Internet – Mobile and Broadband Options, TV and TV tax in Germany
Last updated: 02 April 2020 / by Sam Williams
A note about COVID-19: This guide is based on the general rules, but there may be some temporary restrictions in place due to the presence of the COVID-19 virus. We are keeping the situation under close review and will update our guidance as necessary.
In the modern world, it is almost impossible to survive without being connected, especially if you have close family and friends in another country.
Here is a look at the options you have in Germany for TV, mobile and broadband.
Mobile Contracts and Providers
Having a mobile phone is essential for all kinds of reasons: speaking to your folks back home, hearing back about a prospective job and hooking up with new friends. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to organize a mobile phone in Germany and you’ll have a wide range of providers to select between.
Some of the most popular providers include:
You can choose between contract, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or SIM-only deals in Germany. Unlike in other countries, the sim cards are sold separately to the handset so you can bring a phone with you, but you’ll need to ensure it’s unlocked.
Mobile phone contracts aren’t the easiest to navigate for expats as the websites tend to be in German with lots of technical information to wade through in a foreign language. If that weren’t enough, the small print could be very inflexible on German mobile contracts, so it’s vital that you understand what you’re signing up for.
As an example, early cancellation usually is impossible and you’ll probably be locked into a two-year deal on a contract.
If you don’t notify them of your wish to cancel, a clause will commit you to a further 12 months even though the original contract has expired. This is different from how mobile contracts work in other countries and something to be aware of.
A PAYG deal offers the most flexibility, but it can also be expensive and inconvenient. An interim option is a SIM-only deal, a monthly contract that can be canceled when you choose with no lengthy tie-in.
In an attempt to crackdown on crime, it’s also become more difficult even to pick up a PAYG mobile deal. You can’t just purchase them as before; you’ll need proof of ID. This would ideally be your Meldebescheinigung, a letter from your landlord confirming your address, but other types of ID proving your address may be accepted.
If you don’t have a German address yet, you won’t be able to get a mobile phone, even PAYG. The only alternative may be to sign up for a phone in a neighboring EU country which has laxer rules, and use this in Germany until you are settled. This won’t be the cheapest option, but it will at least ensure you have means of contact temporarily.
The best deals are available via contract, so if you expect to stay in Germany for some time and don’t mind being tied into a commitment, this can offer the most value.
Remember that being released from a contract, even if you’re leaving the country, is not easy and you can’t merely renege on your commitment.
Your SCHUFA, German credit record, will reflect any non-payment which will haunt you if you want to return.
Some of the top contract mobile phone providers are:
It’s not a name that you might be familiar with outside Germany, but it’s won a number of awards over many years for being the best phone provider in the country. They are renowned for excellent customer service and you can choose between a variety of mobile networks to suit.
Good quality of internet coverage with the lowest possible price comes courtesy of E-Netz. For more rural areas or regular travel, LTE Max and D-Netz offer premium coverage but at a slightly higher monthly cost. D-Netz uses the same network as giant Deutsche Telekom.
The big name in the industry and the one that packs a powerful punch, Deutsche Telekom offer outstanding reception all over the country. Top consumer magazines have voted Deutsche Telekom as the top provider in consecutive years, backing up the claims about good service.
Deutsche Telekom isn’t the cheapest, but they’re reliable with a reception which is the best in the country and very fast. Unlike some other providers, even if you’re in the most remote German village, your signal should still be going strong.
Tarifhaus is one of the newer players in the German market but has a good range of offers available, with different networks to pick from. If you want a balance of affordability, good speeds and signals in both urban and rural areas, the D1 is a top pick.
A huge advantage of Tarifhaus is that unlike many others in Germany, they offer contracts for just six months. If you want a contract but not the long tie-in, this could be the answer.
Their merger with Eplus put O2 right at the top of the charts in Germany, with a large network and provision. It’s one of the leading providers in towns and cities but not quite so strong in rural areas. If you travel around, you might find that the signal is patchy in some places, which can be frustrating.
Signing up for the LTE option provides a high-speed connection that is better than a lot of home broadbands and comes with a right choice of tariffs. Another big plus is the flexibility; in addition to the standard 24-month contract, O2 now also offer a rolling monthly contract. The deals here aren’t quite so competitive, but the flexibility is useful.
If you are looking for unlimited data mobile packs in Germany, be very careful about the fine print. Many describe themselves as unlimited but, in reality, only allow a small amount of data at high speed before slowing your connection down.
There is an argument to suggest that using a PAYG first could be beneficial, allowing you to check to see if the signal is sufficient. This could be especially useful if you will be traveling around with work, as the signal can vary in different parts of the country.
PAYG costs more to make calls and will be more expensive overall. However, with no tie-in, they are very flexible and still allow you to remain connected.
Some of the top PAYG providers in Germany include:
Germany has been historically quite slow in providing fast internet service to the nation, with many homes forced to continue to use old-fashioned copper wiring rather than the newer fiber optics.
The main form of connection in Germany is still DSL, but if you’re willing to look around, you can now find cable and fiber optic services.
Before signing up for a service, it’s imperative to check their speeds. As elsewhere, connection speeds are offered “up to” and in reality, the service provided is significantly slower than what is claimed as the fastest speed available.
There aren’t huge differences between internet providers unless you’re switching between DSL and fiber optic. Most companies have roughly the same speeds and prices, but customer service and the length of time taken to set up your connection may be the determining factors.
You’ll typically receive your router through the post, but you may have to wait for a couple more weeks for the technical work to be done in the background. If you are taking over from a previous tenant who already had internet service, the whole process can be much quicker.
On top of your monthly contract fee, expect to pay a one-off cost for setting up the service and getting you connected.
If your stay in Germany is expected to be relatively short, look for providers that state “Ohne Mindestvertragslaufzeit” – this means there is no minimum contract.
When you need to close your account and move on, there’s no penalty for doing so. However, although these are advertised as no minimum contract and offer the most flexibility, some require three months’ notice to cancel. This makes them a little misleading as you’ll need to know about plans significantly ahead of time.
There is an almost bewildering choice of internet providers, so if you’re an expat trying to find the right one, it can be a bit overwhelming. Here’s a short-list of some of the best broadband options to choose from.
- Glass fiber offering speeds up to 250Mb/s
- Free hardware with a 24-month contractExcellent customer service
- Competitive prices on DSL
- HD TV included at no extra cost
- Compatible with existing routers
- Landline with German telephone number included
- Glass fiber offering speeds up to 1000Mb/s
- DSL contracts come with a German landline
- Transparent terms and conditions
- Discounts on combined mobile and broadband packages
- Very cheap prices for a DSL connection
- Glass fiber offering speeds up to 250Mb/s
- German landline included that provides free calls to German mobiles
- Speed levels cut after allowance used up
There are other broadband providers in Germany, which you may also want to compare. These include Vodafone, Easy, PYUR, M-Net and Unitymedia Business.
Other Internet Options
Additional services are being made available through mobile providers to access the internet at high speeds, without touching the data on the mobile contract.
StreamOn, provided by T-Mobile, is one such example, providing services for gamers, video content and those who spend their time on social media.
By partnering with external providers such as Apple Music, Netflix and Amazon Prime, StreamOn allows the highest quality content without gobbling up data allowance.
This kind of service comes at a cost, but there’s no need to use WIFi, and for those without a broadband connection, it could provide a solution.
TV and Channels
Public broadcasting channels in Germany are preferred for news and heavyweight, factual shows. By contrast, commercial channels are viewed for game shows, movies, soap operas and drama series. Both sides battle it out to show the major sporting events.
The two main public channels are ZDF and ARD, which can be watched anywhere in Germany. For the commercial channels which are free to view, Pro7, SAT1 and RTL are the most popular.
The channels you’ll receive depend on where you live as well as the strength of the signal being received through the terrestrial digital receiver. As a rough guide, you can generally expect to get around 30 of these channels in total—none of these channels broadcast in English, only German.
There is also satellite TV in Germany, and that’s where you’ll find the English language programs. If you live in a house, you’ll generally have to arrange this for yourself, but if you’re in an apartment, it could be included in your Nebenkosten already. If your apartment building has a satellite dish already installed, you will just have to pay your portion of the cost to have access to the signal.
If your apartment building doesn’t have a satellite dish, you’ll have to get permission to have one put up, and there will need to be a suitable position. You’ll have to get the landlord’s permission for this, and it’s at their discretion whether they agree.
Streaming means it’s available at your fingertips, with no need to wait for a certain time slot (other than selected series, which are released weekly). With an enormous catalog of films and TV shows available whenever you want, internet TV is seen as the real future.
Some of the internet TV options available in Germany are:
There is an increasing number of streaming services joining the fray all the time, including the Disney + channel, which launched in Europe in 2020.
This new way of watching TV, including the use of smart TVs, You-Tube and other on-demand services, led to a change in the way the TV license was managed in Germany.
In the past it was only payable if you had a radio or TV, but the widespread access over the internet meant that the law was changed, so everyone was liable.
Since 2015, every German has been asked to pay €17.50 every month, with the fee collected by an agency known as Beitragsservice.
The Beitragsservice is a public agency which means it has access to government data. When you register during your Anmeldung and provide your details, it makes it easy for the agency to catch up with you and ask for fee payment.
The letter requesting payment of the TV license is known as the Rundfunkbeitrag . If your hearing is impaired, you can ask for a reduction, and if you’re on certain types of welfare benefits, you may qualify to pay less too.
The fact that you don’t speak German and can’t access the programs won’t exclude you from paying a license fee.
The license is payable per household, not per person, so if your flatmate is already paying it, you can contact the Beitragsservice and let them know.
Don’t simply ignore the request as otherwise, it will be passed on for further action and legal fees and fines will be added on top.
If you leave the country, you’ll need to inform the Beitragsservice individually as well as the Bürgeramt for the records to be updated.
If you don’t inform them, you’ll be chased for outstanding funds if you ever return to Germany.
Enjoy Media While in Germany
There is an enormous selection of mobile and internet providers, plus there is the choice of TV channels too.
Ensuring you pick a provider that offers contracts that suits your needs is essential, and check that you are not tied down unnecessarily.