SOFA Status – What Does it Mean to You?

You may have heard about ‘SOFA status,’ but ‘SOFA’ isn’t part of the furniture – it’s an important set of entitlements and responsibilities governing how we live and function as a military community in our host nation of Germany. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is a treaty that sets out the terms under which the armed forces of a foreign NATO member state are allowed to operate in another NATO state, including legal issues such as:

  • entry and exit to the country
  • taxes
  • employment
  • and even the postal service.

The SOFA agreement is supplemented by another agreement specific to the six NATO nations (including the UK and the USA) that have a permanent military presence in Germany, the Supplementary Agreement (or SA). The SOFA was signed in 1951, and the SA was signed in 1959 and last updated in 1998 at the end of the Cold War. With its 83 articles the SA to SOFA is much more detailed than SOFA itself (with 20 articles in Roman numerals – e.g. XX), and more often than not it is mistaken for the SOFA itself.

Entitled personnel are:

  1. serving personnel when in Germany in connection with their official duties
  2. he ‘civilian component’ (effectively civil servants) accompanying the force (the SOFA specifically excludes German nationals and individuals from countries that are not members of NATO),
  3. certain contractors with similar status to that of the civilian component.
  4. Recognised by the employer, MOD, spouses of the above, and children depending upon the Heads of household for support. (Dependent of the Force)

If someone is posted to Germany for six months or more, they and their, formally recognised by the employer - MOD, accompanying family are seen as holding SOFA status.

The SOFA treaty does give us many benefits; however, it also sets out that we have certain
responsibilities. As members of the Force, we are responsible for:

  • Learning and obeying German laws – including driving laws
  • Carrying an official ID card issued by the sending state (either a military ID card for serving personnel, or one of several types of civilian ID cards for non-military persons)
  • Registering vehicles on an approved own-country system
  • Having a SOFA Certificate in passports where required, to prove their entitlement to live and travel within Germany.

In addition, there is also an unspoken responsibility to maintain good faith relations with the host nation and to prevent misuse of the system, for example by paying for tax-free purchases on time. In many customs and fiscal matters, the force has been trusted by the German authorities to self police its entitlements; this privilege should not be taken for granted and could be withdrawn.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that many people have about aspects of life under the SOFA agreement.

Why are coffee, and other items, rationed?

Certain items are rationed because a separate agreement between the UK and Germany specifically limits the amount of cigarettes and tobacco, whisky, gin, and coffee that an individual can purchase free of duty, which is why your NAAFI Ration Card must be filled in each time you purchase these goods. To make sure that the tax-free allowance on these goods is not exceeded, they cannot be purchased tax-free from external shops either: for example, if you do your weekly shopping at REWE with a tax-free Auftrag form, you must not buy any rationed items (for example, a jar of coffee or a packet of cigarettes) as part of your tax-free ‘big shop’. Please remember that if any rationed items are included on the receipt of a larger tax-free purchase, then tax will have to be paid back on the entire purchase (yes, the whole amount of the weekly shop!) not just on the rationed item, and you may be subject to disciplinary action.

Why can’t my German wife work as a Dependant (DEP)?

Dependent of the Force employees work as members of the ‘civilian component’. As explained above, the definition of ‘civilian component’ as imposed in the NATO SOFA, specifically excludes German nationals, and as such the MoD could not employ anybody in this capacity without a serious breach of the treaty. Dependent employment is only open to those who are formally recogised as a Dependent of the Force in accordance with Force Policy.


Any Questions?

If you have any questions on these or other SOFA-related matters, please do not hesitate to ask in your Unit Welfare Office, Unit Regimental Admin Office, LEC HR, or your station Admin/MWST offices.