This guide explains who can use their mobile in France, how to get a SIM card or mobile contract in France, plus a list of French mobile operators.
Like most of western Europe, France mobile phone coverage is of a high standard. Depending on the French mobile operator you choose, there can be less coverage in rural areas but you generally won’t have problems getting a signal.
French mobile networks are all GSM, which means some phones from North America and several Asian countries won’t work at all in France. If you are traveling from a country that uses a CDMA network, check whether your phone is GSM-enabled. Some smartphones, for example, operate on both networks (dual-band). Otherwise, it’s easy to buy a prepaid French SIM card or, if you are a resident of France, take advantage of mobile contract deals.
This guide explains everything you need to know about using a mobile in France, including:
- French mobile networks: can I use my mobile in France?
- French mobile operators
- Terms for mobiles in French
- French SIM cards
- Mobile contracts in France
- Dialing French mobile numbers
- Using your French mobile
Since French mobile networks are GSM, you will be able to use your current mobile phone if it is compatible with GSM networks. If you have a phone that only works with CDMA networks (e.g., the US, Japan) then your only option is to purchase a mobile phone in France.
Some short-term travelers with a locked phone must use their original SIM cards and pay international roaming rates. You can ask your current service provider about roaming charges or if they have a corresponding company in France that allows you to insert a French SIM and take advantage of cheaper call rates. Travelers from the EU/EEA typically do not pay additional fees for roaming charges, since they were abolished in 2017.
Expats moving to France long-term generally find that buying a French mobile phone or SIM card is cheaper than the exorbitant costs of international roaming. You can go to any shop specializing in mobile phones to get a phone and prepaid SIM card for France. France’s mobile regulations make it basically impossible to register for a contract with a French mobile operator without being a resident in France.
One thing to do before your trip is to check whether your current phone is SIM-locked. If your phone is locked, you can’t use a French SIM card. Unlocking your phone can save the expense of having to buy another mobile phone in France when you arrive. If your phone is not SIM-locked, you can insert a prepaid SIM card without any problem.
To unlock your phone, there are several options: ask for the unlock code from your current mobile phone provider or go to a telecom shop that offers unlocking services. If your phone is part of an unfinished contract, you generally pay a fee to unlock your phone.
The French mobile sector is competitive with many French cell phone companies in the market. The main French mobile operators include:
Orange is the largest and most popular mobile operator in France. It boasts the best coverage of all the networks, as well as the most subscribers.
SFR comes in second in terms of popularity, plus it is also one of the oldest French mobile operators. Bouygues Télécom is the third-largest network and offers even prepaid clients 4G coverage at no extra charge. Free Mobile is the new kid on the block, arriving with new types of marketing and unbeatable low prices.
Besides the top four, there are numerous French mobile providers that are MVNOs or mobile virtual network operators. This means they’re separate operators but use one of the four main networks in France. These can be a good choice as they tend to be cheaper. However, coverage may not be as extensive as the top four French mobile networks. This is less of an issue in larger French cities.
Some of the popular smaller French mobile providers (MVNOs) include:
To help compare mobile networks in France, Arcep is a government-backed organization that provides a map showing mobile coverage of the main networks. Online comparison sites, such as www.edcom.fr, can be used to compare prices and deals between a wide variety of providers.
- Mobile phone in French: mobile, le téléphone portatif
- Mobile coverage: couverture, réseaux
- Prepaid: pré-payés, sans engagement, formules à rechargement
- Prepaid SIM card without contract: une sim carte prépayée mobicarte sans engagement
- Included call credit: crédit d’appels inclus
- Top-up or recharge cards: cartes pré-payés
- Cost of SIM only: coût de la cart SIM seule
- Mobile contract: forfait, abonnements,
- In the package: dans le forfait
- Monthly cost: coût mensuel
- Cost per minute: prix de revient à la minute
- Minimum duration of contract: durée de l’abonnement, durée minimum d’engagement
- Billing per second from the first second (if no connection fee exists): Facturation à la seconde dès la première seconde
Unless you have a reasonable international roaming plan, it’s generally cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card in France for short visits. The only requirement for buying a prepaid SIM card in France is showing valid ID when purchasing.
If your phone doesn’t work on a GSM network, you can purchase new mobile phones in France at stores such as Carrefour, Auchan, The Phone House, FNAC, LDLC and Darty.
Once you decide on a French cell phone company, it is simple to get a prepaid French SIM. Visiting an Orange Boutique, for example, you’ll find prepaid French SIM cards for around €4, and you immediately have €5 of credit on your automatically activated SIM card, which you can then top up with €5, €10, €20 or €30 vouchers. SFR is similar, except for slight differences in voucher prices and the fact you must buy €10 credit to activate the SIM. Bouygues Télécom works much the same way as SFR, except the Classic prepaid SIM cards don’t have data options. Free Mobile is interesting in that you can buy their SIM cards from vending machines.
It is also possible to buy international SIM cards that provide affordable rates in a number of countries. There are numerous offers depending on your needs, for example, data-only SIMs or unlimited calls. You can also consider WiFi hotspot rentals if you have high mobile internet needs.
Mobile internet in France can be expensive and on pre-paid SIM cards it’s easy to use up your credit. However, some SIM cards come with a certain amount of free data included.
It gets more complicated if you want to have a monthly mobile plan, or contract plan, with a French mobile company, which will ask for a French bank account in your name (international credits cards are generally not accepted) and proof of your address in France. Contracts are typically 12–24 months and payment is by direct debit (prélevement automatique).
However, you don’t need to sign up for a yearly contract. In France, there is something called a ‘rolling contract’ or forfait sans engagement. This is a mobile contract that automatically renews each month, but can be cancelled at any time. This is a good option for users who don’t want to spend money on topping up credit, although it still requires a French payment method and proof of address.
Read Expatica’s French visas and permit guide for information on how to become a resident in France depending on your situation.
The French mobile code for mobile numbers depends on which network the person uses. Just like other countries, France has a closed telephone dialing plan.
All French mobile numbers, as well as phone numbers, have 10 digits and, if calling from within France, start with a 0. The first two numbers indicate a mobile code, with French mobile phone numbers starting with 06 and 07: 06/07 XXXX XXXX. Other codes include 01 for Paris, 02 to 04 for landlines (and more recently 09) and 08 for special numbers (toll-free, paid, etc.).
When calling a French mobile number from outside of France, you will need to add the the country dialling code – either ‘0033’ or ‘+33’ – and omit the initial 0 from the mobile number: 0033 6 XXXX XXXX or +33 7 XXXX XXXX.
France has an interesting mobile network plan to deal with areas that don’t get great coverage, called F-CONTACT. If you are using a French SIM card from any of the main four French mobile companies, you will be automatically connected to F-CONTACT when in those areas, free of charge.
For visitors or new expats planning to stay in Paris, there is the option of renting a smartphone with a French SIM cared, for example, with INSIDR. This can be a convenient and cost-effective way to resolve any initial mobile issues. There are also a few companies that rent just the SIM card, but you need to have an unlocked phone that works on a GSM network.