Monday, January 28, 2013

Oh thank the handy heavens...

for coworkers who are reasonably fluent in German. My cell phone's voicemail box menu was all in German. My coworker, within a few seconds, successfully changed it to English. The British chap who reads the menu items has a super creepy voice, but at least I could understand everything he said. Now I just need to listen to prompts on how to delete messages, etc.

There is something here where people can basically page you using the cell phone, too. It's one of the options when people get to the voicemail box. I'm quite sure that many US phones do that too, but I don't ever recall anyone using that function. In Germany, it seems that so many more people use prepaid or pay as you go phones so maybe people do it to save money on sending/receiving voicemails.

That brings me to mention this further: I found that so many of the people on base are using pay as you go phones. Many people just use them for emergencies or short calls, which was surprising to me because I had just come the States, where many people use them to heavily supplement or replace their home phone. Many of my coworkers don't use a lot of data, if any, on their phones. This also was different for me. When I heard that some of the IT guys even had pay as you go phones, I realized that I had better pursue them more heavily.

I had considered buying a phone with a contract but found out that it is basically not possible to get out of a cell phone contract here. You're stuck in it for the full two years without the availability of an early termination fee option. Also, you must give the company a lot of notice that you want to end the contract way before it does end or else the company will re-up the contract without your consent. I have heard reports that 3-6 months' notice must be given; I'm sure it depends on the carrier. Since we are all somewhat transitory here (at least in the long run), I am not surprised that many people are hesitant to sign a contract. Even getting moved to another country for work usually won't get one out of a contract.

Armed with this knowledge, I went and bought a pay as you go phone. I bought a Motorola Android smartphone for 139 EUR and the phone is completely unlocked. The current carrier is Telekom (aka T-Mobile) but the nice thing is that if I decide I don't like their service, I can buy a (pay as you go) SIM card from another carrier, insert it in the phone, and change carriers that simply. My current plan is 10 EUR per month and I get decent internet but not a huge amount of minutes for calling. However, I don't call people often and incoming calls are free anyway. Some new friends told me about WhatsApp, an app free for the first year where you can send texts using the data plan (more like IMing someone) so I can avoid texting fees that way, too.

One option to save money with the cell phone is that people here also do use their home phone lines a bit more. It can be a lot cheaper to make phone calls that way; there are different rates to call landlines vs. mobile lines. Also, with VOIP phones, it can be cheap or even no additional charge to call the US. Of course, many people also use Skype to chat via the computer for free too.

I am on the fence if I'll have a home phone or not. I haven't had one for five years but if one comes super cheap with internet once I finally find an apartment to rent, I might get it if it has free/cheap calls to the US.


  1. Another option to look into is signing up for Google Voice. It's free to send texts and some calls, and of course there's an app, plus it fully integrates into your Google account so you can configure it to send you an email every time you get a voicemail. Patrick and I use it exclusively.

  2. Sara, do you have a cell phone plan with data, and then use Google on the data to do the calls, or...?

    I haven't really kept up on the Google Voice thing except for having a number that would forward from the GR area code to the area code where I was living.

    I have to find/decide on a company for VOIP calls at home that will forward to my cell phone when I'm out.