GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- An overseas move with the military can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to rights, responsibilities and individual logistic support in a new country. Understanding how the Status of Forces Agreement affects you, as well as some basic differences in law between the U.S. and Germany, will make for a more enjoyable overseas tour, and it might prevent unpleasant and potentially costly mistakes.
The NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which was originally signed in 1951, provides the basis for the legal status of military, U.S. civilian employees and dependents who are stationed on orders in NATO partner countries.
Under an additional supplementary agreement, which was last revised in 1993, personnel in Germany also enjoy privileges not granted to other service members stationed elsewhere in Europe.
These agreements affect status, entry and departure from the host nation, military training within host nation territory, jurisdiction, law enforcement, taxation, import and export laws, driving privileges, employment, mail, schooling, housing and much more.
The SOFA treaty gives us many benefits, but it also means that we have certain responsibilities.
Individuals are responsible for learning and obeying German laws, carrying an official ID card issued by the sending state, registering vehicles with U.S. Army Europe, and having a SOFA certificate in their passport to prove their entitlement to live and travel within Germany.
The SOFA certificate identifies the bearer as a person who is entitled to unrestricted entry and exit from Germany and to benefits, privileges and protection under the NATO SOFA and the German Supplementary Agreement. These benefits include the exemption from having to register your presence with the German authorities.
Active duty U.S. military members assigned to Germany only need to present their military ID cards and NATO or travel orders. U.S. government civilian employees, DoD-sponsored contractors and all eligible family members require a SOFA certificate in their passport to show that they are a legal resident of Germany. For more information on passports and SOFA certificates at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, visit https://home.army.mil/bavaria/index.php/passports.
Those eligible for a SOFA certificate should obtain one prior to relocating to Germany. U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from countries not requiring a visa for Germany may enter without a SOFA certificate if unable to obtain one prior to departure. However, they should carry a copy of the sponsor's travel orders to Germany and must visit their servicing passport office to request the identification certificate within 90 days of arrival.
The Army in Europe Regulation 600-77 also provides information on eligibility, issuance and termination of SOFA identification in Germany.