Cell Phone Tips for International Travelers and Road Warriors: Dual SIMs, Unlocked Phones, and Free Roaming

Samsung Duos

The Samsung Galaxy S Duos GT-S7562 GSM mobile phone lets you use two SIM cards in one device. PHOTO: Samsung

The German Way already offers informational pages on what expats should know about using an iPhone or other mobile phones in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Europe in general. But in this blog post I want to explore another aspect of “Handys” (the German word for cellular phone): staying connected while traveling the globe – without breaking the bank.

Today all the main North American carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon in the United States, plus Bell and Rogers in Canada – offer multiband mobile phones that will work in Europe and most other locations around the globe. But if you simply fly off to Europe with your North American smartphone in hand, you could soon face an unpleasant surprise in the form of an outrageous cell-phone bill. Data use can be a real killer! A little advance planning can help you avoid that problem and a few others.

Like many expats and ex-expats, I travel often to Europe and other destinations. When I travel in the US or abroad I like to stay in touch – via my mobile phone and/or my laptop. During my last trip to Guatemala, I had some problems using my iPhone, but that was only because I failed to do what I always do before I head off to Europe: plan ahead! Continue reading

Inverse Customs: When Germans Do Precisely the Opposite

Expats in Germany and the other German-speaking countries are often surprised by a type of culture shock I call “inverse customs.” These are practices that are either the exact opposite of, or extremely different from the same custom in the US. Expats quickly learn this fact of life abroad: There is always more than one way to do things, and sometimes it’s the opposite way!

No, I’m not talking about the usual German cultural oddities such as the “killer draft” or not mowing your lawn on Sunday. Those may be odd, but we want to address German customs that are either the polar opposite of similar conventions in the English-speaking universe, or at the least veer severely into left field (or right rather than left, in the case of wedding rings).

A prime “inverse custom” example, and one that affects most expats directly, is the German custom of the birthday person throwing his or her own party, even providing the cake and refreshments! This particular inverse custom usually takes place in the workplace, much to the amazement of most English-speaking expats. So much for surprise parties, Ami! We expect YOU to throw your own birthday party! Continue reading

Berlin still waiting for a new airport and its first Apple Store

When it comes to new airports or new Apple Stores, Berlin is what the Germans call a “Katastrophe”!

Visible construction work on a new Apple Store on Berlin’s elegant shopping boulevard, the Kurfürstendamm, began in January 2011. Even before work began, several Apple blogs, both German and American, breathlessly announced the news: Berlin, the German capital, was at last going to get an official Apple Store! But with January 2013 only a week away, Berlin is still waiting for its first Apple Store to open.

On January 14, 2011, ifoAppleStore.com posted an article entitled Century-Old Building To House Berlin Apple Store. Complete with photos of the building, the article stated: “Almost 100 years after it was constructed along tree-lined Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin (Germany), the historic UFA Film-Bühne Wien cinema will regain some of its original glory when Apple opens a retail store inside the building by year’s end. According to the Kurfuerstendamm.de Web site, Apple has leased the building at #26 and is awaiting permit approvals to begin construction. The store will finally bring Apple to the capitol [sic] city, four years after the first Germany store opened in Munich.” Continue reading

The Best Apps to Help You Learn German on the iPhone or Android Phones

Guest Blog: Simple tools to improve your fluency and comprehension

Germany is a friendly, accommodating place, and you might be able to get by on your English for a while; but if you want to be feel at home and independent there, learning the language is essential. Here are some smartphone apps to get you started.

1. Speak German Free (Android)
This is a great app to get you started speaking and learning German before you leave home. It only includes 100 essential phrases, but it’s enough to start training yourself in the sound of spoken German, and give you the words to ask native speakers for help improving your language skills. Any experienced language learner will tell you that your skill will improve dramatically once you start using the language on a regular basis, and this app will give you the tools to do that. Continue reading

Expat, Phone Home

Nowadays, there are many cheap and easy ways to keep in touch with friends and family at home when you are an expat in Germany. When I first moved here in 1992, I was only really able to call my parents from a pay phone outside my dorm, and I could talk for about 5 minutes for 5 DM (€2.50 or so nowadays). There were fancy phone cards that you could buy from the Post Office so you could use the fancy pay phones that didn’t take coins, but that was it. No bargains to be had. And you are almost hard pressed to find a phone booth around here due to the fact that even the majority of 7-year-olds have mobile phones!

Nowadays, I can use Skype (free), call from my home phone (flatrate of €3.95 through Telekom, called Country Select), or call from my mobile with prepaid (€0.09/minute), and chatting on Facebook or Google Chat (both free, and both also work on my phone).  It certainly makes things easy, and I do appreciate it, because with lots of kids in the house, I need to talk to my mom a lot for a number of reasons, including general moral support, advice on cooking recipes that she used to make, advice on unruly/rude teenagers, sympathy with the many illnesses this family seems to be getting and of course, bragging about the kids and letting them talk to her (and the rest of the family). Continue reading