Using a Telephone in Austria, Germany,
European telephone services, including those in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, were once notorious for their high charges, particularly for international calls. Deutsche Telekomdespite privatization, increasing competition, and rate cutsstill charges more for a call from Germany to the US than it usually costs to call from the US to Germany. (But some other German telecoms offer better rates.) Since German deregulation in 1998, phone rates have dropped significantly.
The problem now is to find the best deal among many large and small telecom competitors in Germany. Below we offer some help in finding your way through the ever-changing telephone maze in German-speaking Europe.
Cutting your phone charges in Austria, Germany,
The advent of "VOIP" (voice over internet protocol, internet telephony) services (Skype, Jamba, etc.) added yet another option in choosing how to telephone in Europe and between Europe and other continents. Apple’s iChat and other Web services also offer video and/or audio chat on your computer.
Most people with a home in German-speaking Europe still want the security of a regular land-line (Festnetz) telephone from Deutsche Telekom, Arcor, or one of the other telecoms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the other options as an alternative, or mostly for long-distance calls. Here are some of your options:
International Calling Cards and Dial-Around Services
More competition in the telecom sector has made this option less popular, but you can still use German call-by-call long distance services to cut costs. Also known as call-through, and similar to such services in the US and elsewhere, German “dial-around” services (pennyphone, etc.) offer call-by-call long distance from any German residential or business phone. Dial-around can’t be used from public phones or cell phones, but no registration is required and you don’t have to change your current long distance carrier. Just dial the special prefix plus the number you’re calling and the charges will appear on your regular phone bill.
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Also see: "Expat, Phone Home" - Helpful tips from the GW Expat Blog!
The concept of “toll-free” (zum Nulltarif) does not seem to be a German thing. Deutsche Telekom once encouraged German businesses to use the English term “freecall” in advertising their own toll-free numbers. DT apparently wanted the trademark to signify the changeover from 0130 to 0800 prefixes in Germany. DT tried to make the term familar to all Germans through extensive advertising, and also offered its business customers free use of the “freecall” logo. But toll-free calling is still not very popular with German businesses. Most calls to a business in Germany will cost you about 14 euro cents per minute! Yes, they charge you extra for calling them!
“800” Calls from Germany
Since 1997 it has been possible to call 800/877/888 toll-free numbers in the USA and Canada from Germany. But such calls from Germany are NOT toll-free. The caller still has to pay international call charges. A recorded announcement in English warns callers of the charges before the call is completed. The only advantage is that previously such 800 numbers could not be called from Europe at all. Often the only contact number given in ads in English-language publications is a toll-free number. Now people in Germany can call these numbers, even though it isn't a free call.
AT&T, MCI, Qwest, Sprint, etc.
U.S. international phone card service
Each American long distance or cell phone service has its own toll-free number in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and other countries. Simply dial that number to reach a U.S. operator or direct dial to anywhere you wish to call. You can charge the call to your phone card or call collect. While it’s convenient, this is usually not the cheapest way to call the States from Europe.
Call-back has lost much of its appeal with the coming of more competition and flat rates in the European telecom market. The oldest such service, Kallback, also offers service via the Internet. Call backs are U.S.-based companies that allow you to call their number from Europe or just about anywhere in the world, using the regular telephone service of the country you're in. You hang up before there is an answer, avoiding any charges. The call-back company registers the number you called from, calls you back, and connects you to a U.S. operator to complete your call. The typical charge for call-back long distance used to be about half of what you would pay if you dialed conventionally. But nowadays you can get a better rate using your flat-rate long distance, or a call-by-call (1010) service.
Since practically everyone in Europe has a cell phone (das Handy), pay phones are becoming more rare, but they can still be found. In Germany many pay phones accept phone cards and don't require a coin deposit. Take advantage of the popular smart telephone cards used all over Europe. These smart cards have a built-in memory chip that contains the monetary value of the card and remembers how much has been used. In Germany you can only read the remaining amount on a screen on the card phone when you insert your card. The prepaid German Telefonkarte is sold at T-Punkt stores in 5, 10 or 20-euro denominations.
The Austrian prepaid “CallingCard” can be purchased in 10, 15, 35, and 50-euro denominations. It has replaced the former Wertkarte. You can use it from any phone in Austria or abroad (home, mobile, phone booth) by dialing a number shown on the card, then typing in a code number made visible when you rub off its covering. The Swiss also have a similar phone card.
Other Prepaid Cards
Besides the regular telecom cards above, you will find good deals on other prepaid cards at most German supermarkets and other outlets.
Cell Phones - Mobile Phones + SIM card
One of the best options for travelers and expats in German-speaking Europe is ein Handy. A German or multiband GSM cell phone with a prepaid SIM card is not only very convenient, but is also often the cheapest way to stay in touch. Learn more on the next page.
NEXT > Cell Phone Tips
MORE > "Expat, Phone Home" (Expat Blog)
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- Cell Phone Tips - A practical guide for Germany and Europe
- Internet and Modem Tips - Using the internet in German-speaking countries
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- The Germans, Deutsche Telekom, and stocks
- Expats Page - Learn from those who have already been there, done that.
Related Web Links
NOTE: The German-Way and More is not responsible for
the content of external internet sites.
- Deutsche Telekom (Germany) - in English or German.
- T-Home - Deutsche Telekom (in English or German) - DSL and other internet services
- Telekom Austria - Learn more about the Austrian CallingCards (in German).
- German Online Phone Book (Teleauskunft) in English, German or French.
- German Online Yellow Pages in English, German or French.
- Skype - Free VOIP phone calls around the world
- Swisscom in English, German, French, or Italian.
NEXT > Cell Phone Tips