When you need to keep in touch with hosts or friends, verify plans or make reservations while traveling, cheap and accessible telephony is essential. Options for travelers have improved dramatically in the last few years, leaving you beholden neither to the kindness of strangers (or friends) nor to your home mobile carrier charging you through the nose nor to seedy callshops which have sprung up like mushrooms in large cities. Leave that expensive calling card at home — find everything you need to know about making inexpensive calls in Germany after the jump.
Public payphones take coins or telephone chip cards; you can purchase these chip cards at any Deutsche Telekom shop for 5 or 10 euros. (If your card expires before you’ve used up all the credit, take to any Telekom shop or file a claim for the remainder on a new card here.) Benefit to using a card: not always having to have 10- or 20-cent pieces to feed the phone! Card phones are also far more prevalent than coin-operated phones.
If you do use coins, be sure to have plenty of small change on hand. Local calls are inexpensive, but calls to mobile phones will rapidly eat through a handful of coins. If you put in a 1- or 2-euro coin, you will have to feed the phone the exact amount flashing when finished in order to get your change back (i.e. YOU rather than the phone has to make exact change). Don’t perform this quickly enough and the phone will swallow your large coin, never to return! Buy a little time or continue telephoning on the leftover amount by replacing the phone in the cradle for just 1-2 seconds and immediately picking up again. (This is also a way to gift your remaining credit to the next person in line rather than simply giving it to Telekom!)
If you’ll be traveling in Germany for two weeks or more, it will save you time, money and energy to buy a German SIM card for your unlocked SIM-ready phone. This has become easier and more inexpensive than ever, with the entry of Germany’s discount supermarkets into the mobile market.
> For example, PLUS is now offering a pay-as-you-go SIM card for just 5 euros, including a 5-euro credit on the phone. Calls to all German numbers — landlines and mobiles — are just 9 cents/min, with each SMS also costing just 9 cents. That’s over 55 minutes of phone time or 55 SMS! You can top-up your phone 15 euros at a time only at PLUS locations. The card is active for 12 months from each top-up.
> LIDL offers Fonic prepaid SIM cards for 10 euros, with a 10-euro start credit. Calls and SMS are also 9 cents/min: that’s 111 minutes of phone time or 111 SMS. You can top-up your phone direct from your mobile or online, withdrawing directly from your account. Top-up cards are also available at all DM drugstores, Real supermarkets and Jet gas stations. Top-ups are available for 10, 20 or 30 euros. At the end of each quarter, you can have available credit paid back to your account. The card and your balance are active indefinitely. More info online here.
[Update 11Mar09: Fonic cards now allow calls to landline phones in 50 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, for the same 9 cents/min rate!]
> ALDI offers AldiTalk prepaid SIM cards for 13 euros, with a 10-euro start credit. Calls and SMS are 13 cents/min (3 cents/min to other AldiTalk users): 76 minutes of calling time. You can top up your phone only at Aldi locations, for 15 or 30 euros. AldiTalk is the only card that reckons calls per second after the first minute of calling. The card is active for 12/24 months from each 15/30-euro top-up.
+ If you’re going to buy a SIM-unlocked phone in Germany, used phones will be your cheapest option. Be sure to get one with charger included (replacing this element alone can cost anywhere from 15-25 euros). Don’t balk at an initial investment of 10-20 euros — you will be able to use this phone all across Europe and many other parts of the world and by putting in local SIM cards can call cheaply everywhere!
+ If you need a phone and are short on time, every Vodafone shop has a Call-Ya Starter Packet you can buy: new phone, SIM card and 10-euro starter credit cost just 20 euros. The difference here is these phones are locked to the Vodafone card provided and cannot be “unlocked” for two years; in the meanwhile, calls and SMS are more expensive than those listed above, between 19 and 29 cents/min or SMS.
Finally, if you need to call to the U.S., Canada, Australia, China or anywhere else on Earth, give your pocketbook a break and sign on to Skype, an internet telephony system which allows you to place international calls from a computer to any telephone for as low as 2 cents/min. Calls from computer to computer are free! Every internet cafe these days is Skype-ready, with software already downloaded and headphones with mic available upon request. Just plug in, log on, and get calling! To ensure the integrity of your credit card data, it’s best to set up your profile and calling credit from your home computer before the trip begins.
Have you discovered other tricks for phoning cheaply in Germany? Add your wisdom in the comments.
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