|Mobile Phones in France|
|Using your non-European mobile phone in France can be complicated and/or expensive, but there are much cheaper ways to stay in touch.|
Use Your Normal Mobile Phone Plan
Major mobile phone companies offer roaming plans that allow you to use your phone outside your home country. Horror stories abound of people using their phones abroad as they do at home, then receiving gigantic roaming bills in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
One major US company offers a flat-rate US$10 on any day you use your phone, but with "unlimited" use for that price. But...what day WON'T you use your phone? On a two-week trip, your bill may be $140.
We pay about 30¢ per day for our phone use via an MVNO. Read on to see how.
Truphone and Ubigi are data-only MVNOs that offer the simplest, easiest, least expensive way to take the Internet with you wherever you go. The way to understand them is not as phone companies but as "Wifi Everywhere."
On the street, in a car, bus or train, Truphone, Ubigi or another data-only MVNO is your Wifi, connecting you to the Internet for maps, messages, websites, calls and video calls—anything you can do on your computer.
However, you are not using your traditional phone company, so you can't receive or place calls on your normal phone number.
This means you must use apps such as Skype, WhatsApp Messenger, etc., to make your calls and send your text messages, and a browser to surf the Web, just as you would with Wifi on your computer. SMS/MMS messages may not work right.
We mention Truphone and Ubigi just because it's what we use. They're listed by Apple. We get no commission for mentioning them; there are other MVNOs such as Airalo that we have not tried, but may be as good.
You must have an unlocked, eSIM-capable smartphone to use most MVNOs data-only networks. (An unlocked phone is one that is not tied to a single mobile company such as Verizon, AT&T, Vodaphone, etc. Check with your mobile company to learn the status of your phone.)
eSIM is virtual SIM card circuitry built into your smartphone that acts like the SIM card you put in your phone to connect to your mobile phone company. In other words, your normal SIM card stays in your smartphone, and the MVNO uses the eSIM circuitry.
eSIM-capable smartphones include Apple iPhone 11, Google Pixel 3, Samsun Galaxy S20, Z Fold and Z Flip, and later models. Go to the Truphone or Ubigi websites to learn if your phone has eSIM capabilities.
1. Download the Truphone or Ubigi app to your eSIM-capable smartphone before you leave home. Create an account, select the country or countries you'll visit, and find the appropriate plans and prices. Also, make sure you have the apps you'll need for making voice and visual calls, messaging, browsing, etc., and that these apps are up-to-date.
2. Set up payment for your plan, and pay for it so it's ready for when you arrive at your foreign destination. Inform friends and others that you'll be reachable via email and other channels such as WhatsApp, Signal, Skype, etc.
3. When you arrive, open the app on your phone and it should connect to its network. Follow the instructions in the app. You may have to change some of your phone's Settings, particularly the Cellular ones, such as selecting Truphone or Ubigi as your voice and data network, and switching off access to your home network so you don't incur roaming charges on it.
4. Use voice call and messaging apps, and email apps and browsers to make voice calls, send messages and email, and surf the Web. You will not receive calls via your normal number, and you may not receive SMS/MMS texts sent to that number.
French Mobile Phone Companies
France has three major telephone/Internet companies: Bouygues Télécom, Orange, and SFR. Each offers short-term, no-contract voice call/text/data plans for international visitors. All have convenient shops at which you can buy a SIM card for your phone and have it installed by a technician, or you can download the company's app and use an eSIM.
An example is Orange's Holiday Zen 8Gb plan: your own French phone number, 14 days' use, 8Gb of data on the 4G/LTE network (not the 5G), unlimited calls and texts in Europe, for 20€; either eSIM or physical SIM.
As with an MVNO, you will not be using your normal mobile phone number, and friends cannot call or text you on it. They can call and text you on your new French number, and/or via Skype, WhatsApp, Signal, FaceTime, etc.
These short-term, no-contract plans are renewable but, by French law, you must register your number with the French authorities within 30 days in order to retain it (for a future trip?) Registration can be done online, and requires sending identification information (document scans, photo of passport, address in France, etc.) The French phone company provides a link to the relevant government website.
Your French hotel will offer Wifi, probably at no additional charge, as will many bars, restaurants, and some other businesses.
Transportation companies (airports, trains, buses, public Wifi, etc.) may also offer Wifi, but I have rarely found it operational, reliable or secure. More...