SOFA stamp: a must before leaving Germany

by Robert Szostek U.S. Army in Europe Customs Public Affairs Office

WIESBADEN, Germany ― Many of us take trips to the United States and other countries during this time of year. Some people should be reminded, however, that a valid Status of Forces Agreement stamp or card is needed before departing in order to return to Germany.

German immigration officials report that U.S. forces family members and civilians are showing up at Frankfurt International Airport and Ramstein Passenger Terminal 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, on 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 travellers stated they were not aware that this is 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 stressed. Contact your servicing passport office to obtain a SOFA card.

Finally, travellers 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.