The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use. In general, reception is good. But you'll need a Subscriber Identity Module card (SIM). This is a small chip that gives you a local phone number and plugs you into a regional network. In the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM, and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high.
For many, renting a phone is a good idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, we suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626 or 703/222-7161; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1616 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas.
Buying a phone can be economically attractive, as many nations have cheap prepaid phone systems. Once you arrive at your destinations, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package, you'll probably pay less than $100 for a phone and a starter calling card. Local calls may be as low as 10¢ per minute, and in Germany incoming calls are free.
Internet & E-Mail
With Your Own Computer -- More and more hotels, cafes, and retailers are signing on as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) "hot spots." Boingo (www.boingo.com) and Wayport (www.business.att.com/enterprise/Family/data-services-enterprise) have set up networks in airports and high-class hotel lobbies. IPass providers also give you access to a few hundred wireless hotel lobby setups. To locate other hot spots that provide free wireless networks in cities in Germany, go to www.jiwire.com.
A few thousand hotels in Germany now offer free high-speed Internet access. In addition, major Internet service providers (ISPs) have local access numbers around the world, allowing you to go online by placing a local call. The iPass network also has dial-up numbers around the world. You'll have to sign up with an iPass provider, who will then tell you how to set up your computer for your destination(s). For a list of iPass providers, go to www3.ipass.com. One solid provider is i2roam (tel. 866/811-6209 or 920/233-5863; www.i2roam.com).
Without Your Own Computer -- To find cybercafes, check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com. Cybercafes are found in larger cities, especially Berlin and Frankfurt. Due to competition, they do not tend to cluster in any particular neighborhoods, but they can be found on almost every business street in large cities.
Aside from formal cybercafes, most youth hostels and public libraries have Internet access. Avoid hotel business centers unless you're willing to pay exorbitant rates.
Most major airports now have Internet kiosks scattered throughout their gates. These give you basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices.
The country code for Germany is 49. To call Germany from the United States, dial the international access code 011, then 49, then the city code, then the regular phone number. Note: The phone numbers listed in this guide are to be used within Germany; when calling from abroad, omit the initial 0 in the city code.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 11837 if you're looking for a number inside Germany, and dial tel. 11834 for numbers to all other countries.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 0180/200-1033.
Local and long-distance calls may be placed from all post offices and from most public telephone booths, about half of which operate with phone cards, the others with coins. Phone cards are sold at post offices and newsstands in denominations of 6€ to 25€. Rates are measured in units rather than minutes. The farther the distance, the more units are consumed. Telephone calls made through hotel switchboards can double, triple, or even quadruple the base charges at the post office, so be alert to this before you dial. In some instances, post offices can send faxes for you, and many hotels offer Internet access -- for free or for a small charge -- to their guests.
German phone numbers are not standard. In some places, numbers have as few as three digits. In cities, one number may have five digits, whereas the phone next door might have nine. Germans also often hyphenate their numbers differently. But since all the area codes are the same, these various configurations should have little effect on your phone usage once you get used to the fact that numbers vary from place to place.
Be careful dialing toll-free numbers. Many companies maintain a service line beginning with 0180. However, these lines might appear to be toll-free but really aren't, costing .12€ per minute. Other numbers that begin with 0190 carry a surcharge of 1.85€ per minute -- or even more. Don't be misled by calling a 1-800 number in the United States from Germany. This is not a toll-free call but costs about the same as an overseas call.
To call the U.S. or Canada from Germany, dial 01, followed by the country code (1), then the area code, and then the number. Alternatively, you can dial the various telecommunication companies in the States for cheaper rates. From Germany, the access number for AT&T is tel. 0800/8880010, and for MCI, tel. 0800/8888000. USA Direct can be used with all telephone cards and for collect calls. The number from Germany is tel. 013/00010. Canada Direct can be used with Bell Telephone Cards and for collect calls. This number from Germany is tel. 013/00014.
If you're calling from a public pay phone in Germany, you must deposit the basic local rate.