France has 3G coverage in urban areas and parts of the countryside. Many rural places only have edge, which is considerably slower than 3G but still allows you to access the internet. 3G coverage maps in France can be found here: Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom and Free Mobile .
There are 4 'physical' network operators in France : Orange, SFR (Vodafone), Bouygues Télecom and Free Mobile. Other providers are mobile virtual operators based on Orange, SFR or Bouygues Télécom. Activating a Simcard on these networks or a data package can take up to 48 hours.
Hired mobile hotspots come pre-activated. Hotspots purchased from the main operators may also come fully activated. You will need ID to activate SIMs in France, it is a legal requirement. Passport or driving licence usually suffice.
The "Big 3" operators (Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom) are now in the process of rolling out their 4G LTE networks and they hope to have mostly nationwide LTE networks by the end of 2013. Bouygues, Orange and SFR don't technically allow access to their new 4G LTE networks to prepaid customers, however they all offer rolling contracts which can be cancelled at free will. They all use standard European LTE bands (800 MHz and 2600 MHz) however Bouygues was recently granted permission to "refarm" it's 1800 MHz 2G network into a 4G LTE network. This frequency enables iPhone 5 and iPad mini/iPad 4 owners access to the 4G network since the iPhone 5 only contains 1800 MHz European LTE bands.
iPhone 5C and 5S will work on 800 Mhz and 2600 Mhz, so if you have one of these you'll be fine on any network.
A flat calling rate starting at €0.19/min for national calls & international calls to many countries of the world. Calls are billed by the second with no flagfall.
Data Bundles which provide a certain amount of data browsing for an unlimited time for use in France. These are activated once the SIM is bought either by text or online.
Stock all 3 types of SIM card (Normal and Micro SIMs come in the same package).
Possibility to buy 3G USB dongles and Wifi hotspots with SIM cards included.
Easiest to purchase online via their website. Delivery is Free to the European Union and €2 to the rest of the world. Payment can be with any international Visa or MasterCard.
Top-up online or in Tabac shops that sell PaySafeCards. Bonus credit is given to any online top-up over €25.
If monthly credit consumption is under €10 or 30MB there is a monthly recurring credit deduction of €1.40. If you use over either of these stated amounts you will not be charged. Credit has no expiry date.
To order go to the products page on their website - www.lefrenchmobile.com
These normally need to be entered manually as the following:
APN Name: netgprs.com
Authentication type: PAP, CHAP or NONE
|Call location||Cost (per minute)|
|France -> France||from €0.19|
|France -> The EU, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Russia & Japan||from €0.19|
Data Bundle RatesEdit
|Bundle Cost||Data Included (unlimited validity unless specified)|
|€7||100MB (valid for 7 days only)|
dataroam.co.uk provide a pre-paid international SIM card for use in France as well as a country specific 30 Day data SIM card from Orange. Both allow you to avoid expensive roaming charges whilst in France. Saving a huge 90%+ versus roaming by paying just £0.02/MB.
- Of particular interest is the French 30 Day data SIM card. For £49.99 (56.99€) you get 3GB of data per 30 days. There are no deposits and all you need to do is pay a £10.00 (10.14€) set-up free.
- The data SIM card can be sent to a UK or French address. However you will need to provide proof of ID and the SIM card does need to be returned to conclude the rental.
- From the website, the 3Gb plan cannot be used in a phone, and the smartphone plans are limited to 2Gb, with £2 per MB above. And none of these offer a way to monitor your data usage. Is there something I did not see? Lastly, what is dataroam's status? A grey market simcard reseller or they have a contract with Orange?
Updated 17/06/13 to give the full lowdown on '"Let's Go" which may well be the best French option for PAYG Data for use in an iPad, USB 3G, tablet or portable wifi hotspot. Scroll down to the Let's Go section for more information.
Mobicarte section re-written to erase the now defunct Internet Max option and to generally tidy it up.
Mobicarte (PAYG Phone SIM)Edit
This is the Orange PAYG SIM card that allows for making calls, sending sms and some internet usage. If bought from an Orange Boutique you require driving license or passport to register. The bonus of that is that the card works straight away. If you buy from anywhere else, you will have to send in a copy of your ID. Reception is good, and works with email, http, and https.
Default data ratesEdit
Without a data plan, Internet is extremely expensive at 50 cents per minute.
Data feature packsEdit
A 500MB data pack is available for 10eur. It has been known to work in 3G dongles but it cannot be guaranteed. You would be better off with the Let's Go option, scroll down for details.
To use email with this card, for instance on a smart phone using the built in email service, you will have to subscribe to an extra €6 per month package. This will still work after your normal internet data runs out.
This data plan is for mobile phones and may or may not work on other gear. Tethering is blocked (tested on iPhone and Android Galaxy 4S). This includes the use of a wifi hotspot on the phone. Orange redirects to a purchase page where you have the option to purchase a block of credit valid for tethering. P2P, VoIP and USENET are specifically banned. VOIP services will fail to initialize properly. There's risk getting your plan cancelled as well as the loss of any call credit remaining on your account if you use P2P, VOIP, or USENET services.
As for VPN, it may or may not work. There are examples when VPN worked, one of them is OpenVPN 2.1.1 under Windows 7. VPN on iPhone worked in July 2012.
It is possible to achieve tethering on Android by using the wifi hotspot in conjunction with a proxy app, e.g. Proxy Server by Ice Cold Apps.
If you want to avoid the 500meg limit and/or access internet with iPad or notebook you could choose a more expensive option called "Semaine Internet Max" with unlimited full speed data and not limited to smartphones. Email protocols are not included. It costs 7€ and is valid 7 days without automatic renewal. It can be used e.g. with a dongle or a WIFI mobile router and worked successfully in 2012 offering Internet access for 2 iPhones, 1 iPad and 2 Notebooks at the same time. Viber and Skype worked as well.
Your phone must be provider unlocked so it can work with the Orange France service (even if you are with Orange in your country).
APN: orange, user: orange, pass: orange.Edit
Note that you won't be allowed to subscribe (item 8 or 9 above would provide you with error response) until information about you is validated in Orange DB. It took between 8 and 16 hours in my case, don't worry, just keep trying every hour until it works.
Note-2013-02-02: #123# menu is significantly different (Android Galaxy Nexus). Dial #123#, choose 4=Mon espace, 3=Ajouter une option / un pass, 5=Suite, 1=Internet + mail, 2=Option Internet max *OR* 5=Suite *THEN* 1=BP Semaine Internet Max, 1=Suite, 1=Souscrire, 1=Valider (which will fail until Orange DB is updated as noted). Confirmed fully operational on this date - tethering also fully functional (Android). Small thing to know - you cannot order BP Semaine Internet Max between midnight and 02h00. Once ordered however, data was active within 30 minutes (no confirmed SMS had yet arrived - just monitor #123# to see when your credit is debited).
Officially the option may take 48 hours to come into effect, however in reality it usually takes less than 3 hours.
You will usually be notified by sms as soon as it is activated but sometimes no sms is sent; after 3 hours it is worth to check if your internet is activated: use #123# menu too: once the option is activated, 1st menu item is changed to 1=Suivi conso options which would provide you the information that Internet Max is on.
The exact menu may change, so the above may not be exactly correct for your particular session. There are other internet options listed in the menu, although they are not good value. However, if there is not sufficient credit on your card to renew the plan, renewal will automatically be cancelled until you reactivate (after having topped up the account). So there is no worry about being billed for it unless you put a lot of credit into your account.
update 11-30-2013: there's new option - Recharge internet mobile (http://sites.orange.fr/shop/forfaits_mobiles/mobicarte/recharge_gamme.php), which permits to use either 150Mb / 1 week (€5) or 500Mb / 2 weeks (€10) which seems like a good value for short stay. It doesn't go to balance - just activate it and start.
A heads up that Orange restrict the maximum speed attainable on Mobicarte to 384kbps downstream. If high speeds are important to you, it may be better to look at SFR. It's important to note that Orange's prepaid mobile broadband offer ("Let's Go") does not have this limitation and pricing starts at €10/1GB.
You can also add mail access (POP3, SMTP, IMAP) at 6€, also in the Votre Multimedia menu.
Using #123# is free, so you can spend as much time as you like here exploring the options.
If #123# does not work you can try dialing 220. This is a spoken menu so it can be even more difficult to get through if you don't speak French.
You can also call customer service, but they charge something like 35 cents a minute, and probably don't speak English.
The options on the Orange website seem to be different to those on #123# - the website only offers a 200Mb limited package for 9€/Month (this option is not for the Mobicarte, it is for a contract (forfait)). The menus are rather complicated to navigate - this page lists the options available.
After all this is set up, be sure to re-enable your 3G and data services (and to disable email unless you bought a email plan).
Note: You may not be able to add the Internet Max option to your account until your registration information has been added to Orange's systems, this may take 24 hours initially. If your registration has not been added yet, you will get an error message if you try to activate the 'Internet Max' option, stating in French that you need to go to a point of sale with your ID. If you order you SIM over the Orange website it does not arrive pre-registered. Although you can activate it, you then still need to go to a shop with your SIM and ID to have your identity registered to your SIM in Orange's systems before you can actually buy the internet MAX option plans.
Note 2: I had to go into network settings and cellular network and change the APN setting to
APN: orange, username: orange and password: orange.
Orange only guarantees 500MB of traffic, after which bandwidth gets limited. But so far, the limit does not seem to be enforced.
Store employees are usually unaware of prepaid data options, having been known to supply outright WRONG information (like internet plans not being availabe on Mobicarte) so don't expect prepaid data assistance from them.
Many different plans are available for unlimited calling, evening calling, evening data, etc. See their site for more information.
Default data rateEdit
Normal Pricing Pricing Plans Availability SIM and Mobicarte available in Orange stores and related vendors, and online. Generally more credit is included in the price if you buy online.
Data plans must be subscribed to via automated phone system by calling 220, online or #123# menu system. If you bought your SIM online, you are required to take your passport to an Orange store to record your details before being able to activate a data plan for the first time. This is a French legal requirement, and the plans should be available 24 hours after registering.
I was able to buy a Mobicart at a newspaper-stand in a rural town in France, in july 2012. The drawback of this was that I had to send a photocopy of my passport by (paper-)mail and that your sim-card is not activated until Orange has received this copy and has processed it. This processing took them over a week to complete! After this stupid slow start, it worked like a charm.
You can buy Orange prepaid Mobicarte SIMs online with EUR15 of credit pre-loaded from http://mobipassport.com. The SIMs comes with detailed usage instructions and they will register it for you. It works overseas so you can test it before you depart (The #123# menu is free to use overseas), and you get your number before you depart.
If you would like to save yourself the hassle of dealing with Orange France then check out: www.dataroam.co.uk. They offer pre-paid data SIM cards from LeFrenchMobile and a 30 Day Data SIM card from Orange France with 3GB. Another option is to purchase the SIM and plan in a third party cell phone shop, such as Phone House, which has stores all over France, particularly heavy in large cities. (Check http://www.phonehouse.fr/ for store locations). They were able to sell me a SIM, copy my passport, get a number activated with the 1 week data plan, and have me out the door for 15 euros. They were also generally more helpful than Orange store employees. Note that Mobicarte sims are available from third party sellers on ebay, and the sellers will activate the sims and add data packages for you before you arrive so you're ready to go immediately with no hassles.
MobiCarte SIM card credits expire in 2 months if no recharge is applied during that period. After registering your SIM for the first time and topping it up with credits, the SIM number will stay in operation for a year. You can check the expiration date online when you create an account, but you will probably also get an SMS stating the expiration date. Expiration of recharge credits depends on amount. 10eur electronic recharge should be activated (i.e. added to account) in 15 days since purchase.
Mobicarte appears to only be available in a full size SIM according the Orange France website. However it should be fine with a SIM cutter.
Not allowed but is hit and miss as to whether it will work or not. iPhone will NOT allow tethering, you are redirected to a purchase page. The use of a 3rd party tethering app on an Android phone, or a jailbroken iPhone may just get you around this. The Orange website makes reference to a 1GB tethering plan for your phone for an extra €10 per month.
Let's Go (Data Only Sim) Edit
Let's Go is a SIM only offering from Orange France. It is a data SIM designed for use in an iPad, tablet, portable wifi hotspot (MiFi) or USB 3G dongle.
It is an ideal option for those in France on holiday or on business. SIM cards are available from Orange Boutiques throughout France, see the Orange.fr site for locations. Just ask for the 'Pass Prepaye Let's Go SIM'. They will want to know what device you will use it in and what size you require. The SIM costs €8 and includes 100MB of data to get you going.
The benefit of this option is manyfold. For instance, I use the Let's Go SIM in a portable hotspot and have it permanently connected to my smart phone. This allows me to recieve calls on my UK number and to have internet access without the crazy pricing. Portable hotspots are cheap enough on eBay/Amazon and will pay for themselves in no time at all. Also you can connect other wifi devices to them at the same time, eg tablets, laptops.
At the time of purchase in the boutique, you will need to provide a passport or driving licence which is a requirement under French law. The shop I bought mine from registered my address as some anomalous hotel. It takes on average 24 hours to fully update the system with your details and during that time you will not be able to top up. However the original 100 MB will work as soon as you walk out of the shop.
There are various values of top ups (recharge), but the most popular appears to be 1GB for €10, lasts 7 days. To obtain this top up you must again visit the Orange Boutique and ask for a rechargement por Let's Go sim. There may be some faffing about whilst they work out amongst themselves exactly what you want, but show them your SIM or documentation with your Orange internet number and they will soon get there. Often they will print out a sheet of paper for you which contains a telephone number for you to ring (0800 224 224) to activate the top up and a 14 digit top up number. It is possible to activate your top up online, but only after you have topped up by telephone once. Crazy, but that's how it is.
You can also topup at Tabacs that have the Orange sign. The important thing to them apart from "Recharge Orange pour un clé 3G" is the "LetsGo" part which lets them search on the topup systems. In this case you DON'T want a Mobicarte topup. The maximum topup is €20 for 2Gb valid for one month.
If you do not wish to top up by visiting the Orange shop, then you become limited to topping up your account using vouchers for the standard PAYG telephone service called Mobicarte. You can then convert the account balance online to Let's Go packages. The Orange site is far from user friendly so I do not recommend this route unless you are well versed in French.
Let's Go top ups are often avalable on eBay and may well prove to be a good option for you to save messing about in shops upon arrival. But you will pay a premium for this option in so much as you will be paying extra for the time of the seller to obtain the vouchers etc. Note, you can also buy pre-activated Let's Go SIM's on eBay.
This may all sound like a lot of trouble, but when you have done it once, you will see how simple it actually is.
In order to top up by phone, call 0800 224 224 from a mobile or landline. Free from Orange lines, small fee may be charged from others.
1) You will be immediately asked by a female voice in French to enter your Orange number. This is the telephone number assigned to your SIM and normally begins with 06 or 07.
2) You will then be presented with two options, the first to top up by credit card. Ignore this, the second option is to top up using voucher. Press 2 on your keypad. The same voice will ask you for your 14 digit voucher number. Enter that and depending on which service you got connected to, you may have the number read back to you with the option to confirm or try again. You will then have a confirmation in the same voice but with a triumphant timbre to it. The process should take about 30 seconds from start to finish.
The top up should then be applied to your SIM and you will be ready to go.
You cannot guarantee the availability of English speaking staff at Orange shops, however the two that I use, both have people who do speak English. Lafayette and Poissonniere . The Lafayette store is about 15 minutes walk south west of Gare du Nord. Poissonniere is in the Opera area of Paris.
You will automatically have an account created for you on the Orange.fr website, you can log into your account using the SIM telephone number. Once done, you can edit your personal information, email address etc. You can even set up an Orange France email address if you like.
Credit Cards and voucher availability: It is important to note that you cannot top up online using a credit card that is not registered in France. But you can buy top ups in the boutique using foreign cards. You cannot currently top up a Let's Go SIM at an ATM. Tabacs (French newsagent/cafes) often sell Mobicarte top ups, but I am yet to find one that sells Let's Go vouchers. I am sure this will change over time.
The Let's Go SIM does not allow the use of VoIP , Peer to Peer downloads eg. Torrents, or the use of some binary newsgroups . However for email, browsing and almost everything else it works just fine. You can receive SMS to your SIM which can be viewed in the control panel for your device, but the option to send SMS will not be available.
If you cannot call the 0 800 224 224 from your phone, try one of the public phones.
Also, you might have to configure your network settings (for Huawei E5331 you have to go at http://192.168.1.1 - Profile management): APN: orange.fr, username: orange, password:orange
Domino 3G KeyEdit
Orange sells it's own portable 3G wifi hotspot called a Domino. Currently it is a Huawei E5331. This allows you to set up wifi for multiple device, ie. get around the issue of not being able to tether with the Mobicarte, and means you don't need to set up data service on your phone. Used it for a month and worked fine with 2 phones, 2 tablets and one ipod touch. I'd highly recommend this if you have more than one device, the pricing seems way better than French Connection, which seems to offer a similar deal (3G key) - with the exception that VOIP is banned on Orange but allowed on FC.
Cost: 45 euros for the device + 500MB valid for a month (which is plenty for email and such, as long as you remind the kids not to use Youtube ...). Both uploads and downloads count.
Recharge options with "Let's Go" cards (make sure you get the right one):
Re-use: it seems the SIM card stays valid for one year, vs. 6 months for the Mobicarte.
Authentication: the blurb inside says you need to provide authentication, ie. fill in a form and send a photocopy of a passport to Orange. If you buy from an Orange boutique, they should activate it for you. If you get it from elsewhere then you will have to mail off copies of your ID docs.
I believe this device is locked to Orange France and won't be of much use elsewhere unless you get it unlocked. May be as well just to buy your own MiFi online and stick a Let's Go SIM in it.
Subscribtion is called "La carte". An activated SIM card is 9.90 euros (offer at 5€ at the time I write this or even at 0€ for the iPhone5), and the new "Recharge Internet Mobile 5 euros" gives you one week of free Internet access up to 100MB. Text and calls are charged separately. See their site for more information.Some SFR stores have prepaid "top-up" terminals, from here, you can buy a €20-for-20-days pass, or a €24-for-20-days pass that includes an additional €10 of call and text credit. (Note that the card itself already contains a €5 credit, so all in all the €24 option gives you €15 of calling credit as far as I understant). Certain workers in SFR stores don't know about the availability of PAYG data for iPhones, even though their top-up terminals directly sell them. So if the worker seems to have a problem, just point them to the SFR website and navigate to the plan, or go to a store with a top-up terminal.
In order to activate these data passes, you should call the service line (costs call credit, or call from a landline) and tell them your code and to activate the data plan. This usually takes about an hour (actually the process itself took me about an hour, but only two days later did my line actually activate). Also, at least by some accounts the cellular internet connectivity is found to be problematic. Some discussion and possible solutions, including changing the APN settings, can be found on this discussion.
If you cannot speak French well enough, SFR have an English and Arab helpdesk which can only be used for SFR La Carte (Prepaid). More information can be found at this webpage.
Default data rateEdit
In some - but not all - SFR stores. Generally not available at tabacs. Recharges available online, but the site requires an existing SIM card and a European (smart chip) credit card.
Standard SIM and Nano SIM
- Joe Mobile is the best solution if you want to use a lot of data, and stay in contact wih other countries.
- This is a venture owned by SFR. The whole process is done online and they have good prices. http://www.joemobile.fr Joe Mobile offers start at 5 euros. You personnalise the offer by adding the amount of voice/data/… you want. The offers could be stop/pause/restarted/changed at anytime with immediate effect. The only way to pay is by a credit card from UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain or the Netherlands.
On their prepaid cards Bouygues Telecom offers free of charge POP3/IMAP access for most mail-providers, including gmail - see site , tab Internet Mobile. La liberté en mobilité: "Réception gratuite et illimitée de vos e-mails de votre messagerie Internet directement sur votre mobile en France métropolitaine. Liste des messageries compatibles et paramétrage sur www.bouyguestelecom.fr".
Only catch is that sending mails (SMTP) still costs, but that's quite fair trade. I've been using it for more than a year; it works perfectly fine.
In July 2011, Bouygues added a low price service, B&You. According to their Web site, https://www.b-and-you.fr/carte-prepayee/, this includes a pre-paid option at 5 cents per MB for data, 10 cents per minute for voice in France, 50 cents per minute to the US, 5 cents per SMS. You can recharge with tickets bought at a tabac. Still unknown are whether you can purchase a B&You SIM without a French bankcard, and whether you can use an existing Bouygues SIM with this new service.
Bouygues limits prepaid users to HSPA+ speeds but customers on mobile broadband data contracts (AKA Bbox Nomad) have access to their new 4G LTE network if you go for the 10GB rolling plan at €45/month without contract. Rolling plans can be cancelled at will but 5GB and 500MB customers are stuck on HSPA+ speeds.
Free Mobile offers contract free Data/SMS-MMS/Voice service. Very good prices. For those who will be staying for an extended time in france with a smartphone, the 20 Euros a month 3GB/Unlimited Voice - Unlimited to USA-UK landlines and more / Unlimited SMS-MMS is very good. Tethering is allowed. The SIM comes ready for all phones/dongles (Micro + Mini). - A Nano SIM is on offer, although a special request must be made to get one. Either in-store or via phoning customer service.
Coverage was a problem at the early beginning but they quickly fixed it. They are still in the process of building their own network. But as Free Mobile use ORANGE network as a roaming network for data and voice, the service is exactly the same as the Orange's one and 3G speed is often reported to be faster than their competitors.
Free Mobile mobile is a Pay as You Go program, with automatic renewals, but no fines for canceling early, no activation fees, etc. All credit/debit cards, not limited to French issued ones, should function fine. (Automatic payment via a French bank account is also possible.)
[Under 'paiement de votre commande' on the right hand side, under the box there is a link which says payer par carte bancaire. It will then change the box to one that allows you to enter the details of any card. Your bank may charge a transaction fee for using this.]
Brick and mortar locations can be found in Paris (Metro Madeline) and other locations throughout France. Called "Free Centers", they can be found at the following website: http://www.free.fr/freecenter/.
Lebara is a mobile virtual network operator with operations in several European countries, as well as Australia. In France, they resell Bouygues Telecom's service. The website and customer service are available in both French and English, making it a good choice for those with limited French language skills.
Lebara SIM cards can be ordered free of charge through Lebara's website, mailed to a French address. Alternately, they can be purchased for 10 euros (including 5 euros of credit) from many French tabacs, including the Relay outlets at Charles de Gaulle airport. Credit recharges are available through the same channels, or by credit card online. No problem with a North American credit card as of Sep 2013. The SIM is a dual-cut standard and micro SIM. Account credits appear to have an expiry date 23 years into the future as of Sep 2013.
New SIM cards must be activated by providing a mailing address and phone number. This can be done online or by calling 2333 from your phone. Unlike other competitors, this activation is instant. You can select english on the voice menu (option 2). When you activate your sim you are requested for your name, passport number and address. You can ask on the same call after the activation to: set the language of your phone to English, buy your data package or any additional assitance.
Data packages include 100mb over 14 days for Eur2.90, or 250mb over 30 days for Eur4.90, and can be activated by texting WEB100 or WEB250 to 22241, and then sending a confirmation message when requested.
When adding funds to the account, among the "free bonuses" is some data: Data is 9c/MB after your package is used up.
Lebara's data service requires manual APN configuration. The APN name is fr.lebara.mobi. Although the support website lists a username of wap with no password, as of June 2013 this was not working, and instead required a username of web and password of web. As of september 2013 it worked OK with user wap and no password.
Some usefull numbers from your Lebara phone:
- 20€, 30€, or 50€ gets you 100MB, over 30 days
- 10€ or 30€ gets you 30MB, over 14 days
- 5€ gets you 10MB, over 7 days
- Check Balance *133#
- Support 2323 (Option 2 on voice menu will tell you you data usage)Re