will need a mobile phone in Germany for a two week trip, but need the number NOW
December 9, 2008 3:10 PM   Subscribe

I will need a mobile phone in Germany for a two week trip, but need the number NOW; what are my options and how does that translate to SIM / top-up jargon?

I am going to be traveling in Germany for two weeks at the end of the month. I will need basic mobile phone connectivity, including the ability to send and receive SMS text messages. My current phone (in the USA) won't work, and anyway I want a phone number local to Germany to reduce hassle while I'm there.

I've rented mobile phones overseas before, but it appears to be less common in Europe. I haven't been able to find a place to rent a phone in Germany. T-Mobile does NOT rent out phones.

I would be arriving in Munich and departing about 2 weeks later from Paris. That's right -- at the end of the trip we are actually heading over to Paris for a few days. So bonus points for the ability to return the phone in Paris.

Now, I'm not averse to spending $50 or so and just buying a cheap phone, as long as it can do texting. But I want the phone number assignment now, before we leave. In past mobile phone rentals (e.g. to New Zealand), I've received my phone number assignment immediately upon reservation, and so I've been able to give that number out to everyone before I leave.

So, if I'm going the buy-a-cheap-phone route, is there a way to get a phone number assignment now? Would I need to purchase a German SIM card (with German phone number) now and then buy the phone when I arrive? If I have a friend buy it now for me in Munich, will the phone number be printed on the card, or will they require a phone to learn what the number is?

Is a $50 price for a cheap new phone reasonable, or will I need to plow through the used hassle? Note no service contract, obviously.

Finally, I guess I'll be getting pay-as-you-go cards to "top up" my phone for service. What kind of cards / service / prices can I expect? SMS pricing? Incoming free? Forgive me, but I'm not very experienced with GSM ...
posted by intermod to Travel & Transportation around Germany (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I went to France for a two week bike trip, I rented a phone that they shipped to my US address, when I was done I shipped it back with a pre-paid envelope.

I paid a lot of money per minute, but I had the number before I left.

I don't remember the company (and it was years ago) but a google search of [cell phone rental europe] shows a decent number of possibilities.

We got our company from the Let's Go France book I believe.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:18 PM on December 9, 2008

Thanks. I had initially of course done a lot of googling, and I found many people complaining about getting ripped off. Plus a lot of the rental sites seemed to look like link farms / ad farms / SEO operations. So I got leery there. But I'm looking into that option again now ...

Any tips towards or away any particular rental providers are greatly appreciated. Getting the number ahead of time is critical -- the phone itself, not so much.
posted by intermod at 6:22 PM on December 9, 2008

callineurope.com -- they can turn it about really quick (and if you call, could possibly be able to assign and read you your new # over the phone). it'd be a german SIM that gets billed at the end of (each) month to your credit card. Voice, SMS, data and BIS available.

I just used them. Quite happy with the experience.

(There are coupon codes for free shipping available)
posted by devbrain at 7:33 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're phone number is controlled entirely by the SIM card, swapping SIM cards will swap numbers, but not all GSM phones support all frequency bands.

Do you have a GSM phone now? If so, does it have quadband or triband? If so, then all you need is a German SIM. You're friend can buy the pre-paid SIM now, tell you the number, and mail the SIM if you want it for the airport too. If not, you can buy some cheap quadband phone on ebay.

European phones are always free for incoming calls & sms, but the outgoing rate is normally quite high. I see callineurope.com's rates within Europe are not too bad. You could ask your German friend if they can beat it with German pre-paid options.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:40 PM on December 9, 2008

I'm in Munich right now, and will be until the 22nd - I'm happy to pick up a card if you know what you want and meet you somewhere to hand it over, if for some reason your friends can't.

For my personal use, I bought a quadband GSM on ebay while still in the States, and then ordered a SIM card from solomo.de, as they had the cheapest rates I could find to the US, while still being reasonable within Germany. I don't know if solomo.de ships SIM cards to the States, but their customer services via phone is quite good, if you want to call and ask.

When I bought my SIM card from them, the phone number came along with the SIM card - I could see it before I popped the card into my phone. I think if you buy a SIM card from one of the big name cell stores (T-Mobile, O2, etc.), the seller can tell you the phone number associated with the SIM card w/o putting the card into a phone.

www.prepaidgsm.net is a good site to compare prepaid cell phone offers. For the big guys (again, O2, T-Mobile, etc), calls to other cell lines can be from 30 to 60 eurocents/minute, and SMSs around the same, depending upon the vendor. Incoming calls are free. International calls can easily be 1 EUR plus/minute. One advantage of the big cell phone companies is that you can buy top-up cards many places - vending machines, ATMs, cell phone stores, gas stations, maybe even online. I fill up my SIM card from solomo online via creditcard, which is easy enough, even on the go, as there are internet cafes everywhere

MeFiMail me if I can answer any other questions.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 3:15 AM on December 10, 2008

Thanks everyone for the responses. www.cellularabroad.com seems to be the biggest marketer here, but I decided to give devbrain's suggestion of www.callineurope.com a shot. Both services ship the phone straight to me (in the US) ready to go with a German phone number, and in fact the latter is supposedly going to email me the number shortly (part of order confirmation).
posted by intermod at 8:51 PM on December 10, 2008


Call In Europe worked great! After placing the order online, I got a call from them the next day to confirm the order (a security step I guess) and they were able to give me the number I would be assigned. The number was also in the confirmation email later that day. Received the phone just prior to departure as promised. Fired up the phone upon arrival and it worked just fine.

I realized later that an ad for this same service had been included in the French rail tickets I had purchased earlier, so I guess they're a fairly big operator too. Anyway, it all went fine.
posted by intermod at 6:03 PM on January 2, 2009

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