Telephone Tips for Germany

TelecommunicationsUsing a Telephone in Germany

European telephone companies, including those in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, were once notorious for their high charges, particularly for international calls. Deutsche Telekom – despite privatization, increasing competition, and rate cuts – still charges more for a call from Germany to the US than it usually costs to call from the US to Germany. (But some other German telecoms offer better rates.) Since German deregulation of telecommunications in 1998, phone rates have dropped significantly.

T-Mobile shop interior

A T-Mobile store in Berlin. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The problem now is to find the best deal among many large and small telecom competitors in Germany. Below we offer some help in finding your way through the ever-changing telephone maze in German-speaking Europe. However, most people in Germany still use Deutsche Telekom (DT), the traditional telephone and internet provider, for their landline phone, and DT’s T-Mobile subsidiary (a German company) for mobile phone service.
MORE > “Learning to Hate Deutsche Telekom” (Erin)
Helpful advice from the German Way Expat Blog

Cutting your phone charges in Austria, Germany or Switzerland
Although some people only have a mobile phone (ein Handy), most people with a house or apartment in German-speaking Europe still want the security of a regular land-line (Festnetz) telephone from Deutsche Telekom, Arcor, or one of the other telecoms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the other options as an alternative, or mostly for long-distance calls. (Also see our guide to using a cell phone in Germany.) Here are some of your options:


The famous TV tower on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz is also a giant communications antenna.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

International Calling Cards and Dial-Around Services
More competition in the telecom sector, as well as flat-rate calling plans have made this option less popular, but you can still use German call-by-call long distance services to cut costs. Also known as call-through, and similar to such services in the US and elsewhere, German “dial-around” services offer call-by-call long distance from any German residential or business phone. Dial-around can’t be used from public phones or cell phones, but no registration is required and you don’t have to change your current long distance carrier. Just dial the special prefix plus the number you’re calling and the charges will appear on your regular phone bill. More information: (in German)
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Helpful advice from the German Way Expat Blog

The concept of “toll-free” (zum Nulltarif) does not seem to be a German thing. Deutsche Telekom once encouraged German businesses to use the English term “freecall” in advertising their own toll-free numbers. DT apparently wanted the trademark to signify the changeover from 0130 to 0800 prefixes in Germany. DT tried to make the term familiar to all Germans through extensive advertising, and also offered its business customers free use of the “freecall” logo. But toll-free calling is still not very popular with German businesses. Most calls to a business in Germany will cost you about 14 euro cents per minute! Yes, they charge you extra for calling them!

“800” Calls from Germany
Since 1997 it has been possible to call 800/866/877/888 toll-free numbers in the USA and Canada from Germany. But such calls from Germany are NOT toll-free. The caller still has to pay international call charges. A recorded announcement in English warns callers of the charges before the call is completed. The only advantage is that previously such 800 numbers could not be called from Europe at all. Often the only contact number given in ads in English-language publications is a toll-free number. Now people in Germany can call these numbers, even though it isn’t a free call.

Call-back services
Call-back has lost much of its appeal with the coming of more competition and flat rates in the European telecom market. The oldest such service, Kallback, also offers service via the Internet. Call backs are US-based companies that allow you to call their number from Europe or just about anywhere in the world, using the regular telephone service of the country you’re in. You hang up before there is an answer, avoiding any charges. The call-back company registers the number you called from, calls you back, and connects you to a US operator to complete your call. The typical charge for call-back long distance used to be about half of what you would pay if you dialed conventionally. But nowadays you can usually get a better rate using your flat-rate long distance, or a call-by-call (1010) service.

Pay Phones & Smart Cards
Since practically everyone in Europe has a cell phone (“das Handy”), pay phones are becoming more rare, but they still can be found.

In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland the old phone-booth Telefonkarte that was sold in 5, 10 or 20-euro denominations is now becoming more a collector’s item than a practical purchase. The cell phone boom has made these cards, once so popular in the 1980s and 1990s, far less necessary.

Cell Phones – Mobile Phones + SIM card
One of the best options for travelers and expats in German-speaking Europe is “ein Handy.” Your iPhone will also work in Germany. A German or multiband GSM cell phone with a prepaid SIM card is not only very convenient, but is also often the cheapest way to stay in touch.

NEW: As of April 2016, mobile phone roaming charges in the EU have been drastically reduced! Europe has been notorious for high roaming charges, but the EU has ordered a change. No longer will a trip between Germany and France, or Spain to Portugal mean outrageous extra charges. By 2017 all roaming charges are to be eliminated. Learn more on our cell phones page.

Next | Using a Cell Phone in Germany

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