Travelers used to checking e-mail for free when hopping around the world are often hit by an unpleasant surprise when searching for public Wi-Fi in Germany.
Many restaurants, cafes and hotels restrict access to their hotspots or don’t offer any at all, meaning visitors either struggle to connect or end up paying expensive roaming fees. It’s the result of a 2010 ruling by Germany’s top civil court that’s left public providers being held responsible for the illegal activities of customers using their connection.
Europe’s largest economy offers just 1.9 wireless hotspots per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.8 in the U.S., 29 in the U.K. and 37 in South Korea, according to a study by Eco, a German association representing 800 Internet companies. The scarcity of free Wi-Fi in Germany has caught the attention of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is vowing to revamp the country’s telecommunications law as part of a broader digital push.
Until a revamp happens a few tips:
STAYING LOYAL TO YOUR DOMESTIC CARRIER IN GERMANY – If you travel in Germany and have data service through your home carrier, you need to understand your options for international data plans, otherwise you could end up spending a lot of money. Each company has slightly different pricing and geographic coverage so you must figure out which one suits you the best. Some providers offer add-on data plans that allow as little as 100MB of use in over 120 countries. Each time you exceed the 100MB allocation, you will be charged additional fees.Other providers offer post- paid data solutions where the speeds are limited to 2G so if you need fasted speed, you will have to pay extra for a data pass.
USING A PREPAID LOCAL SIM IN GERMANY – If you are traveling with an unlocked phone or have a mobile WiFi hotspot you can buy a local SIM from a German mobile operator. By law, all SIM cards need to be registered online before activation, which can be tricky if you don’t speak German. Foreign addresses are usually not accepted so you will have to use your hotel address or come up with something random. Registration may take a few hours and in rare cases, you will have to sign a verification letter. If you manage to overcome the logistical obstacles, you will have to consider the fact that all local data SIM cards come with limited validity of 30 days which means that if you don’t drain you data before the end of your trip, your SIM will render useless.
IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A CONVENIENT SOLUTION FOR A GOOD PRICE, CONSIDER A GLOBAL DATA SIM – Another popular strategy is to buy a prepaid Global Data SIM card in advance and start using it right after you land. This can be very effective since your spending is capped. The SIM is e.g. pre-loaded with 1GB of data valid for a year. It is compatible with any unlocked mobile device and it provides coverage in Germany as well as 63 other travel destinations worldwide. Having global coverage eliminates the hassle of carrying a pocketful of easily breakable SIM cards and losing data and money after every trip you take.