Hooking up utilities and communication services in Germany
Now that you’ve found a place to call home, you’ll need utilities and communication services. The good news is that you have a variety of options, and many resources are available to get you hooked up.
Vodafone, T-Mobile, E-Plus, TKS, SIGA and O2 are among the largest cellular service providers in Germany. Shop around and ask about coverage in your village before signing a contract.
Service contracts – Service contracts offer the most comprehensive plans and usually last 24 months. Breaking contracts is expensive, and renewals are often automatic.
Cancelling – Submit a cancellation letter as soon as you sign a contract, or at least three months prior to the end of your contract/renewal. If you extend service, you may send another letter retracting your cancellation. Review cancellation procedures and ask about exceptions for military. To accommodate military families, Exchange Mobile Centers (a partnership with AAFES and Siga Telecom) and TKS provide PCS/TDY cancellation terms for their customers.
Prepay – Prepaid phones offer basic services without contracts. Add minutes online, at AAFES shoppettes/gas stations and Exchanges, and on the economy at kiosks in grocery stores, retail centers and gas stations.
INTERNET & PHONE SERVICES
AAFES and TKS have created CONNECT, a prepaid, high-speed Internet service for those living in base housing. If living off base, the location of your new home will determine the availability of services.
BEWARE: You will likely need to sign service contracts and may have to wait several weeks for installation, depending on the provider.
Digital subscriber line (DSL) – DSL offers speeds 50 to 100 times faster with a continuous Internet connection, while keeping the phone line free. Many providers offer plans with flat-rate monthly fees based on transmission speeds.
Cable internet – Normally bundled with a cable service plan, cable Internet offers high-speed access and continuous connectivity but is not as widely available in Germany.
Analog phone – These plans are usually billed as a monthly flat rate for connectivity, with additional charges based on actual usage and fees for Internet service. Most providers offer discounted domestic and international calling plans with affordable flat-rate fees.
ISDN phone – This service utilizes digital phone technology. Installation and service fees may be higher than DSL service.
“Voice over Internet Protocol” or VoIP service – VoIP allows you to make calls through the Internet. Plans are inexpensive, and you can pay as you go, pre-pay or set up an annual contract. Some VoIP providers offer unlimited domestic and international calling plans for $3 to $26 a month. To avoid the cost of international calls for friends and family, some VoIP providers have plans with a virtual stateside number, where calls ring to your computer from the U.S. at no additional charge to the caller. Skype and other VoIP services offer free face-to-face video calls between two parties, using free downloaded programs and webcams. For a list of VoIP providers, check out Top Ten Reviews.
NOTE: Many German homes have one phone jack. If it is not conveniently located, purchase boosters or wireless modems to increase access. If your home has multiple jacks, you may be charged additional jack activation fees.
TELEVISION, CABLE & SATELLITE SERVICES
You don’t have to miss out on your favorite shows while in Germany.
American Forces Network (AFN) Europe and others – AFN provides programming from current networks, prime channels and select pay-per-view including news, sports, music, entertainment and movies. On base, simply connect your cable cord for access to TKS’ Easy TV, which includes AFN channels. Off base, you’ll need a decoder and satellite for AFN, which you can find through your Exchange, thrift stores or classifieds. TKS offers Easy TV in select off-base areas, and Kabel Deutschland also offers English programming.
Satellite – Access Sky TV’s English-speaking programming through the use of a satellite and U.K. satellite decoder. Visit Sky online and check with your local satellite installation services. Eutelsat Hotbird provides open-air, free English-language programming, but you’ll need the right dish and receiver. Many cable providers also have English channels, including CNN and BBC World.
- Before contacting providers, talk to your landlord about phone, cable and Internet services.
- Knowing the previous tenant’s full name and phone number will be beneficial as you establish services.
- Translators at your Family Readiness Center can answer questions and decipher material.
Many countries in the European Union have developed a consumption tax similar to U.S. sales tax, known as a value-added tax (VAT). In Germany, this amount is 19 percent built into the price of goods and services (7 percent on food) — rather than added to your bill at the time of purchase — and often noted as Mehrwertsteuer (Mwst) on bills and receipts. Before you can make tax-free purchases in Germany, you must register with your local VAT Office.
Acceptable uses – Tax relief is available for many products, services, hotels, vehicles, furniture, clothing, food and electronics. However, participation by vendors in the VAT relief program is voluntary, and they may establish their own minimum purchase amounts for tax exemption. Some vendors will accept a single VAT form for several purchases during one calendar month. VAT forms can also be used when setting up a prepaid phone because you do not have a contract.
Unacceptable uses – You cannot use a VAT form once a product or service is ordered (payment or delivery status is irrelevant). For example, when house hunting, you must present a VAT form before signing the rental agreement to avoid paying taxes on the finder’s fee. VAT forms cannot be accepted for home renovations, major house repairs, or long-term contracts and service agreements, such as cellphone, home phone or Internet services.
NOTE: TKS utilizes month-to-month agreements and is currently the only Internet/phone provider authorized to accept VAT forms.
Getting forms – Ten blank multicopy VAT forms may be purchased at a time ($5 each). The yellow copy is retained by the vendor, the white copy returned to the VAT office and pink copy kept for your records.
- Purchases up to €2,499.99: Obtain blank VAT forms, go shopping and pay tax-free prices.
- Purchases of €2500+: Contact your VAT Office before making purchases. You cannot combine multiple VAT forms for purchases greater than €2500.
UTILITIES & UTAP
The Utilities Tax Avoidance Program (UTAP) is another money-saving resource available in most areas. If UTAP is available at your installation and you receive Living Quarters Allowance (LQA), you must enroll in the program. Though optional for everyone else, it is highly recommended because of the program’s tax benefits.
- Electricity: 19-percent VAT and energy tax.
- Natural gas: 19-percent VAT and energy tax.
- Water: 7-percent VAT.
Deposits waived. Enrolling in UTAP – To enroll, you’ll need to visit your VAT/UTAP Office and bring a copy of your rental agreement or ownership paperwork, utility meter numbers and readings, names of current utility companies, DOD ID card, orders, and bank account details. You will also need to pay a one-time fee. During enrollment, the office will let you know which companies participate in the program and whether it is available for your address. Utility Billing – Billing is usually completed with monthly electronic deductions, and charges are based on estimated fixed rates. Bill adjustments are completed annually and based on actual meter readings. These additional charges or credits may come any time of year and are separate from LQA reconciliations. Depending on the company, a representative may come to your home to read meters, or you may be required to submit meter readings.
BEWARE: Companies may offer you lower rates or cash bonuses with contracts, but you should not sign anything before discussing it with your UTAP Office.
Along with utility bills, you may receive a notice from the Fee-collection Centre of Public Broadcasting Institutions in the Federal Republic of Germany (GEZ). Contact the Legal Office or Personnel Office to obtain a letter stating your exemption from the tax under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
YOUR PCS & SERVICEMEMBERS RELIEF ACT
Did you pay a penalty for breaking your U.S. cellular contract due to your PCS to Germany? Are you still paying for mobile service under a long-term plan that you are unable to use in Germany?
Relief options for active duty U.S. military (including reservists called to active-duty status) are available through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Qualifying for relief
Under SCRA Section 535a, servicemembers can suspend or cancel long-term wireless/mobile phone contracts without penalties or extra fees when deployed for 90 days or longer or when permanently transferred if change of duty results in:
- An inability to use the service
- An inability to satisfy the terms of the contract
How to proceed
To exercise these rights under SCRA, servicemembers must provide their mobile/wireless telephone service contractors with copies of their military orders. Upon receiving a request for termination or suspension of service, the telephone service contractors must comply without imposing an early termination fee or a reactivation fee for suspension of the contracts.
If you have questions about whether SCRA applies to you, the Department of Justice’s SCRA website (www.justice.gov/crt-military/scra) recommends contacting your nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office to see if the SCRA applies. Dependents of servicemembers may also contact or visit military legal assistance offices.
For more information from the DOJ on servicemembers’ rights, visit www.servicemembers.gov.
More about SCRA
SCRA is a federal law that provides protections for military members as they enter active duty. It covers issues such as rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, eviction, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosure, civil judicial proceedings, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments.
GERMAN TERMS ON UTILITY BILLS
- Abgebucht: Debited
- Abrechnung: Statement
- Abschlag: Installment payment
- Beginn: Start
- Bereitstellungsentgelt: Provision fee
- Betrag: Amount
- Dauer: Time period
- Endabrechnung: Final bill
- Energieversorger: Energy supplier
- Fällig am: Sofort: Due immediately
- Gesamtforderung: Total amount due
- Jahresrechnung: Annual bill
- Jeweils: In each case
- Kostenlos: Free of charge
- Kundennummer: Customer account number
- Mahngebuhr: Late fee
- Mahnung: Reminder bill/late notice
- Nachfolgend je: Following amount due
- Netto: Total before tax
- Preisänderung: Price change
- Rechnung: Bill or invoice
- Rechnungsnummer: Bill number
- Restbetrag: Amount owed or credited
- Rückläfer: Charge for auto debit fail
- Schlussrechnung: Closing bill
- Sperrandrohung: Disconnection notice
- Summe: Total
- Strom: Electricity
- Teilbetrag: Partial amount
- Umrechnung: Conversion
- Umsatzsteuer: Tax
- Vertragsnummer: Customer contract number
- Vorausleistung: Advance payment
- Zeitraum: Time frame