Hosting Relatives While Stationed Abroad in Europe

How to Prepare for Guests When You’re Military

Hosting Relatives While Stationed Abroad

When we left the United States last year, a dozen people promised to visit us in Europe. So far, only one has — my mom. I understand that flying halfway across the world is a significant investment in both time and money. So, when friends and family do come, it’s a big deal. Hosting relatives while stationed abroad, especially in the military, requires some planning. Preparing for guests while living abroad involves more than just cleaning the house; it takes careful coordination and consideration.

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Preparing for Guests When You’re Military

Planning an itinerary was easy. My mom, agreeable by nature and eager to go just about anywhere, made only a few requests. She wanted to visit Heidelberg, Paris, and Amsterdam, and to limit any other road trip to no more than 2 or 3 hours. Preparing for guests while living abroad, I began planning a reasonable itinerary for a month-long visit, taking into account my mom’s must-sees and other interests, physical condition, the time of year, and of course, the budget. Additionally, I had to ensure suitable accommodations for overseas guests, making sure she would be comfortable and have everything she needed during her stay.

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Passports

First things first, don’t assume your guests have a passport. And if they do and haven’t traveled overseas in a while, it may not be valid. Hosting relatives while stationed abroad requires making sure their travel documents are in order. Passports can be obtained from the Department of State. Application information, process times, and fees can be found on their website under Travel.

Currently, routine service takes 4-6 weeks for processing and costs $135 (which includes a $25 execution fee). Don’t get caught out there, expediting a passport can be costly! Expedited passports start at $195, not including overnight charges.

Open Borders

Schengen Agreement

According to the Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985, the maximum length of stay in Europe for non-European Union passport holders is currently limited to 90 days within any 180-day period. Preparing for guests while living abroad means knowing that tourists do not need a visa for the initial entry into the Schengen area, but you must have a passport valid for three months beyond the proposed stay—just in case your travel is delayed. The UK is a non-Schengen country and allows tourist stays of up to six months. The list of Schengen countries can be found on the State Department website.

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European Union Regulations

European Union regulations require non-EU visitors to get a stamp in their passports upon entry to a Schengen country. Preparing for guests while living abroad includes ensuring their travel documents are correctly processed. Many borders are not staffed with officers for this function. To ensure proper documentation, ask for a stamp at an official entry point.

Without the stamp, you may be questioned about your stay length in Schengen countries when you leave.

Get the Best Airfare Prices

We spent two or three months monitoring airplane prices. The prices left us stunned. Where were all those advertised deals I saw splashed across banners on the Internet? Prices were extremely high. With so many websites devoted to discount airfare, we were totally overwhelmed. We ended up limiting our search to the major airlines exclusively.

SpaceA & SATO

We even toyed with the idea of utilizing Space-A travel, which scared her to death. She had recently witnessed my first foray into that mode of travel, and it didn’t leave her confident. Since she was traveling solo, we decided against it. SATO, a U.S. government-contracted travel agency, offers immediate family members discounted airfare through negotiated rates with most US carriers. Immediate family members include parents, siblings, and grandparents.

According to the office in Kaiserslautern, SATO can offer reduced fares based on the season, destination, date, and availability. They frequently beat what you can find on the Internet. Negotiated rates are usually available 4-6 months before travel. Shop around and make sure you are getting the best deal possible.

Preparing for Guests While Living Abroad: Planning Your Itinerary and Budget

Planning an itinerary was easy. My mom, agreeable by nature and eager to go just about anywhere, made only a few requests. She wanted to visit Heidelberg, Paris, and Amsterdam, and to limit any other road trip to no more than 2 or 3 hours. Preparing for guests while living abroad, I began planning a reasonable itinerary for a month-long visit. I took into account my mom’s must-sees, other interests, physical condition, the time of year, and, of course, the budget.

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Be Flexible

Itineraries should not be etched in stone, due to the sheer unpredictability of travel. Make sure you plan for an equal amount of downtown to rest, enjoy a good book, kickback with the family or just catch up with family back home. Remember that while this time is important to you; make sure it’s not about you.

Discuss Finances
Who Will Pay for What

At the very beginning, we had a serious, yet informal discussion about who will pay for what. Whether you split everything 50-50 or spring for the whole kit and caboodle, getting it out in the open helps all parties make an accurate budget and avoid a stressful situation later. As a general rule, I found it easier to pay for all the food and split hotel expenses down the middle. Mom was on her own when it came to souvenirs.

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Things to Keep in Mind
When Parents Visit

A few other things to keep in mind: With no FCC to regulate what is played on the radio in Europe, I made sure to have an ample supply of “parent-approved” CDs in the car for those long car rides;

Make up a small welcome “packet” with your address, phone numbers, a strip map for your parents in case they get lost;

Purchase a cell phone and minutes for your parents to use while they visit; If you have to go to work, tune the radio into AFN before you leave just in case;

If your parents don’t have a military ID they can get an ID card at the IACS office that will allow them to pass through gate security without you. Remember, their access card is just that—access. It will not allow them the right to shop in the Exchange or Commissary;

Not only will your parents appreciate the special attention, they’ll have the opportunity to see with whom and how you spend your free time.

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Hosting Relatives While Stationed Abroad in the military requires careful planning. Here’s how to prepare for friends and family visits.

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