So you received your orders and, SURPRISE, they say Germany! Now whether Germany was your number one pick or your last, it can be… a little nerve wracking making the big move across the pond. You have so many questions, but don’t know where to start. Here are a few tips that’ll have you a little more prepared so you can hit the ground running in Deutschland!
1. Language – Learn the basics beforehand
While it might seem daunting or unnecessary to learn German, it will make your transition that much easier. You absolutely don’t have to be fluent, but studying up on a few common phrases will come in handy. They appreciate it, you appreciate it, and quite frankly you feel cool.
Apps like Duolingo and Google Translate will be your best friend! For those that need some face-to-face instruction, free German language courses are offered through the USO and ACS once you arrive. It also helps if you can make a German friend or two. They love to practice their English!
2. Weather – Pack for everything
One of the nice things about weather here in Germany is that you get to experience all four seasons. It can also be a little unpredictable though, so be prepared for anything. It is not uncommon to have a chilly day in the middle of July. Let that be a good note to pack smartly in your unaccompanied baggage; a cute top, sweater, and your new bathing suit are all a must! You never know where you’ll be travelling once you land. The travel bug is a real thing!
3. Pets – Bring them along, but start the process now
Good news! Pets are not quarantined when you bring them to Germany, but there are lots of rules and regulations when it comes to bringing your furry friends overseas. Make sure to do your research beforehand and book a spot for them on your flight ASAP. Pet spots tend to book up fast when bringing them over on Patriot Express. Costs are different depending on their size also, so do your homework. You may need to reserve two spots AND buy an XL kennel.
On another note, Germany is known for being super dog friendly. You’ll often see people dining or enjoying a nice glass of beer with their pup at their feet. Dogs are not welcome in grocery stores though. When in doubt, call ahead to ask about their policy.
4. Temporary Lodging – Book early!
As soon as your receive your orders and know what installation you’re headed to, call the on-post hotel to book your stay as soon as you can. They’re known to fill up quickly! This is where you will be staying during in-processing and while you search for your new home abroad.
Keep in mind that you may not have your car/international license yet, so it is more convenient if you’re on-post. They will put you in an off-post hotel if they’re full, so don’t worry. A spot may also open up during your stay – so keep calling! Ask your sponsor (you’ll be assigned one when you receive your orders) to help you out too.
5. Culture – They do things differently here…very differently
Locals tend to keep to themselves and aren’t very expressive. Meaning, they don’t smile a lot and you almost never see them hug when greeting one another like most Americans do. They typically stick to handshakes and a short “hallo” or “Guten Tag.” Oh, and don’t be offended if you catch them staring! They will do this often, but you’ll eventually get used to it and won’t even notice.
6. Food & Drink – Come hungry (and thirsty)!
Germany is most known for its wurst, schnitzel and brezn (pretzels), but Germans also have a variety of other things to offer. You can easily find Italian, Indian or even American style burgers. German food is delicious though, so make sure to try it all!
Water – Keep in mind that water here is almost always sparkling and typically never free of charge. If you would like your water bubble-free, ask for “stilles wasser” or still water.
Coffee – It does not taste like the coffee you’re used to back home! Coffee here is much stronger. You’ll often see locals ordering a cappuccino or espresso.
7. Bier – Prost!
Of course, we could dedicate a whole article to just beer alone! Germany has a wide selection of delicious beers and many beautiful bier gartens to drink them in. I suggest you try them all! Take it slow though – German beer is stronger and can be served by the liter or half liter. Before taking a swig, cheers your friends while looking them in the eyes and say “Prost!” It’s tradition!
8. Sundays – Everything is closed so plan accordingly
Sundays are days of rest and are meant for spending time with family or going to church. All stores and groceries will be closed, requiring you to shop on post if needed. Most restaurants will be open though, but check their hours ahead of time as they might be different. And don’t get me started on German holidays – this Catholic country celebrates every religious holiday, so don’t be surprised to walk outside to find the whole city a ghost town.
9. Recycling – Everything has its place
Recycling is big here and important. Things are organized by plastic, paper, glass and organic waste. Glass bottles are even separated by color: brown, clear and green. Everything is organized and has its own bag and/or garbage bin. You can even deposit some bottles (these are specially marked) where you’ll receive change back ranging from 8 to 25 cents. It’ll seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Right and Up Tip: Tape a recycling chart above your trash or on your refrigerator for reference to help you sort. You can pick one up at ACS.
10. International Driver’s License – Study up!
In order to hit the road to explore your new home, you will need an international drivers license, even on post. There are two ways to do this: online or by taking a class. Both are good options, but taking the test online can be more convenient since you can do it on your own time. The German road signs and laws can be a bit confusing, so it’s best to study up ahead of time.
11. Currency – Keep euro on you at all times
Germany uses euro and has both paper and coins. It is good practice to keep some euro in your wallet at all times because not all stores or restaurants take cards. Germans also appreciate when you can give exact change. If you aren’t great at math, you will be after a few months here!
While on post, you will use dollars. Some stores or vendors will accept euro, but keep in mind what the exchange rate is when making a purchase.
12. Travel – Make the most of your PCS to Europe!
Travel is by far one of the BEST things about living overseas! And what’s even better is that travel within Europe can be super cheap if you plan it right. What’s not to love about that?! I know it can be scary traveling to places you’ve never been before, but trust me and take this opportunity to go see those places you have only dreamt about. There are lots of resources on post with MWR and online forums. Look out for Facebook groups and travel groups online for tips and recommendations.
You’re now ready for the most exciting move of your life! Open yourself up to new experiences, embrace the change, and have fun!
About the Author
Allison Tuggle is an Army spouse, dog mom, and lover of all things Southern. She was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia where she met her husband, Casey. They have since been stationed in Fort Riley, KS, Fort Hamilton, NY, Fort Leonard Wood, MO and now Grafenwoehr, Germany. You’ll often find her playing fetch with her pup, checking out a new restaurant or brewery, or researching her next getaway adventure! Allison has grown a true love for traveling and hopes to make the most out of their time overseas!