European Germany GSM Cellular Mobile Telephone

Here's what I learned about foreign cell phone plans and systems on my recent trip abroad to Germany, Austria & Croatia. The gist of it is to buy instead of renting if you're willing to spend a little time finding a shop and reading this article.

In order for your cell phone to work properly in Germany (or other locales in Europe, such as Croatia), your phone must be:

1. Unlocked

Many phones purchased in North America (especially on contract) are locked to their provider. This means that if you placed a German, or even another American SIM card in them, then it will not work. You must unlock your phone, which can sometimes be done easily for free, low cost, or be nearly impossible. This can be done online (sorry, no recommendations), or at a cell phone store. I'd imagine a store in Europe would be cheaper than one in North America. If you get it done at any shop, chances are the price is negotiable.

2. GSM

Your phone must be the kind that uses little smart cards called SIM Cards. Often these are found under the battery of your phone. CDMA phones, such as Bell/Telus phones, which do not use SIM cards will not work. You will either need to purchase the proper phone here or in Europe if you do not have one. Find out on PhoneScoop what whether your mobile carrier uses the world-friendly GSM system or not. I highly suggest NOT renting a phone, it is far cheaper to just do your research and purchase a cheap phone. Get an account on Ebay and search for unlocked quad-band phones. Use the telephone selector at to get an idea of good phones. Buy a used one on Ebay, Craigslist, Kijiji or the like, not a new one to save money.

3. Support the Proper frequencies

The frequencies used in North America are 850MHz and 1900MHz. Europe (and most of the rest of the world) use 900Mhz and 1800Mhz. Many cell phones, even US/Canadian ones are "quad-band", meaning that they support all 4 frequencies. Find your phone on PhoneScoop and check.

Buying your phone in Europe is a reasonable option, just make sure it is quad-band (if you intend on bringing it back to North America), and be sure that you're looking in the pre-pay phones section of any German cellular phone stores you visit. If you buy a dual-band or tri-band phone, your phone likely won't work too well in North America.

OK, so your phone meets the above requirements and you want to have a Germany cell phone number...

What you will now need to do is purchase a local German SIM Card. Europe, in general, has many phone providers. I purchased a Pay-As-You-Go Card, but just call it prepay or prepaid so that they understand. Personally, I chose T-Mobile, because I've been rather happy with the company, and remembered that their rates were the best in Croatia, so I assumed their German rates would be okay too. You can see T-Mobile DE's "Xtra" prepay prices here. I don't recall which plan I was put on. Over there, their company stores are called "T-Punkt", literally translating to T-Dot. These stores sell the SIM cards for 15 EUR (or at least that's what they told me), with 5 EUR starting credit. I believe the other mobile phone companies, like O2, or Vodafone, sell the SIM cards for about the same price with about the same amount of credit. I went to a cell phone store that wasn't affiliated with any particular company, but just sold every provider's SIM card. Their charge was only 10 EUR, with the same 5 EUR starting credit.

The per-minute rates are actually somewhat expensive, but keep in mind that after the first minute, it is all per-second billing, and only one party pays for every phone call. Other providers have similar tariffs.

To get started, just take the SIM Card out of the packaging and put it in your phone. There is NO activation required, just put the SIM card in your phone (save your old one!) and the phone will be working. Your phone number will be listed with the purchased SIM Card. Remember, in Europe, the calling party pays for the call. So, if someone calls you, you don't pay a penny, even on your cell phone. That also means that your phone will still be able to receive calls (and make emergency calls to police/ambulance/fire brigade) when you have no credit left. I believe 30 EUR must be added every 15 months in order to keep your (ridiculously long) phone number.

Getting refills is simple as well.

I just walked into a T-Punkt store, and they can actually add the credit to your account through the same terminal that they swiped my Mastercard with. There are T-Punkt stores literally everywhere, so I just suggest finding one. I'd imagine that every T-Punkt location has someone that speaks perfect English, at least that was my experience, so just have them do the work for you, and be sure to have your phone number ready so they can credit your account.

Miscellaneous Hints & Tips

One thing that I have noticed is that any messages are ALWAYS in German on the phone, with seemingly no way to change it to English (unlike in Croatia). This really confused me, as the phone likes to remind you how much credit you have left on your phone before you complete calls when your credit is low. So, if you first just hear a message in German, stay on the phone, and it will soon ring the number that you want.

Your mobile phone will likely work in most tunnels, and every other random small village in Germany. Their cell phone technology is pretty amazing. If you miss a call because you're out-of-range or have your phone off, you'll get an SMS text message telling you which number called you. In Canada, the text msg just tells you to check your voicemail (if your phone didn't receive the call at all).

To check your credit, just punch into your phone: *100# and then hit dial. You'll get a message back stating how many EUR you have left in your account.

You can send SMS messages from the T-Mobile Payphones. Not sure on the cost, I never tried it, but something that made me go "wow".

Don't make foreign phone calls using your cell phone, you'll use up all of your credit very quickly.

Most American cell phone power adapters will work in Europe. The charger for my Motorola V400/V551 does anyway. They don't need any voltage/frequency conversion, all they need is the plug adapter, such as the kind I purchased from DealExtreme. Just check to make sure that your charger says "110V-240V" or something to that effect.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <p> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options