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I have been wondering whether or not to buy a new SIM card when I take side trips to countries bordering Germany (one for each country). However, I have heard that each time I get a new SIM card, it may take 24-48 hours to activate -- in which case a 4-day trip to Austria, for instance, may not be worth it. Is this 24-48 hour rule true?

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Sim cards activation these days take minutes at max. Unlike in 90s or early 2000 where it used to take days. I don't think what you heard is correct.. – Heidel Ber Gensis Sep 28 '13 at 16:28
The only reason I can think of why a SIM card would take longer to activate, is if you are porting an existing number on your new SIM card (when changing providers). In Belgium for example, that can take up to three working days (but usually takes less than an hour). I work for a mobile virtual network operator in Belgium and The Netherlands, and our non-number porting SIM cards activate immediately. But as said by Andra, roaming is getting cheaper each year, it's only in some scenarios where buying a SIM per country would be an advantage. – Jan Fabry Sep 28 '13 at 19:52
@JanFabry That's what I'm having trouble figuring out...How do I find out when it's advantageous or not? – MarkE Sep 28 '13 at 19:52
@marke it really depends on how often you going to call. You can check for example the rates of my provider in belgium and compare it with the rates of local sim. I used to buy local sims, but now dont bother because they are often more expensive the simply roaming – user141 Sep 28 '13 at 20:52
up vote 1 down vote accepted

If there is still a sim provider that takes days to activate a sim card, just go to the next provider. These days most sims work right out of the box.

You should wonder however if you really need a sim. There are definitely still packages worth considering, but bear in mind that recently new eu legislation has dropped the roaming fee dramatically, starting July 2013. The roaming fees are sometime cheaper then a local sim card.

Check the required roaming fees and compare them with the local providers.

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The activation of new SIM cards by Vodafone Germany and Italy are both instant. Same for Sunrise in Switzerland. I suspect immediate activation is standard for most networks today.

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In Poland (bordering Germany from east) activating a sim card doesn't take any time. You just insert it into your phone and first call made by you activates a sim card instantly. We have 4 big operators and I've used 3 of them: Plus, Play and Orange, but as far as I know also T-Mobile works in this way.

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Aldi takes longer than 36 hours. I'm still waiting. Much easier to buy a sim in UK, France, and Iceland. Germany requires registration using a local address. I hate this kind of red tape. Notice how many of the mobile operators are based in several countries yet you have to either pay for roaming (which is still a rip off) or get a new sim locally. These companies certainly are good at making money!

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That's largely because of international calling and mobile roaming regulations which predate the EU by decades in many cases, and fix the costs of such calls. Something to complain to Brussels about. – Michael Hampton Sep 14 '14 at 22:17

It depends on how the provider works. Sometimes resellers like Aldi offering sim-cards are simply resellers of a larger telco offering and as such, requests for new activations can sometimes take longer than others due to prioritisation of the assignment of the phone number.

Once upon a time it could take upwards of two days to activate a sim card, in most cases nowadays, it takes at most an hour (usually instantly), and in worse case situations it can take about 12 hours (although it is rare it would take this long in 2014).

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