Obtaining cell phones and understanding the limits and billing guidelines have been one of the most frustrating things about being in Germany so far. The cell phone providers don't offer plans that we're used to in America and the plans that they do offer seem way overpriced. I've heard from people that they get deals for super cheap with different providers but after the countless conversations that my husband and I had with providers it seems too good to be true and more like a fairy tale than reality.
In the USA we had a plan with Verizon. Verizon is considered one of the more expensive providers and we ended up paying about $160 a month for two phones with unlimited text, data, and 700 minutes. We never even came close to using the 700 minutes but we used the heck out of the text and data. I wish we could find a similar plan that is this cheap! $160 translates to approximately €120.
There are several problems with their system that drives costs up and causes one heck of headache for little Americans like me.
For one, your minutes/text rates vary based on the provider that you call or text. You may have 500 minutes on your plan but those 500 minutes will only apply if you call someone that has the same provider as you. You may have to pay an additional charge for a different provider or are given significantly less amount of minutes if you call a land line or someone from a different company. What a mess, that means you need to keep track of who all your friends use and limit contact with those that use another provider.
Secondly, there are no unlimited data plans. We've been hearing from people that they do exist but we have yet to find a company that supports this urban legend. The companies that we have talked to have plans that go up to about 2G, tops. If you knew how much my husband used his phone in the states for apps and internet you would know that we would exceed this limit in a heartbeat.
Third, there are no "add a line" specials. If you want two phones to have the same plan, on the same contract... you have to pay two full price plans. In the US, we paid for the one line for $90 and then "added a line" for an additional $10. That is not a possibility here. The plan that my husband and I were considering was €80 for unlimited talk and text (to the same provider) and 2G data. This would have totaled to a bill costing well over €160 after taxes and fees are added in, which would mean a phone bill costing us about $230 a month. There's no way.... Of course this wouldn't be a problem if there is only one individual
getting a cell phone, but for families it could cause some difficulties. The only positive aspect of the provider separating the plans like this is because rather than sharing 2G or 500 minutes, each cell phone can have their own 2G or 500 minutes.
If you are set on getting a plan when arriving rather than using a prepaid phone like we compromised with, my advice to you is to sit down with your current phone bill in the states and see what you need versus what you want. Even so, when you think about it, the first few months that you arrive, the only people you will be contacting is your spouse and companies or offices. As it will take a while to make friends and exchange numbers I would recommend getting prepaid cell phones right out of the gate at least until things are settled and you even know if you can afford one of the ridiculously priced German plans. Also, if coming from the US, many of the phones (including smart phones) can be used with the prepaid plans if they are unlocked prior to coming. As long as they have a place to put a SIM card, you should be good to go. Unfortunately our DroidX's did not have this capability and therefore have cheap phones for now.
UPDATE: Since obtaining our prepaid phones at the beginning of December, I have only used approx. 20 euros... That averages out to 10 euros a month!
If you are researching phone plans some of the leading cell phone providers include O2, Vodaphone, Telekom, T-Mobil, and for US servicemembers TKS. Do your homework though and determine what will and wont work for you. Don't get suckered into paying more for a phone than you want/need/can.