Understanding Your Commissary and Military Exchange Privileges Under a Status-of-Forces Agreement

Woman ringing up groceries at the commissary

How the status-of-forces agreement can affect your military exchange and commissary privileges

When you spend time in another country as a service member, the SOFA agreement between the United States and your host country protects your legal status as military personnel in another nation. Luckily for active service members, your privilege to shop in military stores is almost always covered under the SOFA.

However, to borrow language from the standard disclaimer, “some restrictions may apply.”

What are the reasons for status-of-forces agreement restrictions?

  • When you buy a product from an overseas commissary and exchange, it’s considered custom, duty and tax-free when it passes across international borders.
  • Depending on where you’re traveling, some SOFAs don’t allow you to buy rationed items.
  • Similarly, some SOFAs also impose a monthly spending cap, depending on your situation and family size.
  • Finally (and not surprisingly), limits are also required on items that could be resold on illegal markets outside the installation.

Where can I find out about specific status-of-forces agreement regulations?

Check with your military command, which usually publishes the military exchange and commissary regulations based on the SOFA’s terms. Or, you can check with the installation pass and identification office.

One thing’s for sure: it’s often a good idea to learn about the SOFA between the United States and your destination country before you travel. You’ll have confidence knowing what to expect and be able to focus on the more important aspects of your trip.


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