Here's the short version: Germany's resellers offer the best value, and of the resellers, winSIM offers the best value.
winSIM is part of the 1&1 Drillisch Group, which uses the Vodafone and O2/Telefonia networks. They've been around since 1983 and have dozens of reseller brands, and from my research, I've found that winSIM offers the best value out of all of them. That is: unlimited calls in Germany, the most data per Euro spent, and a choice of a 24-month contract or month-by-month (prepaid).
Learn more on the winSIM website (new tab)
The site's in German, but you can easily navigate around by using Google Translate.
As a country with a rich, diverse history that has since transitioned into an industrial and cultural powerhouse, Germany has a lot to offer to nomads, expats and visitors alike. Few countries allow you to embrace your inner history buff during the day, visit world-class galleries in the afternoon, then head to a club for a multi-day bender with some of Europe's best DJs playing every week. It also helps that Germany is strategically located in the centre of Western Europe with great travel connections by flight, rail and bus.
Also see: How to Travel Like a Local in Berlin (16 Best Apps for iOS and Android)
While buying a SIM card in Germany isn't that difficult, things have become slightly more complicated due to anti-terrorism laws that were passed in July 2017 in response to unrest across Europe.
Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds - it's still very easy.
It simply means that part of the activation process is that customers now have to to provide ID for all prepaid SIM registrations. My personal experience with this was rather confusing as I was caught right in the middle of the changeover - but things have become much simpler and smoother since.
In this guide, we'll be running through the three main service providers in Germany, a shortlist of resellers (which are my preference as they offer far better value) and the registration process itself.
In short, I've done all the research - so you don't have to.
If you're looking for a local option, I highly recommend winSIM.
Check out the options on winSIM's website
The section you're looking for is "Tarife" in the top menu, and the options listed under "LTE All Tarife". There, you'll see 1GB, 3GB, 6GB and 10GB options. The middle options (3GB and 6GB) are typically the best value and often have flash sales.
The site's in German, but you can easily find your way around by using Google Translate.
At this point, you might be asking why I'm recommending winSIM over the main 3 networks of Telekom, Vodafone and O2. It's a fair question. I'll get to this in the following sections, but the short answer is: resellers offer better value.
Resellers (also known as MVNOs) account for over 40% of market share in Germany, which is one of the highest in the world. And the reason is simple: the main networks don't offer good value, while the resellers do. Of these resellers, I've found winSIM to offer the top pick of them all, offering the best value in terms of unlimited calls and text, the most data per Euro, and no contracts.
I'm not just saying that - I've switched SIM card providers 4-5 times and updated this article dozens of times with updated information since arriving in Germany over 3 years ago, so I'm speaking from experience.
Learn more on the winSIM website (new tab)
As a bonus: since Germany is part of the EU, a German SIM card will also keep you connected all across most of the EU, not just Germany.
There are three main phone service providers in Germany, and who you choose depends on what you're planning to do, where you're planning to go, and your budget. These three companies are Telekom, Vodafone and O2 (also often referred to as "Telefonica", the parent company).
Here's a quick summary:
|Best coverage||Great coverage||Good coverage|
|Fastest speeds||Fast speeds||Fast speeds|
|Most expensive||Middle ground||Best value|
|Resellers (3G only)||Resellers (3G only)||Resellers (3G/LTE)|
All three networks boast about coverage percentages, but in "real life" terms for "most people", it looks like the networks are getting closer every year.
According to the latest Mobile Network Experience Report (May 2020) by Opensignal:
|Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
Additionally, when it comes to 4G/LTE:
|4G Availability||4G Coverage|
In this context, Availability refers to "the proportion of time users with a 4G device and subscription have a 4G connection. For example, a reported 4G Availability of 75%, means that the 4G users were, on average, connected to 4G services on their network 75% of the time".
Coverage refers to "the extent of locations covered and the relative importance of those locations according to the population that spends time in them. This differs from other predictive measures of network service coverage that are based either on population or geography".
What does this all mean?
Basically, you're pretty well covered across Germany - regardless of whose network you're using. The gap between the three networks seems to have significantly closed in the last few years.
So at this point, it's a decision between choosing Telekom, Vodafone and O2, or opting for a reseller.
I've used the O2 network via resellers for the last two years, and have almost always had fast 4G connection. resellers (such as winSIM) also happen to offer the best value and prices, so that's great news for you!
Like many countries, all three networks have resellers which generally offer better value for the average user. Most resellers are on the O2 network, which happens to be the cheapest and also is the only network that consistently offers 4G/LTE as well as standard 3G.
Fun fact: in Germany, these resellers (also known as MVNOs) have one of the highest rates of prepaid market share in the world, at around 40%.
My personal pick out of the resellers (and the one I'd recommend to friends) is winSIM, a reseller based on the O2 network. I've used the O2 network to travel around Germany and Europe - even some truly remote locations - and rarely had any issues and have never experienced a dropout. All the plans typically offer unlimited calls and texts - it just boils down to how much data you're after.
Learn more about winSIM here (new tab)
If you're based in or travelling through Berlin, the O2 network has the added benefit of having coverage in the U-Bahn (the metro and subway) network. O2 is now also the market leader in terms of customers numbers.
Deutsche Telekom, more commonly known as "Telekom" (and previously known as T-Mobile) is the former market leader in terms of customer numbers. Telekom was formerly state-owned, which - like in most countries - means it still has the best coverage in all of Germany for both 3G and 4G/LTE. They're also the most expensive, even on the reseller options. But if reliable coverage in regional areas is your top priority, Telekom is the top pick.
Popular resellers on the Telekom network include Congstar, Lebara mobile, ja!mobil, and Penny Mobil. Reseller plans often exclude 4G/LTE connectivity, so keep an eye out for this in the fine print if this is important to you.
Vodafone holds second place behind Telekom in terms of price, coverage and speed, although resellers often exclude 4G/LTE connectivity. Tethering is also often not permitted, while other resellers don't have the same restrictions.
Popular resellers on the Vodafone network include Lycamobile, Otelo, Fyve, EDEKA mobil, and LIDL Connect. Reseller plans often exclude 4G/LTE connectivity, so keep an eye out for this in the fine print if this is important to you.
O2 (often referred to as "Telefonica", the parent company) is the cheapest network in Germany that also represents the best value for money. Their acquisition of the E-Plus network means they're now the market leaders in terms of customers and have significantly expanded coverage across the country.
Unlike the other two networks, 4G/LTE connectivity is shared with their resellers and they are the only network that covers the entirety of Berlin's U-Bahn (metro underground train) network with 3G and 4G/LTE, which can be a big plus for staying connected while in transit.
Popular resellers on the O2 network include winSIM (my recommendation), Aldi Talk, Blauworld, NettoKOM, Ortel mobile, AyYildiz, NetzClub, K-Classic Mobil, and Fonic.
Learn more about winSIM here (new tab)
As of July 2017, all new prepaid SIM card registrations require a form of ID (usually a passport) and a valid German address.
There used to be some oddly specific exceptions to the accepted ID documents during the transition period - for instance, my Australian passport was not a valid form of ID for validation over the phone - but this doesn't seem to be an issue any more. If that doesn't work, I discovered that this same restriction didn't seem to apply when activating in-person at a store or at the post office.
I'd recommend buying a SIM card in advance. Choose from one of winSIM's prepaid SIM card options and get it delivered to your hotel or any other address in Germany. Shipping is free.
Activating it yourself is quite easy, but if you can't figure it out, head to a phone store or electronics chain stores such as MediaMarkt or Saturn to help you with the activation process. Don't forget to have your passport and German address handy, as you'll need this for the verification process.
The difference between prepaid and postpaid SIM cards is that the latter comes with a contract. That means that you're locked into a monthly fee, usually for 24 months.
If you're just travelling through, this is not for you - but if you're planning on sticking around in Germany for a while, postpaid SIM cards sometimes offer far better value. In Germany, "better value" usually means "more data" and unlimited calls and texts are typically included as standard.
That said, I've found that resellers such as winSIM offer better value, even when compared to postpaid plans. It's strange - I've been looking at getting more value by switching to a contract, but haven't been able to find a better deal and have stuck to winSIM.
Learn more on the winSIM website (new tab)
SIM card activation can be done through one of four methods:
Verification is easy enough to do on your own, so I'd recommend ordering ahead of your arrival. If you have difficulties, take Option 3 or 4 - simply go to a shop and ask for help.
Other than your passport, you'll also need a valid German address to activate your SIM card.
From a global perspective, Germany is quite stingy on the amount of data they provide on their plans. Generally speaking, O2 is by far the most generous - but it all comes down to how much you're willing to spend, depending on the amount of calls and data you need.
My pick would be winSIM with 1GB, 3GB, 6GB and 10GB options and unlimited calls/text. They often run sales, but the middle plans (3GB and 6GB) typically offer the best value.
In June 2017, the EU-wide policy of "roam like home" has started to apply to all networks, which means you should be able to use your prepaid plan anywhere in the EU/EEA zone without any additional charges.
Also see: Best Dual SIM Android Phones for Work & Travel
Still, I would recommend limiting the roaming usage to data only, as many companies have interpreted this law as using "credit" as opposed to your "unlimited calls" as this is for national calls only - that is, within Germany only. Some even have unofficial "fair use" limits to the data that can be used abroad.
Countries such as Switzerland are also an often frustrating exception to the EU rule, as they function in a political grey area. This is reflected by phone companies' roaming policies as well.
In short: be sure to read the fine print!
All three networks and most resellers provide an online portal where you can top up your credit online. Some other networks - especially those operated by supermarket or retail chains, such as Aldi Talk - also allows you to walk into one of their retail stores to buy a recharge voucher. Either way, topping up phone credit is quite easy to do.
Side note: if you've moved to Germany and need a local bank account (trust me, it makes things so much easier), I highly recommend N26. I tried surviving with only my Australian accounts and cards, and while it was mostly fine, it ended up being a huge hassle at times.
Buying a SIM card in Germany is a relatively simple process as long as you have a valid form of ID (such as a passport) and a valid German address (your hotel or residence). If the Post Ident video verification system doesn't work for you, simply head to a cell phone store and bring your ID.
I recommend winSIM to most people as the best value for money option.
If you're only visiting Germany, ship your new SIM card to your hotel or Airbnb a week in advance, and activate it as soon as your arrive - all you need is a passport and address. German SIM cards also work all across most of the EU, not just Germany.
As far as networks and coverage go: Telekom has the best coverage and is the fastest, but they're also significantly more expensive than any of its alternatives. Vodafone and O2 have also caught up a lot in recent years, so the gap is definitely getting smaller.
Personally, I'm a little unsure if Telekom's premium is worth it, as the three networks perform similarly enough in terms of "real world" measurements. I've travelled extensively across Germany and still had good signal throughout, with occasional dropouts near remote lakes and at some points in the countryside - so unless you're really going off the beaten track, you'll be fine with any of the three networks and their resellers (such as winSIM).
please note that as for sep 2018 all prepaid sims in Germany has to be activated before first use. always buy the recommended sim cards in a store that will activate the sim for you. you must have passport or id card and and address (and some time a proof for this address) in Germany (hotel is also good). doing it by yourself through the carrier web site is almost impossible since you need to formally identifies yourself with the duetch post formal identification process (video or personal)!
This is true, as of July 2017. I found going into the post office with a Post Ident document and my passport pretty easy, but going into a store to buy and activate your SIM card is also a surefire way of getting things sorted in one go 🙂
Should I be concerned with the type of SIM card from the providers?
Remembered a couple of years back when we were in Amsterdam, we were issued with regular SIM but our phones accepts only nano SIM.
Any idea if Vodafone, O2 provides nano SIM?
What is the extra charges, if any?
Hey Mich, it seems like it's standard practice to issue a multi-SIM, meaning it comes in three sizes that you can pop out depending on which you need. I seriously doubt that there would be extra charges - it's a bit ridiculous in this day and age! You should be fine 🙂
I cannot tell you how helpful this blog was! Thank you so much! I think I am gonna go for Aldi Talk
Thank you for your kind words, Wendy 🙂
Are there any O2 or Vodaphone outlets at the Tegel Airport Berlin? So that I can buy the sim card from the official shops at the airport to save myself from the hassle of finding a company shop in town. I just need internet for Uber use, thats it.
Hi Ovais, I don't think there is unfortunately. Berlin's airports aren't great to begin with and there really aren't that many shops there. I did a quick search of the Tegel Airport website and couldn't find any mention of O2 or Vodafone. However, the airport itself has free wifi and depending on where you go, finding a phone store is really not that difficult once you get into town. You could even take the Uber directly to a phone store!
HI, I bought a Vodafone SIM card yesterday and activated at the store in Frankfurt Oder, I was told it should work within 24 hours, it has been over 24 hours and I still can't call or receive call/messages. Any help or advise would really be appreciate it.
Hey Achol, have you tried restarting your phone and taking the SIM card out and putting it back in? Also check that your APN settings are correct - sometimes they don't update automatically. Otherwise, you would have to ask Vodafone directly, I'd recommend going to a shop and asking in person. Good luck!
Please did you buy it with passport or (temporary permit)?. Am in Frankfurt order too, which place in Frankfurt order.
Hello good afternoon, please can they accept temporary residence permit, to buy Telekom.de SIM card am New here in Markendorf
Hey Kingsley, you would have to ask Telekom directly. I've gone to one of their stores with my freelance residency permit and it wasn't a problem, but I would imagine it depends on your circumstances and how long you have left remaining on your permit.
Sir i arrive Germany December 20 2019, i have (3month temporary permit) as am writing to you now i bought penny mobil SIM card in sudring Frankfurt order some days ago they refuse my temporary permit for the registration, it's with me now
Hi Kingsley, I'm not sure what your question is? I've switched providers twice now and I wasn't asked for a residency permit - just my passport. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for you to go into a phone store to ask someone there? Since you've bought a Penny SIM card, I'd suggest going to one of the independent ones (search the word "Handy" in Google Maps) as the Telekom/Vodafone/O2 stores will not be able to help you. I don't work for any of these companies, so I can't really help you with signing up. Good luck!
I bought O2 prepaid sim card while in Germany, activated it & all worked just fine.
I had to travel out of Germany ,the Sim card still worked on roaming.
Unfortunately I haven't used it or recharged it for a while.Now it won't receive any calls & refuse to operate on any provider.
I need to get access to my line.
Any idea if O2 resells unused numbers to other customers?
& if so how can I get my number back?
Hi Nada, you will need to contact O2 directly for an answer. "Recycling" phone numbers is standard practice for all carriers, in any country. From memory, this is after 90 days, but I imagine it varies for each company. It might be tricky to get your number back if it's already been recycled - but again, you'll need to speak to O2 about this. Good luck!