Getting a SIM Card in Germany: Telekom vs Vodafone vs O2

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 nerd 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. It also helps that Germany is strategically located in the centre of Western Europe with great connections in and out by flight, rail and bus.

Also see: How to Travel Like a Local in Berlin (16 Best Apps for iOS and Android)

While getting 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. As part of the activation process, customers are now required to provide ID for all prepaid SIM registrations. My personal experience with this was rather confusing as I was caught in the middle of the changeover – but things have become simpler since.

Also see: Best Dual SIM Android Phones for Work & Travel

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. Note: this is from a prepaid perspective.

Let’s get started.

SIM Card Providers in 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 Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and O2. All three options have resellers at varying price points which generally offer better value for the average user.

Here’s a quick summary:

TelekomVodafoneO2
Best coverageGreat coverageGreat coverage
Fastest speedsFast speedsFast speeds
Most expensiveMiddle groundBest value
Reseller (3G)Resellers (3G)Resellers (3G + LTE)

My old preference used to be Lycamobile, but I now feel that Aldi Talk is the better option as they offer both 4G/LTE and data tethering. Aldi Talk is a reseller based on the O2 network, which has dramatically improved over the last couple of years since acquiring the E-Plus network.

Still, the reality is that all three networks should be fine for most people within major cities. If you’re based in or travelling through Berlin, Aldi Talk has the added benefit of having coverage in the U-Bahn (metro underground train) network.

Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom (previously known as T-Mobile) is the former market leader in terms of customer numbers, but 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 you want coverage in regional areas, Telekom is the top pick.

Pros: 

  • Great coverage
  • Best regional coverage
  • Fastest network
  • EU roaming included

Cons:

  • Rather expensive

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

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.

Pros:

  • Great coverage (except regional areas)
  • Good network speeds
  • EU roaming included

Cons:

  • Coverage in regional areas could be better

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

O2 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 you get expanded coverage across the country.

O2 typically has 4G/LTE connectivity with their resellers (at least, they do with Aldi Talk) 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 in transit.

Pros:

  • Great coverage (except regional areas)
  • Complete coverage of the Berlin U-Bahn
  • Typically the cheapest network in Germany
  • 4G/LTE connectivity on resellers
  • EU roaming included

Cons:

  • Coverage in regional areas could be better

Popular resellers on the O2 network include Aldi Talk, Blauworld, NettoKOM, Ortel mobile, AyYildiz, NetzClub, K-Classic Mobil, and Fonic.

Getting a SIM Card in Germany

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 and shipping it to your future German address (shipping is typically free). Try activating it yourself, but if it doesn’t work 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 bring your passport and German address, as you’ll need this for the verification process.

Personally, I recommend Aldi Talk. You can activate your SIM card by yourself, and recharging can be done either online or by buying credit at any Aldi shop (which are everywhere).

Activating SIM Cards in Germany

SIM card activation can be done through one of four methods:

  1. Showing your ID (passport) online by a video verification process
  2. By presenting a printed “Post Ident” document at a post office
  3. Through a “Handy” phone shop or electronics chain (MediaMarkt, Saturn)
  4. Buying directly from a branded store (Telekom, Vodafone, O2 only)

Verification is easy enough to do on your own, so I’d recommend ordering ahead of your arrive and shipping an Aldi Talk SIM card to your German address. If you have difficulties, take Option 4 and 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.

How Much Are SIM Cards in Germany?

The cost of SIM card can be as little or as much as you’d like to pay, depending on the amount of calls and data you need. Out of the Aldi Talk options, I’d suggest the “All-Net-Flat” package, which costs 19.99 Euros and allows for unlimited calls within Germany, 5GB of data (including LTE) and free EU Roaming. Tethering technically isn’t permitted, but it works.

To find the All-Net-Flat package on the Aldi Talk website, find “Tarifdetails” in the menu and you’ll see “Kombi-Pakete”. All-Net-Flat is one of the options there. Hint: Use Google Translate in your Chrome browser to have the entire page translated for you.

If you want to be on the Telekom network, Congstar (an official subsidiary of Telekom targeting “younger” customers) has built up a great reputation and are worth a try.

Using German SIM Cards in the EU

In June 2017, an 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.

Be sure to read the fine print!

How to Top Up on Phone Credit

Many resellers provide an online portal where you can top up your credit online. Aldi Talk also allows you to walk into one of their many Aldi 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.

Final Thoughts

Getting a SIM card in Germany is relatively simple process as long as you have a valid form of ID (such as a passport) and a valid German address (as in, it’s real). If the Post Ident video verification system doesn’t work for you, simply head to a cell phone store and bring your ID.

I personally recommend Aldi Talk as they represent the best value for money with 4G/LTE connectivity, tethering, and network coverage inside the Berlin U-Bahn. The best way to make sure you’re set up as soon as you arrive is to ship a SIM card from the Aldi Talk website to your future accommodation (for free) and set it up from the comfort of your home before stepping foot outside. Otherwise, head straight into a “Handy” store.

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10 Comments
  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

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