Just moved to France? Get connected with your new friends and colleagues in France with our guide to getting a French mobile phone and SIM card.
If you’re an expat arriving in France, you’ll be pleased to know that you can easily stay connected in your new home. France has excellent 4G coverage and an ever-growing number of operators. Many of these offer great SIM and mobile options for expats and visitors alike.
The increased competition in the French mobile market has pushed operators to create a range of affordable mobile services. But with all this choice, finding the right SIM in France can be confusing. To help you out, this guide to getting a mobile phone in France includes the following information:
- The mobile network in France
- Can I use my mobile phone in France?
- French mobile operators
- Prepaid vs mobile contracts
- Mobile contracts in France
- French SIM cards
- French mobile phone numbers
- French mobile phone laws
- Useful resources
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The mobile network in France
Like much of Western Europe, France has a good quality mobile network that allows expats and visitors to connect with ease. France uses the GSM network, as opposed to the CDMA network. Generally speaking, new arrivals shouldn’t have an issue connecting to the local network. Even if you’re coming from a country that uses the CDMA network, your smartphone will probably still work in France.
Despite its size, the vast majority of France has 4G or 4G+ connectivity. However, connectivity can vary significantly depending on your French mobile operator, so make sure to check coverage in your local area before you sign up. This is particularly true in more rural communities, although you’ll still be able to access 3G in these areas. In some larger cities, including Paris and Marseille, you’ll be able to connect to local 5G networks.
Wi-Fi connectivity in France
Public Wi-Fi is not widely available in France, although some of the larger cities have Wi-Fi hotspots where you can connect. Free Wi-Fi is often also available in some public buildings and institutions such as libraries, museums, and some public transport. If you’re looking to set-up Wi-Fi at home, read our guide to setting up home phone, internet, and TV in France.
The majority of visitors and expats arriving in France will find it easy to connect their phone to the local GSM mobile network. The exceptions to this are those arriving from countries that use the CDMA network, including Japan, parts of the US, and Canada. That said, many modern smartphones will still connect on arrival. However, you should always check with your operator beforehand on costs and connectivity to avoid disappointment.
If you can’t get your phone to connect to the French network, you might want to consider buying a cheap, pre-paid mobile on arrival. These will cost around €30 and will be fairly basic, offering only calls and SMS messages. However, these can be a great option to stay connected. Alternatively, you can pick up a world phone in your own country before traveling to France.
Arrivals from the EU/EEA should be able to use their phone for the same rates they would enjoy at home, including data usage. This is because roaming charges within the EU were abolished in 2017. However, make sure to double-check with your operator before you travel to avoid any unexpected charges while you’re in France.
If you’re moving to France – or, at least, planning a longer-term stay – you’ll probably want to buy a French SIM card or even a brand-new phone. Getting a SIM card in France will be cheaper, although you may need to get your phone unlocked at a local phone shop. Thankfully, there are plenty of French mobile operators to choose from, each offering various deals depending on usage and budget. Some, including SFR and Orange, offer discounts if you bundle your mobile contract with home phone, internet, or TV.
The mobile sector in France is competitive, with an ever-increasingly number of French cell phone companies in the market. For new arrivals, this means there are plenty of choices, with operators offering good value-for-money deals. Because of this, it pays to shop around. It’s also a good idea to think about your other connections, such as home internet and TV, to see if you can save by combining the contracts.
Mobile operators in France include the following:
In terms of subscribers, Orange is the largest and most popular mobile operator in France, with over 30% market share. SFR is the second-largest French operator (with around 30%), ahead of Bouygues Télécom and Free Mobile; both of which have around 15% of the market. These four networks are often best in terms of coverage. They also all offer home internet and TV services that can be packaged up with a mobile phone subscription.
Besides these main four operators, there are numerous other French mobile providers classed as MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators). These providers don’t have their own networks and instead use one of the four main networks. Generally speaking, these smaller providers may not have as good coverage in more rural areas. However, they can be cheaper and usually have good coverage in larger towns and cities in France.
Comparing French mobile operators
Not sure which operator to go with? Fear not, because there are a few price comparison websites that are just waiting to help you out. These can give you a better idea of your options when it comes to choosing an operator. Some also offer deals for first-time subscribers. French comparison sites include:
- Je Change
- Que Choisir
Mobile phone coverage in France
Mobile coverage (couverture, réseaux) in France is typically better in the larger cities, with a growing number offering 5G connectivity. Coverage can be temperamental in more rural areas, although connectivity is often better than you expect. If you want to check coverage in your local area before signing up for a contract, visit NPerf or Arcep.
Generally speaking, the larger operators have better coverage, particularly in more rural parts of the country. However, in larger towns and cities, coverage doesn’t tend to change much between providers. This gives you more freedom to shop around and find a contract that works for you.
Prepaid vs mobile contracts
Expats arriving in France have the choice between a prepaid SIM card and a mobile phone contract. Prepaid SIMs are generally the quickest and easiest option to get you connected. These will allow you to make calls, send text messages, and use mobile data. This is a good option if you simply need a French SIM card to get by, or if you don’t want to sign up for a lengthy contract.
However, you may prefer the security and money-saving advantages of signing up for a mobile contract. A subscription will typically mean you pay less for calls, texts, and data, especially if you use your phone a lot. This can be a good option if you plan to stay in France for a while or you want a contract that offers the latest smartphone.
If your phone is unlocked and compatible with the French mobile network, you can choose the mobile operator of your choice. However, if your previous operator has a presence in France, it may be preferable to stay with the same company.
Typically, French mobile phone subscriptions (forfaits, abonnements) offer cheaper rates than prepaid SIM cards. Contracts often include a pre-determined amount of calls, texts, and mobile data allowance. What you pay will depend on the tariff you choose. These mobile contracts can be even cheaper if you choose to include them in a package with your home phone, internet, and TV connections. These are available from the bigger providers, including SFR and Orange.
French mobile contracts are either SIM-only or include a handset. Contracts are usually either 12- or 24-month in length, and make sure you read the small print before signing up. You will also likely have to pay a small, one-off activation fee at the start of your contract. Monthly payments are collected by direct debit (prélevement automatique), and you’ll need to provide payment details when you sign up.
Alternatively, some providers offer ‘rolling contracts’ (forfait sans engagement). These are mobile contracts that automatically renew monthly, but can be canceled at any time. These are generally more expensive than fixed-term contracts, however, they can be a great option for those who want extra flexibility.
How to get a mobile phone contract in France
Signing up for a French mobile phone contract is fairly straightforward. You can either do it online or sign up in a telecoms shop. Most of the main French telecoms providers have stores in town centers. However, shop assistants may not be able to speak English, so be prepared to practice your French.
To sign up, you will likely need to provide the following:
- proof of identity
- address in France
- French bank account for payment
If you don’t already have a French bank account, you’ll need to set one up before you’re able to sign your mobile contract. For more information on applying for a French mobile bank account in minutes, read our guide to mobile banking in France.
Prepaid SIM cards (sim carte prépayée) in France provide more freedom than mobile phone contracts but are generally more expensive. This means they’re a good option if you don’t expect to use your phone much or if you’re only staying for a short while. All major mobile operators in France offer prepaid SIM cards, so shop around and find the right network for you and your usage.
SIM cards are available from a number of places, including dedicated telecoms shops, supermarkets, electronics stores, and even the occasional vending machine. You can also buy French SIM cards online and have them delivered to your address. If you buy in-store, you will need to show your ID in order to complete the purchase as this is a legal requirement.
Prepaid SIM cards usually come with credit already loaded onto them (crédit d’appels inclus). Credit can then be added by buying top-up cards from retailers or online. These are available at several different prices (typically €5, €10, €20, etc.). Some prepaid SIM cards come with free data included, so you may want to shop around for the best SIM for your usage.
It is also possible to buy international SIM cards in France that provide affordable rates in a number of countries. These can be a great option if you’re planning on contacting friends and family in a particular country or region a lot while in France.
Telephone numbers in France are grouped into three categories: geographical numbers, mobile numbers, and other services. All numbers have 10 digits and all start with a 0. The first two digits of a phone number dictate which category the number falls into:
- 01/02/03/04/05 – these are geographical numbers based on regional location within France. For example, phone numbers in Paris start with 01 followed by eight further digits.
- 06/07 – these are mobile phone numbers. For example, a mobile phone number could start with 06, followed by eight further digits.
- 08/09 – these are special and non-geographic numbers, covering free phone numbers and other services.
When calling a French phone number from outside of France, you’ll need to add the country’s international dialing code. This is 0033 or +33. You then omit the initial 0 from the mobile number. For example, a mobile phone number could be 0033 6 12 34 56 78.
If you’re changing mobile phone providers in France, you may be able to keep your French number. Speak to your new operator and see if you can simply swap your phone number across.
French mobile phone laws
If you’re using your mobile phone in France, it’s important you know the local laws and regulations. Some of the French laws surrounding mobile phones include:
- Motorists face a fine and points on their license for using their handheld phone behind the wheel unless they have stopped and pulled over into a designated parking space.
- Children aged 3-15 are banned from using their mobile phones on school grounds.