This post is a Guest Post from Milspouse, Nerissa from Nerissa Alford Designs
This was me once we got the call that our next PCS was to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. I also screamed at my husband – twice. Our family has been blessed to be stationed all over the world. All I wanted was to be stationed in the middle of Europe and it finally happened! We got one of the biggest US Air Force Bases in Germany; Ramstein AFB!
Check Out Our Other “Stationed In Germany” Posts from Fellow Germany Bloggers:
In the Air Force community, most people associate an assignment in Germany with Ramstein Airforce Base. It is home to the 86 Air Wing, AMC 721, USAFE-AFAFRICOM, and NATO. The work tempo can vary depending on command. Exercises with partners are plentiful. With that said, travel is highly encouraged. This area has a very large American military community. The population is made up of active duty, retirees, DoD civilians, DoDEA employees, and their family members.
In this area, actually the entire Kaiserslautern Air Force Base area, many locals speak English. Don’t be fooled, I ask ‘Sprechen sie Englisch?’ all the time. Most of the time I get ‘a little bit’ as an answer and proceed to have an entire conversation in English. I personally have a hard time with the German language – I struggle even reading it but trying to use some German goes a long way.
If you are interested in learning the language, there are several intensive German language classes available. Check the base Community Center’s Facebook page for information and the schedule. You can also get a free Mango Language account with your USAFE library account or sign up for a free Duolingo account. Both of these language learning websites also have apps for your phone.
^Starting Your PCS to Ramstein? Don’t Forget To Pin This!^
Before You Arrive
Take a look at the official Ramstein Air Base website for PCS information.
Reserve on-base lodging as soon as possible
While this is always true, it is especially important during our current circumstances of Covid. You will need to quarantine immediately upon arrival, so you’ll need lodging booked before arrival.
Make your reservation immediately after receiving your arrival date. No need to wait for orders. Transient passengers also need to make reservations in advance at a Ramstein Air Base Hotel. (Taken from Ramstein Air Base official Facebook page post 6 Aug 2020)
There are two kinds of passports for military members and families stationed in Germany.
- No-Fee Passport: This passport is issued to all command sponsored family members at no fee. This will have a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) card with basically states that you are allowed to be living in Germany (without a German work permit) under the command of the US Military. Think of this as basically your “Green Card.” If you don’t have a No Fee passport yet, you may enter Germany on a tourist visa but will need to obtain your SOFA card within 90 days of entry.
- Tourist Passport: This passport is your typical traveling passport that is required for ANY leisure travel. It is highly advantageous to have both a tourist and a no-fee passport, especially if you plan to do any traveling while in Germany and Europe (and why wouldn’t you want that, of course!?) You can obtain your tourist passport at anytime prior to moving to Germany, or they can help you get one on Base as well.
Driving is a bit different here in Germany, but nothing to be nervous or afraid of, but you will need to pass a test in order to get a license to drive here. Luckily, you can even take the test online now before you even arrive.
The active duty member may need to register you for access. You will need to take the course, pass a 200 question pre-test and pass the final 100 question test before you can get your USAEUR driver’s license and international driver’s license. The internet at Ramstein TLF is not reliable. I didn’t do the course before arriving and ended up taking a day working in the E-Club basement and a day at the USO terminal.
Planning to ship your vehicle?
Most Americans do ship at least one car over to Germany when they PCS to Ramstein. However, if you have an American brand of car, it can be difficult to find places that will do serious work on them. Like most things when moving to Germany though, shipping a car isn’t as stressful as it might seem on the onset. You can start here with your research
Ramstein AFB Housing: wait upon arrival
I know it is hard, but don’t bother house hunting yet getting your heart set on a specific house. The rental market changes quickly here, sometimes within hours! Also, you actually must attend a Ramstein Housing Office briefing before making any housing agreements. What you can do is research the villages around the base and decide what amenities are important; i.e. school districts, parks/walking paths, distance to grocery/baker/butcher, commute time to base, etc.
PCS With Pets Can Be Tricky
If you will PCS with pets, make sure to follow the instructions to a “T”. If not, your pet may not be able to travel with you. For example, some breeds are not even allowed to be shipped to Germany. Other obstacles are finding flights that have pet spots available or flying at times that permits pets (IE: if the weather is too hot airlines will not even allow for pets to fly). You also need a specific type of microchip (not just any) and it MUST be implanted prior to receiving rabies shots. There are a lot of rules regarding shipping your pets and if you mess up one part, your furry family member can be denied coming. More info on PCSing with your pet
Our family has personally shipped our dog from Korea to the states, then from the states to Germany. Both times we were able to travel on the rotator and the flight was seamless for her. I’d encourage you to make a printout on letter size paper, place it in a sheet protector, and attach it to your crate. We included her name, a few fun facts about her, and some cute family photos.
Join the Facebook pages and ask questions.
These groups are a wealth of information! Most likely, a similar question has been asked in the past, so of course, the search function is useful to see others’ experiences.
- Ramstein KMC/Spouses – This is the largest spouse group and very active. In this group under files, there is a spreadsheet with a list of 100 Facebook groups in the KMC area. There is everything from connecting with like minded individuals, travel, kids, food, etc.
- Ramstein AB Spouses – another active spouse group on Facebook
- KMC Support – This is a fairly new group. It is meant for newcomers to ask for help with grocery delivery, restaurant delivery, request for items, etc. It was started by a group of spouses to help those PCS’ing especially during quarantine time and time without a driver’s license/car. It is completely run by volunteers.
When You Arrive in Ramstein Germany
On base housing is limited. There is a mix of townhomes and stairwell apartments. You may be placed in Ramstein, Landstuhl or Vogelweh for housing no matter which actual Germany Air Force Base near Ramstein you are assigned to.
A majority of the population live off base in surrounding villages. Some popular ones close to base are:
- Ramstein (town)
- Kaiserslautern (town)
If you have school-age kids, make sure to contact the School Liaison Officer (SLO) for the most up to date information. Each village is assigned a school district, so again, this may have to wait until you actually arrive and find a home.
DSN: 314-480-9374, CIV: +49-6371-47-9374
From USA: 011-49-6371-47-9374
Building 2203, Room 111 Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Additional SLO information on the official Ramstein Air Base website.
Work Opportunities For Spouses
If you are a spouse and are looking for a job, it is, unfortunately, quite competitive and are hard to come by.
Tip: Utilize the AFRC (Airmen & Family Readiness Center) for help. I used their services to set up my USA JOBS profile. They can help with specific questions navigating the USA JOBS website and best practices.
Start Navigating Your Local Area
One of the best things I did when we moved here was to take a tour with Globus. It’s a grocery store – think Target or Wal-Mart. There is one located in Kaiserslautern. They accept VAT forms on a monthly basis.
Globus holds a comprehensive 3-hour tour about how to shop at their store and on the economy in general. It’s a HUGE help if you are nervous about shopping on the economy and will ease your worries. After taking the tour, I do most of my weekly shopping on the economy. You cannot beat the cost and I love the freshness of the produce section. I also buy all my meat from them. I enjoy trying local goods and often send some in gift boxes back home to the states. Join the Friends of Globus KL page to ask questions about local products or get information to sign up for a tour.
WanderInGermany’s Note: Another great way to ease into Germany’s culture and start getting to know your area is to enjoy all the amazing local cuisine. Here’s my “Must Try Foods in Germany” (other than the typical schnitzels and kraut!)
Use the Ramstein BX For Comforts of Home
While shopping locally on the economy will help you save money (usually) and give you a more authentic experience of Germany, the largest BX in Europe is here (KMCC – Kaiserslautern Military Community Center). The stores boast tastes of home along with local favorites.
Find a Support System
Let’s not overlook the fact that this is a big move. You are moving halfway across the world to another country. It can be overwhelming, give yourself some grace to get situated. This is the 5th country our family has lived in and it still took me 6 months to find my groove.
Find a group of friends you have something in common with. Even as an introvert, I have a solid group of friends that I can lean on.
Find something to do/look forward to locally. Visit local cafes, take a different hike or bike trail each week, take up a hobby. I started taking at least 1-day trip a week.
Lastly, don’t expect life here to be like living in the US, because it won’t be. It will be different but learn to find substitutes and learn to appreciate the differences. This is a chance of a lifetime. Promise yourself you’ll give it a chance and if you do, you will be greatly rewarded with amazing opportunities and experiences.
Some people suffer from the blues during the Fall/Wintertime here. The sun does not come out often and the weather is often gloomy during the winter months. Therefore, you need to take advantage of the clear and sunny days when they do happen! Also, expect to plan some outings with the rain otherwise you will never get out! We never leave without our umbrella and just accept that rain is part of the weather for many months here in Germany. Once you embrace it, it’s easier to accept and just go with the flow.
Nearby Travel Opportunities
One of the best parts about being stationed at one of the Germany Air Force Bases is that European travel is literally in your backyard! Here are a few great options to start getting you excited.
Ramstein to Neuschwanstein Castle: 4 hours 45 minutes. Here’s WanderInGermany’s Everything You Need To Know For Planning a Trip to Neuschwanstein
The World’s Largest Pumpkin Festival: (Ramstein to Ludwigsburg (near Stuttgart) 2.5 hours): Read the Complete Guide To the Ludwigsburg Kurbis Festival here.
Ramstein is in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and there is plenty to do right here in the area! (Wine tours, river cruises, amazing castles, half timbered houses, Europa Amusement Park….) But Bavaria is often considered the “Stereotypical” Germany, though. Here are 16 Reasons Why You Should Also Visit Bavaria
I have visited several towns in Alsace as day trips. Towns may be 1.5 – 3 hours away from the Ramstein US Base area. You can also make a weekend trip and visit several of the towns together. There are opportunities to hike, bike, shop, visit historical sites, and tour the wine region. Also, do not miss the Christmas Market season! Watch this quick video with basic travel tips to Alsace.
- Grocery Shopping in France: take a quick 40-50 minute trip over the border to go grocery shopping in France. Cora and Le Clerc are right over the border in Saint-Avold and Forebach and are popular places that spouses love to jump over to to get goodies. Monoprix is a grocery store I visit when I go to some of the towns in Alsace.
I like to come home with French butter (my favorite has the flakes of sea salt!), cheese, fresh bread, baked goods, fresh seafood, and lamb.
Cora has a huge wine tent sale twice a year.
Weekend in the Black Forest
We visited the Black Forest during Thanksgiving weekend. Our home base was Triberg. We hiked the Triberg Waterfalls, ate traditional Black Forest cake at Restaurant & Cafe Huttenklause Dorotheenhutte, saw the largest cuckoo clock in the world, and visited the Black Forest Museum. Get more details of our Black Forest trip here.
Monschau is such a hidden gem. I loved this town so much. It’s close to the Belgian border and about 2.5 hours away from Ramstein, Germany Air Force Base. It’s a town with wonderful half-timbered architecture on the water. You can hike to the castle and an observation deck to take photos of the town below. My favorite store was Mon Joie featuring artisanal handmade goods.
So Many Christmas Markets!
Just as I started feeling settled, Christmas Market season was beginning. I did 9 markets in 2019 all as day trips. I visited the countries of Germany, France, and Luxembourg. As a newbie to the holiday markets, I utilized the Christmas/Easter Markets Facebook page. Market veterans can answer your questions and people post updates on current markets. I used this page to find markets within 1-2.5 hours of Ramstein. You can also check out Stars & Stripes Special Publications on Christmas Markets. I used both of these resources to plan my market trips. My favorite market of the season was Colmar, France. My family enjoyed Sankt Wendel as well, which was a combo of a medieval and Christmas market.
A couple of Christmas Market tips:
- At the bare minimum, look up parking and make a plan. Parking garages or lots may fill up so have a few in mind.
- It’s worth it to stop by the tourist center. Every town I visited had one. I’d always grab a map and ask for photo recommendations.
- If you partake in the beverages, you will pay for the drink and a deposit (pfand) for the mug. You will get your pfand back when you return the mug. If you want to keep it, consider that the cost of the mug. Many people collect them as part of the market experience.
Need a quick activity near home? Go for a hike. There are so many trails to hike and bike close to Ramstein, many less than an hour away. I have yet another Facebook group, Nature Strolls and Urban Hikes KMC Germany. I have always found great recommendations from this page. We’ve also used the Komoot and All Trails apps. I use the free version of Komoot and it has worked out fine.
My favorite local hike is through Karlstal Gorge in Landstuhl. Below are photos from Fall 2019 and Winter 2020.
I truly hope you get out and enjoy your assignment at Ramstein Air Base. Want to swap notes on best practices or travel photos? Let’s connect!
This post is a Guest Post from Milspouse, Nerissa. Thanks, Nerissa for helping everyone getting stationed at Ramstein and the KMCS Area excited about the travel opportunities both here in Germany and all throughout Europe!
I am an award winning and published artist living through my camera lens and channeling that inspiration through my art. Our family has had the opportunity to live in the US, Kuwait, Turkey, Korea, and currently Germany. I road trip often with the navigation skill of Magellan, singing Backstreet Boys in the car, and constantly challenging myself parking my Explorer in European parking spots. You can join Nerissa’s journeys at Nerissa Alford Designs, on Instagram, or on Facebook.