This post is not an advertisement for any service mentioned.
Step One: Obtain an unlocked GSM smartphone
GSM is a set of standards for cellular network protocols and you can find a list of service providers using GSM here (short version – AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM; Verizon, Alltel, Virgin, and others do not). Getting your phone unlocked can be easy if you are already a customer of the service provider, and they will usually do it for free if you aren’t still under contract. In the case of AT&T, you can get your phone unlocked through their customer service (phone or online chat). I unlocked my existing AT&T iPhone 4S, and Erin bought a friend’s iPhone 4 (which he unlocked before selling).
Step Two: Purchase a pre-paid SIM card from Aldi-Talk
You can get these at any Aldi or Aldi Süd grocery store, and currently cost 13€ (but it comes with 10€ to start).
Step Three: Register your new SIM card
Once you have your packet, register your SIM card online on the Mein Aldi Talk website. This will require information such as your name and address, and the SIM Card Number and German Phone Number from your packet. If you don’t speak German, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with Google Translate.
Step Four: Choose your prepaid plan
There are many options, and you can change them as frequently as you like. We chose the option of 1.5GB of data over 30 days for 9.99€ (basically, 10 Euros per month for plenty of data). There are smaller and larger data plans, as well as some talk/text plans. Most are for 30 days, but there is an option for 7 days (if you were only in Germany on a short vacation, for instance).
Step Five: Insert the SIM card into your phone
You’ll need the SIM Card PIN from your packet when you do this. Also, don’t forget the PIN; anytime you turn your phone off, you’ll need to re-enter it (nearly learned this the hard way).
Step Six: Wait for activation
It takes about 6 hours for Aldi to activate your PIN, at which time you’ll receive an SMS informing you that you’re good to go! You’ll also receive an SMS with a password to manage your account online. This is helpful, as you can manage your prepaid subscriptions there.
We have found that we can communicate pretty well without ever using the “phone” part of our phones. One and a half gigabytes of data per month is enough to use Facebook Messenger or What’s App to text, and when we’re on Wi-Fi, we use Skype to call (I also purchased a US-based Skype # for $60 per year – this allows me to call non-Skype users). And if this should change and we need the ability to make phone calls outside of Wi-Fi, we can upgrade our prepaid plan easily enough.