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First time travel to Germany - Cellular Question

Hello everyone, thank you in advance for your time.

My wife and I are travelling to Germany from Ohio for 16 days in June. We currently each have an Iphone 8 Plus with AT&T.

The dilemma is, AT&T's international travel plan is garbage. What are the best options people use for international travel on their cell phones? We are really new to this :)

Do we just buy a plan for 1 phone?

Do we buy a SIM card when we land for a phone?

Do we buy the AT&T Passport plan?

Any help is greatly appreciated!

Brett and Deb

Posted by
4882 posts

Hi there. How do you plan to use the phone? Do you need to make a lot of phone calls? Or just data, mostly?

AT&T's international plans are not cheap, but the $60/month plan (1GB of data, free texting, 35 cents/min calls) is probably adequate for the average person. 1GB would be not quite enough for me for 16 days, but I could probably stick to WiFi most of the time and conserve and get by, use the mobile data only for walking directions and public transit info (don't need mobile data for GPS if you are driving with Google Maps "offline" mode.). Calls home to US numbers are free (even to landlines) with Google Voice, plus you could try to set up WiFi Calling to make free calls home. Install WhatsApp to make calls to locals in Europe - it's popular there.

Or use the $10/day plan - charged only on the days you need it. Obviously, if you use it more than six days it costs more than $60 for the whole time.

Buying a SIM in Germany is not impossible but can be complicated. Germany requires a local address to buy a SIM; people seem to find a way around it (use the hotel address?) but it's more difficult than in other countries.

One option is to buy a SIM for another EU country that lets you use the SIM in Germany. I've had great luck with my Dutch Vodafone SIM for use elsewhere in Europe. I bought it on eBay - haven't used it in the Netherlands yet! It's mostly a good option for data, not for calls. But I use Google Voice for my calls anyway. You can get 6GB of data for 20 euros good for a month - should be plenty for your trip. SIM costs currently about $11 USD shipped to the US with no credit on it.

But your phones must be unlocked; if you bought them from AT&T they probably aren't and can't be unlocked I believe until they are paid off.

And if you do manage to use a foreign SIM, know that you won't have your US number while the SIM is in place, until you put your AT&T SIM card back in.

Posted by
1489 posts

Indeed the question is your purpose for using a phone.

One different opinion to #1: forget about Google Maps in Germany, it is such a bad quality for traveling Europe. For navigation better use a tool / an app with fully offline maps, e.g. Sygic but also others on the market.

If you do not have to be online all the time just use free wifi - called WLAN in Germany which is technically the more correct term instead of the corporation name. It is available at a lot of locations, e.g. restaurants & cafés, large train stations, in ICE trains, in Flixbuses, in hotels and at some other locations.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you for the replies!

I now see that a SIM card is not an option.

I really only foresee using my phone to check train times with the DB Navigator app, for randomly checking Google maps if we go biking or hiking, or for general information lookup (using TripAdvisor to find a place to eat). I would probably not call back home much.

I suppose it does sound possible to just have 1 phone cellular data turned off and strictly use WiFi. That would just be annoying with photos not being labeled as to location.

Posted by
5697 posts

My husband reports that he has locations on photos taken on a recent trip, when the AT&T phone was on "vacation hold" (AT&T service suspended) as well as when the service was not suspended but phone was in airplane mode. We just used Wi-Fi in the hotel each evening for emails and Whatsapp back to the kids, online research and reservations, checking sports scores -- all the essentials.

Posted by
4882 posts

I really only foresee using my phone to check train times with the DB Navigator app, for randomly checking Google maps if we go biking or hiking, or for general information lookup (using TripAdvisor to find a place to eat). I would probably not call back home much.

It would be a shame to have such expensive phones but not really be able to use them to full potential on your trip, when they could save you an enormous amount of time. WiFi isn't EVERYWHERE. I have found my phone essential for navigating cities by walking and public transit directions - I used to hassle over maps and bus and train schedules, and I really don't miss that at all; SIM cards are so cheap, it seems silly not to have one. But I take it your phones are locked? If it were me, I'd get the international roaming plan for one of the phones, anyway.

As I said above, install Google Voice so you can make free calls home, from either phone, using WiFi, without using any mobile service or needing a SIM card. The other person does not need to have Google Voice to receive your call (e.g. landlines).

I suppose it does sound possible to just have 1 phone cellular data turned off and strictly use WiFi. That would just be annoying with photos not being labeled as to location.

As Laura hints above, mobile service is not required for the GPS function of your phone to work, so a smart phone will still know the GPS coordinates wherever you are to tag them in each photo you take. So that should not be an issue. Actually, you might look into "offline" maps (e.g. Google Maps) - even though you can't get walking and public transit directions that way, you can at least bring up a map that shows you where you are.

Posted by
2979 posts

I've used Google Maps to get around Germany for 8 years without a problem (now Google Map's driving directions in Northern Spain is another matter entirely).

It's true that wifi, sorry, WLAN, isn't everywhere, but it's MUCH better than it used to be. Chain grocery stores, cafes, shopping centers, chain restaurants all seem to provide it. However if you're not in a city it may be more tricky. I frequently run out of data because my plan is garbage, and sometimes even places that don't advertise wifi will let you use their network, which can be helpful if you're in a more rural area.

Since a SIM isn't a possibility, I'd probably downtown offline maps of the places you're going via GoogleMaps, download German for offline use in Google Translate, and rely on Wifi for when I needed it. I wouldn't have suggested this 3 years ago, but like I said the public wifi situation in Germany has REALLY improved.

Posted by
1633 posts

I have an Android phone, but I am able to still use GPS feature even when it is in airplane mode. I think Google could help you out with the answer for iPhones - plenty of tips out there for minimizing data usage too (AT&T has a FAQ on this also). I've used the AT&T passport plan in Germany and it worked fine - just remember to re-set your data counter when you arrive so you can track if you get close to the data limit. Yes it is expensive, but compared to the cost of your trip, it's the value of convenience (not having to search for Wifi, being able to get and send unlimited text messages, etc.). Note that iMessage uses data, so be sure to turn that off if you use the passport plan.

Posted by
882 posts

I'm usually using the ATT $10/day International Day Pass as it just works where as getting a local SIM can be hit or miss and don't really save you that much these days. This keeps you on a familiar plan where it is easier to gauge your usage habits vs always worried about if you are going to use up minutes on a local SIM plan.

I really only foresee using my phone to check train times with the DB Navigator app, for randomly checking Google maps if we go biking or hiking, or for general information lookup (using TripAdvisor to find a place to eat). I would probably not call back home much.

One piece of advice I would have is to download offline Google Maps for the places you will be traveling. That way you are not eating up data as you use the map walking or biking. Yes, Google maps is not the best but honestly it is good enough if you are already familiar with it and you are not using it for turn by turn driving direction.

DJ

Posted by
4882 posts

I'm usually using the ATT $10/day International Day Pass as it just works where as getting a local SIM can be hit or miss and don't really save you that much these days.

I guess it depends by what you mean by "save you that much." The $10/day plan would cost $160 for a 16 day trip. A local SIM probably costs $30 USD tops to cover the entire trip - would for me. To some people, saving $130 is worth a little trouble - especially if using two phones. Personal preference.

Posted by
882 posts

True, my trips are usually 7 days or less (work related) so the $10/day is not that much more than a local SIM. For a 16 day trip I would likely look at other options. My experience with local SIMs has still been hit or miss with a card working in the shop and then somehow not working 1 hour later when I'm conveniently far away form the shop I purchased it at.

YMMV

DJ