Status of Forces Agreement
Published March 04, 2009
The legal status of Americans stationed in Germany is governed by special international agreements including the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
People stationed at overseas bases or posts must remember German laws apply to them, too. To protect yourself, know what rights you have as an American. Whether German authorities exercise their right of jurisdiction depends on the circumstances of the case.
German Polizei are empowered to fine you on the spot for lesser traffic offenses not associated with an accident. You must have a U.S. Army Europe certificate and a stateside personal driver's license (or a military or German license) to operate a USAREUR-registered car. Speed limits are often enforced by specially placed cameras, which snap clear pictures of speeding drivers and their vehicles. A few weeks later, you receive a speeding ticket in the mail, often through your unit.
U.S. personnel and family members are exclusively subject to trial by German court. In civil actions, German courts have jurisdiction over all parties, regardless of nationality or status. You can sue or be sued in German courts in regard to such matters as breach of a lease or failure to pay debts. German authorities can also directly serve process for civil matters on service members and Department of Defense civilian employees and their family members.
Law enforcement authorities in Germany have the right to require U.S. personnel to identify themselves. You and your family members must carry your military ID card with you at all times.
Some German laws differ from those in the United States. For example, insulting the Federal Republic of Germany, one of its states or its constitutional order is against the law. Germans are very concerned about the environment. Even a small amount of oil lost during an oil change can result in a heavy fine. The best practice is to have oil changes done in a facility specially equipped for the work and capable of recycling or properly disposing of used oil. Drug abuse is considered a national problem and local laws are enforced vigorously. Even the possession of the smallest amount of illegal drugs can result in prosecution. Stringent requirements for registration and possession of weapons are strictly enforced to ensure compliance with USAREUR and U.S. Air Forces in Europe weapons regulations.