Total Noob
February 23, 2018 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I use my unlocked cell phone in Germany?

I have an iPhone 6s plus that is unlocked. I have a pay-as-you-go plan from Cricket.

I think I can buy a SIM card to use my phone in Germany. Can I buy it in the United States before I leave or should I buy it there? What about my kids phones, which are both unlocked, and on the same plan? If they don't get SIM cards can they text on Wifi?

Also, what about money? Should I wait to get Euros there or beforehand? Are some credit cards better than others?
posted by loveandhappiness to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would buy it once I get to Germany. You can get a prepaid one, if I remember they had places in the airport to buy one.

As to money: talk to your bank about getting a card with a very low currency conversion fee. You can also have the bank order Euros for you, but I find it more convenient to use a card (provided by my bank, PNC at the time) at the ATMs to withdraw euros.

This guide is pretty comprehensive on cell phones.
posted by dis_integration at 12:26 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

For money: I always just wait till I'm there and get euros from an ATM. Check that your bank doesn't charge a huge international transaction fee.

For SIM cards, I also always get them once I get there. It's worth doing some research ahead of time, to find which providers have an okay deal for your particular mix of text, voice, and data needs. Often I'll be able to get the one I want somewhere in the airport.

As for the kids: depends on what they're using for texting. All the third party stuff like whatsapp and so on will work fine over wifi. You can't send SMS texts over wifi, but you can use wifi to send iMessages to other people with Apple devices. This is all real easy to test though. Just go into airplane mode and then turn on wifi, and see what works.
posted by aubilenon at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Buy the SIM card in Germany. You can buy them at any supermarket. They're about €10, which includes €10 of PAYG credit. I've had good luck with FONIC, but there are tons of options. By all means research the options, but they are all shockingly cheap compared to the American equivalents, so there's no need to do a ton of research. Whether your kids can text on wifi depends on what phones they have. If you want help installing the SIM, go to a Deutsche Telekom store and buy a SIM there. The assistant will almost always speak English and understand what you're looking for.

Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees, and use that wherever possible. But you will need cash in Germany, partly because it's still a very cash-heavy economy, and partly because US credit cards a primitive and rarely chip and PIN. One exception is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which also has no foreign transaction fees (but watch out for the annual fee on that card if you're planning to keep it for longer than a year). If you know your new credit card's PIN, just use that at an ATM to make a cash withdrawal. It won't be free, because the credit card company charges interest on cash withdrawals, but if you pay it off as soon as possible it will likely be cheaper than a currency exchange. Failing that, find a currency exchange in whatever town you're visiting in Germany. Failing that, use one at the airport (but that's a last resort, because they give terrible exchange rates).
posted by caek at 12:53 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Go to a MediaMarkt, a Saturn, or failing those a Lidl or an Aldi.
Vodafone CallYa and Telekom are supposed to be the best prepaid SIMs.
You will however need your ID with you - i.e. your passport.
(In case you're arriving at Berlin Schönefeld, REALLY don't rely on getting a SIM right there)
posted by runincircles at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh and seconding the above, REALLY don't count on using a credit card most places, even in Berlin
posted by runincircles at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can't send SMS texts over wifi
Depends on the carrier. Some support "Wi-Fi calling" which, counter-intuitively, really means "cell phone service over Wi-Fi," including texts. (Your phone must also support it.) Cricket, being an arm of AT&T, supports Wi-Fi calling, so one option would be to leave the Cricket SIM cards in the kids' phones, turn off mobile data, and let them use WiFi (again, assuming their phones support this). This will leave them with the same US number they've always had.
posted by kindall at 1:07 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you are looking for a specific brand rec for a SIM card, I use Blau. It is dead cheap and has good rates for calling people back in the US. You can buy minutes and the SIM card itself at most grocery stores and/or kiosks.

As for cash, yes, just use an ATM. Your kids should be able to text on wifi- just make sure to turn off data roaming in their settings (I'm almost positive- I don't think I've had any visitors from America that couldn't use wifi for texting).

Unsolicited Advice In The Event You Are Also A Total Noob About Germany In General:

You didn't ask, but when people come to Germany, I always recommend they download the DB Navigator app- it is the app for Germany's train system. Just tell it where you want to go and it will get you there- complete with walking instructions to get to the nearest street car/train/bus stop. It is very handy and also comes in English!

Read up on German tipping etiquette. I've lived here for years and I still hate it and don't totally understand what is an appropriate amount. But that is pretty much the most stressful part of Germany- it's a lovely place!

Engage in the lovely German tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen in the afternoon- it is a delightful way to while away an hour or so and the Germans do cake like nobodies business. They take their cake almost as seriously as they take their ice cream. Almost.
posted by Bibliogeek at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was in Berlin last October I had difficulty buying a SIM. New European regulations meant the SIM providers had to verify your identity and it wasn't even clear what that meant for an American visitor without a local address. Deutsche Telekomm refused to sell me a SIM, but an O2 shop at Alexanderplatz was happy to. MVNOs like Lidl and Aldi are a good bargain but often have some complex online activation that presents its own problems.

This may be easier now that the regulations have been in place for awhile.

Get Euros in Germany, not in advance.

I had no trouble with credit cards at restaurants, etc. They're less common for Germans to use but Berlin's a pretty international city. Not a bad idea to always have enough cash on hand just in case though.
posted by Nelson at 2:47 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you very much for helpful advice. I feel more prepared and know what to do.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:40 AM on February 24, 2018

Note on money: be sure to let your credit card company know that you would be using it abroad. I've never had problems, but allegedly they could put a freeze on at a very inconvenient time in your life.

Another note on money: I never had any problem paying with credit card at any store in Berlin, or at any BVG or DB automat.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:03 PM on February 25, 2018

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