SIM Cards in France: Providers, Offers and Allowances in 2021
If you are moving to France and are looking for a cheap, short term solution to get a French phone number, getting a prepaid SIM card is a very viable option. Read on to discover more about the different French SIM card providers and the offers they propose.
- To sum things up
- Depending on the length and nature of your stay in France, it may be worth you getting a French SIM card.
- From the traditional operators to MVNOs or international suppliers... You are spoilt for choice when it comes to SIM providers in France
- Getting started with a SIM in France is easy and often cheap, but just make sure you are aware of the costs and conditions that apply.
Should you get a French SIM card during your visit to France?
The answer is: it depends. You indeed need to assess your situation, needs and budget before you go forth and purchase a French SIM.
Prepaid SIM cards offer both pros and cons, so they won't be suitable for everyone. Read on for more info.
Prepaid cards vs regular French phone plans
Be warned: prepaid cards are not suitable for those who need to use a lot of data, as the allowance they offer is capped in terms of amount and time.
They will be best for those with small allowance needs, for instance teenagers getting a phone for the first time, a person in France for a short time for business or leisure, for an elderly person who doesn't need much data...
Prepaid SIM vs regular phone plan: flexibility
Prepaid cards have the advantage of being a lot more flexible than regular French phone plans. Indeed, you will not be bound to a 12 or 24-month contract as is the case with most regular plans, and once you've used up the card's credit you won't be charged any fees to sign off or change providers. This makes them thus a good option is you are only visiting France for a month or so.
Prepaid SIM vs regular phone plan: validity
Prepaid cards can be bought in advance, and in many cases can be used up to one year following the purchase. The only problem with this system is that it won't be the best bet for someone staying in France long term, as once the validity period (typically 30 or 60 consecutive days) is over, the credit expires and the SIM is no longer in use.
Prepaid SIM vs regular phone plan: cost
A prepaid card will cost, on average, €10/month (excluding promotions) while for a regular phone plans the average is around €15. It is thus up to you to decide if spending that extra money will be worth it to get more allowance, or if you can get by without a problem with less allowance.
Staying in France for over 3 months?If so, it's worth signing up for a postpaid mobile phone plan instead of a prepaid SIM. These are cheaper in the long run and offer better calling / data allowances. Call our English-speaking customer service line at +33 9 74 59 56 84 (Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 7:30 pm), or ask for a free callback to help you find a plan that meets your needs.
Prepaid cards vs your home country plan
You may be wondering whether it's worth taking out a French plan if you already own a plan with a provider from the UK, the US or elsewhere. The answer here again is, it depends:
If you have a European home contract, while in France you will benefit from the Roam like at Home system. This means that you will not be overcharged for using data on the French continental territory, and your home operator will not be allowed to make you pay fees higher than what they would. This rule applies to you for up to 3 months, after what you will most likely get fined at very high rates if you keep using your data in France. You will probably be contacted by your operator ahead of time to be warned about this.
If you have a phone contract from outside the EU, you will probably be charged very high fees for using your allowance in France (although you may want to contact your provider to find out if your contract included any sort of special allowance for France or Europe). Here, if you are only in France temporarily, for a vacation or instance, will probably be better off sticking to WiFi as much as possible and using your allowance in case of emergencies. If you are planning on an extending stay (2 months or more), then investing in a prepaid SIM is a far more viable solution, with the benefit of providing you with a French phone number which will make things like administrative tasks, healthcare and other daily life occurrences a lot simpler.
So all in all, if you are in France short term, you can get by with your own phone plan, otherwise a prepaid SIM card will prove a cheaper and handier option.
French prepaid SIM cards in France: how much do they cost?
Below is a rundown of what typical prices French providers set for their prepaid SIM cards.
The SFR prepaid SIM cards
SFR charges €9.99 for its SIM card, excluding promotions. Recharges cost between €5 and €95 and all include texts, calls and data. Alls cards are valid to active up to 6 months after purchase.
You can choose between 3 formulas:
- The classic formula : you pay for between €5 to €95 worth of communications and free calls after 8pm and on weekends, for 6 days to 5 months.
- The unlimited formula : for €5 to €30, you get unlimited SMS, 20MB to 4GB of data and unlimited calls (except for the €5 one which includes 1h only). They are valid for between 7 and 30 consecutive days.
- The international formula : these cards cost €5 to €30 and include various minutes of calls to African countries and Europe. They can be used for 5 to 30 days depending on the card.
- The Internet Mobile formula : these cards are for data only, and cost between €5 and €35. They give you between 300MB and 12GB of allowance, that can be used for 5 to 30 days.
In addition, SFR has a "carte prépayée touriste", which, for €20, gives you 1 hour of calls, 500 SMS and 1 GB of data that you can use worldwide for 14 consecutive days - a relatively good deal for someone on a brief visit to France.
The Orange prepaid SIM cards
As for Orange, it offers 2 types of prepaid SIMs: the Mobicartes and the Orange Holidays cards.
With a Mobicarte, you pay €3.90 for a SIM card and get €5 of credit. From there, you can then purchase between €5 and €100 worth of allowance.
You can opt for:
- The classic card : €5 to €30, 20MB to 10GB, unlimited SMS and unlimited calls except for the €5 one which offer 2h of calls
- The Mobicarte Monde , which for €5 to €20 give between 16 and 66 minutes of calls abroad
- The Mobicarte Internet Mobile , which for €5 to €25 gives 300MB to 10GB of data that you can use for between 1 week to 1 month.
The Orange Holiday prepaid cards grant you a SIM card, a French number and allowance that can be used all across Europe. The initial card costs €39.99. From there, you can then choose recharges or either €20 or €40 depending on whether you want 500 or 1,000 SMS and whether you want allowance for 2 or 4 weeks. Both recharges include 1 hour of international calls and 5GB of data. This plan is particularly interesting for people travelling within France or Europe for up to 2 months.
The Bouygues Telecom SIM cards
Bouygues Telecom offers 3 different prepaid card formulas: classic, XL and international.
The classic cards cost €5 to €40. They provide 13 to 105 minutes of calls, unlimited SMS (except for the €5 card which charges €0.09/SMS) and data is priced at €0.30/MB. You have 1 year after purchase to activate them and they can be used for 1 to 6 consecutive months.
With the XL cards , you pay €5 to €40 and get between 500MB and 5GB of data, as well as unlimited texts and calls. They cost between €5 and €40 and can be used for between 3 and 60 consecutive days. You have up to 1 year after purchase to use them.
The international cards grant you access to the exact same allowances, tariffs and conditions as the XL cards, except for data which is priced at €0.30/MB. You get allowance that can be used to contact fixed or mobile lines in Africa, Europe or the DOM depending on what you choose.
The other French providers SIM cards
Aside from the main providers Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR (Free Mobile does not yet offer prepaid SIM), other smaller operators, known as MVNO, also offer such cards and credit, often at very attractive rates.
Lebara Mobile is one such provider, and specialises in providing low-cost SIM cards with international calls and data, making them an interesting option for expats or international students. You can order your French SIM card on the website (which is free) in supermarkets or newsagents, along with recharges between €5 and €30.
Lebara has an English-language customer service on their website, which makes it a good option for those who aren't yet completely comfortable with the French language yet. You will get free calls and SMS to other Lebara mobile lines with every recharge. All recharges can be used over 90 days, after which the credit expires.
International SIM cards
Finally, if you are planning on not just visiting France but travelling to other countries (for instance, if you are on a long and multi-country trip, or frequently travel internationally for business or leisure), a great viable solution would be to invest in an international SIM card.
An international SIM card gives access to internet abroad, by connecting you to the best local network near you. Thanks to this system, international SIM providers allow you to go online in up to 200 countries with just one unique SIM card in your phone.
Flexiroam is one of these operators, offering roaming in 130 countries. It will be a great and simple solution to stay connected during your trips or holidays, without being concerned about going over your allowance or running out of data. It comes in the form of a very thin microchip that you stick on your original SIM card. It then gives access to over 580 networks worldwide, and the microchip will automatically connect to the most efficient network around you, depending on the destination package you purchase. Pricing can vary from anywhere to $14.99 for 1GB, valid for 15 days, to $199.99 for 7GB, valid for 360 days.
To get started, download the Flexiroam app, then simply select the Flexiroam SIM and plan you want. The app also enables you to keep track of your allowance and recharge it if needed.
Ready to get a French SIM in France?Our English-Speaking Selectra advisors are here to help you determine which option is best for you and your needs. Just contact us at +33 9 74 59 56 84 (non-surcharged number), or get a free callback.
Which French prepaid SIM card should I choose?
It all depends on your needs and budget. Different prepaid offers have different advantages, and will thus work for different profiles.
If you are most concerned about getting more internet data, the Bouygues Telecom XL offers are the best suited to you. You will indeed get between 500MB and 5GB to get online on your phone, as well as unlimited texts, calls and MMS.
If you are most concerned about SMS allowance your best options are:
- All the Bouygues Telecom prepaid cards which all come with unlimited calls texting (except for the €2 card which only offers 22 SMS).
- The Orange prepaid cards in the "Max" range have this feature too.
- The SFR formule illimitée also includes unlimited texts and calls.
If you are most concerned about data to use abroad, International cards are the way to go, as you will be covered in multiple destinations for a good price and without changing your SIM card from one country to another.
How to get a French SIM card
If you decided that a French SIM card is the way to go for you, the first step is to make sure your phone is unlocked and can be used in France.
From there, with a form of ID at hand, heard to either:
- Your provider of choice's boutique (Orange, SFR, or Bouygues Telecom)
- A French electronics store (Darty or FNAC)
- A bureau de tabac (tobacconist),
- A post office,
- Any large French supermarkets.
For better chances of finding English-speaking staff, we recommend buying your prepaid SIM card from an electronics store or from a provider's boutique - you'll be more likely to find someone who speaks a bit of English there than in a supermarket or a bureau de tabac.
Once you've found someone who can help you, explain that you are looking for a prepaid card (carte prépayée). If you are lucky, the salesperson might help you set up your new French SIM card. If not, fear not! Setting up your phone with a French SIM card is pretty easy: simply note down the phone number associated with the SIM, insert the card into your phone and you're good to go!
How to recharge a prepaid SIM card plan
One of the easiest place to find recharge credit is a bureau de tabac (tobacconist), although they can also generally in the same place at SIM cards are found (cf above) and online, on your provider of choice's website. Credit comes in specific amounts: €5, €10, €20... Make sure you are getting credit from the provider associated with your SIM card.
Your credit will come either as an actual card (often with a code to scratch-off) or a paper receipt with the phone number to call (usually a 3 or 4 digit number) and the long code number to enter for your credit (usually 10 digits). To top up your allowance, simply call the phone number provided with the recharge (this will always be free) and follow the instructions before entering your credit code. The instructions will be in French, so you may want to ask a French-speaker to help you if you have trouble following the instructions.
You can check your phone credit at any time by calling the number provided by your mobile phone provider. Some operators will notify you by SMS when your credit is running low. The validity period of the credit depends on the provider and the allowance purchased, and the credit expires once the date is reached, so be sure to take advantage of your allowance before then.
In most cases, operators close accounts which are inactive for over 6 months - which is something to keep in mind if you are planning to reuse your SIM card at a later point and wish to keep the same phone number.