For members


Roaming: Where can I use my German mobile abroad without being charged?

Understanding where and when you can use your German 'Handy' abroad without paying extra roaming charges can help save you from surprise fees.

A man on his phone
A man checks messages on his phone. Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

The plane touches down and the seat belt sign switches off. The first thing many people do after a flight is turn on their phones.

Usually when arriving in a new country, your phone will receive a few text messages: one from your network provider telling you about any possible charges, and another welcoming you to the local network with some information on their charges and rates.

Most people ignore these messages. And though in 2023 you can largely rely on WIFI and WhatsApp to communicate, depending on where you are using your phone abroad, you may end up having a nasty surprise when you receive your next bill.

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

So, can I use my German mobile abroad without being charged?

Roaming charges in the UK post-Brexit

Obviously, since the UK left the EU it is no longer part of the free roaming arrangement. As such, phone companies choose on an individual company basis whether they want to apply roaming charges.

Though it depends on your provider, phone companies are by law obliged to give one month’s notice before they change any rates or terms.

Of the main mobile networks in Germany, Vodafone continues to keep the UK in Zone 1, which means that there will be no additional cost to the tariff you have for using it in the Bundesrepublik. 

“Brexit and EU roaming have only a limited connection with each other,” Vodafone said at the beginning of 2020. “For example, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein participate in EU roaming regulation even though they are not members of the EU.”

Luckily Telefónica and Telekom have come to the same conclusion and also don’t charge roaming fees for German customers in the UK.

READ ALSO: German phone companies rule out Brexit roaming charges in 2021

EU vs non-EU countries

When it comes to EU vs non-EU roaming, the answer is: it depends. In short: in the EU, yes. Outside the EU, probably not.

If you’re travelling within the EU, you’ll almost certainly not be charged extra roaming costs. If it’s outside the EU, it depends on your network provider as in most countries the roaming charges vary on a company by company basis. It’s always best to check before travelling if you’re in doubt.

However, due to EU legislation from 2017, you can use your German mobile phone in any EU country without incurring any extra costs.

That includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden.

As Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the European Economic Area (EEA), you will also be able to use your German phones for free there too.

Photo by John Tuesday on Unsplash

Roaming charges within Europe

However, there is no escape from roaming charges for travellers in the other European states that belong neither to the EU nor to the EEA. These include popular holiday destinations such as Germany’s neighbour Switzerland and Turkey. Here, there are definitely additional costs for mobile phone use.

It can also be expensive in most countries of the Western Balkans such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Kosovo. This is also relevant for travellers going to Greece with their own vehicle, for example.

What about in the US?

First, to be able to use your German phone at all in the US, you’ll need you need a tri- or quad-band mobile phone that can convert the GSM standards 850 and 1900 used in America. For surfing, your smartphone must be able to operate the 1900, 1800 or 850 bands for the LTE and HSDPA standards.

Now that we’ve got that techy stuff out of the way, most German phone providers offer special packages for telephoning in North America, ranging from packages for a certain number of Gigabytes to flat weekly rates, such as 34.99 extra per week if you’re a Vodafone customer.

Traveling for a longer time? You can also avoid costly add-on fees with a local sim card.

What is the maximum time I can stay in another country while roaming for free?

The EU Commission legislation states that in order to pay for calls, messages and data usage at the same price as in your home country (ie, not be charged any extra roaming costs) you must use the mobile phone for a longer period in your country than abroad.

Note that phone operators can track data consumption and roaming that their customers have used in the last four months. If during this time you have used more mobile services abroad in another EU country rather than in your home country, operators could legally apply small extra charges.

How can I avoid unpleasantly high roaming charges?

If you want to use your Handy in a country which imposes a roaming fee, you should check your contract conditions beforehand, advised Germany’s largest driving association ADAC. If you are staying in a non-EU country or in a region close to the border and want to be on the safe side, you should also deselect the “mobile data” offer. That means that an accidental (and later costly) Googling session can be avoided while on the move. Activating flight mode can also protect you from unpleasant surprises.

Can I reverse high charges?

If you receive a very high bill and don’t agree with it, there isn’t much hope of getting it dismissed, according to ADAC lawyers. In order to take legal action against it, you would also have to deal with the mobile network operator in the country you were travelling.

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For members


REVEALED: The German mobile companies with the best – and worst – coverage

Germany is known for its patchy connectivity. But which mobile providers can help you avoid the dreaded 'no signal' sign - and which is it best to steer clear of? The answer partly depends on where you live.

REVEALED: The German mobile companies with the best - and worst - coverage

If you’ve ever found yourself in a German town swaying your phone from left to right to try and get a bar of signal, it’s likely you’ve encountered what the Germans call a Funkloch – or dead zone in English.

According to the Federal Network Agency (BNA), these dead zones with no mobile reception can still be found in 2.6 percent of Germany – though this is declining gradually from year to year.

Slightly more worrying are the areas where just one or two of the three major mobile operators can provide connectivity. This year, just under a fifth (16.7 percent) of Germany counted as one of these ‘grey zones’, meaning customers with the wrong provider may just find themselves out of luck in pretty large swathes of the country.

Though progress is definitely being made on this front – almost a quarter of Germany was a grey zone as recently as 2022 – things aren’t moving fast enough for the BNA.

In September, it announced that it would be taking legal action against the three major mobile providers – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica (O2) – over their failure to expand 4G connectivity quickly enough.

While around 90 percent of the country enjoys access to 5G, there are apparently around 500 gaps in the 4G networks where people are unable to get internet speeds of 100 Mbps or more – a speed generally considered ‘fast’ internet. The mobile companies have claimed that these are impossible to fill but the BNA rejects this explanation, saying antennas could have been put up in many of the regions in question.

With the battles raging over when – and how – the country can enter the 21st century, it may feel like having a bad connectivity in Germany is simply a fact of life.

Nevertheless, there are important differences to know about between the three major providers.

Who has the best and worst coverage?

According to multiple consumer advice agencies, Deutsche Telekom continues to top the league tables as the provider with the best mobile and internet coverage throughout the country.

In a recent connectivity test by Connect, the mobile company achieved 98.75 percent coverage for calls and 94.75 percent coverage for internet throughout Germany. According to digital magazine Chip, Telekom also offers 87.15 percent availability of 5G. 

On the speed side, Telekom also came out top, with speeds of almost 300 Mbps achieved on most 5G networks. In general, Stiftung Warentest gave Telekom a ‘grade’ of 1.6 for its overall coverage, with 1.0 being the highest mark and 4.0 the lowest.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Is Germany’s internet really that bad?

Vodafone, meanwhile, landed in second place in all four of the tests carried out by consumer rights agencies. Connect found a slight drop in coverage compared to Telekom: for calls, 94.75 percent coverage was available, and internet coverage stood at 89.75 percent. 

Vodafone Düsseldorf

A Voafone shop in Düsseldorf advertises deals on internet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

Maximum speeds were also slightly lower with Vodafone, with download speeds of 205.81 Mbps reported on 5G networks. These networks were also a bit harder to come by, with an 83.5 percent availability of 5G networks compared to Telekom’s 94.75 percent. 

All of this resulted in Stiftung Warentest giving Vodafone a grade of 1.7 percent for its overall coverage and internet speeds. 

At the bottom of the rung comes Telefonica, or O2, which despite recent expansion efforts still lags behind its two competitors in terms of coverage.

According to Connect’s testing, O2 offers just 86.5 percent internet coverage around the country with maximum speeds of just 133 Mbps – less than half of what Telekom can offer on its 5G networks. In addition, 5G was available on O2 just 70 percent of the time. 

For people who prefer making calls to browsing the internet, O2 does provide a slightly better service than Vodafone, however. When it comes to calls, mobile users with O2 can expect 95.75 percent coverage, compared to Vodafone’s 94.75 percent. 

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

Are there any regional differences?

Though there isn’t necessary a blanket rule for which regions offer the best connectivity outside of the cities, a glance at some 2020 date from the Federal Network Agency can give you a rough idea.

According to the BNA, Telekom meets the requirements for connectivity in at least 97 percent of households in the majority of the federal states. Specifically, it was able to hit this threshold in every state except the southwestern states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland.

Vodafone also hit the 97 percent target in the majority of federal states, with the exception of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland. 

Telefonica’s results, however, were a bit more disappointing: the O2 provider only met the required threshold in the three city states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. According to a coverage map by Forbes, O2 is particularly patchy in eastern states like Mecklenburg Western Pomerania and Saxony along the Czech and Polish borders. 

How can I check what’s best in my region? 

As a general rule of thumb, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone may be the best options for people who travel regularly or live in a smaller town or in the country side.

For someone in a bigger city, O2 is generally just as good, and you can orientate yourself more according to pricing and deals rather than coverage. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

However, if you want to be really sure that you’re getting the best coverage possible in your region, you can check the connectivity maps of each of the three major providers.

You can find out the coverage for Deutsche Telekom here, Vodafone here and Telefonica/O2 here to give you a concrete idea of what gives you the best deal in your postcode.