SOFA stamp a must before leaving Germany

By Robert Szostek, USAREUR Customs Public Affairs

WIESBADEN, Germany — Many of us take trips to the United States and elsewhere at this time of year. But don’t leave Germany without a valid Status of Forces Agreement stamp or card, because you will need it when you come back to Germany.

German immigration officials report that U.S. forces Family members and civilians are showing up at Frankfurt International Airport and Ramstein Air Base terminals without proper documentation.

German officials have been very lenient in the past; however, they have noticed an increase in personnel leaving and re-entering Germany without a SOFA stamp or card.

“Military members stationed in Germany are required to present a military ID card, service travel orders and, if on leave, a valid leave form when leaving or entering Germany,” said Wil Respress, chief of the U.S. Army Customs Agency – Europe office at Ramstein.

For Family members and civilian employees, a valid passport and SOFA stamp or card are required to cross the German border.

When questioned about SOFA cards, many travelers have said they were not aware this was a mandatory requirement. However, the wording on the stamp or card makes the intent clear: “The bearer is a member of a civilian component or dependent of a member of a force or civilian component of the United States of America and is entitled to unrestricted entry into and exit from the Federal Republic of Germany.”

“Please ensure your family members have SOFA stamps or cards to comply with German immigration requirements,” Respress said.

Violators can face harsh fines and possibly even deportation, he added. Contact your servicing passport office to obtain a SOFA card.

Finally, travelers should inform themselves of general entry requirements of any foreign country they will be visiting well in advance of their departure to ensure they have the required type of passport and, if applicable, visa.

For questions on obtaining a SOFA card/stamp, please contact your local passport office. If you are part of the Ansbach community and have questions on obtaining a SOFA card/stamp, call the USAG Ansbach Passport Office at 09802-83-3456 or DSN 467-3456.

 

Photo courtesy of Department of Homeland Security

Photo courtesy of Department of Homeland Security

 

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71 Comments

  1. Troy Carter says:

    I am a retired from the Military and have a stamp ( AUFENTHALTSTITEL). Do I still Need the stamp.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Phone number is wrong in the article

  3. Stephen Baack says:

    Thank you! It’s been fixed.

  4. Anonymous says:

    No!

  5. Lee Nicholson says:

    In the past, dependents weren’t allowed to travel on official passports unless official travel. We have been questioned in the past by immigration about dependents traveling while on leave. We then purchased a civilian passport to travel, but the SOFA card did not accompany it. Has the restriction to travel on official passports been lifted or will the base issue a SOFA stamp for the civilian passport?

  6. 32 years in Germany says:

    For civilians without a SOFA Stamp, do not show your I.D. card! Just tell the customs agent at the gate when entering that you are a tourist. They will ask where you plan on staying, and how long. Answer with visiting friends stationed in … (Name of German city) You then have 90 days to get a SOFA Stamp. But remember, if you get stopped by the Polizei for any reason after the 90 days and you don’t have the stamp, you will be arrested and deported…

    (Been there, done that)

  7. Family members MUST have tourist passports. As the article says, they must also have the SOFA stamp for the passports.

  8. I would not do that…it’s playing with fire.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Remember, your no-fee passport is not an official passport. It’s a tourist one. Feel free to use your no-fee passport to travel in Europe!

  10. You can NOT travel on a no-fee passport u less it if official travel with orders. You might want to check the official website http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/no-fee.html because you have been misinformed.

  11. Would argue that the consensus is that you exit Germany on your tourist passport, and re-enter Germany with your no-fee since that’s the one that has your SOFA stamp. The “official” answer from the state.gov site says otherwise, but that’s what we and most folks we know do, and no hassle by customs.

  12. Jeff Bates says:

    I have a passport that is expired, but in that passport is my aufehhalts erlaubniss, is that expired with my passport or do I need to get a new one for my new passport, or can I just show the old passport with the aufenhalts erlaubniss, it says on it that it is unbefristet.

  13. heidi breuer says:

    you take your old and new passport to the german auslandermeldeamt and they will take care of it for you it costs 50Euro

  14. It is not hard to get a SOFA card. We didn’t know we needed one until we arrived in Germany with our PCS move. We handed the Customs gentleman mine and my sons tourist passports and he asked about the card, which we weren’t even aware existed. He let us through to the base, and told us to get with our customs office. My husband went to the passport office on post while he was in processing with our passports and his orders and he left with our SOFA cards. When my son was born here we ordered a tourist passport and they issued a SOFA card to him when we picked up his documents packets. It isn’t difficult at all to get and is far cheaper than trying to cheat the system.

  15. Yeah none on the Passport Agents at the Munich Airport look twice at the cards….they want to see an ID card. Plus try to get the Stuttgart CPAC to sign off on the SOFA request….oh yeah only need on signature…takes over a month! CPAC rocks ;)

  16. It’s not just trips to the US! My daughter went to Thailand for a tourist trip about 2 months ago and they asked for her SOFA card before she left the country. Of course, she didn’t have it and there was a big upset including tears, understandably so since they implied she wouldn’t be able to go on her trip. We spoke with the polezei there and they let her go with the understanding she had to have it when she returned or they would send her back to the airport she had flown in from. Thank heavens we were able to email a copy of it to her and the gentleman who was assisting her and she was allowed back home.

  17. Isn’t it a procedure you go through when the Service member/ Civil Servant inprocesses? I think this is something that has fell through the cracks at the Company level. I know of a WO2 who was unaware that he was required to get his family members Sofa cards/stamps. REALLY?
    If you don’t know, you can’t do anything about it. It should be part of in processing!!!!!!

  18. I contacted the passport office on Graf a few months ago about getting a SOFA stamp in my tourist passport & was told that they wouldn’t do it since I have a no-fee passport with the stamp. They then informed me I need to carry both passports when I travel outside of Germany, which seems ridiculous. What’s the point of traveling on my tourist passport if I’m going to have to show officials the no-fee passport with the stamp in it to get back in the country anyway? It makes no sense…

  19. Heidi Breuer is correct. You will, however, receive an ID card-like Aufenhaltserlaubnis instead of the old stamp in the new passport.

  20. It’s true that carrying both passports is required if you leave Germany and come back in. Those that have an official passport have the SOFA stamp inside of that passport, and you cannot get a second SOFA stamp/card, thus your official passport is required along with your tourist one. I know it’s stupid, but it’s what’s required.

  21. Inge Morman says:

    I always took both passports . They were not heavy! Now I retired and I am a tourist!

  22. Any news on SOFA stamps for same-sex spouses?

  23. I look on the SOFA stamp as a residency card, that’s what it really comes down to. Proving that you and your family are legally residing here. Travel with both passports, no big deal. They sometimes LOOK at the official one and scan the tourist one.

  24. Anonymous says:

    The problem is that during in processing members are told to not travel with their no-fee passports and that you need to use the tourist passport. I think the confusion comes from being told the no-fee is for travel between the US and the country in which you are stationed. This needs to be circulated through the chain to ensure everyone does understand it.

  25. Stephen Baack says:

    Good question, Tammy. I will collect all of these questions — including this one — and get feedback from our passport office. Until we can get you a definitive answer, please feel free to call your respective passport office or (if you’re in the USAG Ansbach community), feel free to call the USAG Ansbach Passport Office at 09802-83-3456 or DSN 467-3456. Thanks. –Steve from PAO

  26. Stephen Baack says:

    Thanks for the question. I am collecting all of the questions we’ve received from this post — including this one — and will get feedback from our passport office. Until we can get you a definitive answer, please feel free to call your respective passport office or (if you’re in the USAG Ansbach community), feel free to call the USAG Ansbach Passport Office at 09802-83-3456 or DSN 467-3456. Thank you. –Steve from PAO

  27. Stephen Baack says:

    Thank you for your question. Just to let you know, I am collecting all of the questions we’ve received from this post (including yours) and will get feedback from our passport office. Until we can get you a definitive answer, please feel free to call your respective passport office or (if you’re in the USAG Ansbach community), feel free to call the USAG Ansbach Passport Office at 09802-83-3456 or DSN 467-3456. Thank you. –Steve from PAO

  28. Stephen Baack says:

    Jeff, that’s a good question. We are collecting all of these questions and will get feedback from our passport office about them. Until we can get a definitive answer for you and everyone else, please feel free to call your respective passport office or (if you’re in the USAG Ansbach community), feel free to call the USAG Ansbach Passport Office at 09802-83-3456 or DSN 467-3456. Thank you. –Steve from PAO

  29. Stephen Baack says:

    Good point and good question. I will take this question/suggestion to our in-processing contacts. Thank you.

  30. So, I get it that there’s a rule that folks need to follow, we always carry both sets of passports.

    But, there are these new-fangled things called “computers” that allow people to track information like names. One might think that the Germans would buy one or two of these things and use them instead of ridiculously relying on stamps on everything.

    Honestly, it reminds me of being in the third world where you have to go to 7 different offices, each of which has it’s own little stamping process, to do anything.

  31. Sentinel says:

    The DOD recognizes same-sex spouses overseas, therefore you should be able to get your spouse’s the same was as everyone else. I work with someone in a same-sex marriage, and he was able to get one for his spouse.

  32. Sentinel says:

    German Immigration officers do have “computers” that scan the passports as the airports and other points of entry…this is why the passports have the strip on them. Once scanned, the information comes up…the SOFA stamps are for when one is out and about and the police/Customs may not have access to the computers.

  33. Anonymous says:

    The no-fee is only for entering and exiting the country where stationed. I do have a military ID, DOD ID, dependent ID, tourist passport and official passport. I hand German customs my CAC and no-fee passport. Any other combination gets me questioned.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Retirees are not authorized SOFA stamps.

  35. I just returned from Naples. We used our tourist passports. At no time did they request my official passport. Good thing because I didn’t have it-I was waiting for it to get to me from the state office. But, now I am PCSing to Naples, do I still need the SOFA? I’m thinking not as I will have the Italian Visa in my official passport meaning I can work in Italy and no longer have a working connection to Germany.
    Thanx for the info

  36. I’m a contractor who recently had to go TDY to Kosovo to do some work and I flew from Frankfurt to Zurich, Switzerland where Customs started asking lots of questions like why was I living in Germany as a US Citizen etc. – I showed them my SOFA card and it cleared everything up and I was allowed to continue my TDY !

  37. This is too funny… doesn’t America require a GREEN CARD to proof you live in the country legally and as far as I know it’s a card that get’s looked at????
    Just saying… just accept and respect other countries rules. Just because we “forgot” that we need legal proof, doesn’t make the other the”boo bear”.
    We’ve been traveling with both for years. That’s what they ask for… that’s what they get.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I am a US citizen but my husband is Dutch and he works at NATO HQ. I was not aware that I needed a stamp and since we’ve been here for 4 years and have not left Germany to go back to the states it was not a problem. I now have dual citizenship with a Dutch ID card through marriage- will I have a problem going back to the states with my tourist passport and no stamp? would they question me why i was able to live in Germany without any stamp on my passport?

  39. Currently in the military, staying in Germany after I ETS, is it possible to get a SOFA stamp before I separate?

  40. Anonymous says:

    And my wife is a German national

  41. According to Army in Europe Regulation 600-77, dated 27 Jan 14, paragraph 8 b (2), “U.S. citizen who holds both a no-fee and a regular-fee passport, the PAA (passport acceptance agent) will issue SOFA identification only in association with the no-fee passport”. We are not trying to make anything difficult but are following the regulation.

  42. Michele Crawford says:

    Although the DoD recognizes same-sex marriages, we currently cannot issue a SOFA to same-sex spouses in Germany.

  43. Michele Crawford says:

    In order to receive a SOFA, you will need to have a position on-post (either NAF or AF, TESA contractor) that offers you logistical support.

  44. No one is trying to cheat the system. Some, like you have stated, are not aware of the requirement.

  45. It seems to be a miscommunication or something that has fallen through cracks. When we arrived over 3 years ago, we were told that we had to get the tourist passport to travel and do NOT use the no-fee passport while vacationing, which we did. We have no problem carrying the passports if that is what is required, but I’m not thrilled about worrying about a second set of passports to keep secure. On a side note, I have only been asked for my “SOFA” passport twice and only LEAVING Germany. They have never given me a hard time upon returning….

  46. Am I entitled to a SOFA stamp for my tourist passport? I am the spouse of a Reservist, soon to be activated for an unaccompanied 180-day tour in Germany. My son & I would like to join him for longer than the 90-days allowed by tourist visa. Thanks.

  47. Can my Spouse enter Germany using commercial Airports with a no fee passport and SOFA without tourist passport?

  48. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Thank you for the inquiry. We have forwarded your question to the local passport office for clarification.

    – Bryan from PAO

  49. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Thanks for the question. We have forwarded it to our passport office for clarification.

    – Bryan from PAO

  50. Bryan Gatchell says:

    According to our passport office, yes, they can, as long as they are on official travel. – Bryan from PAO

  51. Bryan Gatchell says:

    The SOFA stamp/card is issued to command-sponsored dependents and civilian personnel overseas and are reflected on their orders, according to the passport office. A tourist visiting Germany for more than 90 days requires a VISA from Germany. I hope this helps. – Bryan from PAO

  52. Is this a response from the passport office? I have received conflicting information that if you are in DEERS then your spouse is your sponsor even if the tour is unaccompanied and therefore entitles you to a sofa stamp.

  53. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Thank you for your question.

    The previous answer is from the garrison passport office. To receive SOFA identification from the Department of State, according to the passport office, the Family member must be a U.S. citizen sponsored by command.

    I hope this helps.

    – Bryan from PAO

  54. Hello! I am a military service member who will PCS with my family to Germany from Ft. Sam Houston, TX. I have a few questions.

    (1) Who do we contact to get a SOFA stamp/card? A post office or passport office within San Antonio, or visit the passport office on Ft. Sam?

    (2) Which passport will the SOFA stamp/card go in?

    (3) My husband and I travel overseas a lot from the US. We intend to leave Germany at least once a month to travel to other countries in Europe. We will be traveling by air most of the time. Which passport do we use, the government issued “no fee” passport, or our blue tourist passport? We will be traveling on the weekends and not taking leave, so we will not have any leave forms.

  55. Lol, last time I went through American airport, I had to show my passport where I got STAMP that I was admitted to the United States and to show my green card. The passport gets scanned, but pretty much every country will put stamps in passport including United States. Also when I was leaving United States, the officer look through my passport to see my stamp about authorized stay.

  56. I dont think they will care about it, All they care is you are US citizen and coming back home.

  57. There was discussion on one of the fb page for spouses. I thought SOFA stamp is received only if dependents are command sponsorship. I was told by few spouses, that their command sponsorship was denied but they still decided to come and were able to receive SOFA stamp at uso. They mentioned this about Korea and Germany. Is it true that spouses can get SOFA stamp without being command sponsored and receive BAH, COLA, medical and on post access? Thank you

  58. I’d like to know the answer to this question as well. I’m in the same boat.

    I was told that my tour will not be a command sponsored tour so if my family comes it will be at my own expense. I also told that my wife and child can visit me for 90 days before having to return to the US. If my wife and child visit me for 90 days and return to the US, how long would they have to stay in the US before being allowed to return to Germany for another 90 days?

    I was doing some research online and saw some forums that said I could possibly get a SOFA stamp for my dependents which would allow them to stay for more than 90 days. Is this true? If so, would they be able to stay with me for the extent of my orders?

    Since I am the service member, would I be able to sponsor my dependents myself with an Individual Sponsorship so that they could stay for the extent of my orders assuming I am unable to get a command sponsorship?

    During the interim, if my dependents are stateside, with or without a SOFA stamp, would we still receive BAH for my home of record as well as OHA for my German residence off base?

  59. We came here in January from NY. Once we got our orders , we applied for no-fee passports and SOFA stamps from the passport office on post. It took about a month for the no-fee passports to come back. Prior to that, we applied for tourist passport at the local USPS. The Sofa stamp goes into the no-fee passport.

    We recently went to Asia over the summer. My wife and children left first, and she brought both sets of passports (yes they checked to make sure we had to SOFA stamp).

  60. I am a mil spouse and the ADM is going to Korea for a 180 remote. we were not permitted to accompany him. In review of the JC DOD travel regs – you can apply to move to your FO ahead of your spouse (even internationally). We started with EFMP and sent med clearance to Germany; they approved us medically and we applied for our no-fees today. it is my understanding that we can go ahead of my spouse up to 6 months and our passports and FO orders would get our sofa status for me and the kids. Can anyone offer me some clarification on this???

  61. Bryan Gatchell says:

    We’ve passed this along to our passport office, and they have additional follow-up questions to understand the situation. We recommend you contact your local passport office or to contact our passport office, visit http://www.ansbach.army.mil/DirectoryD.html#Passport.

  62. I have a question about getting sofa status.

    My situation –

    Served 4 years in the Marines and moved here after getting married to a local national. It’s been 12 years now :)

    I am already in the German system so I cannot receive sofa status. I am looking to become a DoD teacher in the future but would require sofa status I believe.

    Is there a way to be eligible again if I leave Germany for a certain time period and then get hired and come back?

  63. I recently arrived to Wiesbaden for a job interview with the military as a civilian. Upon my arrival to Frankfurt, the agent asked me my reason for visit and i told her a job interview for the US Army. She let me through without stamping my passport. I have been hired for the job but haven’t went through processing for a SOFA stamp. I plan on traveling to Copenhagen for the weekend and returning back to Wiesbaden.

    Will there be a issue upon my return to Germany without a stamp?

  64. More SOFA related questions-

    my wife and I both applied for and received our tourist passports. We will be going to Germany in March. I didn’t actually received my orders until after the holiday block leave period after we had already applied for and received tourist passports. As such there is limited time to get my wife a no-fee passport in time (10 weeks they say).

    From what I understand, she will have 90 days to acquire a SOFA stamp/card. Is this only an issue with Germany or will this be an issue going through BWI/Rammstein , getting there? I believe I will be able to get her a SOFA stamp within 90 days when we arrive at Kaiserslautern (based on some online reading). She is command sponsored and named on my orders.

    Any input?

  65. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Thanks for the question. We are staffing it now through the appropriate specialists.

    – Bryan from PAO

  66. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Though we may be too late concerning your weekend plans, we are staffing the question now.

    We appreciate your patience.

    – Bryan from PAO

  67. Bryan Gatchell says:

    Thank you for the comment. I have forwarded your situation and question to our specialist in such matters.

    – Bryan from PAO

  68. More SOFA related questions for Chinese passport,

    According to the Electronic Foreign Clearance Guide, since my wife is third national (chinese citizen with Chinese passport) its required for her to get her SOFA stamp/card before she arrival in Germany. I do have to mail her passport/order/a form (can’t remeber the number)/photo copy of her Greencard to Germany to get it.

    My question is how long does it take for SOFA application process? any thing would helps!

    Zhenhua

  69. Did you guys find out ?

  70. Not true. Our passports were no fee passports and we can travel with them anywhere we want since they are just like the regular tourist ones. My husband has a red official one. Those are the ones you can only travel with when you are on official travel

  71. My wife and I are about to go to Thailand. We just realized our kids only have no fee passports. Do I need to rush to get them tourist passports?

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