The military provided us with an excellent opportunity to live abroad. We appreciated the opportunity to observe another culture and visit places older than we can imagine! America is so young and our time in Europe gave us some perspective. We loved the ability to travel to places like England, France, Austria, as well as many different cities in Germany.
But being here, or the prospect of moving here, presents many challenges and questions. I am more than happy to share my experiences with anyone who is heading this way. Several people have emailed me questions and I’ve been more than happy to reply to their emails, and when the questions get too long, I ask for their phone number and call them. That way I can give a full answer without having to sit at the computer too long. I finally thought I would sit and compile the questions I’ve received as well as some advice I have for those facing a possible overseas PCS.
Some of my tips may not apply to everyone. Some people who have also PCSed may have a totally different suggestion. I’m fine with that, and they can feel free to add them in the comments section, but since this is my blog, I get to post my opinions! They’re worth what you paid for them. 🙂
Did you get a no-fee passport in addition to your regular passport? I have both. Service members can’t get one. Not sure you have to have one, but it’s free so we just went ahead and got it. Can’t travel anywhere else with it. I’m assuming you already have your regular one. We don’t see much of a need for it.
Phones: We had planned to get at least one pre-pay phone right away. Is it a process to get one? – No, you can buy a $20 phone at the PX/shoppette and just add minutes to it as you go. Some people live their entire time in Europe on these phones. Not me. Matt and I happily went with iPhones as soon as we got here. LOVE THEM!
Home phone and internet: We bundled our internet and home phone service for a monthly fee. Within that reasonable amount is unlimited calling to the states except for toll-free calls.
Is there air conditioning for most on-post housing? – Uh, no. None as far as I know of. (Living in housing at Carson prepared us for that!) Not in the off post housing either, though. Similar summer weather.
Does the Army provide storage for excess HHG? I read you have a “storage shipment.” – My HHG storage items (washer/dryer, fridge etc) are in storage in Colorado, as they say that the lack of humidity helps the items last longer…) and yes, the Army pays for it.
Do you know how long the wait list is for housing? Of course, this answer is for Wiesbaden specifically, but my advice applies. Have you ever heard of the saying, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil?’ Squeak. And by “squeak,” I mean, SQUEAK!!!! Here’s my story. But for a short version, we arrived on a Wednesday. The next day was Thanksgiving so we weren’t able to do any “squeaking” until Monday. Matt went in and started the in-processing. By Thursday I was tired of living in a hotel with 3 boys and 20-some weeks pregnant. I went in to the housing office and sat down. After much polite but assertive squeaking we were told to come get our keys the next day. And that was after being told a few times that day that there was just nothing available. Squeak.
And how long does unaccompanied baggage really take? They told us up to 45 days, but a friend told me 2 weeks, so I wasn’t sure. – I have a different suggestion than most people. Most people send their Unaccompanied shipment (smaller) first, with their HHGs at the last minute. I suggest you reverse this…
So you’ll get to send two shipments:
Unaccompanied baggage, which imagine like this… camping in your
house for a few weeks.
Household goods: EVERYTHING ELSE (except the kitchen sink)
We sent the unaccompanied baggage first, like, in October. (10-7-09)
We had our BIG shipment with everything else picked up a month later
(11-4-09). In the unaccompanied baggage we had things like:
a card table, folding chairs, 6 towels, 6 washcloths, a cheap set of
forks/spoons/knives, some games, etc. I tried to think of anything I
might need to hold me over until my real stuff got here. We sent this
stuff on ahead of us, when what we should have done was sent all our
big stuff first, keeping only the bare necessities with us in
The Army has this lending closet here that gives you a “tuff” box full
of stuff to borrow until your stuff arrives: toaster, coffee pot,
kitchen utensils, pots and pans, etc.
SO… here’s what I recommend.
Say you’re leaving there June 1.
Have your entire house hold goods, EVERYTHING (minus the unaccompanied
baggage), picked up as early as possible. As early in advance as you
could possibly imagine enduring in your current house without. (You
can probably borrow items from the lending closet at your current duty station, or
at least from friends.)
Keep only the necessities. Again, imagine camping in your current
house during the time that your main HHGs are already gone and you’re
just waiting until you drive away.
Then, a few days before you leave there, say… May 28, have the
Unaccompanied baggage picked up. Spend a couple of nights in a hotel
or drive on to where you’re shipping the car from.
Does that make sense? It’s backwards from what most people suggest,
until they’ve done it and realize it makes more sense to “camp” in a
place where you already have friends established and can borrow from
people you know. You can get around your own town and make do much
easier there than you will be in Germany.
Let me know if this doesn’t make sense. To me, I was just really
uncomfortable in this big, strange, empty house and would have been
more comfortable living in my familiar, Colorado house on the bare
necessities. You’re going to live in a “camping” mode for a while.
Just decide if you want to “camp” in your current, familiar house or
in the new one, where everything is new, and you’re still trying to
get your bearings, as well as fighting jet lag. There were temporary beds here to get us by, but I would have loved to have MY bed earlier!)
Should we sell one of our cars and buy a junker there? First thing: If you like both your cars, it pays to ship both. You’ll have to pay for the 2nd, but I wish we had just kept the Jeep. Buying a junker over here is HORRIBLE. It’ll cost you about $1200… (Note: I don’t know how this works if you owe on your car. Check with the place who holds the note.)
Second, ship that vehicle about a month before you are going to PCS. Hopefully it’ll be here before you. Wish we had done that.
Where did you drop your car for shipping? – any drop-off toward your destination (Germany)… We did Florida as we went to Disney World. After our Disney Vacation, on the last night before our flight, we stayed in a hotel that was 1 block away from the shipping company and then took a cab to the airport. Basically, you can’t drive to away from your PCS destination and have it shipped from there, but you can drive toward your destination and have it shipped from there. That mattered to us because we had considered Disney Land in Cali but when we found out we couldn’t go away from our destination, that settled our plans.
Having a baby:
So I had an appointment this week and a nurse told me that if I should by any chance go into preterm labor (pre-37 weeks) that I should drive as far as it takes to get to a military hospital (not birthing unit necessarily). She said Germans do not take any measures to stop preterm labor but rather see it as a nature’s course so just let it happen and then deal with the health of the baby afterwards. Have you ever heard this?? (This answer is from a friend, as I didn’t experience pre-term labor.) I can definitely understand your concern after hearing something like that about having a baby in Germany. Let me share my experience, and maybe you will feel just a tiny bit better. 🙂 I knew all along I was at risk for pre-term labor, and my doctor here was extremely cautious about it. (I did not move here until 19 weeks, so she listened to my concerns and everything I told her about my pregnancy so far). She made sure to tell me at every appointment things I should and should not be doing to make sure the baby had the best chance possible of staying put! At about 25 weeks I was put on some activity restrictions, so that pre-term labor did not start. At about 29 weeks, I did go into pre-term labor. We went to the hospital, and everyone there was wonderful. I was put on an IV of something (not sure what) to stop contractions, and even though they got contractions stopped rather quickly, they kept me in the hospital for about 5 days just to keep an eye on me and make sure I would not have contractions again. After this, I was put on “partial bed rest”, to hopefully keep that from happening again. I was also put on high doses of magnesium at home, which helped! I saw my doctor every 2 weeks after this, and every week starting around 33 weeks. My daughter was delivered via C-Section (planned, not emergency) at 38.5 weeks, so all of the things the German doctors did to prevent/stop my pre-term labor worked! My doctor did have a certain week in mind that she was hoping I would get to before I delivered. She told me if I could just get that far, they they would let me deliver. I think that may have been due to my condition, though, and due to all of the recommendations and precautionary measures by the German doctors, I made it past that!
Regarding the actual hospital experience: Because we don’t have a military hospital on post, I had to deliver on the economy. The facilities were actually really nice, but for some reason the thought of standing in shower where countless other women had stood just after giving birth grossed me out so I took shower shoes. I never found a single thing to consider dirty or gross in the actual hospital. Everything seemed as sterile as a US hospital. Take snacks with you. The hotel food is so gross.
Can I please say, LEARN SOME GERMAN NOW! Your doc/midwife will speak good English, but the nurses who will take care of you more than the doc/midwife don’t.
You will most likely be delivering by midwife and not by doc unless you have complications. Never fear… I had ALL FOUR OF MY BOYS with a midwife. Out of the 3 I had in NC, Sage delivered ALL OF them! 🙂 I was only the 2nd woman she’d delivered all 3 of her babies… and the 1st was in a race with me and won on the day I had Bailey… she beat me by 3 hours.
So, be prepared to see a midwife and to love it. They are so caring.
The midwife I saw for the pregnancy had given up delivering. She was older and was done with the stress of it all. So the midwife who ended up delivering Parker, Bettina, was my age, and WONDERFUL! She didn’t have any children of her own but was amazing. Just let that not be a fear…
I also have lots of questions about medical care over there. I know that they don’t have an American hospital, and I have to seek civilian care – do you know anything about how Tricare works overseas and how I go about finding a pediatrician for my kids and a doctor for me? – This can be a bit confusing. We don’t have a hospital so to have a baby, TriCare gives you a doctor on the economy. If you aren’t happy with the doctor you are seeing, you can just ask for another one. I had a diabetologist I wasn’t thrilled with so I went to the clinic on post (more on that in a bit) and told the TriCare referral people that I wanted a 2nd opinion. Within a week I was set up with an appointment at another diabetologist.
Regular health care: The pediatricians at the clinic on post are great. I’ve been very pleased with our care. Even with Parker having acid reflux, they were very careful with him. They sent us off post twice to two different German doctors to see if there was something further wrong with him. Everything came back fine and he eventually outgrew his condition. You don’t have to do the research. The peds call the TriCare referral (or, in one case, the doc walked down the hallway and talked to them in person) and they set up the appointment for me. The referral people in TriCare (they’re located just inside the front door of the clinic) are German and speak English fluently. They call the German docs and get everything worked out for you, then hand you a card, address, and date/time. All the German docs I’ve worked with speak great English. And the ones I’ve dealt with have been instructed by TriCare to treat us well or lose TriCare’s business. I have no complaints. Our on-post clinic can do most normal procedures. For other things, they can send us on the economy (as previous described) or to Landstuhl, which is an hour away. That’s the American hospital… we’re heading there soon for an allergy visit for Carson. He needs to have the skin testing done and they do that there. We will get the results back in days rather than months (on the economy).
Dentist: I see the dentist at the clinic, no worries. The boys I take on the economy, to the place the dental clinic suggested. They all speak English and take good care of my babies. Again, you don’t have to figure this out… the clinic will direct you to where you need to go.
HNL: TAKE NOTE OF THIS NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE MOVING!!! HNL stands for Host Nation Liaison. These people should be your best friends if you have to go on the economy. They are people from the nation you are living in, and they speak English fluently. Their job is to make our lives in the foreign country much easier. Remember I said I had to get a second opinion regarding my diabetes? I took a host nation liaison with me for the second opinion just in case there was a language complication. I also had a HNL go with me to the hospital both times I was induced and she was able to get SO much done in the process. Utilize these often-overlooked, under-appreciated people in your area. They’re amazing to have on your side.
Living in a foreign country:
Start taking some German classes. If you can swing it, go to the community college and take a couple of classes. I assure you, it will be worth it. If not that, then see if ACS is offering any. Last resort, see if you can take it on AKO for free, using their Rosetta Stone. I promise, it will be worth it. Even if you end up not coming to Germany, you won’t have wasted the time. Learning is learning. I used the “we’re not sure we’ll actually be sent to Germany” excuse to not take the classes and I regret it. (Obviously, if you’re PCSing to Korea, don’t take German, take Korean.)
I’ve also read that the commissary takes expired coupons, is that true? Is it only for regular coupons or printed online ones too? I don’t want to be saving them if they’re useless 🙂 – The commissary and PX do accept them up to 6 months past the expiration date. Not coupons specific to stores (Walgreens, Target, etc.) but they can be printed, as long as they’re manufacturer coupons. Find friends to send them to you from the states. You can’t save as much with coupons here as you can in the states, but they’re still worth it.
Can I continue to legally homeschool while in Germany? I know homeschooling is illegal for Germans. – Yes, you can legally homeschool here. Don’t let that be a concern of yours. You fall under DOD and you are fine.
Homeschool groups: WATCH is the Wiesbaden Christian Homeschoolers group and here is our official description:
We are a Christian led group of homeschoolers, located in and around the Wiesbaden, Germany military community. With more than 70 families, we have a lot of different needs, interests, and approaches to homeschooling. We welcome homeschool families to participate in our activities. Join us for field trips, learning fairs, Moms’ Night Out, and more. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, this free group offers support and fun to all!
If you are moving here and want to get on this list beforehand so you can start receiving emails to get a good idea of what we do, that’s fine. Lots of people do that. It helps them to see that we are active and keep a fairly busy calendar. The great thing about this homeschool group, as opposed to other groups I’ve been involved in, is that there is no guilt if you only do 10% of the activities. No one makes you feel like you are supposed to participate in every single thing provided and there are no limits to what you can do. No fees, either. Come when you want, skip when you want. Exactly what I needed in a homeschool group, especially with a new baby.
More homeschool information: We have PE every Thursday provided by CYS (hoping they continue this next year!). The kids DO have to be registered in CYS to participate, but they can have waivers for the immunizations if you have chosen not to immunize. Just have to jump through this hoop for the Army to pay the CYS providers to teach our kids.
We have a monthly WATCH meeting. There are about 6-10 field trips a year.
Our library system is actually pretty good, you just have to be willing to jump through a few hoops to learn how to “request” items from other libraries to be sent to ours. Our library itself is quite small, but we can pull from all of US Army Europe’s libraries, so, with patience, you’ll be fine. I have no complaints.
There are opportunities for your kids to participate in the schools for specials. For example, if you really wanted your child to do “Host Nation” with the schools, you could. They are VERY VERY VERY homeschool friendly there! When we were doing a unit on yeast, I needed a microscope. One of the 4th grade teachers loaned me two microscopes along with all the necessary items to get the best results. She told me not to rush in getting them back! (Of course, I did, as I didn’t want to break them, but we watched yeast grow and eat, etc.)
We don’t immunize our children. Will this disqualfy us from being able to PSC overseas? (This answer is from a friend as we do immunize our kids.) It is possible to PCS without immunizations. If the family is active duty, all that may be needed is a note from her or her family doctor stating that they have chosen not to have them. Families are not usually asked about immunizations. (My information comes from an Active Duty family who doesn’t immunize their kids.)
If they are not active duty, no one will ask about immunizations. The German government, and Germans in general, don’t worry about it. (We were never asked.)
The Child Development Center and the DoDDS schools require immunization.
Which stroller did you buy over there for the rough sidewalks, etc? – Be sure to get a stroller that has bike wheels, with a rubber tubing. The kind I got in the states (Chicco) and shipped here didn’t have good wheels. It was a mac-daddy stroller for the states, but the problem is the roads and sidewalks here are SO bumpy that you almost always need one that is a jogger, or has serious shocks. I bought a jogger a few months ago and actually use the jogger stroller 99% of the time and the Chicco infant carrier fits in it. The nice Chicco sits gathering dust in the basement… 😦 You will want to remember a few things:
a. Buy one you can safely use the infant carrier to with a few straps. I did this all the time until Parker outgrew his infant carrier. Not a big deal, even if it isn’t as convenient as snapping the carrier into the stroller it came with. Being able to put him in the infant carrier IN the jogger was great, because he could stay warmer and totally covered from wind and rain.
b. If purchasing a jogger, you MUST have a swivel front wheel. Otherwise, do not purchase it. (Looked at one really nice Jeep stroller that had great features but not a swivel wheel. You will want to throw it in the Rhine if you have to keep lifting the stupid thing to turn. I ASSURE YOU, it will drive you nuts. I’d rather have a $100 swivel wheel jogger than a $400 fixed wheel jogger.
c. You will want this quality or greater. I am pleased with it and would recommend it. If you want to go nicer, go for it. I don’t know if the Jeep is nicer or not, but you do not want to go any less on the quality than what I have. You have no idea what bumpy is until you ride you infant through a town that is 1100 years old with roads that were old THEN! 🙂 (NOTE: I have an InStep Safari, and it is great for walking around town, but not for running. It worked well for running for the first few months but now the front wheel jiggles around and I simply can’t run at all with it. If you plan to run, seriously consider a much higher quality jogger. If I could afford a BOB I’d get one of those.)
d. Just again, bike tire wheels. Not plastic. I’ve said that a few times. No one told me this stuff and I wish they had.
Should we buy furniture we know we will need soon before we move? (i.e. cribs, recliners, beds, bedding, etc.) – Yes, I would go ahead and buy your baby furniture there, and your stroller. Or be super prepared to spend a LOT of money on a German one. Insane in the membrane. You will want to go ahead and pick out your bedding there – you don’t have to buy it now, but go to Babies R Us and look at them in person, jotting down what you want. The selection here is horrible and if you know what you want (for boy vs girl) then you can easily order it. It’s easier to know what you want when looking at them from the store than the website. (NOTE: This question came from a friend who was expecting. Early enough that she hadn’t already picked a nursery theme, and might not find out the gender until later, but I though it would be a good idea for her to see the bedding in the stores up close and personal before moving here, then she could order the one she liked for the correct gender later. The websites aren’t always really good for picking bedding, but if you know the one you want, it’s not too bad.)
Can you tell me anything about any playgroups or moms groups? – We have a current MOPS group that is run/attended by a very similar group to our PWOC group. If you want to know more about it, you can ask one of them for sure. I personally don’t participate in MOPS because homeschooling takes up 5 days a week and I already do PWOC. I can’t sacrifice another day a week or the boys’ schooling would suffer.
Our area has AWANA weekly during the school year. We also have the following weekly services: traditional Protestant, ChapelNext (contemporary Protestant), Lutheran, Gospel, and a few Catholic services. We have MCCW and PWOC as well. There are also several English speaking services on the economy but, being a chaplain family, we currently attend a chapel.
Great website for checking out your next duty station and for sharing info for others about your current and previous ones: