S.O.F.A. stands for Status of Forces Agreement. The SOFA stamp is placed in the no-fee passport.
A status of forces agreement (SOFA) is an agreement between a host country and a foreign nation stationing forces in that country. SOFAs are often included, along with other types of military agreements, as part of a comprehensive security arrangement. A SOFA does not constitute a security arrangement; it establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel present in a host country in support of the larger security arrangement.
The U.S. government has a stationing agreement with every country that hosts U.S. military forces. The SOFA defines the legal rights and obligations of SOFA status personnel. The SOFA stamp registers the person and identifies them as having protections and rights under our SOFA agreement. Having a SOFA stamp does not exempt any person from abiding by our host nation’s laws.
Terms of operation
The SOFA is intended to clarify the terms under which the foreign military is allowed to operate. Typically, purely military operational issues such as the locations of bases and access to facilities are covered by separate agreements. The SOFA is more concerned with the legal issues associated with military individuals and property. This may include issues like entry and exit into the country, tax liabilities, postal services, or employment terms for host-country nationals, but the most contentious issues are civil and criminal jurisdiction over bases and personnel. For civil matters, SOFAs provide for how civil damages caused by the forces will be determined and paid. Criminal issues vary, but the typical provision in U.S. SOFAs is that U.S. courts will have jurisdiction over crimes committed either by a servicemember against another servicemember or by a servicemember as part of his or her military duty, but the host nation retains jurisdiction over other crimes.
The reasons why the government-issued passport does not work on leisure travel are because “a government-issued passport is specifically for execution of government orders and travel associated with those orders,” said Edmund Snead, passport and VISA specialist at the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart passport office.