Germany — Observations about No Fee and Tourist Passports for American Military Families

© 2014 Peter Free


08 July 2014





To enter Germany, an active duty US military member needs only military orders (assigning him or her there) and a military ID card.  He or she will need an American tourist passport to travel outside Germany.


Military spouses and children entering Germany must be named on the active duty member’s military orders and have in their possession:


(i) a “no fee” American passport stamped with a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) endorsement —


(ii) plus a separate tourist passport, if travel outside Germany is on the agenda.


My Stateside post/base handled my no fee passport application, but I had to go the US Post Office for the tourist version.



Distinguishing the no fee from the tourist passport


The two booklets look identical, despite the fact that they serve different purposes:



The no fee passport entitles its bearer to reside in Germany for the duration of her/his spouse’s military orders.


In contrast, the tourist document allows her/him to spend up to 89 days in other countries individually, before having to exit each.  The tourist version is obviously not tied to military duty.


This distinction matters:



Although it reportedly happens only rarely, if I were to travel inside Germany without the no fee passport — or leave Germany and want to re-enter without it — German authorities could find me in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two nations.  That probably would not be a pleasant experience.


Americans should note that German law protects German police from the argumentativeness and disrespect that American police routinely endure.  This is an orderly and hierarchical culture.


The only way to visually distinguish the no fee passport from the tourist one is to look at the last line of each under the bearer’s photograph.  The no fee booklet states, “See page 27”— where a stamped endorsement reads:



This passport is valid only for use in connection with the bearer’s residence abroad as a dependent member of the American military or naval forces on active duty outside the United States.



A side note regarding bureaucratic hoop jumping


One cannot apply for both passports with the same application, despite the fact that identical documents and forms are required for each.


This means that you have to have enough time before PCSing to obtain both documents.




For non-military readers, PCS refers to “permanent change of station.”


After applying for the first passport, whether no fee or tourist, you will have to wait for the Department of State to return your birth certificate (or proof of citizenship), so that you can apply for the second one.




It makes little sense to use the newly issued first passport to apply for the second one (instead of your birth certificate or proof of citizenship) because, presumably, you would be even more inconvenienced, were the passport lost in the mail and your spouse’s orders still required that you to be in Germany as of a rapidly advancing date.  No passport, no entry.


From my perspective, the potential for losing original identity documents in the mail doubles with the (apparently unnecessary) “apply twice” process. As does the time involved. Given the late arrival of our military orders, I had to pay to expedite receipt of the second one.


Summarizing, not only do you get two documents that look exactly alike, but serve different purposes — you also get to apply for them twice, using the same form, and sweat while the (a) Post Office or commercial carrier and (b) Government bureaucracy funnel sometimes nearly irreplaceable documents through their gears.



The moral? — Don’t let your tourist passport expire


Keeping one’s tourist passport valid reduces potential for loss of identity documents in transit.