Which Phone Plan Should You Choose While Living in Germany?

In North America, the standard proves every downtown block and any establishment worth 3 stars on Yelp has WiFi. 7 years ago Larissa travelled to England where she stayed at a hotel with a £2 per-hour charge for wifi. For a school group filled with 14-18 year-olds, that was an astonishing, expensive, catastrophe. They were told this was normal for European establishments and, sure enough, in France and Italy the WiFiless world continued. Several years have passed since then—things must have changed with the expansion of technology, right? Well, not really. Most travel blogs we’ve read say you can voyage without phone plans and survive on hostel wifi, a Starbucks or two along the way, and sheer grit. We thought about ditching the data altogether but with few connection zones nearby to keep in touch with each other, teammate activities, and potential employers to contact, Facebook messenger wasn’t going to cut it. There’s good news, though! In Germany, as well as most European countries, monthly pre-paid plans are affordable and low barrier. All you need are ten minutes, an unlocked phone, and a passport.

Low barrier is excellent to hear, but which provider is best? 

Since we are stationed in Germany, our decision was based on the amenities available in the country we would be spending the majority of our time in. However, we planned to travel a lot and wanted something we could take across the European Union and beyond. We looked at a few things when comparing companies:

amount of data, roaming capabilities, texting limits, price, hidden fees.

We HATE hidden fees but they seem to find us whenever we travel even with hours of research. Always translate the fine print. Seriously. This is why we recommend going for a pre-paid plan instead of a contract. They tend to not charge annoying administrative fees and are fairly straightforward as long as you come prepared with an unlocked phone.

We looked at 3 companies: Telekom, O2, and Vodafone.

We went with Vodafone for a few reasons (besides host family input). The price for a pre-paid plan with 2GB of data, 200 SMS/Calling minutes, EU roaming, and unlimited flat rate between other Vodafone members (each other) is €10 for the first 28 days and €15 each month after that. Not only is that specific plan affordable, but Vodafone also has operations in 24 countries and connections in another 41. Whether or not you can use the same SIM card in all of them isn’t clear via the page linked above, but we found out via trial and error that you can, but you have to reload in the country of purchase. It’s also possible to add minutes to your phone via the app. This plan was the best match for us personally, but the other competitors listed above boasted different services, making the decision tough.

The downside of prepaid plans is options—there aren’t many. For example, with Vodafone you have 3 options to choose from, 9 cents/minute, €15/month, or €25/month. It’s a large jump between the plan we chose and the next one in terms of price and data. However, O2 and Telekom both have an additional prepaid option that exists to offer customers an in-between alternative. Telekom also includes access to its Hotspots in their prepaid plans which is a plus if you’re trying to save data while exploring city centres. A bonus of O2 is that they flat rate to all networks, not just O2. Reviews online and in person had us stray away from this company, though, because the service in remote areas is apparently the least impressive out of the three.

The largest appeal of Vodafone was simplicity. We went into the store for 10 minutes, bought the plan and SIM card at the same time for €10, can top up anywhere online as long as Vodafone operates there, and didn’t have to pay any hidden fees or sign any contractual papers. The other two companies had additional start-up fees and O2 even had a contract we needed to sign which we didn’t want. Overall, picking the plan that suites your long-term needs is worth more than a personal vendetta against hidden fees. Maybe. If you’re happy with it and living long-term in Germany, the €30 extra won’t matter as much in general.

This may be a bit of a tangent, but maybe some readers thought about it like we did before ending our phone contracts. Q: can you keep your number when you get back to your country of permanent residence? A: yes! But that costs money, too 🙃 We did business with Telus in Canada and discovered it costs around $10-$15/month (depending on your original plan/provider) to keep your number and you can only access this option for 6 months per year. Then what? You pay the cheapest plan available to keep your number which can vary, again, depending on your plan and provider. For some, paying approximately $180 to keep a phone number is a waste of money and that’s totally fair. However, if you have any important connections at home you want to keep or business initiatives, keeping your number may be worth it. Messaging connections at home and vice versa on WhatsApp with your original number while abroad is possible if you pay the dormant fees and we’ve found it beneficial thus far!

So, if you’re still contemplating whether or not you should get a plan, we would highly recommend it. From getting lost in the city, picking up odd jobs, looking up train schedules and station locations, or having our host families text us to pick up carrots on the way home, we cannot stress enough that €15/month is worth every bit of avoided frustration and wasted time/opportunities. Go through the plans, read the fine print, and ask the locals if possible.

Good luck, travellers! Keep working hard 🤠

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