GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — A small, tightly-wound book with pages primed for international stamps and the promise of adventure, the passport is perhaps the single most important object for smooth and lawful travel across borders.
Three types of passports are important for DOD personnel and families stationed in Germany: the no-fee passport (for command-sponsored family members of active duty Service Members), the official passport (typically for Stateside civil service employees and their family members), and the fee (tourist) passport.
In general, these international documents are used to verify citizenship, as primary photo identification and to entitle travelers to the protection of their country’s laws while traveling on foreign soil. Passport control officers use passports to determine whether or not foreign nationals can enter the country.
But depending on the nature of travel, using one passport in place of the other could lead to major delays, fines or detainment at another country’s borders, according to travels experts.
Determining the level of passport scrutiny is largely a matter of discretion exercised by nations and protected by internationally-accepted sovereignty. As a general rule, however, the U.S. Department of State and DOD warn that passport officers will deny — or, at the very least, delay — visitors attempting to enter with passports that do not reflect the true intent of travel, according Army in Europe Regulation 600-290 (Passports and Visa).
The U.S. Army reported in a 2009 news release that many countries, including France, Great Britain, Egypt and many African states, will not accept no-fee passports for leisure and personal trips across their borders.
No-fee and tourist passports may look identical, but understanding the distinction could save lots of money, prevent hassles and ensure a safe return.
“No-Fee” and “Official” Passport
No-fee and official passports are issued by the Special Issuance Agency. No-fee passports are issued to command-sponsored family members traveling on permanent change of station orders with their active duty service member sponsor to a foreign country and are valid for five years. Official passports are normally issued to civil service employees, and their accompanying family members, who are hired from the U.S. Service members are only issued an official passport for missions to countries that require an official passport.
Who needs it?
Command-sponsored U.S. citizen family members, should have a no-fee passport for overseas permanent changes of station. Each U.S. citizen accompanying the sponsor and listed on official orders — even infants — should have a no-fee passport. Non-U.S. citizens must acquire passports from their countries’ nearest embassies or consulates.
No-fee passports for German relocation have a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, stamp. SOFA stamps exempt eligible DOD personnel from Germany’s 90-day visa limit and ensure they benefit from U.S. Customs subsidies. Non-U.S. citizens in need of a SOFA stamp should contact the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Passport Office for further guidance. Please note, Germany is one of the few countries that allows SOFA cards to be issued in the fee (tourist) passport if the family member or civil service employee does not possess a no-fee or official passport.
When do I use it?
No-fee and official passports are used “when entering or exiting the country of assignment abroad,” according to the State Department. U.S. civilians and eligible family members stationed in Germany should only use their no-fee or official passports to enter and exit Germany, regardless of the purpose of travel.
How much does it cost?
No-fee and official passports are just that: free.
When do I need to apply?
Apply as soon as you receive orders to a country that requires a no-fee or official passport. No-fee passports can be renewed seven to 12 months before they expire. No-fee and official passport applications and renewals can take up to six to eight weeks to process. Applicants must submit paperwork to the USAG Bavaria Passport Offices via an appointment. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Germany do not process no-fee or official passport applications.
Fee (Tourist) Passport
Fee passports are required for international leisure, private business and personal travel. They act as proof of citizenship and establish travel status through visa stamps. Tourist passports are generally accompanied by a fee, and take about three to four weeks from the date of application, provided there are no issues with the application or delays in mail, to be processed. Here’s the good news: adult tourist passports are valid for 10 years. Tourist passports for minors, or anyone under the age of 16, are valid for five years.
Who needs it?
Any person with plans for a personal trip across the border must have a tourist passport. U.S. tourist passports are only issued to U.S. citizens. In addition, U.S. minors must have both parents present to co-sign paperwork to receive a tourist passport. Non-U.S. citizens must obtain passports from their countries’ nearest embassy or consulate.
Tourist passports identify nationality and verify travel status through affiliated visas and travel stamps. These documents also serve as official international photo identification and are required for both entry into foreign countries and reentry into their country of citizenship. For more on visa and entry requirements for other nations, see the State Department’s country-specific breakdown.
When do I use it?
DOD personnel stationed in Germany must use a tourist passport to enter and exit countries outside Germany or the U.S. for personal travel. A family stationed in Germany and vacationing in Italy, for example, would use their tourist passports at the Italian border upon entering and exiting, and their no-fee passports to reenter Germany. In fact, both the State Department and DOD recommend traveling with both documents. U.S. tourist passports are also accepted forms of identification for travel within the U.S.
How much does it cost?
Adult tourist passports cost $145 for an initial issuance and $110 for a renewal passport. Tourist passports for minors, or anyone younger than 16 years old, cost $115. The USAG Bavaria Passport Office also helps with Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, which costs $100, and issuing newborn passports. In accordance with the State Department, the Passport Office only accepts cashier’s checks and money orders, which can be obtained from an on-post bank or post office. (The above costs are as of July 23, 2019.)
When do I need to apply?
The State Department suggests applying for a tourist passport at least six weeks prior to international travel. Keep in mind, however, that overseas processing can take anywhere from four to six weeks. It is recommended that travelers renew tourist passports at least six months before the passport expires, as some countries requires at least six-month validity on the passport from the arrival date in that country.
Scheduling the Appointment
Soldiers, DOD civilians and family members can schedule a passport appointment at the Passport Office through email or by visiting during open hours. To send an email or view building number and opening times for your location, visit the USAG Bavaria Passport page at https://home.army.mil/bavaria/index.php/passports.
One Final Note: Passport Photos
The USAG Bavaria Passport Office provides photo services for no-fee and official passport applicants, and tourist passports for children aged five and under. All other applicants must have standard photos taken outside the facility, such as at the Main Store photo booth or by a professional. For more on passport photo guidelines, see the State Department’s Passport Photo Requirements.