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EXPLAINED: How to get a mobile phone contract in France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How to get a mobile phone contract in France
Paris shows people holding their cell phones (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP)

This is one of the first administrative steps you will need to handle after moving to France, here's what to expect.


If you are planning to spend extended time in France, you will likely want to set up a French mobile phone (cell phone) contract. 

Having a French phone number can be crucial when organising apartment visits, signing up for certain subscriptions, and setting up utilities bills in your French home.

Keep in mind that if you want to use your mobile phone from your home country, you will need to verify that it is unlocked and compatible with a new SIM card. You can check this with your previous provider. 

The main operators

There are four main cell phone service operators in France, Bouygues Telecom, Free, Orange and SFR. 

There are also some smaller operators that might offer less expensive plans, such as Prixtel or La Poste Mobile. 

Orange is often touted as the best telephone operator in France, and it is one of the world's leading telecommunications companies with over 266 million clients across the world.

In France, however, Orange technically comes in second place to SFR for 4G coverage across the territory. According to data from France's national frequency agency (ANFR), SFR covers 95 percent of the country with 4G access, while Orange and Bouygues both cover 94 percent and Free covers 92 percent.

As for 5G coverage, which began in 2020 in France, there is still a lot of room for improvement. In June 2023, Free had deployed the most 5G antennas, with 16,644 across the country. Bouygues came in second place, having set up 9,942. As for SFR and Orange, they came in third and fourth place, with 8,936 and 6,267 antennas respectively.

That being said, those figures only show antennas constructed - Orange had still activated the most 5G sites. 

How do they compare in price?

When it comes to price, the main four mobile phone operators keep costs similar. For 100 GB of data, as of September 2023, Orange offered a monthly deal of €16.99 for the first year, and then €31.99 after 12 months.

As for Bouygues and SFR, for a phone plan (forfait) with 100 GB of data you could expect to pay €15.99 per month fo the first year, and then €30.99 afterwards.


Free did not have a plan offering 100 GB as of September 2023, but its closest option offered 120 GB for €12.99 per month for the first year, and then €19.99 afterwards.

For plans with at least 200GB of data, you would pay more. Orange offered one for €32.99 for the first year and then €44.99 later on, Bouygues and SFR offered similar deals with €31.99 a year and €44.99 after 12 months.

Meanwhile, Free offered 250 GB for €19.99.

Keep in mind that you can also choose a 'sans engagement' plan, which means even if you sign a contract you can cancel it at the end of the month. 

Many phone contracts will be 'avec engagement' (or just engagement). This usually means that for a specified period of time -  typically one year - you pay the discounted price and then after that you may pay a higher price but you can cancel when you'd like to.

Beware that with these types of plans, if you try to cancel before the engagement period is finished, you could be asked to pay the remaining fees.

The other differences between contracts will depend on whether they allow you to use the service outside of France, and whether they charge a SIM card activation fee (for example - SFR charges €10).  


Some plans offer discounted rates for those who also use their service for internet or cable. 

Do I need a permanent address or French bank account to set up a plan?

It depends on the company. As of 2023, Free was one of the cell service operators that allowed clients to purchase a new SIM card using just a credit or debit card with one of their kiosks. 

For this purchase, only a valid bank card and email address were required. 

However, other cell service operators tend to require at least some of the following: a valid proof of identity (eg. passport), address in France (eg. utility bill or lease), or a French bank account for payment. 

What if I am visiting for a short/ defined period?

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 or E-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.

You can find more information with The Local's tips guide for how visitors can avoid roaming charges.

READ MORE: How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France

How can I cancel a French phone contract?

Prior to cancelling, you should again verify whether you are sous engagement (under contract) and if so, for how long. 

As of September 2023, it has been a legal requirement for companies to offer 'cancellation in under three clicks' directly on their websites. This would be done in your online space.

Your operator has 10 working days to cancel the contract once you have made the request. 


Some phone services might allow you to cancel by calling as well, but if you want to be entirely certain that your cancellation request has been sent and received you should send a lettre recommandée

READ MORE: Lettre recommandée: Why you need them and how to send them in France

What if I want to keep a phone number in my home country?

Many foreigners living in France want to maintain a phone number in their home country, perhaps to verify dual-factor authorisations or receive banking information.

Some opt for services like 'Google Voice' to port their existing phone number. It is advised to do this prior to moving to France.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Deborah Sullivan 2023/10/02 07:16
It is very important to find out how much each company charges for call minutes and data. The FREE monthly plan for 20 euros per month provides unlimited calls and 250 Go of data, with an additional cost of 5 centimes for each Mo of data above this amount. In contrast, the Orange Mobicarte for 365 days, at a prepaid cost of 100 euros, deducts 40 centimes per call minute and 50 centimes for each Mo of data.

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