5GB of data in Germany on a prepaid SIM card mailed to me in advance in the US, here's how
I'm flying to the Germany today, landing in Munich on September 18th, and working in Mainz for a month, as I mentioned recently here.
I only received approval for the business trip about 3 weeks ago, so I knew the rush was on. I needed a safe way to get some reasonably priced data for my Verizon iPhone 5 worldphone, compatible with EU's GSM network. Rather than worry about finding a Nano-SIM equipped kiosk or vending machine upon landing, figured I'd work something out before my travels, for a bit of peace-of-mind.
Thanks to a good point made by @AndreaSmith last night on DTNS 2323 – When in Roam, I was reminded that I'll be needing to turn off two-factor authentication text messaging before my trip, going with dedicated apps (or email) verification instead. Then Tom reminded me to bring a paper clip, just as I was putting my bags together. Nice timing! Even more coincidental was the Tom Merrit @acedtect mention of Darik's Boot and Nuke, which I had been using to clean up a failed RAID drive attempt, when playing around in my home lab just last night.
Ok, back to trip prep tips.
Once I land, the minute I pop the Nano-SIM in, it's supposed to just work, for data. Useful for emergency outbound phone calls too, such as EU's 911 equivalent, 112. Nice! And no need to prepare my phone to avoid accidental US charges for inbound SMS text messages. Why? Well, my Verizon SIM card is not even going to be in the phone, so accidental charges will not be possible. To Verizon, my phone will appear to be off for a month. I'm essentially turning my iPhone into a local German phone for the month, with a local phone #.
The company I'm trying, who has provided excellent customer service, is:
Travel-Sim Germany - Data and Voice
Of course, they offer regular SIM and Micro-SIM cards too. To try them out for yourself, here's the basic steps to follow:
1) Order the card at least 3 weeks before your trip, shipping it to your US address
I used PayPal, but you don't need a PayPal account, you can pay with credit card. I went with the 5GB Nano-SIM Card including 5 GB Data Pack, and paid about $41.88 EUR, which was $56.41, which includes shipping, back on September 2nd.
Just as the Travel-Sim Germany's FAQ says:
When should I order?
To keep it simple: order as soon as possible! We dispatch all orders within 24 hours and then it depends on mail services. Since we ship worldwide, there is a great variety of services involved. Sometimes a shipping to the US for example only takes three days, but it can also happen that it takes eight days or more. If you order three weeks ahead of your trip, you can be sure your order will reach you in time.
We can ship your order directly to yout hotel. In this case expect delivery within two working days.
2) When the card arrives, activate it
I've already completed the activation of the Nano-SIM while here in the US, using the fairly simple instructions at goo.gl/ah3SoK that walks you through exactly how you fill out the German language form at blau.de/freischalten. Yeah, it'd be easier if it was in English, but I got by fine, without knowing a word of German. Admittedly, I did have a little back and forth email with support, but they were extremely responsive, day and night. And they're working to improve the instruction sheets and screenshots now, actually.
Note that if you ordered a SIM with greater than 1GB, as I did, you'll need to use the voucher # you received from Travel-Sim Germany via email, as explained starting on page 3. Note that there is a multi-hour wait between steps, for blau.do to activate your SIM. So you'll want to allow several hours of time.
3) When you arrive in Germany, try it out
Before I land in Germany tomorrow morning, I'll pop out my Verizon Nano-SIM and pop in the Travel-Sim-Germany Nano-SIM, then test the speed out, I'll let you know how it goes by updating this article.
Before buying, I had numerous questions that I asked via their site's web chat function. This chat (below) is likely to contain some of the same questions you have, and includes a handy German cellular coverage map
Chat started on 30 Aug 2014, 01:04 PM (GMT+0)
(01:04:01) Travel-Sim-Germany joined the chat
(01:04:01) Visitor 89755241 joined the chat
(01:04:02) Travel-Sim-Germany: Hello! If you need any help just ask me.
(01:11:16) Visitor 89755241: how much would shipping of a 5GB Data Pack Micro-SIM cost, to the US zip code 06109? thanks!
(01:11:31) Travel-Sim-Germany: Hello. Shipping is 2.01 Euro
(01:11:50) Visitor 89755241: takes like a week? just guessing, thx
(01:12:06) Travel-Sim-Germany: If you put it in your basket it shows 2,39. That's incl. VAT. After you enter your address, VAT will be removed+#
(01:12:18) Travel-Sim-Germany: Yes, sometimes a little bit longer at the moment.
(01:12:35) Travel-Sim-Germany: USPS sometimes needs 3 days to get it out of ISC in NY
(01:12:58) Travel-Sim-Germany: When will you leave for Germany?
(01:13:05) Visitor 89755241: that's fine, I have until Sep 17th, thx for your help
(01:13:18) Travel-Sim-Germany: That's no problem then. You're welcome.
(01:13:57) Visitor 89755241: do you have any sort of faster than 3G options (more like 4G or LTE)
(01:14:34) Travel-Sim-Germany: LTE was introduced in Germany some months ago. In some citys you have LTE, but they did not show a map so far.
(01:14:56) Travel-Sim-Germany: MAy i ask where you plan to go?
(01:15:02) Visitor 89755241: Munich, Mainz, Frankfurt are the cities in question, I'm on the phone with Verizon Wireless right now, I'll ask them for a map
(01:15:45) Travel-Sim-Germany: In all these cities 3G is available, is some LTE as well. It works with our cards - if available
(01:15:55) Visitor 89755241: thanks!
(01:25:16) Travel-Sim-Germany left the chat
(01:35:12) Visitor 89755241: if you have access to some 3rd party map or something, that shows 2G/3G/LTE coverage for Germany, for an iPhone 5 MicroSim user like me, that'd be very helpful, you've been extremely helpful, thx again!
(01:35:16) Travel-Sim-Germany joined the chat
(01:35:23) Travel-Sim-Germany: Yes, one moment please
(01:35:45) Travel-Sim-Germany: Here: http://18.104.22.168/evinternet/
(01:36:08) Travel-Sim-Germany: On the left side, choose the lower "button" (§g, LTE...)
(01:36:15) Travel-Sim-Germany: *3G
(01:37:22) Visitor 89755241: wow, you're good, thank you! Should I choose to share your offerings with my fellow travelers, is there any sort of affiliate links you offer, once I buy my MicroSIM and create an account?
(01:37:44) Travel-Sim-Germany: Not really at the moment.
(01:38:06) Travel-Sim-Germany: But I might arrange a little discount for your fellow travellers.
(01:38:17) Visitor 89755241: I guess I'm unclear on whether full 4G and/or LTE speeds would work on my US based iPhone 5 (not 5s), are you saying that it would be 4G/LTE? if so, do you know the actual speeds that means in germany? experimenting with the map now
(01:39:07) Travel-Sim-Germany: I look for some exact numbers.
(01:39:44) Visitor 89755241: ah, I need nano SIM (as your FAQ states), sorry about that
(01:40:05) Travel-Sim-Germany: This does not make a difference with speed or price.
(01:40:30) Visitor 89755241: understood, just need to make sure I order the correct device today
(01:41:45) Travel-Sim-Germany: 3G and HSDPA have 340 kbit/s up to 7.2 mpbs. Depends on where you are. But in big cities you can expect full speed. In Germany there's only 3G and LTE without taking a look at all the differences.
(01:42:48) Travel-Sim-Germany: ok, 86% of the net have HDSPA+ which means up to 21 Mbps
(01:44:13) Visitor 89755241: nice, would I have permission to publish the relevant parts of our very useful chat here (on a blog)? placing order for "Nano-SIM Card including 1 GB Data Pack" and will add more GB to it once I'm in Germany and finding I'm happy with the service
(01:45:22) Travel-Sim-Germany: You can publish this information, yes. The 1 GB can be renewed once it is used up. But: You need some airtime credit, and that's only sold in steps of 15 Euro (18.90 incl. tax in our shop). To renew costs you only 3 Euro.
(01:45:37) Visitor 89755241: you appear to be way cheaper than the w.cellhire.com site that verizon wireless customer service mentioned to me, fyi
(01:46:21) Travel-Sim-Germany: Yes, we keep our producs little bit cheaper than our competitors. Some of them sell the same stuff as we do but charge tripe the price.
(01:46:28) Visitor 89755241: ok, emergency roadside would be the onlyl calls I would place, don't need anything other than that, as I add to shopping car, I'm guessing it'll explain that to me as I finish up the shopping cart
(01:46:52) Travel-Sim-Germany: Whenever you need nore airtime credit, you can add it any time.
(01:47:29) Visitor 89755241: at similar rates, or higher? lookingthat up now...
(01:47:42) Travel-Sim-Germany: Same rates
(01:49:00) Visitor 89755241: ok, so the "Nano-SIM Card including 1 GB Data Pack" is what I order, and it'll ask me to also pay for airtime credits when I create an account and prepare for the trip, correct?
(01:50:57) Travel-Sim-Germany: Almost. You activate it, we have some instructions here: http://goo.gl/ah3SoK If you have any problems, we can also do this for you. Just keep in mind, data packs are valid for 30 days from activation. If you want to add airtime credit, you can simply buy it in our shop and you will get a voucher. You then can either enter it on our provider's website where you activated your card or - when you are in Germany - text is to a provided number.
(01:53:03) Visitor 89755241: so emergency dialing would be possible in Germany, yes?
(01:53:16) Travel-Sim-Germany: That's always possible. And free of charge.
(01:53:39) Visitor 89755241: last question I think, is about Personal Hotspot function of iPhone 5 that works in US on Verizon, would that be possible with this Nano Sim, do you happen to know?
(01:53:58) Travel-Sim-Germany: Yes, tethering and personal hotspot is possible.*
(01:54:14) Travel-Sim-Germany: Just for information: Emergency number is 112 and for police 110
(01:54:46) Visitor 89755241: Cool, and that tethering (USB) or hotspotting (WiFi) has no extra fee, it's just using that Nano Sim's prepaid data allowance then, correct?
(01:55:02) Travel-Sim-Germany: No extra fee, correct.
(01:55:12) Visitor 89755241: I have to step away for breakfast, is there a coupon code or something so when I go to buy this, you personally get credit for all your time?
(01:55:21) Visitor 89755241: (I should be buying within the hour)
(01:55:34) Travel-Sim-Germany: no, I am the CEO. No one else working on the weekend :-)
(01:55:39) Visitor 89755241: :-)
(01:56:10) Visitor 89755241: thanks "Travel-Sim-Germany" person, have a great weekend, if I don't see you online again when I go to order..
(01:56:30) Travel-Sim-Germany: Thank you. Have a nice day!
(01:57:17)* _ Travel-Sim-Germany left the chat
(02:19:11) Visitor 89755241 left the chat ***_
Sep 23 2014 Update:
Now that I've been here a week or so, I have some experiences and clarifications to share.
I've just done a speed test, and while the connection showed 3G on the display, the speeds sure look more like 4G here in Mainz, Germany:
*Despite what was claimed above, I've noticed that my iOS 8 equipped iPhone 5 (from Verizon) won't allow me to tether the data from this German SIM card. The Personal Hotspot option is simply missing.
I also noticed some SMS message pop-ups, in German, to follow the local consumer alerting laws about data use. This happened in Austria, where I immediate turned off all cellular data, to avoid burning through my gigabytes faster.
Sep 26 2014 Update:
@TravSimGer continues to be very responsive, seen here. I seem to have something unique about my phone that prevents tethering, perhaps the IBM MaaS360 Profile. Note that tethering with Travel-Sim-Germany's SIM is supposed to work fine under iOS 8. See also simple iOS 8 Personal Hotspot configuration steps seen here:
Sep 27 2014 Update:
I have upgraded to iOS 8.0.2 (12A405), and still cannot enable Personal Hotspot on my particular device. The menu options are simply not there.
See also this article, which seems to confirm that Fiberlink MaaS360 is capable of disabling the Personal Hotspot features. In other words, it's likely your Travel-Sim-Germany provided Nano-SIM will allow Personal Hotspot, even on iOS 8, as long as you don't have a Fiberlink MaaS360 administrator that disabled this capability.
Oct 06 2014 Update:
Added MaaS360 back to iOS 8.0.2 iPhone 5 and tethering still works, via WiFi.
Then went and tackled my Apple Mobile Device Ethernet issue I was having, with a yellow exclamation indicating an issue with the driver, over in Device Manager. So I simply uninstalled the Apple stuff, including iTunes 11.4, in the order Apple recommends here:
I then rebooted, and reinstalled iTunes 11.4. Tada, USB tethering now works fine too, once I also did the following procedure that was suggested by the helpful folks at TravelSimGermany:
In Settings, Cellular, Cellular Data Network, under the following 3 sections:
fill them each out with the info pictured here:
Now when you back out of the menu by tapping "Cellular" at top left, then back out one more level to "Settings" at top left, you'll then spot the Personal Hotspot option. Simply turn it on, and you're all set!
See also screenshots below.