While I am very thankful to be so fortunate to live overseas, it’s not always magical and fun.
We are a military family.
These are some challenges to our daily lives.
While I was raised in a military family, it’s quite eye-opening to be a military family in a foreign country.
For personal safety, we are advised to remove stickers and emblems from our personal vehicles that could identify us as American.
My husband cannot wear his uniform off base. My daughter cannot wear her Civil Air Patrol uniform off base.
We don’t wear American sports or brand-ID clothing off base either.
We do our best to blend in.
So many Americans live in a bubble of ignorance and arrogance and protection in the big ole US of A, but getting unbiased news reports opens our eyes a bit here.
We receive an APO mailbox that is located in my husband’s building. I can mail items through that office at US postal prices to US mailing addresses.
For receiving items, I have two choices:
When I place an online order, I can ship to my APO which is like a US postal address, but there are often long wait times. Items can be expedited for additional shipping charges. Sometimes, a company won’t ship an item to an APO. I have had to cut down my blog reviews for many items won’t ship here in a timely fashion or at all. Some stores often ship the cheapest way, which means on a boat and I could see the item in a couple months, maybe.
I can order locally and have items shipped to my home address. There are not so many items available to order here as in the USA and free shipping is not as common.
Internet and TV
This was the biggest shock to me.
We put our TV in storage rather than ship it with our household goods since it wasn’t something we wanted to pay for here. There are taxes and signal boxes that must be purchases and we don’t watch that mutch TV anyway.
It took 6 months to get Internet connected to our house. While we have the fastest connection of anyone we know, it is DSL and the bandwidth is shared among the neighbors in our village. So, in the evenings, it is rather slow and glitchy.
Paying for Stuff
We have US bank accounts that service military families. The clerks we contact with questions or problems don’t seem to understand that the rest of the world utilizes pin and chip cards for payment. Our non-chip check cards are seldom accepted at local stores and hardly ever when we travel, so we have to use ATMs for Euro cash before we leave. We’ve been having trouble using our check cards at the couple of local places that do take them as payment. Our bank tells us the company that issues the check cards have fraud alerts for any credit purchases over $50. We have called and spoken to the bank several times and argued to have the fraud alerts lifted. We have explained we need pin and chip cards. We have explained that we live in Germany and the stores only have machines that run check cards like credit cards. It’s so embarrassing to be at Globus or Real and ring up €130 in groceries to have our card denied. Shopping here can be challenging.
And then there’s the exchange rate that’s 24% higher on-base than off-base. The government justifies this as a convenience charge.
There are a few options for paying local utility bills since we live off-base. We have two banks on-base: Community Bank, run by Bank of America (and a completely different banking entity), and Service Credit Union. There are offices in the KMCC mall and several other convenient locations around the KMC military installations. Many ATMs are easily found on bases too. These banks communicate with local vendors and offer payments in Euro and USD. We opened a Community Bank account to pay rent, utilities, Internet, and cell phones. There is a $1 surcharge+exchange rate fees for online bill pay transactions. Many choose to get a completely local German bank to avoid all the extra fees. This is handy for those fluent in German or married to a local national. I wish we had researched and figured this out before banking with Community Bank.
American electrical outlets are 110V. Most European electric outlets are 220V.
While we use transformers for some of our must-have kitchen appliances and adaptors for things like lamps, we have to be very careful with electricity here. It’s more expensive than what we’re used to paying. The electric company charges an average fee each month and then reconciles each year. We owed a lot last year, so we asked for our average to be raised accordingly so we’re not surprised again. We use our dishwasher and washer and dryer every day, often multiple times per day. We hang our clothing to dry, but I do put towels and underwear in the condenser dryer.
We put all of our 110V appliances with timers in storage. We also put our big freezer in storage. I have purchased a few items new or used to make our time here more enjoyable. I figure the amount of use we will get out of a slow cooker and hair dryer for 3-4 years is worth it!
We receive a gasoline or petrol ration each month.
There are several gas stations on the bases near us. They list the price per gallon that is comparable to prices in the US, but it issues gas in liters. We sign for our ration and then we pay in American dollars.
When our van arrived, one of the first things we had to do was register it in the system for our petrol ration. When my husband bought a car, we had to transfer the registration and ration card.
When we travel, we can load the Esso card and use it at Esso stations throughout Germany, as long as it is within our monthly ration.
Our children mostly adjust well to the military life.
Our teen has the hardest time being flexible. I know it’s hard sometimes. She has less freedom as an ex-pat here in Europe than she would in the States.
While many of her friends in the USA are getting learner’s permits at 15, Liz knows she can’t drive a car in Europe until the age of 18. Since we live (pretty far) off-base, she has to rely on her parents (us) to drive her to activities.
She isn’t able to get a part-time job off-base and almost all the base jobs require applicants to be 18+. She is vying for entry-level experience with military spouses who need the money or are bored or want to work (they can’t get any off-base jobs either).
Most of the volunteer opportunities in the local community are even closed to her since she is a minor. The USO doesn’t accept minors anymore here in our area because of some bad occurrences that happened years ago.
Liz got her Red Cross certification at age 15 so she earns credit for her hospital volunteering.
Too many families want babysitters who are adults and have their own car. And they don’t want to pay. We used to pay $10-15/hour for our 3 girls, but most of the babysitting jobs Liz has done this past year were for $5/hour for 2-4 kids, and some with special needs! Liz is a certified babysitter with the Red Cross – CPR and more, and has lots of experience with special needs kids – autism, deafness, FAS.
Our other kids haven’t had too many problems with military life other than leaving friends when we or they PCS.
I love seeing family and friends post momentous occasions on social media. I laugh and cry with you. I am proud to witness your kids’ growth and family events. But it also makes me a little sad. We miss the church campouts and friendly BBQs. My husband misses fishing with his friends. My kids miss playing in the yard.
Holidays are hard.
It’s hard feeling isolated and alone sometimes.
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