We all know by now that I pretty much think that getting the opportunity to move to Europe is about the most amazing things that can happen to a person. For example, after living in Germany, you are going to find that it slowly seeps into your soul and before you know it, you are wearing Liederhosen, drinking beers and having pretzels for breakfast.
But, I will also admit that there are times that living oversees doesn’t have the same conveniences that we have in the US.
For example, gas prices. (wah wah)
And since I just KNOW that you are out there, getting the most of your time in Germany and traveling as much as you can throughout Europe, then I also know that you may have some major Esso Fuel Card Questions.
For anyone who has ever traveled within Europe, they know that gas prices can be alarmingly high. At first glance at the gas signs, you see a €1.23.
“Holy cow, gas is just over a buck! This is amaze-balls!!!!”
And then you remember that:
1) It is in Euros and do some quick currency converting in your head (ok…still not terribly)
2) Realize it is in LITERS not GALLONS. Again, you attempt some quick converting, but let’s not lie here folks, you have no idea how many liters are in a gallon because you grew up in ‘MURICA! Where we don’t care how the rest of the world measures ANYTHING!
Well, straight from magic Google, here is the conversion.
So, for some quick math just to give you a comparison in US vs Europe prices, this means that for every liter you fill up, times that by almost 4 to get what you’d be used to in the US. SOOOO
If you need to fill up your tank to 12 gallons, then that means that you’d take
12x 3.785= 45.42 liters
Now, you need to know how much your tank will cost,
SO 45.42 liters x (for example) €1.23 and you are dropping over 55 EURO for gas alone for one tank!!!
[Tweet “NO WONDER EUROPEANS DO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SO WELL! Gas Prices!!!”]
But alas, you, my military friend (or contractor, or DoDDEA teacher or government worker) have a little trick up your sleeve to bypass those outrageous pump prices.
ENTER: THE ESSO CARD
What is the ESSO Card:
The Esso card is the US Military’s way to allow its personnel to pay US gas prices (taken as an average) at Esso gas stations throughout Germany and on Posts and Bases.
Each USAEUR registered vehicle is allotted one card with 400 liters per month for cars and 600 liters for larger vehicles such as vans or trucks (as per the current time of writing). You are allowed to ration two vehicles.
What is an Esso:
Just like a 7-11, QT and the like, Esso is simply a chain gas station that you’ll see throughout Germany.
How to Get Your Esso Card
1) After getting Stationed in Germany, you’ll have a registered vehicle through your installation. Be sure to have your USAREUR License and if you are going to be traveling outside of Germany, your International Driver’s License as well.
2) Go to the designated location at your installation that issues the cards (for example, at Hohenfels it is in the PX. At other locations it is in the Shopette. Just ask Vehicle Registration where it is at your duty station).
3) Load up your gas card with however much money you’d like to put on your card.
5) Set a PIN for the card. You’ll need this anytime you use the card, so ensure that it’s a number you will remember.
4) To top up your card at anytime, you can just go back into where you received the card and put more money on it.
Tip: ALWAYS check your balance if going on a road trip and top up before heading out!
How to Pay for Gas in Europe (Aka: how not to look like a foreigner)
What feels somewhat strange and backward to Americans is completely normal for Europeans when at the pump.
You’ll notice that (most) pumps don’t have a credit card option. Unlike in the US, where you are typically now required to put however much you want on the tank before filling up, in Europe, they allow you to pump what you need first and pay after.
Next, you’ll notice that nobody moves their car when they go into pay. This is first and foremost to eliminate possible drive offs but also so that when you go in and pay, they can see which pump you are at. So no, the person ahead of you is not trying to stick it to you by making you wait a whole whopping three extra minutes. You’ll actually find this system at most military installations in Germany as well.
How to Get US Priced Gas On Post/ Base
1) Get in line (if applicable) for a pump
2) Fill up your tank first
3) Head to the designated window or inside the gas station with your Esso Folder, Esso card and military ID
4) You can just hand them the whole folder if you are unsure of what to do
5) You will be asked if you want to use your Esso fuel card, pay in cash or use a credit card
(Tip: I never use the balance on the card if filling up at an installation, that way I always know I have money on my card for when I am on the economy)
6) Sign the receipt
Voila! You’re done!
How to Use the Esso Fuel Card On the Economy
You’ll find that credit card machines at the pump in Europe really aren’t all that popular. However, if there is one (doubtful), choose an option to pay inside. It isn’t like the US where you have to go in first and put however much you want on the tank. Those Germans are pretty trustworthy people!
1) Fuel up like normal
2) Head into the gas station with that wonderful Subway or Burger King folder that screams “HI! I’m an American!!!” (I had never been asked off-post to see my ID, but having it handy isn’t a bad idea)
3) Do your best at butchering the German language with at least a basic “Hallo.”
Bonus points if you can mutter out the number of the tank you were at. For example, “Nummer Vier” for pump number 4. If all else fails, politely ask “Sprechen Sie English?” They will see that you have the American fuel card and will hopefully take pity on your lack of language skills.
*** ALL German Esso stations, even the ones in teeny tiny remote villages, know how to handle the fuel cards, so don’t be nervous about using them on the economy.
4) You or the cashier will put the card into the reader. At this time, you’ll be prompted for you PIN (you will have set this when you got your card on Base/Post).
5) Money will be automatically taken out of the balance that you have left on your Esso card.
6) Sign the receipt and be on your merry way to whatever German excursion and adventure awaits!
(Note: you can look at these receipts and see how much money you have left on your card as well as how much of your ration you have used)
Esso Fuel Card FAQ
Q: Can I Use my Esso Card At Any US Military Installation
For example, can I use my Esso Fuel Card in Italy?
A: You are ONLY allowed to use your Esso card and gas rations WITHIN Germany. You can use your card at any Esso station within Germany on the economy throughout the entire country or at any military installation IN Germany.
Being able to fuel up in other countries, even on a Base, is a thing of the past. Therefore, if you are heading to Italy, no you are no longer allowed to stop in Vicenza and get gas, even on Post.
What this boils down to is a wee bit of planning. If you are going out of the country, do a little homework on the closest possible Esso station to the border. You can use the handy dandy Esso Fuel Finder App (seriously, this is so awesome and beats the system that we used years ago of Googling and hoping for the best!)
This also means that if you are going to be driving out of Germany for quite a ways or for an extended period of time, just know that there is a chance that yes, you are going to have to pay economy prices.
Tip: If you do have to top up your tank outside of Germany, do your best math and try to figure out how many more miles you are going to be going, where the next German Esso station is, and only fill up what will get you to the station (and a bit more for safety) instead of filling up the whole tank and paying economy prices.
Q: What happens if I run out of my rations
A: Honestly, I have never seen this in over 6 years of living in Germany for anyone. In fact, we personally travel extensively, often driving every single weekend to other countries, across Germany or just simply around Bavaria site seeing. Even with all those kilometers put on the car every single week (in addition to the usual daily driving), we have never come close to worrying about if we will meet our rations. If in the extremely highly unlikely case that you do, you just simply have to pay economy prices for the rest of the month.
Q: Can I use my Esso Card with a Rental?
A: It’s not uncommon to need to rent an extra or bigger car when family comes into town. You can absolutely use your fuel card, but it will come out of your usual rations. (Aka, you don’t get extra rations with a rental).
At Hohenfels (see if this is different at your location), you go to the Customs office, if they aren’t open, you’ll head to the Military Police station, where you’ll receive a form and you’ll take that to where the Esso Cards are issued on your installation. They’ll then issue you an Esso card that can be then used for the rental car.
Q: How long is my Esso Card good for?
A: As long as you have a valid, registered car, your card is good to go. Don’t make the mistake like we did and accidentally let your registration expire. Not only was it embarrassing having our card denied at the Esso on the economy, but it was a costly error when we had to pay the economy prices until we got the car re-inspected, approved and re-registered on Post.
Q: What happens if I don’t have money on my Esso card?
A: If on a military installation, simply pay with cash or credit. If off-post, you just won’t use your Esso card at all and instead will have to pay economy prices.
Q: Can someone else use my Esso card?
A: Simple Answer? NO.
This is one of the really nice perks that we are allowed while stationed abroad. Don’t abuse it and ruin it for others.
Q: What happens if I have a balance on my card and we PCS back home?
A: If you have a balance on your card when you PCS, all you have to do is call the Military Star Card number (1-877-891-7827) and ask for the balance back. You’ll then receive a check from AAFES.
While taking a train across the country, flying SUPER cheap with budget airlines like Ryan Air or just site-seeing close to your home base are all great ways to take advantage of your time in Europe, sometimes a road trip is simply the way to do it. Especially for Americans who have access to US gas prices thanks to the Esso Fuel Ration Card, driving is often the most affordable method of transport.
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