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How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting France

If you're visiting France from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France
Using smartphones abroad can land you with big bills. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country than you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with “Three” for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in France. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in France.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

Orange Holiday

This is one of France’s largest and most reputable telephone companies. The “Orange Holiday” SIM card exists specifically for tourists. At €39.99, you will get a SIM card that will enable you to make and receive calls and texts from a French phone number. You will have unlimited calls and texts within Europe, as well as two hours of calls and 1000 texts outside of Europe (for messaging people at home, for example). You will also have access to 30GB of data in Europe. 

The initial plan is valid for 14 days, and begins as soon as you begin calling, texting, or surfing the web. In order to get this SIM card, you can go into any Orange store and request it. Some supermarkets and airport kiosks might also carry this SIM card.

SFR

SFR is another well-known French phone company. Their pre-paid SIM card is called “La Carte,” and they offer several different options based on how much internet, calling, and texting you want access to. The basic plan is for 30 days and starts at €9.99 a month, which includes a €10 credit. Once the card is in your cellphone, you can add on a top-up option as needed.

You can buy this SIM card either online or in an SFR store. 

La Poste Mobile

This is the French phone company that operates in conjunction to the post office. What is especially convenient about this SIM card is that you should be able to get it at any post office in France. Plans range from €5 to €30 based on the number of days and the amount of calling, texting, and internet you are looking for. 

Bouygues Telecom

Finally, Bouygues Telecom also has some offers for prepaid SIM cards. Their plan, the “My European SIM” is especially made for tourists. It costs €39.90 and allows you unlimited calling and texting in France and Europe. The plan offers 20Gb of data. You can plan ahead for your trip by ordering this card online, but you can only activate it once you arrive in France.

The card actually comes along with a tourist guide (offered in 10 languages) and a map of Paris Metro.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in France, it is important to be sure you are buying a pre-paid SIM, rather than accidentally signing up for a monthly plan.

Some mobile phone carriers offer very affordable monthly plans, which might look appealing to tourists. However, these plans will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, and many involve complex processes, including sending a registered cancellation letter (in French), in order to cancel the plan.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

Member comments

  1. It should be noted that nearly all T-Mobile USA plans include unlimited data in Europe (and over 200 countries), although at slower than the fastest rate.

    The $5 daily pass and the $50 30-day pass not only add high-speed data, but also allow unlimited phone calls, both locally and internationally. Both passes can be purchased from the handset or online at any time, whether before or during a trip.

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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

L'assomption - or the Assumption of Mary - is coming up for Monday, giving people working in France their last three-day weekend of the summer. As such, the roads are expected to be very busy.

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

As the last three-day weekend of the summer approaches, France’s traffic watchdog, Bison futé has announced their forecast for congestion on the roads. 

Traffic is expected to be quite difficult this weekend, with Saturday classified as almost entirely ‘red’ across France for both departures and returns, with the Mediterranean area coloured black – the highest alert level – for departures.

The different congestion levels range from green (normal), orange (difficult), red (very difficult) to black (extremely difficult).

“Throughout the weekend, traffic will be very difficult in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and on the Mediterranean Arc, especially on the A7, A8 and A9 freeways”, warned Bison Futé in their statement.

Here is the breakdown per day:

Friday, August 12

Friday is mostly green for departures, aside from the Paris region and the Mediterranean, which can expect some minor delays, as they are coloured in orange. The traffic watchdog recommends leaving or crossing through the Paris region prior to noon.

For returns, however, the situation will be less calm. The majority of the country is on orange alert, with the Mediterranean area coloured red. 

Bison futé predictions for Friday

Specifically, for departures motorists are advised to:

  • leave or cross the Île-de-France before 12:00,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Paris and Orleans, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 8am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 11am to 9pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 9pm,
  • avoid the A75 freeway, between Millau and Lodève, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 3pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy, from 12:00 to 15:00 (wait time will likely be greater than 30 minutes)

For returns, Bison futé’s advice is to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 2pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 10am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A8 freeway, near Aix-en-Provence, from 10am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 11am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Agen, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait time will likely be more than 1 hour)

Saturday

Saturday is slated to be the most difficult day on the roads this weekend.

For both departures and returns, the whole of the country can expect significant delays and congestion, under the ‘red’ classification. For departures, roads in the Mediterranean area are expected to be the most packed and will be classified as ‘black.’ 

Bison futé predictions for Saturday

Bison Futé advises you to avoid the big cities, from as early as 8am for the Paris region. 

The roads you should pay avoid for departures on Saturday are:

  • the A1 freeway, between Paris and Lille, from 10am to 5pm
  • the A84 freeway, between Caen and Rennes, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A11 freeway, between Paris and Le Mans, from 8am to 7pm and between Le Mans and Angers, from 8am to 5pm
  • the RN157 national road, between Laval and Rennes, from 10am to 5pm
  • the national road RN165, between Nantes and Lorient, from 11am to 8pm
  • the A10 freeway, at the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines tollgate, from 6am to 2pm and between Paris and Bordeaux, from 7am to 5pm
  • the A63 freeway, between Bordeaux and Spain, from 9am to 8pm
  • the A6 freeway, between Beaune and Mâcon, from 8am to 12pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 6am to 6pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 9am to 7pm
  • the A54 freeway, between Nîmes and Salon-de-Provence, from 10am to 4pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 7am to 5pm and between Narbonne and Perpignan, from 8am to 5pm
  • the A20 freeway, between Limoges and Brive-la-Gaillarde, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A71 freeway, between Orleans and Bourges, from 9am to 12pm
  • the A75 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Flour, from 10am to 12pm, and between Millau and Lodève, from 8am to 6pm,
  • the A750 freeway, between Lodève and Montpellier, from 11am to 1pm
  • the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 9am to 5pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 8am to 4pm,
  • the A43 freeway, between Lyon and Chambéry, from 10am to 4pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel towards Italy, from 12pm to 3pm (wait times expected to be more than 30 minutes).

Motorists are also advised to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm
  • avoid the A83 freeway, between Niort and Nantes, from 10am to 4pm
  • avoid the A84 freeway, between Rennes and Caen, from 10am to 3pm
  • avoid the national road RN165, between Lorient and Vannes, from 11am to 3pm
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 10am to 5pm
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 11am to 1pm
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 9am to 6pm
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Orange, from 8am to 5pm and between Orange and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A8 freeway, between Italy and Fréjus, from 10am to 12pm and between Fréjus and Aix-en-Provence, from 9am to 2pm
  • avoid the A54 freeway, between Salon-de-Provence and Nîmes, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Perpignan and Narbonne, from 10am to 1pm and between Narbonne and Orange, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A20 freeway, between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Limoge, from 10am to 1pm
  • avoid the A71 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Orléans, from 1pm to 5pm
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Bordeaux, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Toulouse, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A43 freeway, between Chambéry and Lyon, from 9am to 1pm
  • avoid the A48 freeway, between Grenoble and Lyon, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait times are expected to be greater than 1 hour)

Sunday 

Bison futé predictions for Sunday

The traffic situation will be considerably calmer this Sunday, with slowdowns for departures mostly concentrated around the Mediterranean area and for returns around in the greater southeast region.

For departures, motorists are advised to avoid:

  • the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 10am to 8pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 9am to 7pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 7pm
  • the A61 freeway, between Carcassonne and Narbonne, from 10am to 12pm

For returns, you should also avoid:

  • the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm,
  • the A9 highway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 10am to 8pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel on the way back to France, from 1pm to 8pm (wait times will be greater than 1 hour).

Finally, traffic will be more or less back to routine circulation in both directions on the jour férié of Monday, August 15th. The Paris region is the only part of France that is not green, and this is still only for returns. 

Motorists heading back to Ile-de-France are advised to either cross through or return before 2pm.

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