Which type of service is best for me?
Nowadays, we are all so dependent on our cell phones that living without them seems impossible. Our phones are no longer used only to make calls and send messages - they function as our memory storage, photo archive, and in short, our connection to the world. But when it comes to choosing a service provider, keep your eyes open: the mobile communication market is quite huge in Germany- and there are numerous providers who offer various contracts and cost ranges. On this page, you will learn about available options and find helpful tips on how to avoid high-priced bills or cancel a contract with which you are not happy.
What do I need to know?
In principle, you can choose between postpaid and prepaid services. Signing up for a Postpaid SIM card means that you are, in fact, entering a contract with a mobile service provider for a specific period (often 12 to 24 months), and you usually pay a certain amount of money each month. The prepaid SIM cards are those you buy credit for - you can make calls, send messages and surf until your credit ran off.
Contracts which run through a specific period are often cheaper at first glance. But when you sign a contract, you are less flexible, and you cannot just switch to a more appropriate or less expensive deal. Before you go for a mobile communication contract, you should calculate the basic fees you will be charged during its runtime. Many offers may look affordable at the start, but their basic fee increases after a few months, and you have to pay more for the rest of your contracts' period.
In addition, many providers have offers in which you are sold a new smartphone along with the contract and pay the price of the smartphone in monthly instalments. These contracts are often very tempting; but before opting for such an offer, check if it is not cheaper to buy the contract and the smartphone independently.
Please note: Providers often try to sell you a mobile phone insurance package along with a new smartphone. Contemplate this offer well before opting for it. In principle, such insurance packages are not worthwhile. You can learn more about them in our chapter "Supplementary insurances".
With both postpaid and prepaid service, you have the three following options to choose from:
- With a flat rate, you can make unlimited phone calls, text messages and surf up to a specific Internet data volume.
- With an inclusive package, you have a fixed quota of units for calls and texts and a fixed volume of data for surfing the Internet- and you pay a fixed price. When your package is used up, you can book additional units or data volume, and you usually have to pay extra for it. Attention: Many providers, automatically assign you additional data volume as soon as yours is used up and then charge you for it. Keep in mind that such extra data volume can cost a lot of money. Make sure to switch off the automatic booking of data volume ("Datenautomatik"). You can do so via the online customer portal or the hotline of your provider and obtain a confirmation for the cancellation of automatic data booking in writing.
- You can also choose to pay for each call, SMS and Internet usage separately. This option is usually more expensive than a flat rate or an inclusive package, but you only pay for the services you actually use. And there are no hidden costs.
There are many websites aimed at helping people find the best service rate. In particular, the Vergleichsportal Check24 is quite popular. On the website of the Consumer Protection Center website ("Verbraucherzenterale"), you can find a Mobile service Checklist (in German and other languages) that will help you to clarify all the significant issues in advance.
The answer depends on where you live. According to trade journals, the fastest and best mobile networks are D1 (Telecom), D2 (Vodafone), O2 and E-Plus. You can check the connection quality of different networks on the coverage maps ("Netzausbaukarte") offered by the providers. On this website, you will find links to the network coverage maps of the major providers.
You can buy SIM cards in drug stores, supermarkets, gas stations, kiosks and, of course, mobile service operators' shops. To unlock the SIM card, you have to prove your identity: You can present your ID in the store, submit it online after the purchase (for example via a video chat) or do so in a "Deutsche Post" office.
According to the German law, a residence permit, tolerated stay permit (i.e."Duldung") and temporary residence permit (i.e. "Aufenthaltsgestattung) are all considered as valid identification documents. However, people often face problems while registering their SIM cards with these papers. The easiest way is to activate the SIM card right away in the store. If this is not possible, and you cannot activate it online or at Deutsche Post, please contact the Consumer Protection Centre in your state. You can reach the Consumer Protection Centre's staff in person, on the phone and via e-mail. Here you can find a Consumer Protection centre nearby.
To sign a mobile service contract, you must go to the mobile service providers' shops or visit their website. On the websites, you can book a contract and then print it out and send it to the provider. Alternatively, you can wait until the provider sends you the printed contract and then sign and send it back to the service provider.
It is best to go to the providers' branch shop personally and ask them to clarify the terms of the contract in detail to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings. Make sure you read the entire agreement before signing it. You do not have to sign it right away - you can take the contract home and read it in peace. If you do not speak German, it is advisable to ask someone to explain its content to you. The contracts often include some vital information, which is printed in small fonts.
Depending on the type of residence permit, it may sometimes be challenging to arrange a contract. The providers often demand some documents, e.g. they may ask you to present your passport and your registration certificate ("Meldebescheinigung") and not all of them accept a temporary residence permit ("Aufenthaltsgestattung") or a tolerated stay permit ("Duldung").
Please note: Never sign a contract offered to you on the phone, at your door or in the street. Always ask for the terms of the agreement to be sent to you in writing in advance; so that you can read the contract in peace before signing/agreeing to it. This way, you will also have proof in case any difficulties come up later.
Hefty bills, in principle, are a result of automatic booking of data, Internet usage abroad, automatic updates, unwanted subscriptions or international calls.
- Automatic data booking: Many providers automatically book you an additional data volume when yours is used up. This extra data volume can cost a lot of money. Make sure you turn off the automatic booking of data volumes, either via the online customer portal or the hotline of your provider, and ask your provider to confirm the cancellation in writing.
- Internet usage abroad: If you surf the Internet while abroad, you generally have to pay so-called roaming charges unless you are travelling within the EU, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, where no roaming fees are charged any more. In other countries, these roaming charges usually cannot exceed €60 per month. It is best to disable roaming in your smartphone settings to avoid these extra charges. Even if you are using free Wi-Fi abroad, you should be careful and disable the data roaming, considering If your cell phone loses the connection to the WLAN for any reason, it will then automatically connect to the Internet via your mobile network- and you will have to pay roaming fees as a result.
- Automatic Updates: Many smartphones automatically connect to the Internet, e.g. to update applications. If no WLAN is available, your mobile phone will connect to the Internet via your mobile network. An update can consume a large sum of data and costs users without a flat rate a lot of money. Therefore, it is best to switch off these automatic updates in your smartphone's settings.
- Subscriptions: Sometimes, by entering into a raffle or quiz, you -unintentionally- also register for a subscription contract. So next time you are asked for your mobile number when entering a raffle or quiz, be careful - when in doubt, it is more reasonable if you don't participate. These subscriptions are difficult to cancel, as it often is not clear with whom one has signed the subscription contract.
- International calls: Making international calls is a common reason for unusually large phone bills, especially when you need to keep in touch with your family and friends in your home country but have no opportunity to use WhatsApp or similar services. Based on your mobile phone contract, landline or mobile phone calls abroad can be quite expensive. One affordable way to make international calls is to use phone cards or prepaid cards. You can buy these cards in stores, Call centres or supermarkets. The cards have a specific amount of credit (e.g. €10) and the price you pay per minute for your call is lower than what most cell phone providers will charge you. You will usually need to first connect to a call centre (using your landline or mobile phone) to make an international call.
Large bills come to many users as a shock and can become a real problem if you are unable to pay them. If this is the case, it is essential to react quickly.
If you cannot pay the bill, you should send a written objection to your provider. You can do so within eight weeks of receiving the bill, but it is advisable not to wait so long. In your letter of objection, you should explain exactly why you do not agree with the bill you are sent. If in doubt, consult the staff at the Consumer Protection Centre. In addition, you should ask for a detailed listing of each specific cost and give your provider three weeks to react. You also need to inform them that you are only going to pay for the parts of the bill with which you agree. In case your provider automatically deducts the amount from your bank account, you can cancel the transition and instead transfer only the portion of the cost with which you agree. Send the letter of objection as a registered letter with a return receipt per post and as an e-mail with delivery confirmation, so that you have a valid proof of delivery. If you do so, your provider will not block your phone line/internet access, nor will they be able to charge you dunning charges for the unpaid reminders of the bill.
Your provider will have two options:
- The provider accepts your objection and sends you a new, lower bill.
- The provider does not accept your opposition and expects you to pay the full amount of the bill. In this case, you should carefully check the attached listing of each specific cost and, if necessary, contradict the invoice in another letter. You can do this, for example, if your provider is trying to charge you for services that you have not ordered or used. For more information, consult the staff at the Consumer Protection Centre ("Verbraucherschutzzentrale").
You must cancel your mobile phone contract in writing. Here is a template for contract cancellation you can use for the purpose. If the process seems too complicated, you can also hire a company such as Aboalarm to cancel your contract for you.
Make sure to terminate the contract in due time, i.e. before the expiration of the notice period ("Kündigungsfrist"). In principle, a contract must be terminated three months before the end of the contract. If you cancel your contract even one day later than the notice period, it will automatically be extended by one year. Please note: A new regulation applies to mobile phone and landline contracts concluded after March 1st, 2022. These contracts can be terminated on a monthly basis, that is, after the minimum term has expired.
If you have signed a contract or purchased a prepaid card and immediately notice that you have made a mistake, you can revoke the agreement within two weeks. A revocation ("Wiederruf) means that you do not want to enter into the contract any more. If you have already received a SIM card or a mobile phone as a part of the contract, you must return them and will be given your money back. Here is a template you can use to revoke a contract.
Yes. You can keep your old phone number even if you change your service provider. After terminating your old contract, you must have your phone number unlocked by your old service provider. You can do so via the online customer portal or the customer hotline of the provider. You then give your new provider your old telephone number and the name of your old service provider. Your new provider will take care of the transfer.
Be careful when streaming or downloading movies or music online. Not only can this cost a lot of service fees, but many online portals are also illegal. German laws are quite strict when it comes to the use of such portals. If you do not watch out, you may have to pay several hundred euros. Here is an informative article (in English) published on dw.com which explores this subject further.