Moving Help


Information for Home Schooling Families Moving to Germany

Congratulations on the opportunity to spend time living in a wonderful area!  Stuttgart is situated perfectly for exploration of the European continent and we have a wonderful community of Americans in the area to balance out the foreign experience with many comforts of home.

The following information has been compiled informally by members of the Stuttgart Area Home School group to answer frequently asked questions we get from families preparing to move here.  It is intended for U.S. citizens associated with the U.S. Military and covered under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement including, U.S. Military members, DOD employees and Defense Department contractors.  This information should not be considered an official or authoritative guide.

Things to be Excited About

First of all, we want to emphasize that Stuttgart really is a wonderful place to live and the opportunities for home schoolers are endless.  Studying World History from this location is almost a must!  Here are a just a few things to look forward to:

  1. Wonderful opportunities to see historically significant places and beautiful scenery within easy day-trip distance. 

  2. Inexpensive travel opportunities for longer excursions.

  3. Beautiful scenery with walking and biking trails literally everywhere, so that no matter where you live, you can easily get out and enjoy nature.

  4. Local attractions - Wilhema Zoo, Sensapolis, Stattsgallerie, Mercedes-Benz Museum, Opera House, Stuttgart Ballet, Ice Sports Center, Sindelfingen Pool, the Patch Movie Theater, the Stuttgart Theater Center, and more.

  5. Getting to know a gracious and fascinating culture.

  6. Amusement parks – LegoLand, PlayMobil Fun Park, Disney Land (Paris), Europa Park, and Tripsdrill.

  7. Last but not least - a great community of home school families ready to befriend and support you!

Home Schooling during your Stay

If you will be associated with the U.S. Military (covered under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Germany) then home schooling is very simple.  There are no reporting requirements or regulations that restrict the freedoms of home schoolers.  No testing, no forms, no oversight.  Youth Center and school programs are available to augment the home education if you desire.  If you are interested in reading the regulation, (or lack thereof) the document is available through HSLDA. 

If you live in a German neighborhood during your stay you can expect to be questioned by neighbors and German friends about why your children are not attending school. Most will accept that your child is studying at home since you are only here temporarily; and don’t want your children to fall behind.  However, for the most part Germans do not understand or agree with the concept of ongoing home schooling and view it with great suspicion, so keeping a low profile regarding your heart-for-home schooling sentiments will probably save unnecessary scrutiny.  

Things you should probably NOT Bring  (or at least think twice)

  1. Electric Clocks – see above limitations of transformers and converted wiring..

  2. Baby Monitors – U.S. models are illegal to use here because they cause interference with the German emergency radio systems. 

  3. Telephones – same as above.

  4. Microwave – ours works fine, but differently (a lot noisier and the timing is off) and we’ve had others tell us that their microwaves worked in Europe but then wouldn’t work again when they took them back to the U.S.  So if you have a super fancy expensive one, you might not want to bring it.

  5. Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer - some folks have trouble (even in the newly renovated housing) and find that there is no longer such a thing as “slow” on their mixer.  Bring yours at your own risk.

Things to Consider Buying Before You Get Here  (Note: This is anecdotal advice)

  1. A good set of kitchen garbage cans – you have to separate recycling into paper, plastic, cans/glass and other (residual).  So, you may want to select something you feel like you can live with before you come.

  2. Good Camera – having such beautiful and inspiring places to visit made us realize how inadequate our camera situation was.  We’ve found ourselves constantly wanting to send pictures to extended family.  A new camera is very hard to shop for on-line and the selection is somewhat limited at the PX, so if you don’t have a good digital camera you might at least figure out what kind you want before you come here.

  3. GPS Navigation System – THIS WAS A BIG ONE for me because I’m directionally challenged even in the U.S. so of course, it was even worse here and the stakes are higher if I get lost. After being here for about four months my husband decided a GPS navigation system would be a good thing and he was RIGHT.  There are several good systems available from $300 to $900, but if you have trouble with navigation it might be worth the peace of mind.  Once you get it set up it is very easy to use and it takes SO MUCH stress out of getting around in Germany.  It finds satellites and knows exactly where you are.  When you first turn it on at home you program your location as a waypoint and from then on you always know that no matter where you go, it’s going to be able to tell you how to get back home.  Most have the locations of restaurants, tourist attractions, parking facilities, hotels, airports, etc. already programmed in, so whenever you’re traveling and want to find something it’s all at your fingertips.  Again, this is one of those items that is at least easier to research, if not buy in the U.S.  Now, with all of that said, if you are not directionally challenged the good news is that Mapquest and Google Maps still work beautifully for Europe.  They are a great way to find out how long the drive will be to someplace you’re considering going and the directions are very good.  If you already have a GPS system from the states don’t panic!  Most GPS’ are updatable with European maps for less than the expense of a new system.  We were able to purchase new Europe maps for under $100 - less than 1/4 of the cost of a new GPS.

  4. Functional Easy-to-Carry Purse & Accessories – I’ve always been a small-purse woman, but I’m finding here that I want to carry around a lot more than I ever have, especially when we’re on some sort of an outing.  I carry a small German/English dictionary, passports, the GPS, the cell phone, the camera, a water bottle, a tape measure (make sure you have a small one with both cm and inches), a calculator (for converting currency) etc….  So if you don’t have a good sized purse that functions well for all-day outings, you should probably shop for one before you come, because of course finding one here just hasn’t been as easy. 

  5. Your Favorite School Supplies – Some school supplies are readily available, but there are predictable seasonal shortages at the PX/BX.  Three ring notebooks and notebook paper will put you entirely at the mercy of AAFES because the German loose-leaf binder systems have the holes in different places.  Otherwise office supplies including printer cartridges are pretty easy to get in German stores but they are more expensive.  Most office supply stores in the U.S. will not ship to APO addresses, which is a source of frustration for home schooling moms.  You know you’re one of us when after a trip back to the U.S. you tell your friends here how exciting it was to wander through Office Depot or Staples again.

  6. A Lightweight Stroller - If you have young children you might want to bring a lightweight, easily foldable stroller, preferably one with larger wheels to handle the cobblestones.  Depending on where you live and how much you travel you could be doing a LOT more walking!

  7. A Portable Booster Seat - Again, if you have young children you might want to invest in a portable booster seat.  Not only will you find it helpful in your hotel room, but German restaurants tend to be hit or miss when it comes to providing high chairs.

VAT forms – for Military

VAT (Value Added Tax) exemption requires that you carry the forms with you and fill out a form for each purchase.  Each form costs $3 so they are for more significant purchases (approximately $25 or more).  There will be an office on post that can help you with them.  They’re kind of a hassle and aren’t accepted everywhere, but they are certainly worth the bother for large purchases because they will save you 19%.

Currency Conversion

Here’s how to do a rough currency conversion while shopping.  Start with the price and then divide by the publicized conversion rate (example if it’s 0.80 then a 30 Euro item would be (30 / 0.8) or $37.50.  

COLA – For Military

The COLA for military members seems pretty generous but it fluctuates quite a bit and you definitely spend more on living expenses.  You can find a COLA calculator here, Stuttgart’s locality code is GM055

Shopping Opportunities

  1. PX - The prices and selection at the PX might be a little higher than what you are used to, the problem is that they aren’t any better than stateside AAFES stores at anticipating appropriate quantities, yet the consumer base is a much more captive audience, so things go fast.  If you want something, you have to buy it when you see it because if you snooze you lose. 

  2. German Economy – There are many good stores and malls much like you are used to that make for easy shopping on the German economy. However, be prepared for the fact that things cost more and that tastes are different – you may not always like what’s offered as far as clothing styles and household textiles. 

  3. Good - On Line Stores – There are several companies that provide VERY reliable service to Military APO addresses.  JCPenney probably deserves the biggest gold star – so make sure you come with their latest catalog in hand.  They will ship almost anything and they automatically ship it fast for a very reasonable shipping charge.  Amazon, Lands End, L.L. Bean, Gap, Old Navy, and Eddie Bauer are also very reliable and fast.  Note that with Amazon you are actually dealing with multiple companies so some items (like books, videos, music, and games) will arrive by first class mail while others will take the slow boat!

  4. Not-As-Good Online – Some companies have been less reliable.  They don’t make their shipping options very clear and they don’t send via priority mail – so things can come slowly.  Some websites refuse to cooperate with APO addresses so you have to call and place your order by phone.  Most companies absolutely will not ship electronics, clothing, household goods, etc.   Most will ship books and toys.  We’ve run into the same problem across the board with electronics and office supplies – no one is willing to ship these items to APO’s so we have to ship to a family member and then have them send it on to us.

  5. Thrift Stores – Patch has a very good thrift store with relevant items and helpful advice. 

  6. Bazaars - The different military communities around Europe schedule bazaars with vendors from all over Europe.  These are a fun shopping experience and make for a good one-stop introduction to some of what’s available in Europe.

  7. Commissariesexpect about what you’re used to from them.  They seem very much the same.  Be prepared for the same types of shortages as you might find at the PX/BX.  You could go in one day and find no milk or beef or bread (though it will be there in spades the very next day!)  On the other hand organic groceries are easy to find here and as a bonus the Commissary “brand” of milk is organic!

  8. Markets – there are great farmers-market style places in most towns, and bakeries everywhere.  Fresh and very yummy!  The farmers markets are a great place to try out your German - they are friendly, good-natured, and most of them speak English.

  9. Toys – There is a good selection of unique and high-quality toys available here.  Very different from what we’re used to but a lot of fun.  Playmobile and Legos are big and the selections are amazing but don’t expect good prices.

Learning the Language, Customs & Travel

  1. A good resource if you want to get a head start before you come is German in 10 minutes a day by Bilingual Books, Inc.  It has the basics that you need to know, but you might also want to get the optional pronunciation CD.  Germans are very nice about speaking English to you if they know how and many of them do.  But of course, you want to be able to at least show common courtesy.

  2. If you are affiliated with the Air Force check with your base library.  Most base libraries have FREE access to Rosetta Stone online for all family members.  Other branches may have this option, but some limit it to the active duty member.

  3. There’s also a book, popular in the military community, called “Never a Dull Moment” put out by the German/American wives club which is good for explaining not only what there is to do, but etiquette and customs that you’ll want to know.  This can be purchase at the USO and is sometimes available in the PX as well.

  4. DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are wonderful for getting you excited about coming to Europe because they’re full of pictures.  They’re a little expensive, but they’re so fun and they aren’t dedicated to emphasizing how to pack all the tourism into a one-week stay.

Vehicles & Driving

Plan to have your main family vehicle shipped (assuming that this will be paid for by the military or civilian employer).  As for a second vehicle, shipping your own second vehicle could be a toss up with buying a car here.  It seems like reliable “beaters” run a minimum of $3,000.  Depending on the size of your family vehicle consider the fact that you may want a smaller car here because roads and parking spaces are MUCH narrower than they are in the U.S.  Large vehicles are workable, but they feel much larger here than in the U.S.  Estimated shipping times for vehicles seem to be pretty reliable, so you can generally plan accordingly.  Here is some more information on shipping your vehicle.

Those associated with the military (under the SOFA) must take a driving class and pass before they are allowed to drive any vehicle other than a rental car while in Germany.  Before getting this drivers license you cannot drive your own car or even borrow a car from another service member - so even if we want to, we can’t offer new families help in that form.  You can get an advance copy of the driver’s manual that you need to learn for the test here and the signs to learn here.  The test does require some preparation and people do fail if they don’t study ahead of time, but if you do study you will pass.

Children under 4’-11” are required to use a booster seat, both by German and American laws, so be sure an bring your car seats, even for your “older” kids.  If you have already dispensed with your boosters they can be bought on the economy for a very reasonable price.

Communication Devices – phones, cable internet

  1. Home Phones - You CAN NOT use American digital or cordless phones in Germany as they interfere with the local emergency service.  You have to buy German ones, but they are readily available new and used.  The phone company charges a lot to activate a phone jack, but you can buy a phone with three bases for handsets in different rooms.  They work beautifully - as if they were all plugged into a jack.  But you should definitely leave your other phones behind.  Long distance calls to the U.S. are very inexpensive (as low as 3 Euro cents per minute or even free) depending on your calling plan.

  2. Cell phones - are readily available and pretty straightforward.  You have basically the same sorts of options that are available in the U.S.  The main difference is that incoming calls are free.  There are phones for $20-30 that you can buy refill cards for at the Shoppette.  The phones are usually available at the PX/BX.  

  3. Cable - living in quarters you automatically get the AFN channels for free, which is like a bottom-of-the-line cable package in the U.S. but there are several plans with additional channels to choose from.  During in-processing you’ll get all the options just like you would anywhere else.

  4. Another Option is “SKY Cable”, which is a British company.  They have a lot of the same channels that we have in the States (Nick, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network, Boomerang, PBS-British version, Discover Channel, Animal Planet, Cooking channel, Lifestyle channel, major news channels-Fox News, CNN, and on and on).  I’m told that it doesn't cost that month.  For the basic service (you get everything mentioned and more) for about $40.00 a month.  Then you can add movie or sports channels to it.  The initial setup is a little expensive.  You have to buy the dish and a special card called a SKY Card.  New it totals about $700.00, but you can get these used in the paper.  SKY always has an advertisement in the Stars and Stripes.

  5. Internet - we were presented with all the same options (Cable, DSL, and dial up) that were available in the states and again you just make a choice during in processing.  The prices are also about the same as what we’re used to - maybe a little higher but not too bad.

Limitations of Transformers & Converted Wiring

Some items really don’t work well even with transformers.  The following items have trouble:

  1. Digital Clocks – most will not keep time correctly.  I’m no electrician, but my understanding is that although the power is supplied correctly to make them light up and go – the hertz cycle, which is what sets the pace, is different so they march to the beat of a different drum in Europe.  This means that most of the clocks on your US microwave, coffee maker, and everything else will always be showing a wrong time.  So, don’t bring alarm clocks, but there are cheap ($5.00- $10.00) models available from the PX that are compact and work fine.  This also impacts bread machines, because the timing is critical, so if you’re attached to your bread machine consider getting a German model while you’re here. 

  2. A few items ARE designed to run on both 50 & 60 hertz.  When in doubt check your device, all electronics have their voltages and hertz marked on them.  Check for a sticker, metal plate, or imprinted section - usually where you would find the model number.  On there it should say something along the lines of 110V, 60Hz.  If you are lucky it might say 110V-240V, 50/60Hz - these will work just fine.

  3. Things that plug in with adaptors sometimes have trouble (thin little cords that have a black box at the base of the cord and plug into the device with a little prong – like chargers for sweepers, cameras, handheld games etc…).  If they don’t say that they can handle up to 220V and/or something about 50Hz then they will slowly die.

Electricity 110/220 Wiring and Outlets

The difference in electrical wiring between Europe and the U.S. is two fold, the voltage and the hertz cycle are both different, which causes some challenges.  If you are going to live off post in order to run U.S. (110) electronics you must have a transformer.  Transformers are unsightly boxes that plug into the European outlet and allow you to plug in a few 110 devices.  Large and expensive items (like computers, T.V.'s, gaming systems, treadmills etc.) are worth bringing with you to run using a transformer.  Smaller, less expensive items (like mixers, coffee pots, fans, hair dryers, etc.) you might want to buy new or used when you get here with 220 wiring.  Since the transformers are bulky, expensive, and not very attractive, you will probably want to minimize your use of them as much as possible.  They come in different sizes and can be expensive new (from $40 up to several hundred dollars depending on what size is needed).  Used transformers can be found anywhere from $20.00 on up.  The thrift store on Patch has a very helpful information sheet on transformers that gives guidelines for the size you need to buy.  The Stars and Stripes newspaper, local newsletters, and the thrift stores are excellent sources to find both transformers and devices with 220 wiring at good prices. 

NOTE:  Bring your VCR and DVD player because if you try to substitute a European model (PAL) you will not be able to watch U.S. DVDs and Videos (NTSC).  The systems are incompatible unless they are state specifically that they will accommodate both.

EXCEPTION TO THE ABOVE:  All of the recently renovated quarters on Patch, Kelly, and Robinson Barracks are wired with both 110 and 220 throughout.  So if you are military and considering living on post, having this setup in your quarters is a HUGE blessing! In this case, you will not need transformers at all and should plan to bring most of your electronics with you.  The same items that have trouble on transformers will still have trouble even with the dual wiring though (see limitations below).  Also note that the basement storage units only have 220 so you need a transformer to run power tools in your storage cage if you plan to do that.

Shipping Household Goods

Deciding what to put into which shipment is tough.  With some regularity, new families actually have their major household shipment arrive faster than their hold baggage (which is in theory, backwards).  In light of this, don’t try too hard to analyze what to put in which shipment – because from anecdotal observation it seems like hold baggage shipments are less reliable as far as timing.  Possibly this is because the shippers don’t have as much to lose if they are late with those little shipments, so they don’t care as much. 

You should probably look at it from the perspective of convenience on the front end of the move.  Put the things into hold baggage that you want to keep with you for the longest – and then hope for the best on the other end.  The bottom line is that, if anything is vitally important to you, you need to put it into your suitcases, or mail it to yourself via priority mail with delivery confirmation.  Large boxes shipped by parcel post can take up to six weeks to arrive, but Priority mail usually takes a week or two.

Housing Choices

One of the first big choices will be whether you live on or off post (base).  Here is what Military Homefront has posted about the housing situation.  This site is fairly accurate except that most of the housing has already undergone renovation so that most houses now have their own laundry and storage areas.  No matter what your preferences may be you should contact the housing office as early as possible to get an idea of the situation you will be facing concerning this choice, because the options are always changing and sometimes there is not a choice.  The housing office will be integrally involved in helping you with finding a home even if you want to live on the German economy.

If you are given permission and elect to live off-post “on the economy” you will face the challenge of finding a home within a reasonable commute that meets your needs.  There are beautiful and comfortable homes available but they are different from what we are familiar with.  This is an personal process, but seeking advice from people who have lived here for a while is certainly a good idea.

Currency Converter

Currency Converter

Other Sources of Information

  1. Relocate to Germany, which has several helpful links and recommendations

  2. Department of Defense’s “Military Homefront” site on Stuttgart.

  3. The Army’s site for Stuttgart.

  4. The Family Morale Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) site.  This one is great because it gives a lot of the information that you actually want (arts & crafts, theater, outdoor recreations, sports, etc.) without all the legal mumbo jumbo that you find on the other sites.

  5. The Library’s site.  This is well worth looking into.  The European library system is inter-connected with a great InterLibrary Loan (ILL) program.  The library is also a great place to head as soon as you get here.  Not only is there a great children’s section with story time (English AND German), there is a separate Young Adult area with books and graphic novels, not to mention free computer and WiFi access, and free printing as well.  The library also has a room where the kids can play on a Wii, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360 as well as games which can be checked out.  You can also check out VHS or DVD’s to watch in your hotel room, or play a board game with your kids in the library itself.