Prepaid SIM Cards

One of the main concerns many of us have immediately upon arriving at post is how to set up mobile phone service. This post gives a great overview of setting up a traditional monthly plan. However, monthly plans don’t always work well for everyone. I don’t like dealing with the hassle of having to cancel a phone contract in the midst of packout chaos and since I already had an unlocked iPhone, a prepaid SIM is the perfect solution for me. They’re also great for visitors who want a means of communication to feel more secure wandering off on their own as well as for those who ultimately want a contract but need a phone as they wait for the documentation necessary to set up a monthly contract plan.

So how do you get a prepaid SIM?

Fortunately it’s very easy. All three of the major carriers, A1, T-Mobile, and Drei (formally Orange), offer prepaid plans. You can choose either a traditional prepaid service where your prepaid balance is deducted for each call/text/MB of data used or you can set up a non-binding monthly service where you get a set amount of calls/texts/data on a monthly basis.

The monthly option is different than a contract plan in that it is on a month-to-month basis. You are not billed nor is your bank account debited each month. It is your responsibility to remember to refill your account balance each month if you want to continue service. Unlike the contract plans, documentation (residency permits, address, etc.) is not required to purchase a prepaid SIM card, making one easy to obtain immediately upon arrival.

Where can I get a prepaid SIM?

All three major carriers have their own stores throughout the city and at many malls if you want to buy directly from the carrier. There are also numerous independent cellular stores selling SIM cards for all the carriers. One is even located in the arrivals area of the airport which I have used successfully for myself and guests (and so far the staff has always spoken English). Post offices and larger supermarket/department store chains often sell SIMs as well.

How do I add money to a prepaid account?

Fortunately, they make this easy too and there are a number of options:

  • You can create an account with your carrier and add credit online using a credit or debit card.
  • You can add credit through an ATM.
  • There is a link within Bank Austria’s online banking portal to add credit.
  • You can purchase credit vouchers at many Tabak stores, grocery stores, post offices, and gas stations.

Do I need an unlocked phone?

You do not need an unlocked phone and can purchase one with your SIM card if necessary.

My father-in-law wanted a phone while he was visiting and got a very basic no-frills phone with a SIM and enough credit for his two week stay for around 20 Euros (in January 2014).

Can I use any unlocked phone?

If you already have an unlocked phone, or plan on purchasing one in the US before arrival, you’ll want to make sure it is GSM compatible, supporting quad-band frequencies, so that it will work on the European network.

What if I travel outside of Austria or want to call outside of Austria?

You’ll need to check with the service carrier to determine the charges as it varies by country/region. If you plan on using your phone a lot while travelling or frequently call a specific country, there are add on packages available for these situations similar to those offered for contract plans.

This is my experience with prepaid SIM cards as of May 2014. If you have any additional information to share or if policies have changed, please let TriVienna know so we can update this post.

Submitted by Kerry


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