Here's the scenario. Your military service member is completing an unaccompanied tour of duty in an overseas location. You have the opportunity to visit your spouse, and during that time, you and your spouse stop in at the exchange/commissary complex to do a bit of shopping. However, you are denied entrance into the facility even though you have a valid military dependent identification card. What just happened? The Status-of-Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the United States and the host government determined the rules and privileges regarding the installation exchange and commissary. Because you are not a command-sponsored dependent, the SOFA prohibits you from entering or shopping at the commissaries or exchanges in this host country.
What are Status-of-Forces Agreements as they relate to Commissaries and Exchanges?
Status-of-Forces Agreements between the United States and the countries hosting American armed forces play a vital role in defining the legal status of personnel and property in another nation. Commissary and exchange privileges are covered under the SOFA, which determines who has access to the facility and who may buy the duty-free goods sold there. Here are a few of the reasons for the restrictions:
- Products sold in overseas commissaries and exchanges pass across international borders and are custom, duty and tax free.
- Limits are required on purchases of items that could be sold on illegal markets outside the installation.
- Some SOFAs do not allow visitors to buy rationed items.
- Some SOFAs limit shoppers to a monthly spending cap based on family size.
Military commands usually publish regulations of commissary and exchange access based on the terms of the SOFA. Service members can also check with the installation Pass and ID office to find out about the regulations.
If you are considering traveling to an overseas installation, be sure to find out about the SOFA between the United States and that country concerning your usage privileges at the commissary and exchange. Visit the Defense Commissary Agency for more information on the shopping regulations in overseas installation commissaries and exchanges. You can also visit the specific exchange websites:
Knowing this information before you go will help make your visit a relaxing and enjoyable experience.