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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. O2 allows roaming in the EU on PAYG. Get a free SIM from them, top up with £20, select the correct big bundle and you get 30Gb valid for 30 days with rollover if not all used

  2. I’ve been using LeFrench Mobile for many years. I’m from the USA if it makes any difference. We try to go to France a couple times a year (except during COVID) so I wanted to keep my phone number. LeFrench Mobile lets you keep your phone number for a small monthly fee. It is a prepaid card and you can top it up easily from phone or computer. Their rates are very reasonable and the fee to keep your number are very low, 90 euro cents per month if you don’t use the card during that month. To us it is worth it because our family and friends can just enter the French phone number in their Contacts list and don’t have to change it constantly. If you go fairly often, or even just once every year or two, that might be practical. We both have LeFrench Mobile SIM cards for our Android phones.

  3. How about one family member or group member having roaming and giving hot mobike spot to others in their group that could be a real saving

  4. 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.

  5. What about eSim options? I have been reading about them and they seem like a great idea in theory but I have not tried yet…

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TRANSPORT

Eurostar faces severe disruption at Christmas as staff vote to strike

High-speed train operator Eurostar will face security staff walkouts that will "severely" disrupt busy Christmas services, their trade union said on Wednesday.

Eurostar faces severe disruption at Christmas as staff vote to strike

Eurostar, which links London with Paris and Brussels, is the latest firm hit by strikes as salaries fail to keep pace with rocketing inflation in a cost-of-living crisis.

The RMT rail union said in a statement that members working as Eurostar security voted overwhelmingly to strike on December 16th, 18th, 22nd and 23rd.

“The strike action will severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the December period,” it added.

More than 100 staff had voted “emphatically” to reject a pay offer that was below inflation.

The RMT added that the security workers are employed by facilities contractor Mitie.

“Security staff are essential to the running of Eurostar and it is disgraceful they are not being paid a decent wage,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.

“I urge Mitie and Eurostar to come to a negotiated settlement with RMT as soon as possible.”

Britain faces a grim winter of discontent this year as strikes multiply across public and private sectors as pay is eroded by surging consumer prices.

Ambulance workers on Wednesday joined nurses in voting to go on strike ahead of Christmas.

Numerous other staff, from lawyers to airport ground personnel, have also held strikes this year as Britain contends with its worst cost-of-living crisis in generations.

UK inflation accelerated in October to a 41-year peak at 11.1 percent on runaway energy and food bills.

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