your Temporary Lodging

If you PCS to Germany with the Patriot Express in Ramstein, bribe see if your sponsor can pick you up from the airport with all your luggage instead of taking the long dreaded bus ride. Although the bus ride is greatly appreciated, it’s a miserable, stinky time for everyone.

PS: After landing, pets MUST go into their kennel (again) under the bus while driving. Yeah… I’m not a fan of this either.

Here’s your FIRST LOOK at Army Lodging in USAG Bavaria: Grafenwoehr

28. PCS to Germany: Newcomers Brief 

Once you arrive to your new duty station, you will have the opportunity to go to the newcomers brief. It’s actually got quite a bit of good information, but you JUST arrived to Germany. You will be bored, jet lagged, and tired, so get a head start on the online version so you can catch some Zzz’s.

Ramstein’s in-processing brief is literally called RIP (see what I mean).

29. FREE Wifi

This may sound funny but find out where all the FREE (reliable) WiFi locations are on-base. When you arrive, you probably won’t have access to internet for awhile, so it’d be nice to know where you can go get some work done on-base.

For Grafenwoehr, check out the USO, Army Lodging, and the Library.

30. Learning the Language

You’re moving to a new country, so why not learn the language! You can get a head start on the basics by downloading Duolingo, change your TV language settings to German subtitles, or start playing fun language exercises with your kids!

31. Extra – PCS to Germany during a Pandemic

Is this still a thing? Unfortunately, yes. With COVID rules constantly changing and half the world closing and opening, and closing again, it can definitely get you second guessing a PCS to Germany.

I will say, that if I had to do it all over again… during the pandemic, I would absolutely still PCS to Germany. For us, travel and exploration is our highest priority, so even if we have that chance on a limited, open/closed capacity, I’m all in.

Although I respect the views of the vaccinated and unvaccinated, it’s important to know that as of now, if you plan to PCS to Germany during COVID, receiving your vaccination is the “golden ticket” for staying at hotels, eating in restaurants, crossing boarders, etc.

In order to stay up to date on COVID rules, continue to check in with your military base memorandums as they seem to coincide with local national laws.

Be Prepared. Be Patient. Be Flexible. 

As you’ve probably now discovered, PCSing to Germany has a TON of moving parts. It can get stressful at times, but the reward is so so worth it in the end. These will be family memories that you can’t put a price tag on, so enjoy the process, be patient, and be flexible when making adjustments.

As a content creator, I’m always trying to find ways to make this initial transition less “sucky.” Preparation is the key to winning this game, so I spent a lot of time creating an Ultimate “PCS to Germany” checklist that goes over ALL of this information (and more) in fine detail for you.

My Ultimate PCS to Germany checklist has helped thousands of military families find a solution to their PCS problems. This checklist has been PROVEN to take you down a path that will help you feel confident about taking action and relieving some stress during PCS season.

You can learn more about our FREE version and the Ultimate version below.

Auf Wiedersehen!

PCS to Germany Checklist vs The Ultimate PCS Checklist
The Ultimate PCS to Germany Checklist

Get Our FREE Checklist!

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