How do I get prepaid cards

Prepaid cards: Tips on buying, activating and topping up

Prepaid cards - tips for use
Image: It is easy to enter the world of mobile communications via prepaid, and prepaid cards are also popular as a second tariff: A new prepaid package usually costs around 10 to 20 euros. For this, the customer receives a SIM card and usually a starting credit so that the package can be calculated free of charge. The SIM card can be used with any smartphone as long as it does not have a SIM lock. When the starting credit is used up, the prepaid user has to top up the card again. If the customer does not use the SIM card, there are usually no costs. But mobile phone calls and surfing in prepaid mode have a few peculiarities. We have put together a few tips.

Tip 1: Buying a smartphone in a prepaid bundle has disadvantages

Buying a smartphone in a bundle with a prepaid contract is often not worthwhile. Because it may also be that the device is available in free trade at the same or even a cheaper price. With the purchase in the prepaid bundle, however, the customer almost always gets a SIM or Netlock on the smartphone. This means that he can only use this device for a period of 24 months with the SIM card that was included in the bundle. After this time, the smartphone is not automatically unlocked, but the customer must take care of receiving an unlock code from the provider. If you don't want to be patient for so long, you will receive an unlock code early for an extra fee.

Tip 2: Prepaid without a contract and registration does not exist

Prepaid cards - tips for use
Even if it is often advertised that no contract is entered into with prepaid cards, the customer enters into a legal contract with the mobile phone provider. However, this usually has no minimum term and no fixed monthly basic costs. In addition, in Germany, registration and unequivocal identification of prepaid customers are required by law in order to prevent improper use. Identification procedures via the internet via webcam or smartphone camera, the Postident procedure in the post office or personal registration in a shop of the prepaid provider can be used. Registration under a false name and address should no longer be officially possible in Germany.

If the customer wants to give away or sell his prepaid card later, he should immediately inform the mobile phone provider of the change of ownership, otherwise - as the official owner of the card - he can still be held responsible for any misuse of the new user. When the owner changes, the new owner usually has to go through the identification process again.

Tip 3: Many options for top-up credit

After purchasing the starter package, prepaid cards without a preset tariff option usually only incur additional costs if the user continues to make active phone calls or mobile surfing after the start-up credit has been used up. This then requires charging, which can be done in various ways. Prepaid cards are available in many shops, such as supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, electronics stores and of course mobile phone shops. Instead of the previously common scratch cards, nowadays the customer receives the credit code in the form of an unadorned receipt. Corresponding codes are also available at some ATMs. Or the cash machine initiates the credit top-up directly via its menu if the bank and mobile phone provider work together.

Another payment option is to top up with a credit card or a current account - by transfer or direct debit. In some cases, banks offer credit top-ups directly in the online banking account. Almost all prepaid providers allow regular automatic top-up via direct debit if the credit has fallen below a certain amount or at a recurring date. You can find detailed information on topping up prepaid credit in our guide on the subject.

Tip 4: credit validity and activity period

Prepaid tariffs do not have a minimum contract term, although additionally booked options can usually be canceled every four weeks. This means that prepaid cards can be canceled at any time by both the customer and the provider. There is no "entitlement" to continue using the prepaid card, regardless of whether it is with or without regular credit top-ups.

After all, some prepaid providers have defined a so-called activity period. If the customer reloads a certain minimum amount of credit before the end of the activity period (usually 10 or 15 euros), the provider guarantees that the card will not be deactivated for a further six or twelve months.

If the prepaid card is canceled - regardless of whether by the customer or the provider - the credit loaded by the customer must not expire under any circumstances. The provider is obliged to pay it out. However, action or bonus credit granted by the provider does not have to be paid out. You can read more about this in our guide to paying out prepaid credit.

Tip 5: Note the differences compared to the fixed-term contract

Basically: Don't take it for granted that you, as a prepaid customer, can use all the services that you may be familiar with from fixed-term contracts. Before buying, it is better to ask the provider specifically if you value a certain service:

  • Can the mobile data network be used with full performance?
  • Is there a surcharge for faster LTE or 5G use?
  • Can the mailbox be switched off?
  • Can special options such as music streaming flat rates be booked?

Tip 6: Make calls and surf the web abroad while roaming

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Prepaid abroad
Even with prepaid cards, customers abroad do not have to go without their smartphones and can therefore be reached while on vacation. However, there are some restrictions and differences compared to term contracts. These are mainly due to the fact that in the case of fixed-term contracts, billing can be made retrospectively if the network operator himself has the billing from the foreign mobile phone provider. In the case of prepaid offers, however, the costs must be calculated during the phone call.

When traveling to countries outside the EU, you may need to deactivate your voice mailbox to avoid unnecessary costs. You can read more about this on our advice page on the mailbox cost trap abroad. Another cost trap is the intended or unintentional use of ship and aircraft networks, into which the smartphone often logs in unnoticed. Instead of the overpriced use of cellular networks on ships, ferries and in airplanes, even with incoming calls, we recommend using WiFi on board.

Another tip for trips abroad: An alternative to using your own prepaid card abroad is to purchase a prepaid card for the respective guest country or to use an international roaming SIM solution (either a SIM card or a roaming hotspot).

More guides on prepaid mobile communications