How to Use a Cell Phone in Germany

woman using her mobile phone in the street I have many people asking me about cell phones (known as a Handy) in Germany. To find out if your cell phone will work in Germany, you need to know a few things. 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, you need to contact your cell phone manufacturer, 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. 

To find out if you need a separate SIM card for use in Germany, you will need to speak with either the cell phone manufacturer or dealer. Most cell phones can send and receive text messages whether they are Tri-Band or not.

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, it may be in your best interest to just buy the cheapest cell phone that runs off of prepaid cards you can find.

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 reach back 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 to call 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/or does not have a card.

Cell Phone Service In Germany

Approximately 20% of North American cell phones currently work in Germany. Those that do are quite expensive to use, 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 be able to enjoy the convenience of cellular service in Germany at an affordable price.

Currently, there are three main cell phone carriers: O2, T-Mobile, and E Plus. 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 2007, 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 not easy to find, and if your current phone is incompatible, you may have to rent or purchase a phone to be able to access the rates.

mobility and modern lifestyle concept

How to Use a Cell Phone in Germany

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 Own 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 of the newer or more expensive phones also have the 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 the unlock code.

Once you have verified that your phone will work in Germany, you can either 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 also you will be ready to use the service as soon as you land. The SIM card will have some initial outgoing talk time on it (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.

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, it is probably recommendable that you rent a phone.

If you travel frequently or will be in Germany for a month or longer, it probably makes sense to purchase an inexpensive cell phone.

Several online companies rent phones, but the vast majority of them 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 together with the 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 it has to be unlocked.

Even eBay sells unlocked GSM phones but, a word of caution is that many of the vendors are not even sure of 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 that specializes in overseas cellular service. Cellular Abroad also sells SIM/phone packages.

In summary, having 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 own phone in Germany.

If you plan on getting cellular service before you go, be sure to order your SIM card, rental, or phone well in advance of your trip 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.

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 cell phone plan contracts are known for being inflexible and hard to cancel at times.

So, if you are an expat, go for a SIM-only rolling monthly plan instead. You can pay directly using debit and can 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 when it comes to German cellular packages. It doesn’t matter if you are a light or heavy cell phone user either. These two offer you great value for the money. They have simple to understand packages; there are no hidden fees and no complex charges to unravel.

Does Vodafone Work in Germany?

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

Cell Phone Tips for International Travelers

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 making sure that you have a working cell phone for communication while you are 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. Sprint 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 you can use 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, to activate the SIM card, you must present your ID or passport online for a video verification process.

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 any of Germany’s top telco providers, including O2, Vodafone, and Telekom. They have many prepaid plans and SIM card options to choose from.

man sitting and using smartphone at train station

Great Cell Service Options for Tourists

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

1. Aldi Talk

If you are looking for one of the best values when it comes to a prepaid SIM card, then it is Aldi Talk. They offer several different plans that include 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 within Germany.

Conclusion

As you can see, a bit of research and planning is 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 own cell phone in Germany? Maybe!

If you want to use your own 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 will then need to purchase a separate SIM card.

If you plan on using your own phone, don’t forget to inquire about the charges there may be for doing so. 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 own 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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Updated: June 8, 2021 — 9:43 am

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The German Tourists

We are The German Tourists. We love everything about German food, beer and travel. So, why not provide you all the information that we've learned and explored in Germany along the way.