Your mobile phone plan in Germany

While dancing at a super hip party, you met this super cute guy (or girl) and it clicked between the two of you. However, you didn’t have any mobile phone plan in Germany and you couldn’t give your local number to stay in touch: bummer! You can’t even call home yet to tell all about your new adventures. Here is a little overview to get started.

German mobile phone plan : Post paid, Prepaid, Pay-As-you-go, SIM only or contract?

Mobile phone service takes different names across the globe. For clarity’s sake, let’s define what kind of offers you can expect in Germany:

  • Post paid contract: One of the most popular choices and best suitable for people who will stay longer in Germany. You usually commit to a 12 or 24 months contract with a defined plan, which is billed to you after the fact, including extras along the way. In many cases, you also purchase a phone with your plan, financed as part of the contract. It’s also sometimes called “bundled contract” because of this.
  • Prepaid or Pay-as-you-go: In this case, you first purchase a SIM card and activate it. You need to top-up your account in order to get service (calling minutes, texts, data). You don’t commit to any contract. Once you run out of credit, the services stops. Topping up is done online, or at local stores & supermarkets.
  • SIM only contracts: You already have a device and you order a SIM card to go with it. Your sign a contract for a specific plan, and your actual consumption is billed to you after the fact. In Germany, those contracts are synonymous with more flexible terms.

If you take your phone with you, so be sure to have your phone “unlocked” before arriving in Germany. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use it with a German mobile phone plan.

Mobile phone Germany prepaid plans overview

Most of the SIM cards can be obtained in supermarkets, or local stores for around 10€. They come with no minimum costs and no minimum commitment. Most of them bill 9 cent per SMS and per minute.

  • Aldi Talk (by Eplus): to be purchased at Aldi only
  • O.Tel.O (Vodafone): to be purchased at  Media Markt, Saturn, Euronics
  • Congstar Prepaid (by Deutsche Telekom):  to be purchased in T-Stores , Kaufland,  Real and Netto
  • Lidl Mobile (Lidl): to be purchased at Lidl only
  • Blau (Eplus):  to be purchased at Aral,  Netto, Real, Rossmann
  • Edeka Mobile (by Vodafone): to be purchased at Edeka only
  • Tchibo Mobile (by O2): to be purchased at Tchibo only

Comparison platforms like Verivox have dedicated pages to compare options. It only involves indicating the desired amount of data & minutes to get started. Make sure to tick off any conditions that might lock you into a contract. Beware of bookable extras too.

Mobile phone Germany contract overview

If you have registered residence (doing your Anmeldung) and opened a bank account already, you will be able to sign up for a contract at one of the following German mobile phone contract providers. I have selected what I think are the fairest plans but feel to explore.

Those providers lock you into a 1 or 2 year contract so be careful when you make up your mind. Also, it is possible to terminate your contract early when leaving the country, you want to be careful.

For a better overview of offers relevant to you, you may want to turn to comparison platforms like Verivox & DeinHandy. Comparing contracts also involves only a few parameters:

  • Picking whether you want a contract with phone financing or without.
  • When relevant, the type of phone you want, or the brand.
  • The amount of data you wish.
  • The network you prefer (more on which network is best later in this post).
  • Whether or not 5G should be included.
  • Contract duration (1, 12 or 24 months).

What if I only want a SIM card?

It is possible to take to SIM card only contracts in Germany. That is most suitable when you already have a phone and you just want the service (although not prepaid). All major providers do offer SIM only contracts but some are more specialized and can offer interesting deals too. It’s often a better value for the money and easier to cancel. Consider these ones :

Comparing SIM-Only plans is also easy through platforms like DeinHandy & Verivox.

Please note that if you order and activate your sim card online, you will need to go through an identification process with a Meldebescheinigung and your passport before you can use it. Each provider has different ways but most of them can do that via connecting you to a special service dedicated to that via webcam, or via a post office.

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

Plans for people staying temporarily in Germany

Only for a few weeks

In case you are only visiting the country for a few weeks, your needs are probably a little different as far as German mobile phone plans go. Although you can still go with prepaid options listed above, you might also consider Lycamobile which has the following advantages:

  • You can order your SIM card for free and have it sent wherever you want
  • No contracts attached
  • Customer service in many different languages
  • Good rates for national calls and data plans
  • International bundles so you can call back home for very cheap

Only for a few months

Then you are probably better off going for a prepaid plan or a sim only plan. Prepaid plans don’t come with any time commitment, so no notice is needed. Sim only plans do require a terminate notice, but usually only 1 month. This means that once you hand in your notice, your contract ends a month after that.

What are the best data plans in Germany?

Germany’s telecommunications infrastructure is outdated and doesn’t support large data transfers. This is slowly changing of course but unlimited data plans are pretty rare, and outrageously expensive compared to other (most?) countries.

The only 2 true uncapped data plans in Germany are:

Depending on your usage & needs, this might be worth the money.

What are the best plan for international calls?

Using Whatsapp, Signal, Skype is probably a better idea than using credits to call abroad from Germany. However, if you are calling someone who doesn’t have good internet service, it might be the only option.

In this case, I’d recommend Lycamobile again, which offers transparent pricing and good customer service.


Things to know before picking an option

Which German cell phone service provider has better reception?

You know Germans, they love to test and report on everything. This is why we have data-driven answer to this. According to this study, Telekom is still leading the charts (10 year in a row), outperforming o2 & Vodafone in voice clarity, data transfer and performance in crowded areas. Vodafone is a close second, while o2 is lagging behind on all criteria.

Any other provider is relying on one of these networks to provide service. Which network they use is usually made visible on their respective websites.

How to check coverage for my area

Each main network holder offers easy tools to check network quality in your area:

When using another provider, simply check which network/infrastructure they are using.

State of 5G in Germany

The German 5G network has begun expansion in 2019, starting in larger metropolitan areas towards more rural ones. Progress is slower since current antennas have a much more limited range than 4G ones. Telekom is again leading the race, with 2/3 of the population being covered at the end of 2020.

The difference between D-Netz & E-Netz

Some providers offer the choice between “E-Netz” & “D-Netz” in their offers. D-Netz is the older spectrum of frequencies that usually reach further than the E-Netz. E-Netz has the advantage of being able to support a lot more calls at the same time on a given area. Prefer D-Netz if you are travelling a lot or living at the countryside, prefer E-Netz if you live in crowded areas.

A word on customer service

Based on my experience, my friends’ and feedback seen around Facebook groups, there is no single provider (apart from Lycamobile) that offers consistent customer service in English on all topics.

However, the most active mainstream provider in that department is O2, which has recently setup FAQs in English on their website. They also claim that an English speaking agent can be reached on the phone, simply asking for it.

Buying a device to go with your new plan

Although some providers offer to finance a device together with your new plan, it’s usually cheaper to finance it yourself in the long-run. It also simply might not be possible if your SCHUFA score is too low, or non-existent for now.

You can buy a second-hand phone for a good rate from AsGoodAsNew or Rebuy which sell recent phones at really good rates, with a 30-months warranty on top. They are cheaper because they had minor defects and needed repair, but still works perfectly. Usually expect at least 30% rebate. It’s also slightly better for the planet.

How can I cancel a mobile phone contract in Germany?

Unless stated otherwise, you can terminate your contract at the end of the initial contract period (12 or 24 months), provided you submit a termination notice in writing 3 months before the end of the contract. If you fail to do so, your contract is automatically renewed for another 12 months.

If you leave the country for good, the German telecommunications act (§ 46 TKG Telekommunikationsgesetz) provides a special termination right for consumers. It plans for a 3 months notice from the end of the current month. In the past, providers have been reluctant to apply this rule, especially when moving to another EU country, on account of non-existent EU roaming charges. However, Telekom states that it’s possible, so is this consumer protection organisation.


Mobile phone Germany – FAQ

Can I take my current number when switching mobile phone contracts in Germany?

Yes. It’s a fairly simple process. When cancelling your current contract, simply notify your provider you would like to keep your phone number with you. When signing up for a new contract, notify your new provider that you already have a phone number you would like to use. Same procedure for prepaid contracts. A fee applies (max. 6,82€) but your new provider will usually refund you that amount.

Do any roaming charges apply when travelling in another EU country?

Since 2017, no roaming charges are applies when crossing the border to another EU country. This means that you can use your minutes, texts, data at no extra-cost.

Can I use a device I bought abroad with a German plan?

If you were wondering about 4G bands, your mobile phone plan in Germany and compatibility issues, don’t worry about it. Europe has the same standards across all countries so no provider is really making a selling point with this. They are all using the same frequencies.

Can I cancel my mobile phone contract when leaving Germany?

Yes, the German telecommunications act plans for a right to cancel your contract when leaving Germany.

I hope this overview of your options for mobile phone plans in Germany was helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or leave suggestions in the comments.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6