Is there a list of temporary housing available from the Headquarters? It is recommended that you contact your NLR/PNLR office or your sponsor for recommendations. There are many options for temporary accommodations upon arrival. Prices vary significantly and you may be able to negotiate a reduced price depending upon the length of stay. If accommodations other than on a local military installation are required, please contact your NLR/PNLR office or sponsor for recommendations. Below is a list of housing available to international military personnel, subject to certain restrictions, on local US military installations (please note that NATO international civilians are not eligible for these accommodations):
Bachelor Officer’s Quarters (BOQ)
Naval Station Norfolk
+1 757 402 4400
Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story
+1 757 318 7996
Combined Bachelor Quarters
Naval Station Norfolk
+1 757 402 4400
Naval Station Norfolk
+1 757 489 2656
Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story
+1 757 464 6215
What resources are available for finding permanent accommodation?
Housing Binder: This HQ does not have a housing office but the Office of the Legal Advisor informally maintains a 'housing binder' of available rental homes in the local area. You can contact a representative in the Office of the Legal Advisor (+1 757 747 3228/3640 or by email Emma.Hart@act.nato.int or Kathy.Bair@act.nato.int) who will provide support and general information and copies of current listings from their "unofficial" binder of available housing. Daily walk-in legal assistance hours are 0900-1130, or other times by appointment. Your sponsor (with your given desires/criteria) may wish to look in the binder on your behalf. Representatives of the Office of the Legal Advisor do not endorse, visit or guarantee the suitability of any of the properties advertised in the binder. The decision to rent or lease any property remains a private and personal decision between the tenant (i.e., you) and the prospective landlord.
HQ SACT: You may find available housing advertised in the area where your NLR's office is located, the HQ 'notice board' (ground floor, opposite the Central Registry), and also on the HQ's blog. If you have not yet arrived, ask your sponsor to monitor the blog for you as it is currently only accessible by assigned personnel.
Real Estate Agents: There are many real estate agents/companies in the local area who can assist with your housing search. They have many offices throughout the area as well as useful websites.
Websites: There are many websites to assist in finding a home to rent, including but not limited to: www.hrmls.com, www.militarybyowner.com, www.pilotonline.com ("classifieds" section), www.centerforrealestate.com.
Local newspaper: The Virginian-Pilot, a local newspaper, publishes a "Home" section every Saturday. This publication contains classified advertisements for housing, as well as detailed information regarding local cities. The paper can be found at: www.pilotonline.com.
Where can I find additional information about the local cities? General information regarding local cities is widely available on the cities' web sites. The most commonly requested local cities websites and telephone numbers are:
To learn more about certain cities, utilize the resources on the Internet that are available such as the city public school websites for school information, statistics and related information; crime statistic searches available on the city's website, and a search of the sex offenders registry maintained by the Virginia State Police (http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov/sor/). Talk to your sponsor, colleagues and representatives of the NLR/PNLR offices about areas where serving staff members are living and may recommend.
What are some additional considerations when selecting a home in the local area? Like any country or area, it is important to conduct thorough research prior to selecting a home beyond just the home itself. Considerations include driving time (and distance) during peak commuting hours, crime statistics, school performance statistics, proximity to parks, recreation areas, beaches, shopping, etc.
Where do most HQ personnel live? The Headquarters is located in Norfolk with the two other closest cities being Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Although the city of Virginia Beach remains the most popular city of choice, bear in mind that it is quite large geographically and morning/evening commute times can range from 20-60 minutes. With respect to any of the local cities, a 10-15 mile commute, can take 45 minutes or longer in traffic, especially if your commute requires that you go through one of the many local tunnels. Some staff members also commute from Suffolk, Hampton and other outlying cities. Information regarding these cities can be found by conducting a search on the Internet.
Public transportation is limited to buses and most people do not use it for day-to-day transportation. Proximity to the Headquarters is usually a key consideration in finding a suitable home.
It is recommended that you drive the route to a home you are considering—in peak traffic times (0630 to 0830 and 1530 to 1800) prior to signing the lease.
Are there many homes available in the local area? YES, but it varies by area and by monthly rental cost. Currently there are many homeowners who, after trying to sell their homes, are willing to rent their homes on long-term leases. If you see a home for sale, you may wish to contact the owner or the real estate company and inquire if the owner is willing to rent the home for your entire posting.
What is the average rent in the area? The average rent varies significantly by city, and area within the city. The number of rental homes in the local area is limited—especially those in the $1,000 to $2,000 per month range—so you will want to rely on your sponsor and/or a reliable leasing agent. Be aware of homes which appear inexpensive in comparison to similar homes you have seen.
Crime Statistics and Sex Offenders Register:
Officers in the Crime Prevention Units, Virginia Beach and Norfolk Police Departments, recommend conducting a crime statistics search and a sex offenders registry search before agreeing to rent a home.
Where can I find information regarding crime statistics? Each city has its own website where you can search for the crime statistics in the area surrounding the home you are considering renting. If the link to this information in the city where you are planning to live is not listed below, search "[city name]" "police" "crime report" "crime map" "crime prevention unit", or similar search queries:
Virginia Beach: https://wwws.vbgov.com/ePRO/MainUI/Crimes/CrimesMain.aspx
Where can I find information regarding the sex offenders registry? The Sex Offender and Crimes against Minors Registry program is maintained by the Virginia State Police and a search can be conducted at: http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov/sor/ (searches can be conducted by postal code, neighbourhood, street, and street address).
The home I wish to rent is near an airport. Where can I find additional information? In addition to Norfolk International Airport, there are multiple military and private air installations in the region–this is an important consideration when selecting a home. The US Department of Defense identifies high noise zones and accident potential zones (APZ) (i.e., the potential for accidents by aircraft) near its air installations called Air Installations Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ). The Hampton Roads AICUZ web site is located on the web site for Naval Air Station Oceana at: http://www.cnic.navy.mil/Oceana/index.htm, once on the home page, search "AICUZ" and then click on the link for "Oceana AICUZ". This web site contains maps and information that identify noise zones and APZs for Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field in Chesapeake as well as for the Norfolk International Airport.
Will my landlord inform me about the proximity to the airport? Local ordinances/laws require that if the home you are leasing is located in a noise zone of 65 Ldn (i.e., measurement of energy-averaged sound level in a 24-hour period) or greater, and is within an APZ, these zones must be identified in the lease agreement. However, familiarizing yourself with the location of these zones prior to your home search is often helpful in selecting the area where you would like to live.
Housing and Children:
Can I choose the school where my children will attend? NO, if they will be attending (free) public school education; YES, if you will be paying for private education. The address of your home will dictate which school your child(ren) will attend; it is therefore recommended that you choose your home carefully. The only exception for public school designation is if your child has been selected to attend an international baccalaureate program (Chesapeake—Oscar F. Smith High School, Norfolk—Granby High School, and Virginia Beach—Princess Anne High School), or other special academy program. Virginia is reputed to have a good, public school system, although some staff members choose to have their children in private school (which will range in cost from $5,000-$14,000 or more per child per year). There is detailed information regarding "Schools" found later in the Guide.
I have young children. Are there playgrounds and parks in the local cities? There are many local, public playgrounds and parks in area cities. Generally neighbourhoods where there are predominately single-family homes are 'kid friendly'; however, some communities, particularly condominium, town-home, and apartment communities, do not permit children to play in the 'common areas' and restrict children to only play in designated spaces or playgrounds. This should be discussed in detail with the prospective landlord prior to signing the lease, as it has been the source of common misunderstandings with personnel.
Do my children have to be supervised? Generally YES, but it varies by age and activity. Please see section entitled "Minor Children (Under Age 18) Staying Alone" in this Guide.
Once I have found a home, what is the next step? The landlord or property manager will ask you to complete a rental application, sign a lease agreement and pay a security deposit. You may also be asked to pay a nonrefundable application fee (average is $35-$75)—which is standard and unless the application indicates otherwise, this is not a binding commitment to rent a particular home.
It is suggested that prior to signing a lease agreement or any other document, that you contact either your National officials or representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor. Such agreements are legally-binding contracts.
Should I pay money to the landlord to hold/reserve the property? Paying money to the landlord or agent prior to negotiating lease terms is generally not recommended, as it may be non-refundable. Contact your NLR or PNLR, or representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor if you have any questions.
What is a Lease Agreement? An agreement to rent or lease a home is a legally binding contract that is entered into between the owner of the property ("Owner" or "Landlord") and the renter ("Tenant"). In many instances, an owner will use the services of a property manager or property management company ("Agent") to find a tenant and to take care of all issues relating to the rental property. In instances where a property manager is involved, most tenants never meet with or speak to the landlord. It should be noted that the Agent represents the Owner/Landlord, and not the Tenant.
Who reviews my lease agreement? A representative in the Office of the Legal Advisor can review your completed lease PRIOR to your signing it subject to their availability. You should be available to visit the Office of the Legal Advisor for an in-depth discussion (45-60 minutes) since a large part of the review/discussion focuses on the responsibilities of a tenant (i.e., renter) and the differences in landlord tenant practices in Virginia in comparison to many European countries. We will NOT review a lease 'template' or a lease which does not contain all information and terms inserted. You can also engage private legal counsel for a thorough review of this legally binding contract.
Why is a Lease review important? Since a lease agreement is a legally binding contract, it is strongly recommended that your lease is reviewed prior to signing. Upon request, a representative of the Office of the Legal Advisor can review your lease to clarify and explain particular clauses, and in some instances provide suggested language. You can also engage private legal counsel for a thorough review of this legally binding contract.
Does the Office of the Legal Advisor recommend any particular lease? No. Leases come in many different formats. There are many lease templates available on the Internet. Please be aware, however, that owners often use an "Internet" lease or many different leases and combine them to create a lease resulting in contradictory clauses. Many property management companies and 'professional landlords' (individuals who own and rent several properties) use their own lease. A blank sample lease agreement (in hard copy or by e-mail) is available from the Office of the Legal Advisor upon request by the Tenant; however, this template changes frequently and should not be distributed to colleagues or other prospective tenants.
My landlord is renting his home for the first time and doesn't have a lease. Can representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor provide a lease? YES, upon your request or the request of your sponsor or NLR/PNLR office representative we can provide a standard lease agreement. We do NOT provide leases to landlords, nor do we negotiate or deal directly with landlords.
I already signed an agreement without Legal's review, but I want to make a change? A lease agreement is a legally-binding contract, and changes cannot be made to a document once it is signed, unless both parties agree upon the changes. Signed leases will NOT be reviewed by representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor.
How can I prevent misunderstandings with the landlord or property manager? The best advice is to ensure that both parties understand their obligations and keep a written file/log of every issue or query you have with the landlord/owner or property manager.
What are the most common mistakes tenants make regarding their lease contract? (1) not conducting a thorough move-in inspection, taking photographs with digital date stamp, and then not submitting a written report to the landlord/owner within the time period allocated in the lease; and (2) relying on the verbal promises of the landlord or the landlord's representative. You should ensure that any verbal agreements or oral promises that are made by the landlord (homeowner) or the property manager are written and clearly detailed in the lease agreement. This will prevent any misunderstandings later. If, for example, you request and they agree to a particular repair or replacement of an item (replace the carpet, paint the interior, build a patio, etc.) and it is not in writing, in the event they fail to complete the action or item promised, you will not be able to simply terminate the lease without obligation.
Is it necessary to conduct a move-in inspection? YES, absolutely. You should also ensure you have conducted a thorough inspection upon move-in, which details any items in disrepair in the home. This is your BEST protection upon move-out. Consult your lease regarding this particular requirement, and ensure it is included in the lease prior to signing. Most property management companies have their own form; however, if you have not been provided a form, you may wish to use the "Rental Property Move-In/Move-Out Checklist" at Annex B-1. It is extremely important that you complete a checklist since charges for the correction of deficiencies or items of disrepair existing at the beginning of the term, which are not otherwise noted or recorded could be deducted from your security deposit upon conclusion of the lease. You may wish to also take digital photographs, with date stamp, or video, of the general condition of the home or of deficiencies, which are difficult to describe in writing, and deliver a copy of the CD (with dates embedded in the files) to the landlord with the checklist, keeping file copies of the photographs for your files.
Where can I find additional information regarding Virginia law, requirements and industry practice with respect to leases? If you have engaged private legal counsel, they can assist you. If not, it is highly recommend that you contact representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor who can provide a copy of the publication entitled "Finding a Home in the Local Area & Understanding your Lease Agreement", or links to other resources and information. Please contact Emma.Hart@act.nato.int or Kathy.Bair@act.nato.int for assistance.
This publication discusses topics such as the governing law, move-in/out inspections, military (escape) clause, renter's insurance, the Virginia sex offenders' registry, and similar information. To conduct a search on the Virginia State Police (VSP) sex offenders registry to determine whether any registered sex offenders reside near the home you are considering renting. This database is located on the internet at http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov/sor/.
The lease agreement I signed requires that I provide a copy of my renter's insurance policy. What is renter's insurance and am I required to purchase this insurance? Renter's insurance is insurance to protect your personal belongings/valuables against loss, damage, fire or theft. Many renters' insurance policies also include coverage for personal liability and medical payment coverage—which may also be required under the lease so check that provision carefully. The landlord's insurance coverage protects the structure (i.e., home) in the event of loss, but will not protect your personal belongings. If the lease requires renter's insurance, you must obtain a policy in accordance with the landlord's requirements and provide a copy to the landlord in compliance with the lease.
If I have renter's insurance, will all my belongings be protected? Not necessarily. You should ensure that you understand the limits of your policy, and it includes all items which you wish to insure, particularly furs, jewelry, electronic equipment, antique furniture, silver, etc. as many companies limit their liability for such items, if even covered. It is also recommended that you take photographs and video of your possessions throughout the home taking particular note of more valuable items.
What happens if we wish to cancel the lease contract prior to its natural termination date? The lease is a legally binding document and cannot be cancelled without the landlord's express (written) consent. If the landlord is failing to maintain the home, please contact a representative in the Office of the Legal Advisor or private legal counsel.
Where can I find additional information regarding renters' insurance? The Virginia Bureau of Insurance web page contains detailed information regarding "Renter's Insurance" at http://www.scc.virginia.gov/boi/pubs.aspx, search Homeowner's/Renter's Insurance then Virginia Renter's Insurance Pamphlet.
BUYING A HOME
Is it common for personnel to buy a home to live in during their tour and then to sell it when they leave? NO, it is not common. However, on occasion, staff members express interest in purchasing a home while they are posted at the Headquarters, and some have purchased homes. While purchasing a home is certainly a personal decision and is unique to your personal circumstances and financial situation, this decision should be taken once you have thoroughly researched and understood the housing market in the Tidewater area as well as the home-buying process and various mortgage options available in the United States.
Can a representative in the Office of the Legal Advisor assist me in the home-buying process? NO. Although Legal Assistance Section staff may review lease agreements and certain other contracts, they are not permitted and do not possess the expertise to review or provide guidance regarding real estate purchase contracts and the other documentation associated with purchasing a home.
Where can I find additional information regarding buying a home in the United States? The Internet is a valuable resource when you can find both general and specific information regarding the process, especially for first-time homebuyers. In addition to information found on the web sites of local and nationwide real estate companies, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a US Federal agency, has a variety of information and publications available on its web site at www.hud.gov that you may find of assistance. Particularly noteworthy is the section on "buying a home" (www.hud.gov/buying/index.cfm). However, it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the process, terms, options, etc., and consult a real estate agent and/or private attorney prior to making the decision to purchase a home.
What utilities am I responsible for within the home? Most tenants are responsible to pay for all or most utilities (e.g., electricity, natural gas and water), unless the rental agreement/lease indicates that the landlord is responsible to provide such items.
How do I arrange/schedule the utilities? You will contact the utility provider directly or sign up online unless the landlord or property manager informs you otherwise. You should ensure you contact them preferably at least one week in advance, if possible. Otherwise you may experience a delay in the connection/transfer of services. If you sign up online, it is strongly recommended that you follow-up with a telephone call to ensure that the accounts have been set up.
What documentation is required in order to establish a utility account? You will likely be asked to provide copies of your passport, visa, Form I-94, as well as at least one other supporting identity document (e.g., national driver's licence). If you have previously been issued a US social security number and have an established US credit history, you may not be requested to provide the above listed documentation. Please refer to the sections entitled, "Social Security Number" and "Establishing Credit/Credit Score in the United States" for additional information.
The utility company will inform what documentation is required—ENSURE you provide the documentation as soon as possible! Failure to do so may, and has, resulted in the disconnection of utilities, which may take several days to reestablish.
Where are the supply lines for the utilities in the home? The supply lines for the utilities to your home can be identified by Miss Utility, which is not actually a utility, but rather a free service. Miss Utility representatives will identify the supply lines to your home for the main utilities (electricity, gas, telephone and television cable) within 48 hours of your request. If you are planning to dig (even a vegetable or flower garden) on the property you are renting, you should call Miss Utility at 1 800 552 7001 to schedule the marking of these utility lines to ensure you do not accidentally damage a utility line. If you damage a utility line, you will be required to reimburse the utility company for the repair, in addition to experiencing a disruption of services.
What company provides electricity? Dominion Virginia Power is the provider in the local area. They can be reached once you arrive in the United States at +1 866 DOM HELP (366 4357) or via the Internet at www.dom.com.
I understand that most US homes run on 110 volts. Is there anything in particular that I need to know? Typical electric outlets (plugs) are 110 volts. Most homes have 220-volt plugs for clothes dryers or for ranges (cookers), but the plug size is different from European plugs since voltage and frequency are different in the United States. If a particular appliance has dual voltage, it can likely be adjusted for use.
Are transformers readily available? Transformers are difficult to find in the local area; you should be able to locate transformers on the Internet and at a few local stores at reasonable prices. European televisions (PAL/SECAM) will work here but are difficult to adapt. Check with your sponsor to learn what difficulties he/she may have encountered upon arrival with respect to their appliances.
What company provides natural gas? Virginia Natural Gas is the local provider, representatives can be reached once you arrive in the United States at +1 866 229 3578, or via the Internet at www.virginianaturalgas.com.
What are fees and average monthly costs of electricity and natural gas? You will be required to pay a connection charge ($15) and, most likely, a refundable deposit of $180 (billed over three months) by both the electrical and natural gas providers. Electricity and natural gas charges are billed for the quantity used. When scheduling connection of your electricity and natural gas services, you can inquire as to the average cost of services (during the preceding twelve months) for the house you are renting. This will give you a guideline of what you might expect to pay. You may wish to inquire about the "budget program" under which you will be billed the same amount each month, based on the prior year's usage.
Water, Sewage and Storm Water:
Do I have to arrange for water services, and if so how? YES, unless your landlord informs otherwise (common in apartment buildings). The charges for water and wastewater are ordinarily billed every other month by most area cities. You will contact officials in the city in which you live to arrange for these services. You may receive separate bills for water and wastewater: HRSD +1 757 460 2491, Chesapeake Public Utilities +1 757 382 6352/6203, Norfolk +1 757 664 6700, and Virginia Beach +1 757 385 4631.
What are the fees and average bills? You can expect to pay a connection charge averaging $20, plus a $25 deposit upon connection, for water services—although it does vary by city. There is also a connection charge of $15.50 for wastewater (sewer) services. The charges for water usage, like electricity and natural gas, are based upon the quantity used by your family. You can expect to pay an average of $75 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children every other month—although it could be as high as $100+ depending upon usage. Charges for wastewater average approximately $25, and bills are sent every other month. You will likely be responsible to pay for your water usage and wastewater, unless your landlord is required to pay under the terms of your rental agreement.
My landlord also said that I have to pay for storm water management. Is this accurate, and what is it? The responsibility to pay for storm water management should be indicated in the lease. If you are unsure of who is responsible, contact representatives in the Office of the Legal Advisor. The charges are approximately $100 per year, are billed every three months. If you do not receive a bill, there is no need to contact anyone as your landlord is paying this charge for the home. If you have any questions concerning an invoice you have received, contact the appropriate office in the city where you live, or visit the Office of the Legal Advisor for assistance: Chesapeake Division of Storm Water Management +1 757 382 3330, Norfolk +1 757 823 4000, and Virginia Beach Waste Management Customer Service +1 757 385 4650.
Are television (TV) services available without cost? YES, but "off-air" (free) channels are very limited. If you wish to have cable or satellite television you will pay the costs associated with such service. For additional information regarding the special converters which may be required to access off-air channels, consult the US Federal Communications Commission website at: www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/CC_converters.html.
Who is the local provider of television services? There are several local providers of television "cable services", but availability of services vary by location. Cox Communications is the largest cable television provider in the area, but Verizon, Comcast, Charter, among others, also provide services. It is recommended that you compare monthly costs and services to determine which provider best suit your family's circumstances.
"Satellite television" is also quite popular. There are many distributors in this area so you will want to shop for the best deal. Please note, however, that you will likely be asked to sign an extended service contract in exchange for "free" equipment and installation when having satellite service installed. Military (escape) clauses for international personnel are not common, so in the event of a 'short-tour' you could have a significant monetary obligation.
Will the satellite package I purchase for use in the United States be compatible with European systems? Most likely NO.
What are the fees and monthly charges for television service? The connection fees for television service average $20, but can be more—especially for satellite packages, although 'specials' are common so you should compare costs. The monthly charge for basic cable TV is approximately $35 per month; additional "pay" channels (such as HBO, Showtime, PayPerView) are available for an additional charge—but again it varies by provider.
Any suggestions regarding telephone service? Speak to colleagues to determine which telephone companies they use for local and long-distance service; compare rates of several long-distance companies and understand restrictions; write down the name and employee number of any telephone representative with whom you speak; ask the company to mail information to you about your assigned rate plan; and call back within a few days to verify the terms of your rate plan.
Who is the local telephone provider? There are many telephone companies that provide both local and long-distance telephone service. Historically, selection of telephone service has been a source of legal and financial problems for HQ personnel. The Verizon White Pages has a "customer guide" located in the front of the telephone book listing companies (in addition to Verizon) that provide local and long-distance service. Similar to long-distance telephone service, local telephone service options and prices vary. You may want to read through the information contained in the front of the telephone book regarding available options, calling areas (local calling area, local toll calls and long-distance calls) and general information about telephone service.
What are the fees and monthly charges for telephone service? You can expect to pay a connection charge (varies from $20 to $40 depending on the company) and some companies require a deposit (approximately $40-$80). The monthly charge for basic local telephone service is approximately $20-$25 per month and varies depending on local calling options and services.
How do I arrange service? When you call a local telephone company to request telephone service, you will be asked a series of questions. You will be required to provide personal information so that an account application can be completed over the telephone and your initial account established. You will also be asked to select a local calling plan, and your long-distance telephone carrier.
Telephone (Long distance):
How do I select a long-distance carrier? The representative of the local telephone company will ask you to select a long-distance telephone carrier as they are prohibited by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from selecting a long-distance carrier for you. If you are not familiar with long-distance carriers, you can request that the representative read from a list of companies and provide the telephone numbers to you so that you can contact each company directly to determine the best rate plan for you.
What if I can't decide on which long-distance provider I wish to have during that initial telephone call? If you are unsure of which long-distance carrier you wish to select during this initial telephone conversation, inform the representative that you will select a carrier at a later date. You will not be able to make long-distance calls from your home telephone by direct dial until you have selected a long-distance carrier. Many individuals place a "freeze" on their telephone account so that long-distance telephone calls cannot be made without a special access code. This prevents guests or children from making unauthorized long-distance—especially international—calls. If you are unsure about your long-distance telephone options, it is recommended that you place a "freeze" to avoid high telephone bills until you can make an informed decision.
Once I've chosen a long-distance telephone provider, how can I ensure I will not receive a very high bill for services? Once you have chosen a long-distance company, call your local telephone company and tell them which long-distance carrier you have selected (if you did not inform them during your local telephone account set-up). You also must contact your long-distance carrier to request a specific rate plan after you have informed your local telephone company of your long-distance carrier. Otherwise, you will be charged according to that long-distance company's standard plan which can be 10, 15 or more than 20 TIMES the special rate plan you thought you would receive. Write down the name and employee number of the representative with whom you are speaking.
Can you recommend a long-distance carrier? Although particular companies are not endorsed, the following companies are often recommended by staff members as reliable and less expensive long-distance carriers: Vonage www.vonage.com and MCI www.mci.com offer international rates through MCI global connection. Other increasingly popular options are available through your internet provider (using a webcam) include Skype, Windows Live Messenger or your National version. Software called "Woipwise" is also recommended to call European land-line telephone numbers but cannot be used for mobile telephone numbers. Skype has also been recommended by some personnel as a service to call both European land-line and mobile telephones; rates vary by country (e.g., calls to land-lines in Germany cost approximately 2 Euro cents/minutes while calls to mobile telephone numbers cost approximately 29 Euro cents/minute).
I thought I did everything correctly, but just received a $700 invoice for long-distance services. What can I do? It is extremely important to educate yourself about the rates and restrictions prior to establishing service with any company. Every year the Office of the Legal Advisor is visited by a few staff members who receive a telephone bill for hundreds of dollars more than expected. Usually, the problem arises during the first few months in the United States when a staff member uses the expensive "standard" rate for long-distance service instead of a special economy rate. Please be advised that most telephone companies are unwilling to reduce telephone invoices when the customer failed to request a particular rate plan when establishing their long-distance account—the burden of proof is on the consumer.
Where can I find additional information? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) web site has useful information regarding International long distance calling: www.fcc.gov, including a guide entitled, "International Long Distance Calling Made Simple Tip Sheet" (www.fcc.gov/guides/international-long-distance-calling-made-simple-tip-sheet).
Are there alternatives to long-distance providers arranged through my local telephone company? YES. Place a long-distance freeze with your local telephone provider, and use a voice-over internet protocol (VOIP) provider, or a prepaid global telephone (calling) card especially if you are living in temporary accommodations, are unsure about which company to choose for your long-distance, or if their rates are better than those which are available through long-distance telephone carriers. 2PrepaidCard.com is a website (www.2prepaidcard.com) recommended by staff members which offers a wide variety of phone cards worldwide. You may wish to also check the Navy Exchange, which sells AT&T Global Calling cards at reasonable prices.
Do you have any additional general suggestions? YES. We suggest you call the Customer Service division of your long-distance company to verify your connection and, more importantly, your rate plan within a few days of your request; inform your local telephone company that you wish to "freeze" your long-distance service so that your account cannot be switched to a new carrier without your written permission (a practice commonly referred to as "slamming"); and always review your monthly telephone bills as telephone companies frequently change their rates so it is important to read the notices contained in your monthly telephone bills.
How do I locate telephone numbers in the United States? Free directory assistance is available on the Internet at www.anywho.com, www.555-1212.com or www.whitepages.com. You can also call the "Directory Assistance" operator for a telephone number by dialing 411 or +1 757 555 1212; however, there is a service fee (e.g., $1.25, $1.99, or higher) per request.
Any suggestions for mobile telephone providers? Ask your sponsor, colleague, or NLR/PNLR office representative which company they use and thoroughly research options.
Mobile Telephone Contract:
Do most mobile telephone companies require that you sign a long-term contract? YES. Many mobile telephone company providers will request that you sign a service agreement—the term for which is an average of one to two years. Such contracts are common and there are significant penalties for early termination/cancellation.
I will be here for three/four years, so I do not have to worry about early termination, correct? NO, not likely. Upon the anniversary of your contract, many companies will allow you to purchase a new telephone at a greatly reduced price; however, in order to do so, you will likely be required to sign a new 1-2 year contract. You should ensure that the period for which you are contractually obligated does not exceed the length of your tour to avoid the termination penalty.
Do any US providers offer short-term options/agreements? YES. You can also purchase pay-as-you-go plans, but the cost-per-minute rates and other fees—including initial telephone purchase—ordinarily such plans are more expensive than longer-term contracts. There are many mobile (cellular) telephone companies in the area, and rate plans and services vary significantly depending on the company so we strongly suggest that you speak with your sponsor, colleagues and conduct research on the Internet—and also in person by visiting different providers since some companies do not advertise all available plans and options on the Internet.
The customer service representative informed that if I receive a 'military transfer' outside the United States, I will not have to pay the early-termination penalty. Is this accurate? NO, not likely as they have presumed you are a member of the US military. Unless your contract expressly states that you—as international military—can terminate the contract early, you will likely have to pay the early termination fee as a significant penalty (usually $175 or more per line) for early cancellation of the contract.
Do I need a special international calling plan for my mobile telephone? YES. In fact, most companies require that you pay a small monthly fee for international access. Ensure you clearly understand the rates and fees, as they are significant when calling from the United States, and can exceed $1.00 per minute.
Documentation Requirements for Mobile Telephone Companies:
Do I have to also show my passport? YES, they will likely request to see your passport and make copies of the biographic page, your NATO or "A" visa and your Form I-94.
Do I have to have—or provide—my social security number (SSN) to obtain a mobile telephone? YES, if they request it. Most companies will require your SSN to establish a contract. If you do not yet have your SSN, explain the situation, and they may allow you to sign the contract and may simply increase the amount of the deposit. Additional information regarding Social Security Numbers (SSN) can be found later in this Guide. If you choose a pay-as-you-go plan, an SSN should not ordinarily be required.
Why do they want my SSN? Most private businesses request your SSN so they can check your "credit" score" (see information later in this Guide regarding "Establishing Credit/Credit Score in the United States"), and also so they can report late payments or contractual defaults.
Deposits and Discounts:
Do all mobile telephone providers require a deposit? YES, most require a significant deposit (several hundred dollars per line in some cases) on the mobile (cellular) telephone unless you have previously established 'good credit'.
Is it accurate that some mobile telephone companies offer discounts for military? YES, however these (on average 15%-20%) discounts are offered as a courtesy to US active-duty military members and are 100% voluntary on the part of the telephone service provider. Although these companies may extend the discount to international military members upon presentation of the US Department of Defense identification card, they are not required to do so.
European Mobile Telephone:
Will my European or Canadian specification mobile telephone work in the United States? Likely YES, however, you should consult your (European or Canadian) carrier for US network coverage and rates. You may wish to contact your mobile telephone provider also regarding whether your mobile telephone is "unlocked" and thus can accept a US Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. (Your SIM card identifies your telephone to your carrier.)
Driving and using a Mobile Telephone:
Is it legal to drive in the United States while using your mobile telephone? The laws vary by each individual US State. In Virginia, currently drivers 18 years of age or older are legally permitted to converse on their mobile telephones while driving without using a hands-free device. Virginia law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using their mobile telephones while driving for any purpose-even when using a hands-free device. You are not legally permitted to draft, read or send email or text messages (SMS) from mobile communication devices while driving:
It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using a handheld personal communications device [m]anually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or [r]ead any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device (Reference VA Code 46.2-1078.1).
Please note that the use of mobile telephones while driving on US military installations or property is prohibited; please consult the section entitled "Driving on US Military Installations" for additional information.