You’re about to go on that great trip to Germany you’ve been planning for a long time. You’ve got your tickets, the hotels are booked, you’ve packed your bags, it’s time to go.
But not so fast! Chances are, there are still a few details you’ve forgotten to consider — like choosing the right phone plan for your trip.
Thanks to roaming charges, you can rack up the euros if you use your US plan while traveling in Germany. To avoid the shock of a major phone bill once you’re back home, we suggest buying a German SIM card during your stay to call and surf like a local.
If you’ve never used a SIM Card overseas, read our guide to using a SIM Card in Europe before your trip. Just make sure to bring your phone along as well as an adapter for your charger!
Although it’s still fairly easy to buy and use a SIM card in Germany, it’s unfortunately gotten slightly more complicated. In July 2017, Germany passed an anti-terrorism law which requires all pre-paid SIM cards to provide an address and ID. But no worries. You don’t have to be an EU citizen — the address of your hotel or hostel along with your passport should work just fine.
If possible, you may want to consider buying the SIM card ahead of time by doing the ID check online and having the card shipped to your accommodations. If you wait until you arrive, make sure that you have your passport and proof of address ready to buy a card on the go.
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Once you buy a SIM card from a German carrier, you’ll get a little chip with a German phone number. Insert this chip into your phone, start the activation process, and soon you’ll be phoning and surfing with ease. That said, if you do have any difficulties activating the card, just head over to MediaMarkt or Saturn, Germany’s major electronic store chains, where someone can walk you through the process. But don’t forget to bring your ID and hotel information!
Four ways to activate your SIM card in Germany:
• Present your ID (passport) online through a video verification process
• Go directly to a mobile (Handy) phone shop or electronics store (Saturn, MediaMarkt)
• Buy the SIM card from Germany’s three major telco providers: O2, Vodafone, and Telekom
• Present a printed “Post Ident” document at any German post office (Again, to do this you need your passport and a valid German address.)
O2, Telekom, E-Plus and Vodafone have many pre-paid SIM card options, while resellers use their networks at cheaper prices, so you’ll have many options to choose from.
Here are the two best deals we recommend for budget travelers:
1. Aldi Talk
Cost: €7.99 to €19.99, depending on the plan you choose
Pros: Good deal, easy to use, offers 4G/LTE
Cons: Uses the O2 network, which doesn’t always provide good coverage in rural areas
Aldi Talk is the best deal you’ll find for pre-paid SIM cards in Germany. They offer many different plans, the cheapest being Paket 300, which will get 1.5 GB data and 300 minutes telephoning with no SMS Flatrate at €7.99 for 4 weeks. You can also purchase Internet access only, the cheapest plan starting at €3.99 for 4 weeks (Internet-Flatrate S, 500 MB data).
If you’re traveling to any other countries in the European Union, the All-Net-Flat rate is probably the most ideal. This plan gets you 5 GB data and telephoning and SMS flat rate for €19.99 for 4 weeks and includes EU roaming.
An added bonus is that Aldi Talk is sold at Aldi discount grocery stores, which are very easy to find anywhere in the country. You can either top it off online or buy a recharge voucher at Aldi.
2. Blau Surf M Prepaid
Cost: €9.99 for 4 weeks
Cons: No flat rate for telephoning or SMS
Blau Surf M is also a great option for tourists. This plan offers 1.5 GB data with LTE for four weeks. Phone calls and SMS cost 9 cents within Germany and EU roaming is included. This pre-paid plan gets you a €10 start credit and can be easily topped off online.
Telekom, Vodafone, O2, oh my!
Although these two resellers will get you the best deals, going with one of the top guns also won’t break the bank. In most cases, their plans cost around the same price as Aldi’s All-Net-Flatrate, but you get less data or bang for your buck. To help you understand the difference, here’s a little run down.
Formerly the market leader, Deutsche Telekom (formerly called T-Mobile), Telekom still provides the best coverage in Germany, but it’s on the pricey side. If you plan to stay in major cities like Berlin and Munich, you can easily steer clear of the higher Telekom prices, but if you plan on visiting rural areas, you may want to opt for their plans to make sure you get the coverage you need. Telekom also has the fastest network and EU roaming. Resellers include congstar, ja!mobil, Penny Mobil, and Lebara Mobil.
Vodafone is exactly in the middle when it comes to price, coverage and speed. EU roaming is included, but rural reception can be spotty. Resellers on the Vodafone network include EDEKA Mobil, LIDL Connect, Otelo and Lycamobile.
O2 is the cheapest provider in Germany and has greatly improved since acquiring the E-Plus Network. They have great coverage, except in rural areas, and are the only network that has reception in the Berlin U-Bahn train system, which is a big plus if you’re spending a lot of time in the city. EU roaming is included. Resellers include the two we recommended, Aldi Talk and Blau, as well as Ortel Mobile, Fonic, and AyYildiz.
Cheapo food for thought
If you really want to save, you might want to consider whether you need a SIM card at all. You could also just put your phone in flight mode and seek our Wi-Fi at hotspots. The Youth HotSpot Free Wi-Fi app will direct you to free Wi-Fi all over the country. If it doesn’t work out, you can always hop over to Aldi for that trusty SIM card.
Have you used a SIM Card in Europe? Tell us your strategies for saving on your phone bill!