prepaid SIM card for use in Germany, but shipped to USA?
May 29, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I will be traveling in Germany for a week soon, and will need a cell phone while there. I won't be able to use my personal cell phone (incompatible with Europe) but I have an unlocked GSM phone that I've used in Europe before. Please help me find a SIM card (with German phone number) that I can order now and get delivered to the US before I leave for my trip.

Key here is that I want the SIM card, and German telephone number, in hand here in the US BEFORE I leave the US, so I can A) give my temporary German phone number to everyone and B) hit the ground running once I get to Germany.

I've done this before, using the excellent Call In Europe service. However they don't sell German SIM cards any more, and actually are shutting down their US office :(

Doing some Googling, I've found Cellular Abroad (selling Ortel SIM cards) and Planet Omni (selling e-plus cards I think), but I'm hoping some of you all here have some direct experience with one of these or another provider. Also it's not clear to me that those sellers will ship to the US.

For reference, here's a old thread on Lonely Planet's forum about prepaid SIM cards in Germany.

I'm not very price sensitive, as I don't expect to be using the phone much; it'll just be for emergencies. But I do need the SIM card to be shipped to me in the US ...

Any tips?
posted by intermod to Travel & Transportation around Germany (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you know someone in Germany you could have pick up a SIM and send it to you? As far as providers are concerned, I'd recommend blau.de.
posted by naturalog at 2:48 PM on May 29, 2012


Here are the current options for pay as you go SIMs in Germany. Right now I'm with FONIC. Maybe one of these will ship to the US. Probably not though. But maybe you can find someone selling them on eBay (which is how I got mine for the US). Or failing that, feel free to MeMail me and I'll drop one in the post (but get in touch it before the weekend — I'm flying to the US on Monday!).
posted by caek at 3:00 PM on May 29, 2012


..I won't be able to use my personal cell phone (incompatible with Europe) but I have an unlocked GSM phone that I've used in Europe before..

I'm not very price sensitive, as I don't expect to be using the phone much; it'll just be for emergencies.

Apologies for stating something you have considered already but neglected to put in your question but:

Have you tried putting the SIM card from your personal cell phone into the unlocked GSM phone? Failing that you could get a US SIM card before you go and pop it into your phone.

I know you said you wanted a German number but if you are price insensitive and only want the phone for emergencies, a US phone number should work as well as any other....
posted by vacapinta at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2012


All the German carriers I can think of require you to have a German residential address, or show them your passport. I realize you prefer to have an operational cell phone in hand when you step off the plane, but if that's not possible, buying one when you step into the airport doesn't have to be a huge hassle.

Lebara is cheap, covers all of Europe (although roaming charges apply if you're calling another country) and has vendors in every airport and major train station; newsstands and tobacco shops also carry the SIM cards and can top them up as needed. When you get to your hotel (which I assume has wifi), email your number to your family, and you're on your way.

We got into the Hauptbanhof train station in Zurich and in twenty minutes had our cards in our phones and working with no trouble; they also worked in Germany, although we had to keep our calls and texts brief and sparing, as they were much more expensive. But if you're not traveling outside Germany, that shouldn't matter.
posted by tully_monster at 3:46 PM on May 29, 2012


All the German carriers I can think of require you to have a German residential address, or show them your passport.
Unless you're signing up for a contract (which the OP is not), this is not true of any of the carriers I can think of. You go to a kiosk or a DM (or if you're joining O2 or Vodafone or Telekom, you go to one of their stores), you pick up a SIM card from the shelves by the till, pay for it with cash, make a note of your new phone number (written on the packaging), and put the SIM in your phone. I've done this several times. I've helped visiting friends do this. You don't need to give any details, much less show your passport.
posted by caek at 4:09 PM on May 29, 2012


Hmmm. That's very interesting, caek. For our first week in Munich (we traveled elsewhere and came back for a few days) we had O2, and they DID require us to show them our passports and give them the address of our hotel. (So did the Phone House in Paris, where we purchased a Bouygues Telecom card for use there.) And on the Lebara website, you can't request a SIM card to be sent outside of Germany.

Perhaps we were getting a runaround, then. I apologize for providing bad advice and retract my previous comment; caek clearly knows what he/she is talking about.
posted by tully_monster at 4:30 PM on May 29, 2012


Thanks for the answers so far. I believe I may be up against new security rules may have taken effect which make it a lot harder to buy foreign-number SIM cards.

Still, I'm hoping for a solution :)

Have you tried putting the SIM card from your personal cell phone into the unlocked GSM phone?

My current phone is not GSM. It's CDMA, aka Verizon/Sprint.

Failing that you could get a US SIM card before you go and pop it into your phone.

Ooooooh, that's an idea ... Hmmmm ... I guess if I was using that in Germany, it would mean that phone calls (and text messages) to/from German numbers would be at international rates, right? Most of my (meager) usage is likely to be with locals, coordinating travel basically. I know I said I'm not price sensitive, but those intl rates are likely to be exhorbitant. So I think need to stick with German SIM cards, but let me know if I'm processing this idea wrong.

Thanks caek for the offer! I'll decide what to do on Wednesday.

More ideas welcome; I'll check in again later tonight.
posted by intermod at 4:45 PM on May 29, 2012


As far as I know, there aren't any new security laws about foreign number SIM cards.

I think tully_monster's problem may have been that the branded shops of the major networks (O2, Vodafone and Telekom) perhaps apply one-size-fits-all procedures (ID check, credit check, etc.), even to pay-as-you-go SIM sales. Quite why, I have no idea — as far as I know, the only EU country in which networks are legally obliged to collect customer data is Spain. In any case, the piggy-back providers (which use the O2, Vodafone and Telekom networks, but generally don't have their own stores, e.g. Fonic and Congstar), couldn't care less, and since they sell their SIM cards in packets on the shelves of newsagents and drugstores, would have no way to collect the data in the first place. I think the only reason won't post overseas because it's not worth the trouble.

intermod: if you can live with arriving without the number, you can sort this out in the first 20 minutes you're in Germany, with absolutely no hassle. Here's one way: find the nearest DM. Go to the shelves by the tills (next to the chewing gum). Pick up a Congstar or Fonic SIM card (they both cost €10 but include €5 of calling credit) and pay in cash at the till. I have Fonic, my housemate has Congstar. They are both more than fine your purposes: 9c/min to make calls, 9c/text (receiving calls is free in Germany).
posted by caek at 4:59 PM on May 29, 2012


I decided to go with Cellular Abroad / Ortel; the Planet Omni / e-plus card was slightly cheaper but wildly more expensive on the call rates. They both definitely ship to the US, and offer USPS shipping so they are coming from inside the US. The card will get to me late next week, before I leave. If it doesn't, it's not the end of the world, I just won't have my German phone number before I leave and will buy a SIM card when I get there.

Also I noted that both businesses do offer GSM phone rental, for those without GSM phones that are compatible with European frequencies. This is what I used last time via Call In Europe, but the phone was so cheap that they just sold it to me (I thought it was a rental, but when I inquired about returning it they said "keep it"). So I still have that phone and it's what I'll be using again for this trip.

Thanks again caek for the offer!

I'll report back in late June (when I get the followup reminder email from AskMeFi) on how it went.
posted by intermod at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2012


Cellular Abroad just emailed me my German phone number! So I didn't even have to wait for the SIM shipment to arrive. Awww yeah, that's the stuff.
posted by intermod at 2:21 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Followup ...

Alas, the SIM card that Cellular Abroad sent me would not work.

First, I did not notice the step in the instructions that said that I had to activate the SIM card before trying to use it. Typically this would be done via website before travel. Once I realized this, in country, I was able to activate it via phone call (from land line). They have a human being line that takes care of it.

Or at least is supposed to. After they supposedly activated it, it was supposed to be ready to use within an hour, but 16 hours later it still wasn't working. I tried calling their support number, but it basically was non-functional. Spent half an hour at a pay phone in the Mainz train station trying to get through.

Then I gave up, bought a SIM card in-country, and moved on.

Which was a real drag, because I'd given the other phone number to everybody. And now I had to unwind all that.

It seems to me like the Ortel service was the source of the problem. Next time I'll get an O2 card or an e-plus card, as those seem to be bigger-name providers.
posted by intermod at 6:47 PM on July 2, 2012


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