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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Getting Stationed Overseas?

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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting Stationed Overseas?

One of my favorite shops in Berlin
Congratulations on your upcoming assignment!  I bet you immediately had dreams of Paris, Rome...and everywhere in between!  Here are a few quick tips to get you thinking and mentally prepared for what's ahead!

Just some things to think about if you have never lived overseas...in Europe (I can only speak for places I've lived in) :

  • Europe will not be the US, and it's best to not compare EVERYTHING.  Even I struggle with this and now living in Belgium, I struggle and want to compare everything to the very efficient Germany....stop it...each country has its own customs and flavors so to speak!





  • You may be required to live onpost, as some communities have plenty of on-post housing.  Just check and see, so you won't be disappointed or want to compare everything to the US again.  Many housing offices are online now.  For example, to get an idea of what the Stuttgart community has (and what is typical in Germany) visit this site.





  • Along with that last one, know what your Overseas Housing Allowance is for your spouse's rank; that way you know what price range you should be looking at...the farther out, the cheaper it'll be (or if it's close by, be prepared for living in a little box!).





  • With that all being said, sometimes, as a first timer over here, it is easier living on post.  You won't have bills (other than cable tv, internet and phone).  Maintenance people will come fairly quickly if something goes wrong.  You have the security of living on-post and a close support network of neighbors.  Off post, especially if you do not speak the language can be challenging, and you have to be ready to work a little harder and spend a little more money.





  • European houses for the most part, do not have closets....so plan to buy some (either new, antique or used ones that you can sell when you leave again).  On post living is mostly what we call "stairwell living" or apartments, anywhere from 700-2000 square feet as the norm.  Some communities, such as Grafenwoehr and Vilseck have newer onpost duplex housing now.  You'll also see contracted housing off post as well.





  • Know the Euro currency...no one Euro bills, but one Euro and two Euro coins to which many Americans have trouble getting used to.





  • Fast driving and priority to the driver coming from the right.





  • Limited shopping hours; many times everything is closed on Sunday and some restaurants on Monday too.





  • If you purchase a vehicle with European specs, don't plan on taking it stateside, as it won't pass inspection and would need expensive upgrades.  Many have the military ship their American car over for free...and then buy a second hooptie or clunker they can get around town in and sell again when they leave.





  • For the most part, no doggie bags in restaurants.  I insist sometimes, and it's been interesting some of the butcher paper and other things waiters have brought out for me....I sometimes am a total American and bring a tupperware-type container!





  • Look at your household goods....you may not need it all over here...houses and apartments are typically smaller with chopped up rooms (not many with great rooms and high ceilings)....although, I have friends who have homes in both Germany and Belgium with two master suites, tons of bathrooms and six and seven bedrooms...but this is not the norm!  The military will pay to store items you designate as your "storage shipment".  I honestly could not tell you off the top of my head what is in my storage shipment, and I bet I'll get surprised when we finally go back stateside!





  • Make sure all the adults have valid stateside drivers' licenses or else you can't get one over here without paying for an expensive driving course.  If you have teenagers, get them their licenses if you can, before you move.





  • Depending on which country you are going to, contact the onpost driver's testing facility if you have a motorcycle, It is my understanding that without a valid stateside license, you can at least forget it in Belgium...not sure about Germany or the other duty stations.





  • Your fuel for your vehicle is a rationed item (and so is coffee and cigarettes...hard liquor too).  You'll get a ration card and can only get that amount every month.  For some reason, we get less fuel rations in Belgium than in Germany.  It depends here on the size of your vehicle/engine what you will get, and you only get fuel for one vehicle (if you have two, you have to share rations unless the other spouse works and can get extra rations).  Rationed fuel is priced less than what the posted price is...fuel is VERY expensive in Europe, and we should NEVER complain about our American prices!  In Belgium, our government has a deal to get our fuel from the Total gas station brand...in Germany, it's Esso...not sure of the others.  Of course you are always welcome to buy any fuel you want at any gas station on the economy at the same price the locals pay.





  • Stock up on some of your favorite non-perishable items, if you think you are going to miss them while over here.  The commissary does have some case lot sales now and then....and you can order from the US, but then you pay shipping....and European stores just don't sell the stuff in bulk like we do at Sam's Club or Costco.  I see there is one store here in Belgium doing it, Colyrut...but it is a shadow of our big box stores in the US.





  • You will find IKEA over here (just not in Southern Europe yet), so no need to stock up on that stuff, plus, the prices are comparable...they even have the same products.





  • Start learning some basic phrases of the local language.  It's always more polite to at least TRY to speak their language, and you'd be amazed at how the locals open up to you more if you at least try.





  • Most onpost housing has 110 and 220 volt outlets.  You can use American 110 volt appliances over here if your onpost housing has it OR you purchase transformers that you can scatter throughout your home and plug your stuff into.  To figure out if your transformer is heavy duty enough to plug in your appliance, you have to check the amps of your appliance (or multiple ones you plan to plug in) and make sure it doesn't exceed your max amps on your tranformer...they come in different sizes of course...higher amps means they are more expensive.  It's best to get second hand ones at your thrift shop rather than the PX, although the PX does sell fuses for transformers if you blow one out.





  • Only GSM cell phones will work over here...many American cell phones are different technology. Read up on that.  Most Americans do the prepaid phones over here to save money.  Contracts are hard to get out of, and if you lose your contract phone....you will pay through the nose!





  • Be sure to read my other tips and to read my moving articles on this blog.  Do you have anything to add?

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    2 Comments:

    Anonymous CarolC said...

    All very good points!! Definitely a a great source for those moving to Europe soon. Sounds like Belgium is quite different from Germany. : )

    October 18, 2010 at 12:06 PM  
    Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

    Ya got that right! Went to take hubby to the train station in Mons this morning to get up to the airport in Brussels....locked up tighter than a drum with no signs or anything! We thought it was a strike and had to scramble thru rush hour traffic to get him up there...then heard later it might've been an industrial accident...

    October 18, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

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