German SIM cards / mobile phone plans

The market changes constantly and there are always new products and deals coming out. At the time of writing (March 2019) this is our interpretation of the best advice out there for German mobile phone deals.
This is written with an expat clientele in mind. Internationally mobile professionals don’t always tend to stay in one place for too long.

For that reason, we have not included any fixed-term contracts in this analysis. Moving home can mean the difference between one bar of reception in your living room versus 4 bars! Suddenly, your contractual tie-in becomes an expensive white elephant.

German contracts in general tend to be pretty inflexible. Mobile phone contracts are certainly no different. Cancelling them is notoriously difficult, even if you’re leaving the country and can prove it.

We therefore strongly advise you to consider SIM-only plans which work off direct debit but can be cancelled with a maximum of 1 calendar month’s notice. It saves the hassle of topping up prepaid SIMs but without the inflexibility of a contract.

All of the plans we refer to below are these type of deals.

No More Roaming

Since June 2017, the European Union has outlawed roaming charges for mobile phone customers with a SIM from any EU country who travel to other countries within the EU.

The terms and conditions of your network provider apply when you are roaming just as they would in your home country. This also means that if you have inclusive minutes and data, or unlimited airtime, then this applies to calling when abroad, as well as receiving calls.

There are some cheaper plans which specifically exclude the ability to roam with your SIM, so always check and read the small print if you’re not sure.

So, let’s start off with what you need to get started with a SIM card or mobile phone package in Germany.

What You Will Need

Proof of ID

Any valid German address (i.e. not necessarily an official Meldebestätigung) has to be given to purchase a prepaid SIM card. For a contract, in addition to this, you will also be subjected to a credit check.

If you are staying somewhere in the short-term before you have found an apartment of your own, and you have not yet registered (done your Anmeldung) with city hall, then you should be able to get around this. However, you would still need to have either a PO box, your employer’s address or a friend’s name as a care of address to ship your SIM to, for example.

A smart thing to do if you are coming to Germany from another EU country would be to buy a SIM card in that country, where the rules for purchasing a SIM maybe are not as strict. This buys yourself a bit more time to get settled (up to 60 days roaming is considered “fair usage”, so you should have a few weeks to sort yourself out with a German SIM).

How is Germany different?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first:

German mobile phone deals are not particularly great when compared to other European countries.

The price of data bundles in particular tend to be more expensive in Germany. Whereas you can get unlimited data in the UK on a pay-as-you-go plan on the country’s best network for £25, a similar product would cost upwards of €50 in Germany.

Also, if you’re thinking of going against our advice and signing up for a contract, be aware that the standard German mobile phone contract length is 24 months. There is no opportunity to cancel this at your convenience.

Even worse, if you don’t cancel before the end of the initial period, most contracts will have an automatic renewal or “evergreen” clause which extends the deal for an extra 12 months!

I really don’t see why anyone would want to sign up to a contract nowadays, regardless of their personal situation. You can call internationally for free via VOIP services such as Skype and WhatsApp, and who sends SMS these days (except maybe to your Dad)?

Unless you’re making a lot of business calls to German landlines or mobiles, trust me, it really doesn’t make sense. What looks like a great offer now will most likely be a pretty rubbish deal in 2 years’ time!

Pros and Cons of the Different German Mobile Networks

There are hundreds of SIM card providers and deals out there, but they all purchase airtime from one of the 3 networks in Germany:

  • Telekom
  • Vodafone
  • O2 (Telefónica)

The best coverage is on Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile network, closely followed by Vodafone and then finally O2(which is owned by Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica).

All of the many different third-party companies selling SIM packages and contracts rent their airspace from one of these three and just act as resellers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, packages which operate on the T-Mobile network are the most expensive, those which are on O2 are the cheapest, with Vodafone usually falling somewhere in between.

Now, whether or not you actually need a phone which runs on Telekom’s network really depends on where you live and how much you travel. If you live in Berlin and don’t make so many trips out of the city into more rural areas, then you’ll probably be fine using O2. You’ll save yourself quite a lot of money too, as you’ll see below.

So perhaps give it a try first and switch if you find the coverage to be poor. It’s pretty straightforward to take your existing number with you (except for business customers).

On the other hand, if you’re going to be making lots of calls while you’re on an intercity train or on the Autobahn, then I can guarantee you that a SIM card which runs off the O2 network will be virtually useless.

There is no single best answer to which network is best for you. It depends on your budget and how much you travel outside of major metropolitan areas.

Although even with that said, in my apartment in Wiesbaden I could only get network coverage from O2 on my balcony. Not exactly practical in the middle of February.

Interestingly, even though O2 has the worst network coverage, their bandwidth for data appears to be better. They are the only network which offers an LTE speed similar to what a standard fibre optic broadband from a landline can offer.

As you can probably tell, there is no clear winner and it’s totally down to your individual needs and circumstances.

Some Examples

There is not one single German mobile phone deal which I can recommend for everybody. Sure, you can save a couple of Euro each month if you don’t need phone minutes and all-inclusive SMS bundles.

However, the easiest way to save on your mobile phone plan will be if you don’t require a lot of data included in the monthly price bundle. Therefore, think about this hard before choosing a SIM card and a plan.

If you don’t use your phone much for things like streaming podcasts  and music, watching YouTube videos and making video calls, then you can find a suitable solution for as little as €7 per month (depending on the network and the finer details, you may even find something cheaper).

The most expensive plans are the ones for heavy data usage. Even more so if you need a faster download speed. For example, if you need 10GB of data on a faster download speed and with the best network coverage, then you’re looking at upwards of €35 per month.

If you’d like to see a comparison of what I see as the best SIM only deals currently available with no minimum-term contract, then head over to Live Work Germanyfor a complete rundown of what’s available on each of the 3 networks.

I hope this has been useful, and do enjoy all of those cat videos once you’ve got your new German SIM!
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