Travelers reminded to check passports, SOFA stamps
DARMSTADT, Germany — Holiday vacationers in Germany may have their visions of sugarplums turned into sour grapes if travel documentation isn’t up to date.
Passport expiration dates and Status of Forces Agreement stamps needed for travel by Americans living or working in U.S. military communities in Germany should be looked at now to ensure upcoming holiday trips are hassle free, an Army official said.
Lanny Hall, 1st Personnel Command chief of the personnel services branch, said holiday travelers are cutting it close if they have not already checked these items before heading to the airport.
At least three months should be given for tourist passport renewals, and travelers should check to ensure they have the new SOFA stamp before Jan. 15, Hall said.
German officials will not recognize passports with the old SOFA certificate or rubber stamp in them after the January date, he said.
These SOFA stamps have two purposes.
First, it serves as a visa, allowing civilian contractors and family members living overseas to stay in Germany longer than the 90-day tourist length.
Second, the SOFA stamp identifies these Americans in Germany with tax-exempt status, allowing them to shop in military stores.
To get a passport renewal or the new SOFA stamp, Hall said, to go to local passport offices, which are usually located with ID card offices on military installations.
“Obviously, people should not allow passports to expire,” Hall said, citing emergency situations where passports would be necessary.
He also said travelers should ensure the expiration date goes throughout the duration of travel.
“They might be able to get back to the States, but many people have problems returning,” he said.
Though, Hall said the passport process has become more expeditious, it’s still important to put in renewal paperwork as early as possible.
“We encourage people to do renewal paperwork at least three months prior to travel, just to make sure.”
For more information on services and information for American citizens abroad, look at the U.S. Consulate Web site at www.travel.state.gov.