Currently, about 20% of US and Canadian-based cell phones work overseas. In Europe and many other places, cellular carriers use the GSM system. These are not universal. Some of the newer phones have the correct 900 and 1800 MHz frequencies built into them, which allow their use in Germany. Before you leave home, check with your provider to find out if your phone has these frequencies or “bands” (all quad bands and most tri bands do).
If your phone will work in Germany, you may want to consider “roaming” with your current service. This assumes that you will be using the phone very little, or perhaps it is necessary that you keep your current cell phone number. The most economical way to use your US or Canadian phone (if it indeed has the correct bands) is to remove the SIM card (the chip in the phone giving you service) and insert a new, German SIM card. This will give you a new German phone number and you will be able to take advantage of the local rates – including unlimited free incoming calls. Make sure you ask your carrier for the unlock code, so that your phone can accept another SIM card and service.
You can get a local SIM card in Germany once you arrive, or prior to your departure. It may be more convenient getting it before you leave, since you will then have the new number to give to people before your trip. There are several telecom companies in Germany that offer Pay As You Go plans using scratch cards or “top-up” cards. These “Cards” are available in many locations. It is even possible, in some cases, to “top up” over the internet. Ortel, for example, offers rates specifically designed for the tourist and foreign nationals living in Germany. With Ortel calls back to the US and Canada are only 0.09 Euros per minute or about US$0.13. One of the advantages of these plans is that you do not sign any contracts. On the other hand, there is always the possibility that you will run out of talk time. Still, you can easily buy more talk time.
Renting A Cell Phone
If you have determined that your current phone will not work overseas, you can easily rent a cell phone. You get them at the airport upon arrival or at major US hubs, or you can rent from one of many companies online. Renting a phone at the airport should be your last choice as it can be quite expensive. Online companies generally charge about US$1 per minute, in and out.
Buying a Cell Phone
Some travelers prefer purchasing a telephone and a SIM card rather than renting. The cost of purchasing a cell phone has dropped considerably, and the marketplace for mobile telephones has become voracious. There are certainly good deals available. If you are traveling to Germany for more than a month, it definitely makes sense to investigate this option, as it may ultimately save you money. Plus, an international phone will work not only within Germany, but with the proper SIM card, in approximately 200 other countries. There are even “roaming SIM cards.” This is convenient for people who travel frequently to several different countries. If you are staying only in Germany, you do not need this feature.
Generally speaking, if your current phone works abroad, then buy only the local SIM card. If you travel infrequently or only for short trips, then rent a phone. If you are a frequent traveler or will be moving to Germany, buy a cell phone and SIM card. Having reliable service at an affordable price is what everyone wants.
More information about telephones, SIM cards, Pay As You Go plans and hands-free sets is available at www.cellularabroad.com.