If your headed to Spangdahlem AB I bet you’ve been on the computer putting in some research time. I’ve decide to do a post about commonly asked newcomers questions for Spangdahlem, AB. I know I spent many hours researching before we headed this way. Over the past year I’ve been helping answer newcomers questions, so I’ve compiled some helpful info that I’ve acquired and have been sharing with others, I wanted to post it here where it’s easily accessible to others.
You can also check out the tons of links available on my PCSing & Living in Germany page here
I do have to say that if your headed to Spangdahlem I highly recommend you first start off with the Spangdahlem AB’s Newcomer’s page, it’s a wealth of information and I know I visited it several times, and still do occasionally to reference stuff.
Here are some of the most common questions/issues I’ve answered/addressed over the past year.
Before Leaving Your Base
Make sure you have your No-Fee passports (and SOFA stamps!) and I’d highly recommend already having your civilian passports before heading this way. It will make it much easier to start traveling and exploring.
You can request your DLA (Dislocation Allowance) before leaving your base as well so that you have the money to help off set some of the moving costs. The DLA is based on rank, dependents, etc you can find more info here.
Ship your car early at least 4-6 weeks out as it is very hard to get around here without a car and rental cars are expensive, and the place on base tends to sell out. Also make sure your vehicle is on your orders before going to ship your car, that will save you a huge headache.
Arriving to Spangdahlem
Make sure you have your TLF booked and shuttle service reserved, especially if you have pets as these fill up fast. You can print a handy checklist from my post HERE. Also know that TLF has been overbooked recently and you ‘may’ have to stay off base, hopefully you won’t as that is much harder without a car, but at least being mentally prepared that it ‘could’ happen helps a lot 😉
You can stay in TLF for 30 days IF you do not turn down a house, if you turn down a house you only get 15 days. For example when we moved here there were only stairwell apartments available, we went to housing and got offered a stairwell house, we said no so we only had 15 days in TLF. Also I have been asked this several times, TLF is paid for with your government credit and not out of pocket.
Many people do not find a house in the 15 day period so you may need to stay off base in a furnished apartment/hotel. You can read about our stay at the Wiedenhof here. When you move to the off base facility your OHA (overseas housing allowance) gets started and that is how it is paid for. Generally speaking you will make money living in the Wiedenhof, so at least that is a small perk if you end up staying there for awhile like us and several other families did.
If you end up staying at an off base apartment/hotel you can get your Unaccompanied Baggage (UB) delivered to you there. We stayed at the Wiedenhof for 3 months and had our UB delivered shortly after we moved in, even though we didn’t know how long we were staying. It had stuff in it that I had sent ahead and wanted access to. If your not sure what to send in your UB you can read my list HERE. Also at the Wiedenhof a garage can be included into the rent amount and then you’ll have some extra storage space, this was a huge plus for us and the other families who stayed there for several months.
We found the housing office to be one of the most difficult aspects of PCSing here to Spangdahlem. Their website had inaccurate info about what is available for what ranks, and no one seemed to care. I was shocked when I realized we were going to have to live off base because we were offered an apartment but according to the website we shouldn’t have been. So my best advice is to be prepared to live off base just in case, it will make the transitions a bit easier to not have the ‘shock and awe’ aspect of it. You can read my house hunting post HERE.
You can read the info for the base housing on their website, you can also email them to get on the housing list after you have your orders. I’ve also been asked how soon you can get on the housing list? You can get on the housing list as soon as you have your hard copy orders, so as early as 90 days out. You can email the application to housing with a copy of your orders.
There are stairwells, which are apartments, that go up to 4 floors and there are no elevators. There are also no fenced yards or garages fro these units.
There are also some townhouses as well although there are not nearly as many of these as there are stairwells. The town homes have fenced yards and garages.
On base the internet is around 15 MB although is a bit fickle at times. Cell phone coverage varies as well. I get almost zero reception at Spangdahlem Elementary School, commissary, back of the BX, and other various places on base. There is supposedly going to be a new tower put up soon, but I won’t hold my breath waiting.
You don’t have to recycle on base, I was told it is cheaper to pay people to go sort through your trash, so that is one less hassle than off base. You have bulk pick up more often than twice a year in the off base villages and you can use the Recycling center on base as well.
If you live on base there are no school buses available for you, the kids walk to and from school, the housing area is located near the schools.
The housing office provides you with an off base housing list, we found it to be VERY difficult to use. It’s an excel spreadsheet that makes your eyes want to cross trying to read it. It was also horribly outdated. We called at least 3 landlords who told us their house hadn’t been available for over a year, and these were added to the list AFTER we got here, since we had the new list emailed to us weekly. It also does not include any pictures, which is limits the info you get. We called several landlords who told us they gave housing photos and wanted to know why they had to send us photos if housing had them.
If your going to be living off base, it can be a bit tricky so here is some info that may be helpful.
The market is very competitive and the big houses go fast here, a lot of times within 24 hours of being listed. Which is why it is very helpful to have a car to go see new houses as they get posted on Spang Bookoo or the housing list. Even if houses are not available for a few months people here can sign a promise note with the landlord & a contract to start on the available date. My best advice is know the areas you want to live in and hit the ground running when you get here.
OHA is the Oversea Housing Allowance, its based on pay grade but here many ranks get the same amount. For instance a common OHA here is €1549 so you can find a house up to that amount, and if its over that amount then you pay out of pocket. Now if you find a house for €1200 you do not get the extra, only the amount of the rent is paid to the landlord up to your cap (i.e. €1549). Rent CAN include house rent, water, & trash, but NO other utilities due to a recent German law. So say the rent is €1200 you can ask the landlord to include the water (normal 35€ per person per month) and the trash (around 40€/mo) in the rent and raise the rent to 1400€, that is perfectly fine and better because then you dont have to pay it out of your utility allowance.
There is a utility allowance, here it is generally around €700/mo. The main utilities are heating & electricity, also water & trash if you cant get them included in the rent. So if you find a house that only costs you €400/mo for utilities you DO get to keep the extra €300 each month, this is what people mean when they say they make money living off base. If you monitor your heating & electricity and live in a decent sized house you should be able to make some money in the warmer months which is good because it can help offset the higher costs of utilities in the colder months, it will vary by each house and each family. If you need your heat on all day during the winter you may end up going over your €700/mo allowance and then its out of pocket, it has a lot to do with personal preference. Last year our heat was on from Oct to April, just to give you an idea. In April we had the landlords come turn the heat off so we’re not paying for it from April to Oct. Your best bet is to have that money set to your local bank here and keeping it separate, then you can let the extra amount build up in case you have larger utility costs in the winter.
If housing hunting for a house off base there are a few things to consider. First where you live will determine where your kids go to school. You also need to make sure there is a bus stop for the base schools if you don’t want to have to drive your kids daily. This info can be obtained at the bus transpiration office. You can see school info on my page HERE (LINK).
After you’ve found a house and signed a promise note there are a few services that the housing office offers (well they have but don’t necessarily tell you about, we were told by someone & had to ask). When you get a house you have to pay a deposit (normally 1 month of rent) and the first month of rent, so for an average home that is €3,098 or $4015, which is a good chunk of change. The housing office will give you the deposit and then you pay them back when you PCS and get the deposit back from the landlord. They also will give you the first month’s rent and then deduct a certain amount of money from each paycheck for a year. So if they gave you €1549 for the first month’s rent they would then take $130/mo for the next 12 months. This can be helpful so you are not having to front almost $4000 when you arrive and move into a house.
You also get a move in allowance as well once you’ve signed a contract for a house.
As for downsizing my personal rule is, if we cant take it with us, we get rid of it, we do not do storage. So before we left we sold our washer/dryer & fridge and any other small furniture we didnt want. We are here at least 3 years and often after sitting that long appliances wont work and then they will be worthless, we always figure its best to get money out of them and buy some later when/if we move back to the states.
As for downsizing furniture again it depends on where you live. On base housing is about 1600 sq ft. for a 4 bedroom, so could be smaller for the smaller houses. We are used to that since we’ve always lived on-base and had furniture that would fit that since we lived on base at our last assignment. Off base it varies in what kind of house you choose. The one we got is HUGE 3000 sq m (3200 sq ft) and we dont have enough furniture to fill it. Although even some of the smaller 4 bedroom houses off base wouldve easily fit our stuff. So I say if you have it, like it, and want to keep it then bring it. Just remember if you look at off base houses some staircase are not made to move american sized mattresses or furniture, we had to turn a house down for that very reason.
As for appliances I would say bring them if you plan on living on base, and possibly for off because you can us them with transformers but it will pull more electricity and if your trying to be conservative that can impact things. As I said we did NOT plan on living off base so we have all of our 110V stuff but we are just keeping all the 110V stuff boxed up and store it while we are here, except for a few things like the quesadilla maker that we use on a transformer. Ive picked up 220V stuff at the thrift store, Bookoo site, and FB yard sale sites, I scored a crockpot for $20, you can also buy new 220V appliances at the Ramstein BX, a new large crackpot is $49. Occasionally you may find a few 220V items at the Spangdhalem Bx. We also bought a vacuum, hand mixer, toaster, ect from someone PCSing. So if your not sure where your gonna live bring it and if you live off base you can store it (as long as you choose a house that has storage, LOL!). I used Amazon.de and had a 220v steam mop & stick vac delivered to our off base house in 2 days! You can also check out my list of must have 220V appliances here
Living Off Base – handy things to know
If you like using the Internet make sure the village/house you are looking at has it, some villages have NONE or dial up speed, and Im not kidding! Its like the stone ages here with Internet in some areas & cell phone service! You can read my post here that has some internet info and speeds for some local areas HERE.
Also make sure if you have kids you chose a village with a bus stop if you don’t want to have to drive them each day. Also make sure you know where the bus stop is in the village. You can get the info from the Bus Transportation office. One house we looked at was 2 miles from the bus stop, that just wasn’t going to work for us.
Recycling is a must and is mandated by law. You have to separate garbage, recyclables, glass, and cardboard/paper. The housing office has some pamphlets to help get you started. While it seems a bit overwhelming at first it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Also trash & recycling only come once every 2 weeks or once a month depending on your village.
PCSing with Kids
Make sure to hand carry their school records so that you can enroll them in school shortly after you arrive. However which school they go to (Bitburg or Spangdahlem) is decided by where you live. We kept our kids out for 2 weeks while we were deciding, they were also 2 weeks ahead so we did not feel that it impacted them. They we choose to put our kids at Spangdahlem and decided we wanted to live in that area.
Yes, the Spangdahlem Elementary school is ‘supposed’ to be moving to Bitburg next year. However if you have a child in Spangdahlem Middle school (grades 5th – 8th) that will not impact you. Also the move to Bitburg is temporary for 1-2 years while your tour here will probably be 3-4 years so keep that in mind. We chose to live closer to Spang because EVERYTHING besides the elementary school and middle/high school on Bit is here at Spang. When I say everything I mean from your mail, to the commissary, to the gas station. We also didn’t want to deal with long, crazy drives in the winter. Even if your child does go to Bitburg (which the high schoolers all have to do) there are buses and last year when Boo went for his Senior year he only had a 20 minute bus ride, and we are super close to Spang.
Also if you want your kids to start playing sports right away its recommended to have a sports physical done and to bring it with you. That way you won’t have to wait to get an appointment to sign up. The slots for some programs (gymnastics, dance, etc) and fill up quickly and they won’t even allow you to sign up at the School Age Program without a current physical.
There are several things you need to do to get your pet ready to PCS with you, you can check out my checklist here
House hunting off base can be a bit more challenging with a pet, however do not let that dampen your spirits, you will find a house.
If you have big dogs it can be helpful to bring them to meet the landlord so that they see that they are well behaved. This will help to ease the landlords mind about allowing pets in the home.
Many houses here do not have fenced back yards but there are walking and biking paths in the village that you can use to walk your dog, just make sure to pick up after them.
Also just because a landlord has said on Bookoo or the housing list that they do not accept pets you can ask anyways. We found that all the landlords we asked (including our current one) had originally said no pets but once they found out we had a smaller dog (Westie) they were willing to allow him. So don’t count those houses out without asking, especially if it is slim pickings!
There are different rules here in Germany about pets, I recently seen this info which covers them. Highlights are that dogs may NOT be crated all day here in Germany and they cannot bark for more than 10 minutes at a time or during quite hours are just a few.
Get your IDL as soon as possible so you can start traveling outside of Germany, we are only 1 hour from France, Luxmebourg, & Belgium!
Get out and try shopping at the local stores! It’s not nearly as intimidating as you may think it is. I also HIGHLY recommend doing the REWE tour offered through the AFRC. We love shopping at REWE you can read about it here
Make sure you put dishwasher salt in your dishwasher! It took me 8 months to figure that out! Read about it here
Travel, Travel, and Travel some more! There is SO much to do around the area! I’ve been posting month lists of things to do around the area, here is the Nov one to give you an idea. Start traveling as soon as possible and don’t let weather be a factor for keeping you home, this is Europe embrace it and venture forward!
I hope this information has been helpful for you! I sure know I wouldve loved to have info like this ahead of time, it wouldve made my life a bit easier!