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How to Use a Cell Phone in Germany

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Many people ask me about cell phones (known as Handy) in Germany. You need to know a few things to determine if your cell phone will work in Germany. We’ll get into the core of how to use a cell phone in Germany.

Is my cell phone Tri-Band? To find out if your phone is Tri-Band, contact your cell phone manufacturer or dealer or refer to your user manual. Once you identify that your cell phone is Tri-Band, you must find out if you need a separate SIM card. 

You must speak with the cell phone manufacturer or dealer in Germany to determine if you need a separate SIM card. Most cell phones can send and receive text messages, whether Tri-Band or not.

woman using her mobile phone in the street

If you know that your phone will work in Germany, you should find out how much you will have to pay to use it; it can be expensive if it is not a German phone.

If you plan to stay in Germany for two weeks or more, buying the cheapest cell phone that runs off of prepaid cards may be in your best interest.

You should be able to find one for around 50 EUR at most phone shops, i.e., Telekom. With a prepaid phone, you can use a normal long-distance calling card by dialing 0800callatt and returning home for a reasonable rate.

One good thing about cell phone use in Germany is that you are not charged for incoming calls. If your friend back home has a good rate of calling Germany, have him/her call you, and you will not have to pay a penny.

In the very worst-case scenario, if you have an emergency, you can contact the police at any time with any cell phone, with or without a SIM card, by just dialing 110.

All phone service providers are configured to transmit the signal dialed from 110, even if your phone is not activated and has no card.

Cell Phone Service In Germany

Vodafone mobile phone shop in Germany
Robson90 – stock.adobe.com

Approximately 20% of North American cell phones currently work in Germany. Those that do are quite expensive, as international roaming rates are typically over $1 per minute to send and receive calls.

Hotel phones are also not practical or cost-effective. However, there is a way to enjoy the convenience of cellular service in Germany at an affordable price.

Currently, there are three main cell phone carriers: Vodafone, T-Mobile, and O2. The vast majority of Germans use one of these three carriers.

However, while their service is practical for German users, travelers who typically need to call internationally do not benefit from these carriers’ international rates exceeding $2 per minute.

In the mid-2000s, a smaller telecom company sprung up that caters specifically to foreigners and tourists traveling to Germany who need to make international calls. International calls to most countries, including the US and Canada, cost only 0.09 Euros (currently about $0.13) per minute.

As Ortel uses the E Plus infrastructure, coverage and quality are not compromised. So, how does one actually tap into this service?

The good news is that it is quite easy to do so, and since it is a pay-as-you-go service, one does not need to sign a mobile phone contract or get into a long-term commitment.

The not-so-good news is that this is a smaller, niche carrier, and their services are difficult to find. if your current phone is incompatible, you may have to rent or purchase a phone to access the rates.

How to Use a Cell Phone in Germany

Person Using a Cell Phone

Let’s get into a few options on cell phone service in Germany and what you need to know while traveling or exploring the country.

Using Your Cell Phone

Germany uses the worldwide GSM standard, while North America uses a number of different standards. Currently, only AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM in the US and Canada. However, North American GSM works on a different frequency than in most other countries. Some newer or more expensive phones also have international 900 and 1800 GSM frequencies.

If you do not use one of the above two carriers, it is highly unlikely that your phone will work in Germany unless you have one of the rare hybrid phones offered by, for example, Verizon.

Check with your current carrier and verify that your phone has the 900/1800 frequencies. If it does, you will need to ask them for the unlock code so that you can swap out their SIM card with a new Ortel SIM card.

Typically, carriers initially lock their phones so that you are forced to use their service and pay their high roaming rates. If you are not a brand-new customer, these carriers will provide you with the unlock code.

Once you have verified that your phone will work in Germany, you can pick one up in Germany (although they are hard to find) or through a retailer in your home state before your trip.

Having everything before your leave is advantageous as you can give your new German phone number before your departure, and you will be ready to use the service as soon as you land. The SIM card will have some initial outgoing talk time (incoming is always free).

To purchase more talk time, you can either get a scratch-off recharge card from the underlying carrier, E Plus, or call Cellular Abroad 24/7, and they will sell you a code and dictate it to you over the phone.

See Related: Things to Do in Frankfurt, Germany

Rent a Cell Phone

If you have determined that your North American cell phone will not work for you, you can either buy a new cell phone or rent one. If you are traveling for only a week or two and do not plan to travel internationally anytime soon, renting a phone is probably recommended.

If you travel frequently or will be in Germany for a month or longer, purchasing an inexpensive cell phone probably makes sense. Several online companies rent phones, but most want you to use their service with the phone and not Ortel’s. Cellular Abroad also rents cell phones. You can rent a cell phone and a SIM card at local retailers.

Buying a New Cell Phone

Rates have dropped dramatically for GSM phones that will work in Germany. Many cell phone shops sell unlocked tri or quad-band GSM phones in larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

You can also go online and buy one. The most important thing to remember is that the phone has to have both the 900 and the 1800 MHz networks and be unlocked.

Even eBay sells unlocked GSM phones, but a word of caution is that many of the vendors are not even sure what they are selling, and you may arrive in Germany with a phone that does not work. Play it safe and purchase from a company specializing in overseas cellular service. Cellular Abroad also sells SIM/phone packages.

In summary, having a cellular service can be a useful tool for trip planning and convenience. A pay-as-you-go solution can help you avoid getting bill bummer when roaming on your phone in Germany.

If you plan on getting cellular service before you go, be sure to order your SIM card, rental, or phone well before your trip so as not to accrue hefty priority shipping costs.

If your phone can roam and you want to go that method, it is recommended that you speak to more than one customer service rep to confirm that your phone indeed does work and exactly what rates (including taxes and surcharges) they will be charging you.

See Related: Germany Currency: Everything You Need to Know

How Do the Terms for German Mobile Phone Networks Differ?

The mobile phone network is always changing. If you are an expat in Germany, you should avoid signing up for a minimum mobile phone contract with any cellular provider. The German mobile phone plan contracts are known for being inflexible and hard to cancel.

If you are an expat, use a SIM-only rolling monthly plan instead. You can pay directly using debit and cancel with just one month’s notice. It is a much more convenient pay-as-you-go option.

Freenet Mobile and winSIM also offer some of the best deals regarding German cellular packages. It doesn’t matter if you are a light or heavy cell phone user. These two offer you great value for the money.

They have simple-to-understand packages; there are no hidden fees or complex charges to unravel.

See Related: Best Parks in Germany

Does Vodafone Work in Germany?

Yes. While in Europe, customers can take advantage of all of their Vodafone benefits without roaming surcharges. The only exception is the free minutes and SMS to the Vodafone network. They work at home only.

Cell Phone Tips for International Travelers

Free WiFi für Alle (Free Wifi for All) Sign in Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Do you have a trip to Germany in the works? Then, you may be frantically making preparations as your departure date nears. A part of those plans may be ensuring you have a working cell phone while away. Here are a few tips for using your cell phone in Germany.

Avoid International Text Charges

If you are traveling somewhere that does not have Wi-Fi readily available, you will need to research international phone plans by service provider. Verizon and T-Mobile actually have the best plans for international travel. They offer unlimited texting and data in each of their monthly plans.

Temporary Calling Plans

Verizon offers a Travel Pass. It is a temporary calling plan that costs just $10 a day in over 130 countries. With the plan, you will have unlimited text and data while traveling abroad. You can also make calls to the United States.

Prepaid Plans and Prepaid SIM Card

Prepaid phones and a prepaid SIM card also offer worldwide texting, calling, and data. If you are using a prepaid SIM card in Germany, you must present your ID or passport online for a video verification process to activate the SIM card.

You can also go directly to a mobile (Handy) phone shop in the country, like Saturn or MediaMarkt. You can purchase the SIM card from Germany’s top telco providers, including O2, Vodafone, and Telekom.

They have many prepaid plans and SIM card options to choose from.

Man Using a Call Phone Waiting for the Train

Great Cell Service Options for Tourists

Here are a few of the best deals you can find as a budget traveler looking for German cell phone providers.

1. Aldi Talk

If you are looking for one of the best values regarding a prepaid SIM card, it is Aldi Talk. They offer several plans, including 3 GB of mobile data and unlimited calling and SMS at €7.99 for four weeks. If you don’t need to text or call, you also can purchase an internet access-only plan.

2. Blau Surf M Prepaid

For just €9.99 every four weeks, you will have 3 GB of mobile data with LTE. It is a great deal for travelers and comes with a start credit. Phone calls and texts are around nine cents in Germany.

As you can see, some research and planning are required before your trip to Germany to ensure that you have a solid and reliable line of communication available at all times. So, can I use my cell phone in Germany? Maybe!

If you want to use your cell phone while in Germany, contact your cell phone provider and make sure it is of the Tri-Band variety. Once you find out it is, you must purchase a separate SIM card.

If you plan on using your phone, don’t forget to inquire about the charges. If you are in the country for two weeks or more, you may find that it would be best to go ahead and purchase a prepaid card instead to avoid the high cost of using your phone.

No matter what you end up doing, we hope this guide has helped answer some of the questions you may have had about using your cell phone in Germany.

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