Your call: A quick guide to German mobile phone and SIM packages
First things first: The market changes constantly and there are always new products and deals coming out.
At the time of writing (March 2018) this is our interpretation of the best advice and products out there for German mobile phone deals with an expat clientele in mind. We will update this post every 6 months or so, to ensure as best we can that this article remains relevant.
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 contract apply when you are roaming just as they would in your home country.
We’ll explore how this has affected competition later in the article, but first of all, let’s start off with what you need to get started with a SIM card or mobile phone package in Germany.
Since 1 June 2017, it has become law in Germany that proof of ID and a valid German address has to be given to purchase a prepaid SIM card. For a longer term contract, in addition to this, you will also be subjected to a credit check.
The reason for the change in the law was cited as making it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to communicate anonymously. What this has done in reality has just been to create a black market in pre-registered existing SIM cards for sale on online marketplaces such as eBay.
Either way, there’s no getting around the law if you want to register a new SIM. The address does not necessarily have to be the exact same address as that on your Anmeldung, so if you are staying somewhere in the short-term before you have found an apartment of your own, and you have not yet registered with city hall, then you should be able to get around this. However, you would still need to have a post office box or a company address to ship your SIM to. Otherwise, if your name is not on the mailbox at a residential address, there is no way for the postal service to deliver it.
Bearing in mind that EU roaming charges are now a thing of the past, 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 are typically not as strict. This buys yourself a bit more time to get settled and find somewhere more permanent to live.
Giffgaff in the UK is a great value SIM package for example, with data bundles considerably cheaper than comparable German deals and no minimum term contract. You can get away with this for a few weeks and then they will cut your roaming off because you have not used the SIM in its home country.
German Mobile Networks
There are hundreds of SIM card providers and deals out there but there are actually only 3 networks which they all operate on.
The best coverage is on Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile network, then comes Vodafone and finally ePlus / O2 (which both use the same network and are owned by Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica). All of the 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 ePlus / O2 are the cheapest, with Vodafone usually falling somewhere in between.
My personal experience is that T-Mobile has great coverage pretty much everywhere, Vodafone isn’t too far behind but ePlus / O2 comes a pretty distant third. There is bound to be someone out there who will disagree, and while these things are never accurate down to a specific apartment block or street, this article backs up my analysis based on tests which various German telecoms and consumer affairs magazines have conducted.
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. German customers seem willing to tolerate long and inflexible contracts which greatly favour the provider at the expense of the consumer having more flexibility.
Mobile phone or SIM contract length in most European countries is usually fixed at 12 months. The standard German mobile phone contract length is 24 months. There is no opportunity to cancel this at will without you having to “take and pay” the fees for the remainder of the contract term. Even worse, if you don’t cancel at the end of the period, most contracts will have an automatic renewal or “evergreen” clause which extends the deal for an extra 12 months!
Our advice would be do not get a contract and use prepaid plans instead.
For those of you who are expats and are unsure of exactly how long you will stay in Germany, it makes little sense to sign up for a fixed-term German mobile phone contract. Just opt for a pay monthly plan instead. Back in the day when calls and SMS were relatively expensive, you could have reasonably argued the case for taking out a contract. Much less so today, especially since most (younger) people regularly make phone calls and send IMs using messaging apps and VOIP services such as Skype and Whatsapp.
The cost of paying a few Euro more for the convenience of a pre-pay monthly data plan usually compensates for the additional flexibility it gives you.
This not only applies to those who are unsure about when they may potentially leave Germany. It also applies to everyone. Why? Because mobile telephony packages and deals are changing constantly. The market is becoming more competitive and prices are generally on a downward trajectory. By locking into a deal for 24 months, you are excluding yourself from being able to easily switch to a better value package for the duration of your contract term. What looks like a great deal now will most likely be a pretty crap package in 2 years’ time!
There is not one single German mobile phone package which will perfectly fit every person’s needs. However, the closet thing we have found are the packages offered by Freenet. This is why:
- Their website is really simple and easy to use, even though it’s all in German. There are 3 different levels of packages for each different category i.e. prepaid, contract, data only etc, depending on the level of how many minutes and data you require.
- Freenet uses the Vodafone network, so it’s the best compromise between value for money and breadth of network coverage. Yes, there are cheaper packages out there but anything comparable in terms of data and airtime is only available on ePlus / O2, whose coverage in some places can be sketchy, especially outside of major urban areas.
- They offer enough data and minutes in their packages to satisfy all but the heaviest users. Anyone using their mobile for business may need something more substantial but for streaming podcasts, music, social media and the odd video here and there, it’s sufficient.
- All of their packages which they offer on contract are also offered as prepaid options, although the monthly price is obviously higher because of the flexibility it gives you to cancel at any time.
If all this sounds interesting, then look out for our explainer video coming soon on YouTube (please subscribe!!), to introduce the different packages are on Freenet and how to sign up from their website.
Disclosure: Live Work Germany is an affiliate of Freenet, which means we receive a small commission for any sales made through our links. This does not affect the price you pay and it helps reduce our dependence on advertising & sponsored content keep the blog running and looking good!