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How to decide on a calling plan

Unless you have a doctorate in nuclear physics, understanding the pricing plans of the various providers can be a challenge. Most pricing plans are complex and built to confuse, but the following points should help in making your decision:

(1) Ask yourself when you call (morning, day or evening). Prepaid and contract rate plans have two groups: hourly rates and universal rates.

Hourly rates divide the day into several time segments each with its associated price per minute. For example, for its prepaid users, Vodafone breaks up the day into 3 segments: 0:00-6:00, 6:00-16:00 and 16:00-24:00. Tariffs are much lower in the early morning and late in the day and are at their peak during business hours.

Universal rates are simpler in that they offer one fixed rate regardless of the time of day, but are on average higher.

(2) Ask yourself where you call (fixed lines or which mobile provider). There are different rates depending whether you called a fixed lines, to mobiles with the same company and to other mobiles. Calls to mobiles with the same operator are the cheapest while calls to mobiles outside that operator are the most expensive, so it can be worth finding out what operator your friends use.

Most providers also offer special calling plans with reduced rates to specific destinations. These plans can consist of one our multiple of the following reductions:

Special city/area reductions: These will give you reduced rates for calling to destinations within a specific area. You can usually predefine this area (independent of your current location) or opt for a reduced rate within the area you're currently calling from.
Special number reductions: With some calling plans, you can define one or multiple number that you can call at reduced rates. One example of this is O2's Duo plan, which can save money when you call a lot to one person.
There are numerous online shops that offer interactive rate comparisons for different daytimes, destinations and providers. Detailed tariff calculators can be found at www.tariftip.de, www.allnetflatvergleich.de or www.handybus.de (in German only).

Prepaid phones
With prepaid phones, you have maximum flexibility since you pay as you go. As you need more credit you simply buy recharge cards ( Wiederauflandung) that are widely available from mobile stores, your local kiosk or online (Just Landed will soon offer this service). The minimum amount of credit that you can add is usually €5-10.

The other option available is to sign a contract. Besides delaying payment until the end of the month, the benefits of a contract are lower calling rates (quite significantly in some cases) and better deals on new phones. When evaluating which plan is best for you, be sure to read all the other conditions such as the monthly fees ( Grundgebühr), the connection cost ( Verbindungskosten) and the minimum monthly consumption ( Minimalumsatz).

The standard length of a contract is two years. If you cancel before this, you will usually have to continue paying the monthly fee until the end of the contract. If you unsure about how long you will be staying in Germany, signing a contract may not be the best option for you.

Contracts are fairly easy to obtain on an individual basis. Mobile operators generally require some type of identification, a proof of residency ( Anmeldebestätigung) and a bank account. Charges are debited directly from your account. Many new arrivals start with a prepaid phone and then switch to a contract once they have sorted out the paperwork.

Subsidized phones
In Germany, you will see a lot of advertising for amazingly cheap or even free phones. These low prices are generally attached to a contract with a monthly or minimum fee. Normal contracts run for a minimum of 2 years, after which you might be able to get another subsidized phone from the same company. There are also some subsidized prepaid phones; but the savings are less as the operator doesn't get a guaranteed income.

While your contract is active, and even if your move from Germany, all mobile operators will continue to bill you. Just stopping payments the payments may not be advisable, since operators are quite prepared to engage debt collectors in other countries if necessary.

If you don't want a contract, you need to buy a non- subsidized phone. Prices start around €150, but there is also an active secondhand market. Good places to look are local second hand papers and the German version of eBay ( www.ebay.de).

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