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Mobile Phone Choices While Stationed in Germany (and Elsewhere in Europe)

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Mobile Phone Choices While Stationed in Germany (and Elsewhere in Europe)

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mobile Phone Choices While Stationed in Germany (and Elsewhere in Europe)

I never got around to finishing up this post about cell phone choices in Germany.  Fact #1:  Cell phones in Germany are about two years more advanced than cell phone technology in the States.  Fact #2:  More Germans go the pre-paid route than the contract route.  Fact #3:  Don't call it a cell phone but call it a "handy".  Which is best for you in Germany?  Let's go over the pros and cons of each and then you decide.

  • Cell phone standards are different in Europe (actually the entire world) than the US.  We always have to do things the opposite, don't we!  The Europeans use GSM cell phone technology. This is why most times, your US cell phone will not work over here.  You can read more about GSM technology here. I believe some handys, like IPhones, do have GSM technology, and can be used anywhere in the world

  • There are a variety of mobile providers in Germany to include T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2 to name some of the big ones.  Before you buy any phone or plan, check with your military spouse, as many are issued handys over here, and you don't want to be on one network while he is on the other.  You'll just end up spending more money calling from one provider's network to another's.

  • Even though I was on a plan in the States, I realized I wouldn't be talking as much on the phone over here....and I didn't.  It would take me months to go through the minutes on one prepaid card, and when I needed more, I could buy more minutes from almost any German store (look at the checkout for these little displays by the cigarettes; pick your provider and choose a 10, 25 or 50 euro ticket or other denominations may be available too).  You then take that ticket to the cashier, pay, and your receipt will have a phone # and code you call to add minutes.  The PX also sells them at the checkout (in dollars at their exchange rate) and also the TKS store on some posts, which is where you can also set up home phone, cable TV and handy service (and purchase phones).

  • I bought my prepaid phone for around $20 at the gas station on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart.  It is my understanding that some PXes and Shopettes sell these very basic prepaid phones (not all).  These come locked (all the ones I've seen were from Vodafone) and with their own SIM card already inside.  You just charge the battery and start using it, no registration required.  It already comes preloaded with some minutes.  There are also numerous stores, including the provider stores throughout the major German shopping areas.  For example, in Sindelfingen, you can find all three of the providers I mentioned, with their own stores, at the Stern Center and Breuninger Land shopping centers.

  • If you are a gabber, or feel you need one of the better technology phones in Europe and want a contract, BEWARE.  They are mostly for two years, and you cannot get out of it, even if you PCS (it is not like in the US).  Be prepared to pay up if you leave early.  Also, you must have a German bank account established before purchasing one.

  • With contracts, as any contract in Germany, you must give them a few months' notice in writing of any cancellation, even when your two years is drawing near.  I believe this is required by law.  Otherwise, at the two year mark, they may debit your bank account and continue your contract.  You pay through your local bank account and not by credit card, as you do many other German bills (unlike the States where you can pay by credit card).

  • Also, if you have a contract phone, and you lose or damage are liable.  I know someone who lost an IPhone and had to pay close to 500 euro to the their mobile provider.

  • Remember that prepaid SIM cards have only texting and call capabilities, so if you put a prepaid SIM card into an IPhone as an example, you most likely won’t be able to use the IPhone to its full capability.

  • Before you choose a mobile provider, talk to others in your area.  For example, in the Stuttgart area, I had Vodafone and had no problem calling people (or receiving calls) inside the thick walls of the PX or any building on post.  I can't tell you the times that I've had people with T-Mobile complain about the "no reception" inside the PX and other buildings on post.  In fact, in the building where I worked, people with T-Mobile had to go outside to make calls.  Again, know your limits.

  • If you are doing prepaid, you can sometimes earn free text messaging.  Because I uploaded 50 euro at one time once, I earned 5,000 free text messages....obviously, I was never able to use them all up!

  • Even though I purchased our first prepaid phone thru the PX, our second one I ordered on for around 6 euro and had delivered to our German address.  It was actually a nice Nokia, bright red, AND it came unlocked.  After it arrived, I had to put in some codes from an email they sent me to get it working and with the starter 5 euro worth of minutes to boot (so I guess the phone itself was only 1 Euro)!  The great thing about this phone is that I was able to use it in Belgium right away after we moved.  I just put in a Belgian SIM card from one of the providers here.

  • Keep your documentation that comes with your prepaid phone.  Most prepaid phones ask you for your PIN when you turn it back on after having it off.  Enter the wrong PIN 3x, and you'll have to enter a PUK code, which is also in your documentation.  It is a longer number.  Keep these numbers away from your phone in case you lose it (so no one else can turn it on or off and use it)!  If you lose both numbers, you can try to contact your provider, but they really have no way of knowing if you are the true owner of the phone, so you may be SOL on getting it working again, unless they allow you to register it with them by sending in proof of ownership (and a copy of your passport).  Guard these numbers...memorize your PIN at the very least!!!!

  • You can change your language to English with all the providers.  All messages will probably be in German at first.  If you have trouble understanding, go to your provider's store, and they will help you do that.  Most if not all reps speak English.

  • Once you have a locked prepaid phone for two years, you are released from having it locked and can unlock it.  As I said, I was able to take our Vodafone prepaid phones, unlock them and use Belgian SIM cards in them.  The SIM cards do not cost extra when you buy prepaid minutes.  For example, you pay 10 euro for a SIM card, and that 10 euro counts against your minutes.  It is the same in Germany.  You unlock your Vodafone handy, as an example, by typing *#06# into your mobile phone.  A number will come up, which is your IMEI (identification #) for your particular phone.  Take this number and go to this site.  Type in the IMEI # on the site and the next page will give you your unlock code.  Then, take your new SIM card, whether from the same provider, a different provider in Germany or one in another country, and pop that in behind the battery.  When you turn your cell phone back on, it'll first ask for your PIN.  Put in the PIN for the new card.  Then it will ask for your unlock code.  Put that in, and your handy is automatically unlocked.  Now you can change your SIM card at will.  Let's say you plan to stay in Italy for a few months.  Go ahead and get an Italian SIM card and pop it in.  No new unlocking is needed.  Just be sure to give your family and friends your new phone number.  Each SIM card comes with its own phone number.  If you have another handy provider, and want to find the instructions online, type in "handy, entsperren, and name of provider".

  • Updates:  For some brand name handys such as Nokia and Sony, there is an extra step you have to do to unlock your phone - Sony Ericcson handys will have a screen come up, something to the effect of "please insert the correct SIM card", to get out of that screen press the back button, then **, then back button again.  This will give you a new screen, choose the first network choice, then enter your unlock code.  This should unlock it.

    With a Nokia handy, after you put in the new SIM card and new PIN, you must type in #pw+________________#  .  The underlined portion is where you will add the unlock code you received.

    Other brand name phones may have additional requirements.  If your unlock code does not immediately work by itself, then do a Google search for the brand name of your phone and "unlock".  Many UK websites have video tutorials and instructions I noticed, showing the extra keys that must be typed in.

    Once we arrived in Belgium, I had two extra basic Vodafone generic handys that I had purchased from a neighbor and that I only had the PINs for and no PUK codes.  One I unlocked just fine.  The other, we accidentally entered the old PIN wrong 3x, so we were permanently locked out with no PUK code!  I emailed Vodafone and within a day, they asked me for a copy of my passport and had me fill out a form "proving" that I was the true owner of the phone (they took my word for it really).  Once I did that, they emailed me my PUK code, and I was able to unlock it.

    And those are certainly the highlights!  If you have any more tips to add, please add them below!



    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This is awesome information about cell phones! I am headed over to Germany in a month with my husband. I already have an iPhone here in the states and was told I should be able to "unlock" it overseas and use it with a different provider (from the sounds of your post, I suppose that would need to be a contract service). Do you know anything about bringing smartphones from the states and using them overseas?

    September 3, 2010 at 5:09 PM  
    Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

    T-Mobile provides IPhone service in Germany. Yes, you'll have to get a contract with them to use the full featured IPhone. I seem to remember talking to someone from Hawaii, who decided not to get home phone or internet service at home, and paid 100 euro a month to make calls back to the US and Hawaii, text message and surf the internet...I don't know if he was limited or not, but that is what he did. He may have gotten the phone in Germany....but just to give you an idea of what one person w/an IPhone did to try to keep costs down.

    September 3, 2010 at 7:14 PM  
    Anonymous Laurie said...

    Also another good tip: if you plan to live off-post, wait until you sign your lease before getting into a contract. We asked our landlord which works, and she said only O2 gets reception in the village we plan to live in. So glad we asked, because otherwise we would have gotten a phone and no service!

    September 5, 2010 at 6:10 PM  
    Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

    Excellent point! Which reminds me, you also may get a deal from the provider who sets up phone/tv/internet in your may be able to get a handy plan cheaper thru them with a package deal.

    Also ask the guys at work, what works best for them. You may get some interesting answers!

    September 6, 2010 at 8:51 AM  
    Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

    Brittany, on the unlocking, your CURRENT cell phone provider in the US has to unlock your IPhone for you before you can use it over here. If you paid for the IPhone outright, you should not have any problems. If you got your IPhone as part of a cell phone plan where you didn't have to pay for the phone, it's going to cost you to unlock it!..same goes for any other cell phone you "don't buy" in the US but that came with a plan.

    September 6, 2010 at 8:54 AM  
    Anonymous rashid1891 said...

    good more ............................... like me

    November 21, 2010 at 1:04 PM  
    Anonymous Edward Carroll said...

    I'm an Apple junkie, even gotten my iphone 4 unlocked so I can use a german prepaid provider right? Just a question, are we talking about quad-band when you say GSM? Are they the same thing?

    December 9, 2010 at 4:02 AM  

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