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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Bordertown, Belgium

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bordertown, Belgium

from http://grenzen.150m.com/bray_dunesGB.htm
I'm really not that old....or at least I don't feel like it, but as I was driving by yesterday, an old border crossing between France and Belgium....where the border and customs buildings are falling into disrepair (yes, they are still standing)....got me thinking back to the old days, before all these "open borders" in the EU.  We were off to my son's soccer game....

We met at Youth Services on SHAPE and were going to caravan the 30 minutes to a small French town, where my son's team was to play a French team....cool, he said.  So off we went.  Twenty minutes later, we were at the border crossing.  I thought most of the complexes at each border crossing were torn down...apparently not.  The place looked like a true ghost town, and the buildings seemed to shout of their former self-importance, as we drove by....but still...no guards....no check point.....no stopping....nothing but weeds and a soft wind blowing.  So that was it, and we were in France.  Since I had no time to stop for a photo op, as I didn't want to lose my place in the caravan, I have added a photo of a border crossing from Belgium to the Netherlands.  At least that building has a second life as a Leonidas Chocolate Shop!

Americans who haven't been to Europe in awhile, have to realize that there will be no one standing at the border to a neighboring EU country...from either country.  You won't have your passport looked at or stamped or your vehicle searched for who knows what...you will just drive straight on through.  BUT, even with that being said...you'd better make sure you have your BLUE TOURIST PASSPORT if you are an American....especially if you go to France.  If you get stopped and are without it for every member of your family traveling, you could be in some serious trouble.  You can thank this little idiosyncracy to a tiff the Americans had with the French a few years back.

I had friends stuck in Greece, trying to get back on a plane, because they didn't know you are NOT to use your official blue passport with the SOFA stamp or "no fee" passport (see the last pages of your passport....if it talks about SOFA, then this is your SOFA passport and is only used to show proof that you are allowed to stay over the three month tourist allowable period without a visa among other things....technically, you are supposed to carry both with you when you cross borders).  Many soldiers say, well...I traveled before with just my military ID or my official passport.....let me challenge you to get across the channel to England with anything but your blue tourist passport....plan ahead and get one before coming over to Europe, as the military won't pay for it and it can sometimes take as long as six months to get one.  Also get your international driver's license at AAA in the US, or plan to get one here.  You are not supposed to be driving out of your host country without it!  Your SHAPE driver's license only covers driving within Belgium, and even then, you might get hassled in Flanders, as they rarely see one there.  I'll talk later about spouses being allowed to get Belgian driver's licences, which are good for LIFE...no need to renew and are recognized in all EU countries....kind of  a neat souvenir to take home with you and knowing that you have the privilege to drive legally....for life, in the EU is a neat concept as well.

But again, I am moving to another topic.  My son had a great game, even though they lost, imagine that.  He played at a small French football (soccer) club that was right next to a WWII German soldier cemetery, that was very well kept I might add.  This place is just oozing with history!

And on the way home?  My silly GPS decided to route us through some secondary roads or worse....really goatpaths for the lack of a better description, through the farmers' fields...at one point, I'm thinking...where the heck are we?  But then as we crested a hill, I saw the big turbine powered windmills in the distance, that scatter the landscape just South of Mons, and I knew we were very close to home.  Of course, no border buildings here....we estimated when we crossed the border by looking at the signs....and of course the condition of the roads...I swear the roads got 50% worse as soon as we hit Belgium!

Do you have any border stories to share?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! Your right. Most Americans think that all these borderposts are controlled. We all expect passport stamps you know.

September 24, 2010 at 7:58 AM  
Anonymous Mrs.H said...

Once again thank you!! My husband's command just told him that all we need were the free passports offered, and I told him when he said that 'let me go double check on this blog I've been reading'! So now we will be off to the passport office this week. Do you know if we have to have our visa's to live in Belgium? Again my husband's command said we didn't need them, but I just want to make sure. (We are Navy and orders to Belgium are rare!)

Thank you again

September 29, 2010 at 5:00 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Congrats on your new assignment! When an American goes to a country in Europe on a tourist passport (your regular paid for passport), it allows him to stay in the country only three months....he would need to apply for a work visa to stay longer.

US Military stationed over here are covered by their SOFA passport and their sponsor's orders assigning them here.

The bad part is, a few years ago...you could travel on your SOFA passport...and before that, you only needed your military ID. 9/11 for the most part changed most of that. It didn't help that the French and US had an argument about something that the Americans wouldn't give on, and the French retaliated with only accepting tourist passports...they are the ones who are the sticklers about it, although I've seen problems with people trying to come from Greece and even Spain with SOFA passports.

Your SOFA passport is your proof that you can be in the country for longer than three months...that's all it's used for (and perhaps if there is some world crisis, and US citizens need to be evacuated back to the US, those with SOFA passports have priority).

Hope that helps explain it better!

September 29, 2010 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger lindsay said...

We are moving to Spangdahlem in about 3 months. We already bought our ACTUAL passports. My hubby keeps trying to tell me we dont need both. Whats up with that? BTW, LOVE the site!!!!

March 20, 2011 at 3:06 PM  

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