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MONEY

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

Ever wondered how to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees when travelling in France? There are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by a big bill.

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 non-Europeans 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.

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For members

STRIKES

Planes, trains and roads: France’s timetable for summer strikes

Unions representing railway workers, airline staff and truck divers have already called for strikes in France over the summer and it's likely that more will follow - here's your guide to the declared strike days and the services that will be affected.

Planes, trains and roads: France's timetable for summer strikes

The majority of the strikes are over pay, with unions saying that the soaring cost of living should mean pay increases for staff. So far there has been no call for a general strike, and each dispute is a separate matter between company bosses and the relevant workers’ representatives.

We will update this story throughout the summer.

Airlines

The air travel sector is the worst hit so far, with several different strikes called.

Airport – workers at Aéroports de Paris (which covers Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports but not Beauvais) will walk out on Friday, July 1st in their second one-day strike. This covers airport staff including security and check-in staff and will primarily affect flights departing from Paris – on their previous strike day one quarter of flights were cancelled. Passengers should check with their airline before going to the airport.

Ryanair – Ryanair cabin crew all around Europe are involved in a dispute with the company and held strike days on Saturday, June 25th and Sunday, June 26th. In France this affected flights at Toulouse, Marseille, Bordeaux and Paris Beauvais airports, although only 16 flights were cancelled (compared to 75 in Spain). Ryanair staff have filed a strike notice for ‘unlimited action’ over the summer, but their industrial action looks set to be conducted as a series of one or two-day strikes, probably in co-ordination with colleagues around Europe.

Exact days are still to be confirmed, but French unions say they will likely target busy times such as the July 8th/9th/10th weekend when French schools are out for summer, as well as the holiday weekend around July 14th.

Easyjet – French Easyjet pilots have written an open letter to the company CEO denouncing the chaos that has already seen the budget airline cancel dozens of flights because of staff shortages. They have not, however, filed a strike notice.

Staff shortages – in addition to strike action, air travel around Europe has been hit hard by shortages of key staff, and many airports have seen long wait times to check in.

Railways

SNCF strike – workers on the French rail operator SNCF have called a national strike on Wednesday, July 6th. This will potentially affect the high-speed TGV, the Intercité and local TER trains in all parts of France. It will not affect city public transport systems like the Paris Metro. SNCF will publish a strike timetable showing which services will be running on the Tuesday evening before the strike. 

Paris public transport – workers on the Paris public transport systems are also involved in a separate dispute about changes to changes to working conditions, this series of one-day actions has so far affected mostly the suburban Transilien trains and the RER network, but not the Metro.

Roads

Truck drivers blockades – Unions including the CFDT called for drivers to stage a blockade of industrial areas, mostly in the greater Paris region, on Monday, June 27th. Drivers too are calling for wage increases in what is likely to be the first in a series of events – usually drivers protest by either blockading certain addresses such as business depots or staging opérations escargot – rolling roadblocks on major routes.

Service station strike – employees of French energy giant Total Energies are also in dispute over wages and staged a one-day strike in June. Employees of service stations run by Total Energies walked out, while others blockaded Total’s refineries so that deliveries of fuel could not get out. So far, there has been no notice filed of a second strike day. 

Others

So far, most of the industrial action has centred on transport, which is one of the sectors that has the most impact on the daily life of both French residents and visitors. However there are other sectors that are involved in disputes over pay and conditions, notably healthcare. Staff at several hospitals have already staged industrial action – although for healthcare workers a grève involves staging protests outside the hospital, rather than walking out.

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