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What it’s REALLY like to PCS to Germany: The Military Family Experience 

If you’re feeling anxious about your upcoming PCS to Germany, this blog post will give you some helpful perspective through the personal experiences of military families who literally just did it.

It’s tough, we’ve been there.

My wife and I PCS’d to Germany in 2014 when there was hardly any supportive material online, video tutorials, or tips from families who also went through this difficult transition.

So… since #thestruggleisreal, I decided to create a TON of valuable MUST KNOWS, video content, and checklists to relieve some of that initial stress for the next wave of incoming families.

But then I started seeing others in the community posting their real life experiences, and thought, “wow, wouldn’t it be nice to consolidate all of this?”

So here we are 🙂

Table of Contents

Our PCS to Germany went like this…

Over the years, I’ve asked volunteers who already shared their PCS experience on Facebook, if they would also allow me to copy/paste their story here.

They were happy to do it!

Depending on the person, some wanted faces blurred or names removed, but the story itself is 100% REAL!

Raw, unscripted, and unaware that a perfect stranger would even ask to share their story on a blog for the world to see.

So let me be the first to thank these military families for providing the material and allowing us all to learn from their own personal experiences.

Patriot Express: PCS to Germany

Military member: Anonymous

PCS Location: Vilseck Germany in July 2022.

Congratulations on your assignment to Germany! I went through a PCS from Ft. Huachuca, AZ to Camp Vilseck, Germany in late July 2022. The intent of this write-up is to provide guidance and answer questions for those preparing to take the rotator to Germany (BWI to Ramstein AFB). 

Getting your tickets, shipping your POV, scheduling HHG, and preparing to move

As soon as you have your orders, go to transportation/housing. In addition to helping you schedule HHG pickup, they will help you with preparing to schedule your POV shipment and booking your flight to Germany. 

Getting your tickets

Book your flights as soon as possible, especially if traveling with your family or pets. The rotator flights fill up fast, especially if you have a pet since they only allow a certain number of pets in cabin/in cargo. 

Transportation will book you two flights: one to either Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from the closest airport to your current duty station, and another flight from one of the aforementioned airports to Ramstein AFB in Germany.

Confused about the Patriot Express aka “The Rotator” flight? Learn all about it in our FULL video blog here

It is possible to change your first flight in order to fly out of an airport closer to your PCS leave location, you just need to call SATO. It costs a $40 service fee, and the cost of difference if the flight you’re switching to is more expensive. If flying with a pet, tell SATO up front when you call them to change your flight. Since the ticket they will buy you is nonrefundable, you/they need to ensure the new flight you will be on has space for pets. I called American Airlines and asked for a list of flights that left from/was going to where I wanted and had pet space available. You’ll then provide the flight number to SATO, and they’ll book the ticket. 

Shipping your POV

You have the option to ship your POV from either the closest port to your current duty station (San Diego is the closest VPC site to Ft. Huachuca) or shipping your POV from the VPC site closest to your PCS leave location. I chose to ship my POV out of San Diego so it would get to Germany sooner. I dropped it off on July 5th, and it is scheduled to arrive in Grafenwoehr in late September.

The main things to remember are:

– Get any vehicle repairs done in the US. I wasn’t able to get a minor leak fixed before I shipped my POV, and it’s going to cost nearly double to get fixed in Germany.

PCSmyPOV.com has a list of all the paperwork you’ll need to drop off your POV. You can also make an appointment for drop-off there.

Check out our complete guide on shipping your POV to Germany

– Make sure your fuel tank is less than 1/4 tank full, your emergency brake works, and your vehicle is clean (inside and out). A lot of people had their car detailed before dropping it off, which I don’t think is entirely necessary unless you’ve been looking to get that done anyways. I got a car wash down the street from the VPC and used the free vacuums and was a first-time go at dropping my POV off. 

– Ship early, if possible. It’s a long wait for your POV, and rental cars are available in Germany but can be pricy. I recommend taking a long weekend to drop your POV off at the nearest VPC and flying back, then carpooling with someone until you PCS. 

Scheduling your HHG

Unless you don’t have a lot of stuff, you’ll likely ship your personal belongings in two shipments: household goods (HHG) and unaccompanied baggage (UAB). HHG shipments are primary for your big stuff: furniture, most of your clothes, and things you can live without until they arrive in Germany. UAB is designed for essentials that will hold you over until you actually intend to leave your current duty station.

My UAB consisted of:

– Air mattress/pillows/blankets/sheets

– Pots/pans (two each)

– Silverware (2 each)

– Plates, cups, etc. (2 each)

– Printer

Still confused about what to bring and how to pack? We cover it all here!

– Folding chairs (x2)

– A few books

– Coffee maker

– Microwave

– Towels/washcloths (1 each)

– Shower curtain

– Broom, small vacuum, Swiffer

– Security system

– Small TV

*Make sure you don’t pack anything you need to turn in to your current duty station or need to clear (i.e., CIF gear, SCIF badge, TMSB doctrine)

Keep in mind that everything you don’t ship will need to come with you, either to your leave location or Germany! 

luggage at BWI airport

Preparing to move

Every day leading up your PCS, you’ll probably think of something else you need to do in order to prepare for the move. Trying to remember everything can be super stressful; I recommend making a note in your Notes app every time you think of something that needs to be done so that you have a decent checklist to work off.

Here are some more nuanced things I considered prior to the move:

– Transferring your security system

– Getting an international phone plan vs. switching to a German carrier

– Vehicle insurance

– Phone coverage

– Mail hold/mail forwarding

– Cancelling subscriptions

– Cancelling internet/power

– Taking the USAREUR driver’s test on JKO

– Sending a letter of introduction

– Pulling out a few hundred Euros in cash, since most German places don’t take card (both of the currency exchanges at BWI are permanently closed)

two photos of seats inside the patriot express flight

Flying on the rotator

When you fly into BWI, be sure to pick up your baggage. It won’t be transferred onto the rotator for you. Baggage carts are available for $6, but I saw some people with USO carts that I assume they got for free. The USO is located near the baggage claim, next to baggage carousel 14. 

Air Mobility Command (AMC) is located on the second floor near the international flights check-in. To get to the AMC check-in, go down the hallway on the first floor away from the baggage claim, past the USO. There’s an elevator and stairs. Take these to the second level and USO volunteers will be there to greet you and give you further guidance.

You will fill out luggage tags and a COVID screening form- be sure you bring a pen, since the volunteers didn’t have any.

I recommend checking in as early as possible; there were 400 people on my flight, and only four AMC employees working the check-in counter. 

Depending on what time you get to BWI, you may check your bags and have a long wait until you board (I waited 6 hours). Make sure you have everything you want for that wait in your carry on. You can go back to the USO, where they have snacks and computers. If you want something to eat, I recommend eating before you go through security.

The international flights concourse (concourse E) is separate from the other concourses, meaning that if you leave the concourse you have to go through security again. Concourse E only had one restaurant, and it was packed and had a limited selection. 

You’ll board about 30 minutes prior to departure. Families with kids and passengers with in-cabin pets were first to board. After that they’ll board by row. There’s a decent amount of leg room/space between the aisles, so don’t worry too much if you’re one of the last people to board. 

There’s a TV screen mounted to the seat that has a USB port for charging your phone. The TV has a decent selection for kids, and mediocre selection for adults. There’s also flight tracking that you can use to see where you are in the world (I liked looking out the window as we flew over Cork and London!). 

There are a few meal services. My flight left around 10:00 PM, so we had a late dinner, snack in the middle of the night for those who were awake, and a breakfast about an hour before landing. The meals were a decent size and pretty good.

It’s approximately an eight-hour flight from BWI to Ramstein. There are opportunities to get up and stretch your legs but sitting for that long was difficult for me. I recommend trying to sleep as much as you can on the plane, if possible. It’s a busy couple of days and you’ll need the sleep. 

Arriving in Germany

Upon landing in Ramstein, you’ll exit the plane and go into the AMC terminal. The SM will provide a copy of their orders and the officials there will sign your leave form. You’ll then go downstairs to the passport check, which is really just a booth with two German Polizei. The SM will need to provide their orders and CAC, and dependents need their no-fee passports.

You’ll then enter the baggage claim area, which is absolute nightmare. It’s super small, and 400 people with baggage carts are crowding around the carousel. I boarded early so my stuff came off the plane towards the end- I would just wait for the area to clear out if possible, the bus isn’t going to leave without you.

If you have pets (in-cabin or cargo), there will be a table off to the side with German veterinarians who will look at your bilingual health certificate and check your pet’s microchip. You’ll then have to pay an entry fee. It was €55 for my cat. 

Moving your pet to Germany as well? Get prepared with our FULL “PCS with a Pet” guide!

You’ll then leave the baggage area and go through customs (again, just two guys standing there). They’ll ask if you have anything to declare and ask to see your receipt from the veterinarian if you have a pet. At this point, people whose sponsors came to Ramstein to pick them up were able to leave.

After customs, you’ll go to a reception area with USO volunteers. They’ll have snacks, water, and soda. You’ll get a briefing about the bus transport, but I missed it because I was assembling my hard crate. If taking the bus, pets are required to be in a hard crate and stored in a temperature-controlled cargo area on the bus. I had my cat in-cabin in a soft crate, so I had to quickly assemble my hard crate that was in one of my suitcases. 

You’ll then be assigned to a bus and load up.

Sit tight for a three hour drive, and then take a 45-minute break at a McDonald’s (yes, McDonald’s will likely be your first meal in Germany).

You’ll then drive another two hours to Grafenwoehr.

Even if you’re going to Vilseck, you’ll go to Graf first since that’s where in processing is (building 244). You’ll turn in some paperwork and then be released to your sponsor, who should be waiting there for you.

Commercial Flight: PCS to Germany

Military member: Anonymous

PCS Location: Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in August of 2021.

Our flight experience flying to Germany on 1 Aug!

We flew United operated by Lufthansa from Dallas to Frankfurt on GS orders. We checked in 5 bags for 4 people, stated moving on orders, the clerk looked at the name on the orders and that’s it, we were not charged for the 5th bag (Lufthansa allows 1 checked in bag/person in Economy). The flight was pretty full and LH offered to check in carryon luggage free of charge but we passed 😉. The flight was long (~10 hrs) and uneventful. 

Arrived in FRA on time. The immigration line was very short, probably a 10 min wait and we got waved in. The luggage took almost 1.5 hrs so grab a seat when you get to the carousel – there are only few and otherwise it was a long wait standing around. All our bags arrived with no issues.

We didn’t see any large piles of unclaimed luggage and everything was tidy and organized but maybe those were stored in another location. 

Overall, a success! Let me know if you have any questions!

Military member: Katlyn Winnecke Stinnett

PCS Location: Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in May of 2021.

Hello all! It was very helpful when others shared their experiences flying their pets so I thought I would share ours. We have a cat and Australian Shepherd/ Mix pup.

What a headache it was to prep our pets for our first PCS to Germany but the travel itself couldn’t have been more smooth!

We flew Lufthansa. We are Army and the rotator had no pet spots. SATO offered to book us with American Airlines but it would be too risky considering the only connecting flight was through TX at the end of May. I put out a desperate post on Facebook and a very nice friend connected me with Sascha at USFlights24 who set me up with a Lufthansa flight (code shared with United) for my husband, myself and pets. We paid out of pocket but the SATO office at Fort Sam gave me a memo stating they would reimburse me up to the amount they would have paid for American Airlines (about half).

Our flight was at 1600 out of Chicago. We arrived at 1200 to return a rental car and had to wait until 1300 for the Lufthansa check in desk to open. Brooklyn, the Lufthansa worker, was extremely nice. She checked my health certificates, rabies records, passports and orders while my husband waited with the pets. We paid a total of $350 for both of them. We checked 2 bags each and also checked our carry ons. All free of charge. She provided “live animal” stickers, “this side up” stickers, zip ties and attached an informational sheet about when our dog needed to be fed next. (He gets very nervous so we only let him have small treats and water that day so he wouldn’t throw up). We also gave him 2 100mg tabs of trazodone (recommended/prescribed by the vet and tested days before). They let us stay with him and walk him to where his kennel would be scanned through security. We zip tied his kennel door then we parted ways about an hour and a half before boarding.

PCS to germany patriot express experience

We took our cat through security and I had to hold him while his carrier went through the scanner (scary). Luckily, he was very good. He is 6yrs old and we didn’t not give him medication. Because we were towards the back of the plane, the space was very small and my husband had to hold him in his carrier on his lap the whole flight. It really wasn’t too bad. I fed my cat a package of starkist chicken when we got dinner and he loveddd it. The flight was around 7 1/2 hours.

We got off the plane, showed our tourist passports and military IDs (dual military) and we were able to pick up our baggage and pup. He was calm (excited to see us) and did not seem scared at all. We were very worried about this.

I showed their health certificates again to the German police before leaving the baggage area, then we were on our way to RAB where we were VERY fortunate at the LAST minute to get a pet room at the Ramstein INN. It is apartment style and very nice. Huge kennel/dog bowls provided.

I’m sure I left a lot out but I am more than happy to answer any questions. I was EXTREMELY stressed about flying with our babies, but was pleasantly pleased with how well everything went.

I hope this helps someone!

Flying with a Toddler to Ramstein Germany

Military member: Toni Montana

PCS Location: Ramstein Air Base in March of 2023

This is the type of information overload I wish someone had posted for me to peruse when I was planning for our move

I’m an active duty soldier with an aviation guardsman husband, 3 beautiful cats, and two 5 month old twin boys!

We PCSd to Germany this last month and boy was it a process, but I’ll try to explain as best I can what worked for us. If you have any questions at all about anything please reach out because if I can help ease someone else’s suffering through this even a bit, I would be happy to do so! 

First off, this company (Professional Community Sponsors) with Tyrone and Carla are AMAZING!

I’ve told them a million times, “why does the army not model after their ways?”

Everything on the German side was made so easy by them that I could focus on what I needed to do in the states.

A few key things to do if having a baby (or two) right before OCONUS PCS: 

– Stay on top on your offices for EFMP, passports, birth certificates, etc 

– Be in constant communication with these offices as well as your unit in Germany. 

– Do not worry about future problems unless absolutely necessary because you can only do things one day at a time. 

– Give yourself grace and do not be afraid to ask for help, there are so many kind people still out there! 

EFMP and Passports? Here’s an overview of EFMP and this video goes over which passport(s) you need

We flew out of ATL at 2100ish, so we got dropped off at the airport around 1700.

We checked all of our 7 bags (around 50-70lbs each), and didn’t have to pay overage fees because we flew Delta.

They are wonderful with that stuff and allow a lot of heavy bags for military flying on orders. One of my bags was a shipping cooler we bought off Amazon packed full of almost 1000oz of breastmilk.

Best decision made. 

We also had 7 carryons, to include a small cooler with ice packs for my pumped breastmilk.

I also brought all of our documents in my carry on because you do not want to lose that during this trip!! 

We didn’t have any problem checking bags or getting through TSA security. Just go slow and expect them to check your liquids (breastmilk or formula are allowed through TSA in any amount you need!) 

We brought our Doona strollers for travel which made life so much easier!!

We gate checked one of them and took the other on the plane in the window seat because that is what we’re used to doing when we fly with the twins.

They take turns in the car seat which is able to roll right on and off the plane pretty easy with all our other carry on items in tow. 

Once we got to BWI, we collected our bags at baggage claim and loaded everything on to 2 carts. If you have time, there are usually carts up by the check in area that other people left behind so you don’t have to pay.

I also heard the USO has some for free, but we were there very late and it wasn’t open.

Big tip that saved our lives- we bought cheap ratchet straps and carried them with us so we could load up all our luggage on 2 carts.

We only had to push one baby and one cart each! 

Once we got all our luggage strapped down and the babies in decent shape, we headed to the AMC counter and there was absolutely no line at all.

It was like midnight, so I recommend if you have little ones to get an overnight flight! 

We weighed everything at the counter to include our carry ons and stroller/car seats. No issues with our baggage allowance or fees. 

Then we went through security at a slow-pace and no line. 

There was no food open at the airport that late at night, but we brought a couple snacks and set up at the gate for a couple hours to try to get the babies to sleep before we boarded. 

We boarded pretty close to first with all the other families, and honestly, the plane & seats were nice.

The stewards were so great with the little ones, and we had a whole 2 rows to ourselves in the back of the plane with the other families.

There was no stress if anyone started crying because we all felt like we were in it together.

We took off about 0300 and flight time was a little over 7 hours.

The food served was a weird omelette for breakfast with some good side items, a snack, and a turkey or roast beef sandwich.

All meh but not too bad. 

First time flying overseas? This video will give you some additional tips & tricks to relieve stress!

Upon landing we were exhausted, but in no hurry to get off so we waited our turn and showed all our proper paperwork (bring copies of orders!!!) 

I will note, we did not need any COVID tests, COVID paperwork, smart travel paper, or anything other than our passports, leave form, and orders, to include my NATO orders. 

We waited in a small room with a million other people for the bags to come out and I will note if you gate check a stroller it does not come out at the gate like usual, they bring it out at the very last moment after all the bags.

It was a huge drag to wait for one stroller when we already had all our other bags.

But the USO team in Ramstein was super nice and had coffee for us that I happily obliged to!

We also changed and fed the babies while we waited. Once we had all our bags, we headed out to meet Carla and my sponsor who had already taken care of everything!

We were basically pointed in the direction of a van with a super nice driver that loaded our stuff up for us. It all fit no problem. 

Bless this team again for helping us because they took us to the commissary and our TLA rental (which had everything we needed and more).

The next morning our driver picked us up again to go get our drivers license, SIM cards for a German number, and our rental car. It was so nice to have that help to start. 

I stayed in communication with my sponsor and had all my questions answered quickly. We started house hunting and in-processing basically the next day or two and just settled on a house today so we’re very excited!

Other things to note was all my breastmilk made it still completely frozen. And thank goodness we could fit it all In the TLA freezers when we got here cuz I didn’t even think of that ahead of time. 

The last note I’ll make is our cats, I did not mention them because we paid a pet relocation company to handle them and it was the absolute BEST decision because it took all the stress out of it and I knew they were in great hands.

Saved my sanity!

Read the full post on Facebook here

Looking for pet shipper? Check out Feather & Fur Express for a FREE quote!

Still need help PCSing to Germany?

As you can see, everyone has a different experience when moving to Germany with the US military. And in some cases, it’s not as bad as one would think.

However, if you still feel overwhelmed about your move, no worries, I got you!

We created a FREE PCS checklist that will literally take you step by step, covering the most important & most expensive topics first!

This will give you a high level overview of what you need to start thinking about now!

But wait there’s more…

For all my super organizers out there, we also put together an Ultimate PCS to Germany Checklist that gives you EVERYTHING! This is our MOST HELPFUL product and it’s been PROVEN by THOUSANDS of military families to help you relieve stress during this transition.

I talk about both versions here.

Stay up to date with all our PCS prep content by subscribing to the channel! Talk to you soon!

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