So you have your assignment to the Kaiserslautern Military Community and now you’re wondering where are you going to live? Many people would like to live on base, but the available on-base housing is very limited. 85% of the KMC personnel live off base in the 11,000 homes and apartments for rent within 20 miles of Ramstein Air Base. So where do you start?
The first stop is the KMC Housing Office
Your first stop is to report to the KMC Housing Management Office at Vogelweh. After you sign in with the housing office, it’s time to dig in. Since I accepted the fact I was going to have to live off base, the first question I asked was “what can I afford?”
There are many factors to determine what you can afford
The military has something called Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) that is supposed to cover your monthly rent. The OHA amount is supplemented by a utility allowance that seems high, but it does a good job at covering your utilities. Don’t plan on using your utility allowance to supplement your rent. A typical range for OHA is 1400 to 1600 Euros per month plus around 600 Euros per month for utilities. Don’t forget you’ll have some up front costs too.
What kind of up front costs can I expect?
Most landlords expect a deposit of one month’s rent. Utility companies also have deposit requirements. You might have to pay an installation fee for your telephone. If you found your house through an off base realtor, called an immobilen in German, their “finder fee” is normally one month’s rent. If you have to live in a temporary apartment or hotel until your new place is ready, that adds even more to the cost. The bottom line is to have some cash ready for these expenses. Now that you figured out how to pay for your new home or apartment, what differences can you expect with the United States housing?
Many things are similar but many are different
The first thing you’ll notice is German housing is smaller than it’s American counterpart. This can be a problem with larger families. Big houses are hard to find in Germany and are usually expensive. Consider putting things that can store well that you don’t really need until you come back to the United States. Don’t put everything in storage, but consider downsizing a little. If you do a house-hunting trip, you will know exactly how much room you’re going to have and how much needs to stay behind. What else is different?
Lots of things are different but here are few important differences
1. German washing machines do not use hot water because they heat the water inside of the washer! If you bring your U.S. washing machine, you can only hook up the cold water. Don’t expect your whites to get very white washing only in cold water.
2. The German homes don’t use drywall. They use brick walls. Hanging a picture isn’t as easy as it is in the U.S. Nails don’t work. You have to drill into the wall and use special screws.
3. The electricity is 200 volts in Europe. You’ll need to purchase transformers and make sure you don’t accidentally blow up things like your computer (I did this when I first got here in 1995).
If this all sounds like too much, maybe you want to live on base.
But can you live on base if you really try hard?
Unless you are required to live on base because you are a commander or junior enlisted member, the answer is probably “not right away.” The waiting list for most housing is 12 to 36 months. No wonder 85% of the KMC residents live off base. If you have a 3-year assignment, you might be offered housing when you have your orders to leave! Don’t plan on living on base or be scared of it.
Living off base living isn’t as scary as you might think.
There are differences with the U.S. but you quickly get used to them and settle in pretty fast. We never lived on base in the KMC and each of the seven German homes we’ve lived in has been interesting and we’ll never forget each one. With a little planning and knowledge, you too can find the right place for you!