Prepaid Cards & Cell Phones
All phones in Germany (and in Europe) are GSM. The only GSM providers in the US are AT&T and T-Mobile. If you have a phone from one of these service providers, and it is “unlocked”, you can use this phone in Germany, and it is the most economical way to go.
There are several options for using cell phones in Germany.
- Phones purchased from certain U.S. carriers may be able to be “unlocked” and will work in Germany once a European SIM card is placed in the phone. You must check with your carrier before leaving the U.S. to see if this is possible.
- For those who choose to purchase a phone in Germany, there are many options and you can generally find something for a reasonable price (simple cell phone for calling and SMS costs about 20 EUR).
Once you have the phone (or a European SIM card to use in your U.S. phone), you will be able to use a pay-as-you go system and can recharge your minutes either at the retailer where you bought the phone, or other locations like ATMs and online. Rates per minute and text charges can vary, so do some shopping around.
Since in-network rates tend to be cheaper, past students recommend getting a group together to purchase the same SIM cards so that calls to one another would be less expensive.
International calls tend to be quite expensive on cell phones so you might consider Skype as an easy and cost-effective way to keep in touch with friends and family back home.
Before you depart
- You have an unlocked GSM phone. Hopefully it’s quad-band (most are these days), but as long as it does either 900MHz or 1800MHz you’re all set. Bring it to Germany.
- You have a phone you bought from T-Mobile. It’s not unlocked (phones that are bought directly from the service providers are never unlocked when you buy them). In order to get their phones unlocked, T-Mobile users simply need to e-mail T-Mobile customer service, explaining that they wish to use their phone with European SIM cards while temporarily living in Europe. As long as they have had their account active for 3 months, this is an easy and free process. T-Mobile will e-mail you the directions telling you how to unlock your phone once you give them your information. Do this now if you can.
- You have a phone you bought from Cingular/AT&T. Again, it’s not unlocked when you buy it. For these customers, the process tends not to be as easy. The most recent information we have is that you need to go to an AT&T store and pay them something (around $30–sometimes more) to unlock your handset for you.
- You have a non-GSM phone, from a provider such as Verizon or Sprint. Unfortunately, you cannot use your phone anywhere outside the US and Latin America. You’ll have to buy a phone in Germany.
Once in Germany
- You have an unlocked GSM phone that does 900MHz and/or 1800MHz. You can buy prepaid SIM cards from many retailers in Germany. The standard cell phone companies exist (such as T-Mobile, Vodafone, and O2), and many other retailers have their own SIM cards (such as grocery stores and coffee shops) which use one of the major networks, but have different price breakdowns. All have a standard price per minute, and then most have a cheaper “in-network” price per minute similar to our in-network calling. Prices are sure to vary over the years. A SIM card costs about 10 EUR. It can be more or less, depending on the provider and the options you choose (Internet access or flatrates, etc.).
- You need to buy a phone. Again, you have many options and you’ll also want to shop around. The simplest cell phone (just for calling and SMS) costs about 20 EUR.
It works just like buying prepaid cell in the US—the phone will be locked to the retailer you buy it with (T-Mobile or Tchibo or whatever you want), so you will have to use their SIM cards. The fare system works the same as above.
Once you have your phone, expect to pay about 0.09 EUR for calls to German nets, and up to 0.20 EUR/sms message. All incoming calls and texts to all phones in Germany are free. International calls are of course a lot more, and it’s usually a better deal to use your American provider if you need to make phone calls outside of Germany (again, only T-Mobile or AT&T customers can do that). Otherwise, use Skype via computer for international calls (free or $0.02/min).
When you use up the money on your SIM card, you can recharge it at the store you bought it from, online at the retailer’s website, at any ATM, or at your bank’s website via your online banking.