New in Germany? Stay in touch with your new friends and colleagues in Germany with our guide to getting a German mobile phone and SIM card.
If you’re a recent arrival in Germany, you’ll want to stay connected with friends and family wherever they are in the world. This is why getting a German mobile phone is one of the top items on many people’s checklist when moving. Thankfully, the country has a high-quality mobile phone network with very good 4G coverage and an ever-growing number of mobile operators.
With over 83 million residents, competition in the German mobile phone market is fierce. This has pushed local operators to create a range of affordable options. But with so much choice on offer, it can be confusing for expats in Germany to simply find a SIM card or mobile phone. To help, read on for more information on the following:
- The mobile network in Germany
- Can I use my mobile phone in Germany?
- German mobile operators
- Prepaid vs mobile contracts
- Mobile contracts in Germany
- German SIM cards
- German mobile phone numbers
- Repairing a mobile phone in Germany
- Making a complaint about a German mobile operator
- Useful resources
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The mobile network in Germany
As you would expect from the largest economy in Europe, Germany is home to a high-quality mobile network that lets expats and visitors connect easily. Like other European countries, Germany uses the GSM network, instead of the CDMA network. However, most new arrivals shouldn’t find getting connected to the local network too problematic. Even if you’re from a country that uses the CDMA network, your smartphone will probably still work in Germany.
Germany has a relatively well-developed 4G network, with most of the country enjoying 4G or 4G+ connectivity. However, coverage can vary quite significantly between regions and German mobile operators. This is particularly true in largely rural areas in the east of the country, which still have limited 4G coverage. You should still be able to access 3G in these areas, although this can be temperamental. Larger cities, including Frankfurt and those in the Rhineland, have local 5G networks.
Wi-Fi connectivity in Germany
Generally speaking, free public Wi-Fi is not widely available across Germany. Free Wi-Fi is sometimes available in libraries and museums, as well as airports and stations, although this can be limited. If you want to set up Wi-Fi at home, read our guide to setting up your home phone, internet, and TV in Germany.
Can I use my mobile phone in Germany?
New arrivals in Germany should find it easy enough to connect their mobile phone (handy) to the local mobile network providing they’re coming from a country that uses the GSM network. That said, even those arriving from countries using the CDMA network – including Japan, Canada, and parts of the US – should also be able to connect with a modern smartphone. However, you should always check connectivity and costs with your home operator before traveling to avoid any unexpected disappointments.
If you can’t get your phone to connect to the local network, you might want to consider buying a cheap mobile phone when you arrive in Germany. These cost around €30 and are fairly basic, offering only call and SMS messages. However, you won’t be able to buy a German SIM card without providing valid ID and proof of address in Germany. If this isn’t possible, you might want to buy a SIM card from another EU country and take advantage of free EU roaming when in Germany. Alternatively, you can pick up a world phone before traveling to Germany.
If you’re relocating to Germany – or, at the very least, planning a longer stay – you’ll probably want to consider buying a German SIM card or signing up for a German mobile contract. Getting a SIM card will be the cheapest option, although remember you’ll need to show proof of address in Germany. You’ll also need to have an unlocked phone. Thankfully, there are plenty of German mobile operators to choose from. Some, including Telekom and Vodafone, offer discounts if you also sign up for their home phone, internet, and TV packages.
German mobile operators
The mobile phone sector in Germany is increasingly competitive, with a whole host of German cell phone companies vying for your business. For new arrivals to the country, this means one thing: choice, and lots of it. Because of this, it pays to shop around and see what’s out there. It’s also a good idea to think about any other connections you might need, like home internet and TV. This is because many providers offer discounts if you take out both mobile and home internet deals at the same time.
Mobile operators in Germany include:
In terms of subscribers, the three biggest mobile operators in Germany have almost equal market share. Telekom, Vodafone, and O2 each enjoy over 30% of the market. These three networks are often the best in terms of coverage. Also, bear in mind that all three offer home internet and TV services that can be packaged together with a mobile phone contract. And if you’re keen to lead a more eco-friendly life in Germany, EDEKA smart offers a range of sustainable smartphones and tariffs.
Beyond the three largest operators, there are a growing number of German MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators). These providers use one of the three main networks instead of having their own. Generally speaking, MVNOs often don’t have as good a level of coverage in more rural areas as the bigger providers. However, in cities and urban areas, they often have good coverage for cheaper prices. Some also offer home internet and TV.
If your phone is unlocked and compatible with the German mobile network, you can choose the mobile operator of your choice. However, if your previous operator has a presence in Germany, you might prefer to stay with the same provider.
Comparing German mobile operators
With so many options on offer when choosing a mobile operator in Germany, you might get confused as to which is the best for you. Thankfully, you can use a comparison website to help you decide. These give you an overview of what’s on offer, as well as the occasional special deal. Comparison websites in Germany include:
Prepaid vs mobile contracts
As in many countries, when it comes to choosing your mobile phone connection in Germany you have two options: a prepaid SIM card or a mobile phone contract. Prepaid SIMs are generally the quickest and easiest way to get yourself a working phone number without the commitment of a contract. They’re also a great option if you just need a quick and simple way to make calls, send text messages, and use mobile data.
The alternative to signing up for a German SIM card is taking out a mobile phone contract. This will typically mean you end up paying less for calls, texts, and data, especially if you use your phone a lot. This can be a great option if you’re planning on staying in Germany for a while as contracts tend to be 12 or, more commonly, 24 months. Contracts can also be a good choice if you’re thinking about getting the latest smartphone.
Mobile contracts in Germany
Generally speaking, German phone contracts offer cheaper rates than prepaid SIM cards. Contracts often include a certain amount of call minutes and text messages as well as a mobile data allowance. The cost of your mobile plan will depend on the tariff you choose, so make sure you choose the right phone contract for your usage. Be aware that you can often get discounts on your mobile phone plan if you package it together with your home phone, internet, and TV connections. These packages are available from a number of providers.
German mobile phone contracts are either SIM-only or include a handset. Typically, mobile contracts in Germany are 24 months in length. Because of this, make sure you read the small print about breaking the contract early before signing up if you’re not going to be in the country for that long. You will likely also have to pay a small, one-off activation fee at the start of your contract. Fees are typically paid monthly by direct debit, so you’ll need to provide German bank account details when you sign up.
How to get a mobile phone contract in Germany
Getting yourself signed up to a German mobile plan is fairly straightforward. You can either do it online or by visiting your local telecoms outlet. Most German towns and cities will have stores of the main operators, although most MNVO operators will only be available online. If you visit a store, however, just bear in mind that the shop assistants may not speak English. Therefore, it could be a good time to start practicing your Deutsch.
To sign up, you’ll need to provide the following:
- proof of identity (passport)
- proof of address in Germany (registration certificate, or Meldebescheinigung)
- German bank account for payment
If you buy online, you’ll still need to go through an activation process where you provide your registration documents. Each provider will have its own activation process, which can be done via webcam or even at your local post office. If you don’t have a German bank account, you’ll be able to apply for one in minutes if you choose to sign up with a German mobile bank like N26. For more information, read our guide to mobile banking in Germany.
German SIM cards
Prepaid SIM cards in Germany provide more freedom than lengthy mobile phone contracts but are typically more expensive when calling, messaging, or using mobile data. This makes them a good option if you don’t use your phone much, or you’re only staying in Germany for a short time. However, since 2017, German law has required anyone buying a prepaid SIM card to provide a valid ID and proof of address in Germany (via your registration certificate/Meldebescheinigung).
All German mobile operators offer prepaid SIM cards so shop around and find the right SIM package for you and your needs. SIM cards are available from a number of resellers, including telecom shops and supermarkets. You can also order online, although you will still need to provide valid ID and proof of address. Mobile credit can then be added online, through your operator’s app, or by buying top-up cards from retailers. These are typically available at €5, €10, €20 amounts.
Alternatively, an increasing number of operators are offering prepaid tariffs. This gives you the option of choosing a certain allowance of minutes, texts, and mobile data for four weeks. These are generally slightly more expensive than phone contracts but, unlike mobile plans, there’s no contract and you can cancel monthly. This makes these prepaid tariffs a good option for those unsure of how long they will stay in Germany.
German mobile phone numbers
Compared to other European countries, getting to grips with the phone numbering system in Germany can be confusing. Typically, phone numbers are either 11 or 12 digits (including the first ‘0’), however, this can vary significantly if the number is old. So, don’t be put off by a phone number you think is too long or short. Frustratingly for expats, these discrepancies mean there is no universally agreed-upon way to write down German phone numbers. In short, be prepared to see plenty of variations.
Generally speaking, landline numbers in Germany are 12 digits long, including that all-important first ‘0’. Numbers are distributed geographically. For example, this means that all landlines in the South-West of the country start with 07. Phone numbers in the East of the country start with 03. Landline phone numbers in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich will usually be only 11 digits. However, be aware that you may also come across older phone numbers with fewer digits.
Mobile phone numbers in Germany are either 11 or 12 digits long (including the first ‘0’). Numbers start with 015, 016, or 017 depending on your mobile operator. If you’re changing mobile phone providers in Germany, you might be able to keep the same number. Speak to your new operator and see if they allow you to simply move your number across to their network.
When calling a German phone number from outside of Germany, you’ll need to add the country’s international dialing code. This is 0049 or +49. You then omit the initial 0 from the phone number.
Repairing a mobile phone in Germany
Has your mobile phone dropped out of your pocket while cycling around Berlin? Or maybe it’s been scratched during a hike through the spectacular Black Forest? Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for mobile phone repairs in Germany there are plenty of options. Some operators will be able to provide in-store repair services at their outlets. Certain manufacturers, such as Apple, also offer these in-store services. However, you’ll also find phone repair shops in most towns. Look online for your nearest phone shop that can provide repairs.
Making a complaint about a German mobile operator
Every German mobile operator will have its own complaints process should you have any problems or feel that the service has not been what you expected. You’ll be able to find this information easily on their website. However, should you want to complain about the operator itself, you can do so by contacting Germany’s Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur). This is the country’s telecoms regulator. Through the agency, you’ll be able to submit your complaint along with any relevant supporting documents.
- Federal Network Agency – Germany’s telecoms regulator