Know Before You Go: Germany
by Rachel Carpenter - October 25th, 2021
This article is part of our "Know Before You Go" series, with information for military families moving to overseas duty stations.
Congratulations! You have received notification that you are moving overseas! You are either thrilled or terrified, and moving OCONUS is a bit of both these emotions.
You might be a tad overwhelmed with it all: the logistics of a long-distance move, the planning, the reality of living in a foreign country, etc. There are plenty of people and organizations there to support you and assist with the move, but there are still so many things that you will not be prepared for. You can learn the language, read books and blogs about what to expect in your new home, and brace yourself for the culture shock...and you will still be unprepared.
But don’t let this alarm you! I have moved and lived overseas and while I do not have every possible scenario you might encounter, I can give you some things to consider before you arrive that can help you acclimate and truly enjoy your time OCONUS.
Know Before You Go: Germany Edition
Start saving cash now: I mean literal, liquid cash. We know that every PCS move has some out-of-pocket costs or expenses that will be reimbursed later. But in a foreign country, you will not always have the luxury of using a credit card or your U.S. bank account. For example, you will have to set up utility accounts and may need deposits. Or you may decide to purchase another vehicle and will not be able to finance it through the local economy right away. Start a fund as soon as you get an assignment notification so you have the cash to convert to euros upon arrival. If you don’t use the money, it doesn’t hurt you to have it saved anyway!
Renew your driver’s license and passports: You will need a current license to take the driver’s test for your U.S. Army Europe USAREUR license, and you must keep it current while you are living there. It’s helpful to renew it beforehand so that you do not have to worry about it while living in Germany. States differ on if you can renew online or via mail, so check your state requirements. The same should be said for passports: order them or renew them now if you need them! You cannot travel outside of Germany without a SOFA stamp in your passport or a no-fee passport. Besides, you will want to travel while living in Europe - get your passport before you go! You can get one once you are in Germany, but it is a longer process. Know before you go and get it now!
Start learning the language: You do not need to be fluent in German; English is spoken pretty much everywhere. But if you want to befriend the locals, learn a little German to converse with them. The effort goes a long way, and you will be much better received in restaurants, hotels, and stores. This is especially true while living in Germany. The gesture is greatly appreciated here!
Research the culture to avoid too much culture shock: Germany is a country that loves rules and order. They are very prompt and matter-of-fact, which can seem off-putting initially to some people. Research the area and the people to get a better understanding of where you will be living for a few years. Holidays, especially Christmas, are a big and common occurrence in Germany. The autobahn is not as intimidating as it seems (I enjoyed driving it!). Recycling is a huge priority. Do your best to learn and remember these things and that you get what you give in this country; if you are rude or late, you are likely to experience a less than warm reception.
Think about your vehicle and its costs: You will hear this and experience it constantly while living overseas - everything is smaller. Parking lots and roads are much smaller and difficult to navigate with American vehicles. There are also strict requirements for your car to pass the annual, mandated inspection such as all-weather tires or snow tires in the winter. You will also find that while many local repair shops accommodate American cars, the parts will have to be ordered or run at a higher cost. Think carefully about which car you will ship to your destination, and consider purchasing and shipping basic vehicle parts to save you some money (think oil filters, brake pads, all-weather tires). It will add to your weight for your household goods, but is something I wish we had done.
Decide what to pack and what to store/sell: Germany runs on 220-volt power. If you live in government housing both on or off post, you will have standard 110-volt outlets and dual voltage power. But if you rent a local home, you will need to either convert your appliances to 220-volt or purchase new ones. You can purchase converters that will help with the bigger ones, but you might consider buying new appliances like a vacuum, microwave, small kitchen appliances, and lamps once you arrive (pro tip: search the local thrift store or Facebook buy/sell group to get a good deal!). German houses are also smaller and may not have closets. You may not be able to take all your household goods. Decide if you will store your belongings or sell them before moving, then go through them to itemize them before the movers arrive.
Check on requirements for pets: Shipping your pet overseas can be a difficult and expensive process, so research ahead of time to learn your options. You will be doing preparation for pet travel months in advance, including an international health certificate for travel. Did you know that there are restrictions on dog breeds in Germany? Check this site for country and state restrictions. Be sure that you can legally take your pet to Germany before doing any of this! You can find animal rules and regulations here.
Join local Facebook groups: The first time I moved OCONUS, there were no groups like this; I wish there had been! I would have asked so many questions before arriving. Find the ones around your duty station, and ask to your heart’s delight. It’s better to ask before you arrive, and even if you feel that your question is trivial or small, ask anyway. From which housing to pick to phone options to the best stores to find new appliances, the people in these groups are your boots on the ground and can give you the best answers.
You will never be fully prepared for moving to a foreign country because there are some things that must be experienced. Good or bad, it is all an experience that I hope you will appreciate! Hopefully, this list can help you know before you go and provide you with some things to consider as you prepare for your move.
Viel Glück (good luck) and enjoy your time in this beautiful country!