Also see our iPhone FAQ below.
Planning to take your US iPhone to Germany and other European countries? This is the guide for you! We’ll tell you how to manage that without problems and nasty surprises. The iPhone is perfect for Europe, but there are some things you do need to know.
Locked vs Unlocked
The first thing you need to know is that unlocked is better than locked, at least when it comes to your iPhone. If you have an iPhone that you bought with a two-year contract (a practice that soon may be a thing of the past), it is locked. Once you pass the 24-month contract limit, you can get your phone unlocked, but you’ll have to ask your carrier to do that. (You’ll find instructions on how to do that below.)
Military Exceptions: If you are military, you can get your mobile phone unlocked early if you’re being assigned to Germany or some other international assignment. All you have to do is verify your international deployment with your wireless provider. With an unlocked phone, you can use a SIM card from a wireless provider in Germany for lower local rates. See the FAQ below for more.
But even if your iPhone is still under contract (locked), you have some good options for short-term use of your iPhone in Europe. Read on.
SIM and CDMA vs GSM
The second thing you need to know is that only GSM iPhones sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Apple in the USA use the mobile phone technology found in Europe and most countries around the globe. Sprint’s and Verizon’s CDMA iPhone 6/6s and 5c/5s add GSM capability so they will also work in Europe.
All GSM mobile phones around the world, including AT&T or T-Mobile iPhones, use a SIM card that CDMA cell phones (Verizon and Sprint) do not usually have.
The newer iPhone models (6s, 6, 6+, 5c, 5s) and newer iPads use a nano SIM, the smallest size. The iPhone 4 (GSM) and 4s, as well as older iPads use a micro SIM that is slightly larger. For details, see this Apple Support page (SIM cards).
If you have an iPhone with AT&T or T-Mobile, or a new iPhone 6s/6/6+, 5c/5s or 4s with any carrier, read on.
Already have an iPhone?
Then just continue to read the information on this page.
Still need to buy an iPhone?
Then go to this page: Buying an iPhone for Germany
Contract iPhones – Short-Term
If you already have a contract (locked) iPhone purchased in North America through AT&T or T-Mobile and you are visiting Europe for only a few weeks, you can get a special international roaming rate. Sprint and Verizon also have international roaming plans for their GSM-capable iPhones and other smartphones.
Recently T-Mobile introduced favorable rate plans that include “unlimited talk, text & data while on the T-Mobile network, and unlimited data & text in 120+ countries & destinations,” including Austria, Germany and Switzerland. T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan (from $50/month) offers unlimited international data and text with talk at only 20 cents per minute in Germany and most of Europe. AT&T also has special international roaming plans that can save you money when using your iPhone in Europe or other overseas locations. See the AT&T App info and the links below for details.
As a bonus, your T-Mobile USA plan now includes unlimited calls and texts to and from Mexico and Canada at no extra charge. There are a few restrictions, but it’s a pretty good deal. It doesn’t include calls to Mexico and Canada while you’re in Europe.
Cellular Abroad German SIM Card Offer
Mention when calling or enter promo code GermanWay10 online
and receive $10 off your order. Go to
www.cellularabroad.com or call 800.287.5072 to order.
If you don’t want to pay any data/text roaming charges at all, you can turn “Data Roaming” off and use only Wi-Fi (called Wlan/WLAN [vay-lahn] in Germany). That means you will only be able to view your email, text messages, web pages or other data via Wi-Fi. To turn off Data Roaming, go to Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming. Beneath this setting option you can read this notice: “Turn data roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing and other data services.” If you don’t want to be limited only to Wi-Fi during your European stay, check on the international plans your carrier offers. See the links below.
- AT&T International Calling and Data Plans – AT&T Passport and AT&T Global
- T-Mobile International Calling and Data Plans – Simple Choice international roaming plans
- Planning a long-term stay in Germany? See Using a US iPhone in Germany/Europe – Long-Term below.
AT&T App for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry
The AT&T Call International Application provides cheaper international calls (from 4 cents/min.) via Wi-Fi from Europe. See the app store for your phone.
For other cell phone travel options in Europe see our main cell phone page.
- I have an unlocked iPhone 5s or 6/6s. Can I use it in Europe?
Yes. See more information on this page below.
- I have a locked (contract) iPhone 5s or 6/6s. Can I use it in Europe?
Yes. For a short-term visit to Europe you can sign up for your carrier’s international roaming plan and data plan. (T-Mobile USA has the best one. The others charge about a dollar a minute for any outgoing or incoming calls, even local calls.) If you fail to do that and use roaming in Europe, you’ll pay a high price. Without a special plan, data and talk charges can be astronomical. – For a long-term stay (a month or more), you’ll be better off using an unlocked GSM cell phone (such as the iPhone). See more information on this page below.
- What if I have an iPhone from Sprint or Verizon?
If it’s an iPhone 5s or later model, it will have a SIM slot that can be used with a German or other SIM card. Of course the phone must be unlocked to do that. If it’s locked, it can only be used with an international roaming plan, which is much more expensive than using an unlocked iPhone with a German/European SIM card.
- Are there Military Exceptions to allow my iPhone to be unlocked early for deployments?
Yes. If you are deployed internationally or receive orders for international deployment, providers must unlock your device upon verification of deployment under the new standards. Contact your wireless carrier, provide verification of your deployment, and request that your device(s) be unlocked. (Source: fcc.gov)
- Can I keep all my data, photos and apps after I unlock my iPhone, or if I get a new iPhone?
Yes. Make sure your current iPhone is backed up using iCloud or iTunes. When you have the new iPhone you can restore your data from your backup. (See this Apple support page for more.) – If you’re replacing an Android or Windows phone, check with your provider on how to make the conversion. Also see this digitaltrends.com guide to making the Android to iOS conversion.
- I have an Android smartphone. Will it work in Europe and Germany?
Samsung and other smartphone makers sell many models that work well in the US and Europe. The Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 are two good options. The Galaxy S Duos GT-S7562 GSM phone even allows you to use dual SIM cards (one for your US number and one for your European number). See our GW Expat Blog post for more on this topic.
- Will a US iPhone power adapter work in Europe?
Yes. All Apple products (laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones, etc.) operate with either 120 or 240-volt power. You only need a plug adapter to convert the US flat-pronged plug to the European round prongs.
International Text and Data
In German a text message is called an SMS (“short message service”). There are various international text messaging plans available, including T-Mobile’s Passport option. Another option, and a free one, that works with almost any smartphone or tablet is What’s App. As long as you have Wi-Fi, you can send and receive text and images for free, as long as the other person also has the same (free) app installed. Just use your phone to download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play (Android).
Using a US iPhone in Germany/Europe – Long-Term
If you are an expat living and working in Austria, Germany, Switzerland or another European country, you need a long-term solution. You’ll want to set up your iPhone with a local prepaid plan or a rate plan with T-Mobile Germany, O2 or Vodafone (or other European carriers). If you have an unlocked iPhone this is no problem. If you have a carrier-subsidized (two-year contract) GSM-capable iPhone (from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint), things get a little more complicated.
Unlocking Your US Phone
In February 2015 a new FCC regulation concerning mobile phone unlocking took effect in the United States. But prior to that date, the Federal Communications Commission had already acted to ensure that most people could unlock their phones. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had pressured the wireless carriers to sign on to a new unlocking policy. Under the threat of new regulations, the major providers all agreed to unlock their customers’ phones upon request.
However, in order to be unlocked, your phone must meet certain conditions, the main one being that it is no longer under contract. And you have to ask. Your carrier will not automatically unlock your iPhone or any other smartphone. In fact they will gladly let you continue under your old contract, past the 24-month period, even though your phone is paid for.
So the first thing you have to do is ask your carrier to unlock your phone. The procedure for an iPhone is the same as any other smartphone. You need to make sure you have backed up your phone’s data (using iCloud or iTunes for an iPhone or iPad). Below is an example for AT&T, but it is similar for all carriers. There is no charge for unlocking a phone in the US. Some Canadian carriers may charge a fee.
Unlocking a US or Canadian iPhone
Only your wireless carrier can unlock your phone. Apple will not unlock your iPhone until it gets approval from your carrier. One reason AT&T was very unpopular with a lot of people was their policy on unlocking iPhones – or rather NOT unlocking iPhones. Until 2012, the AT&T Wireless support website stated simply: “The iPhone cannot be unlocked, even if you are out of contract.” But in April 2012 AT&T suddenly changed this policy, making it possible to unlock an AT&T iPhone under certain conditions – mainly having an iPhone that has fulfilled its initial two-year contract. As we mentioned above, there is a military exception for personnel assigned overseas that allows early unlocking of your phone.
Canada: Five of the eight iPhone partner carriers in Canada now offer iPhone unlocking services. Bell and Virgin joined the existing providers Fido, Rogers and Telus in November 2012 in offering that option. As with AT&T in the United States, you must own the phone outright and have no time left on your contract. Unlike AT&T, Bell and Virgin charge a $75 (CDN) fee for unlocking your iPhone. Contact your Canadian carrier for current information.
Want to buy an unlocked iPhone?
Try to buy it in the US from Apple! An unlocked iPhone is much more expensive in Europe. See Buying an iPhone for Germany for more.
How to Unlock Your iPhone (AT&T and Other Carriers)
See instructions for other carriers below.
If you have an AT&T iPhone and have fulfilled your two-year contract, you can get it unlocked by AT&T and Apple. All you need is your phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which you can find on your phone under Settings > General > About (scroll down to find the IMEI). Then you ask AT&T to approve the unlock (online or in a store). Once that is done, you have to wait for Apple to actually unlock the phone, which is done via iCloud or iTunes. The process normally takes only an hour or so, although Apple says to allow up to 72 hours.
For SIM instructions and a step-by-step guide for all wireless carriers, see the next section.
For other wireless carriers the unlocking procedure is similar to AT&T. Here are instructions for unlocking an iPhone, a slightly edited version of those provided on the Apple iPhone Support site:
Get your iPhone’s IMEI as explained above. Your carrier will need to process your unlock request. Then you’ll back up, erase, and restore your iPhone to unlock it. Here are the steps you need to take:
- See if your carrier offers unlocking. Only your carrier can unlock your iPhone. Some smaller regional carriers in the US may still refuse to unlock your phone. All the major carriers will unlock. With the new 2015 FCC rules on unlocking, this may have changed. Only your carrier can verify whether or not they unlock iPhones.
- Contact your carrier and request an unlock. You might need to meet requirements to qualify for unlocking. After you submit the request to your carrier, it might take hours or days to complete. Contact your carrier for the status of your unlock request.
- After your carrier confirms that your iPhone unlock has been processed, go to the next section.
If you have a SIM card from a carrier other than your current carrier, follow these steps:
- Remove your SIM card and insert the new SIM card.
- Complete the setup process.
If you don’t have another SIM card you can use, follow these steps to complete the process:
- Back up your iPhone.
- When you have a backup, erase your iPhone.
- Restore your iPhone from the backup you just made.
- When you have a new SIM card from the new provider, insert it in your iPhone. Note: If you have a SIM card from a German or European carrier, you should not insert it until you’re in Germany or Europe.
With or without a SIM card, your iPhone will still work with Wi-Fi. You just can’t use the phone function without a SIM card. If no SIM card is in your phone, or you have a locked SIM card inserted, you will see the message “Locked SIM” at the top left of your screen (opposite the battery indicator). You’ll need to enter the new SIM’s PIN in order to activate it. The new SIM will come with instructions for activating it.
Taking your iPhone to France, Italy, Spain, the UK or some other European country?
All the above info on using an unlocked iPhone in Germany applies to other countries. The only difference is the carrier.
Germans and other Europeans have many more mobile phone choices than Americans. They are used to picking and choosing among a great variety of Handy (cell phone) providers. Besides the three major German iPhone service providers (T-Mobile, O2, Vodafone), there are many prepaid options and smaller service providers. Not all of them will work with the iPhone, but many will.
All you need is a SIM card from a German (or European) wireless carrier, and you’re in business. Like many Germans, you may prefer to use a low-cost prepaid plan. Your can “recharge” your account on your iPhone or by purchasing more talk and data time at a retailer or wireless provider store. Since you do not need to have a German address or a German bank account, this is also a good option for travelers.
But there are also postpaid plans that work the same way as similar talk-and-data plans in North America. This usually requires that you have a German bank account and a German address. You can go online or talk with a salesperson at a T-Mobile, O2, or Vodafone store.
You can discover your many iPhone options in Germany online or by visiting one of the many mobile phone retailers in Germany. See Part 1 (Apple Stores and other options in Germany) for more.
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- iPhone in Germany – Part 1
- Apple Stores in Germany and Switzerland
- Cell Phones in Germany and Europe – “Handy” Cell Phone Tips – Useful advice for using a wireless phone in North America and Germany / Europe – and saving money.
- Mobile Phone Glossary – What is a SIM, CDMA, GSM or WLAN?
- Telephone Tips – Getting phone service and usinf a phone in Germany and Europe
- Electrical Facts – Some shocking facts about electrical appliances in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
- For Expats – Advice and links for expats in German-speaking Europe.
- Hedy Lamarr – The Austrian actress was the co-inventor of “frequency hopping”—a technology that later became known as spread spectrum, a technology adapted for cell phones.
Legal Notice: We are not responsible for the content of external links.