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What are the best mobile phone contracts for foreigners in France?

Pre-pay or fixed contract? Bundles or roaming? We take a look at the best options for foreigners moving to France.

A masked man talks on a mobile phone as he walks past a store belonging to French telecom group Orange
Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP

You plan to or have recently moved to France. You’ve found a place to live you love, opened a bank account and you’re waiting for your carte vitale. You’re learning the language, have found the best boulanger in the area, and you’re picking up on the little cultural differences that prove you’re not in Kansas any more. Or Kilkenny, Kirkstall, Karratha, or Kapiti, for that matter.

Now you’re looking for the best mobile phone for you. Much depends on what you want to use it for, your budget, and how long you plan to stay in France … But what’s out there for foreigners living and working in France?

The operators

The four major mobile phone operators in France are: Orange, SFR, Bouygues, and Free

They are not the only ones, however, and it may be worth looking around. La Poste, NRJ, Nordnet, and Prixtel are among the alternatives. 

It may be worthwhile checking out comparison site Edcom.fr to see current deals.

What you need to know first

To set up a mobile phone subscription you will need:

  • Contact information and proof of address in France;
  • Bank account details. This must be a French bank account.

On the technical side, if you are bringing your mobile phone to France from home, you may need to have it unlocked so that you can use it with a French SIM card. You can either do it before arriving in France or get it unblocked once you’re here, for a fee. 

Be aware, not all phones can be unblocked.

Phones from all EU countries will work perfectly well in France, and are not subject to roaming fees.

If you’re from outside the EU (including the UK) you may be subject to roaming fees while you’re in France – check with your operator and switch off data until you get the answer, those extra fees can be huge.

Buying a phone

That’s easy enough. You can pick one up at many supermarkets in France, or from a mobile provider – you’ll find shops in most reasonably sized towns. But, as always, the subscription’s the thing: you could find the phone you want is cheaper with a subscription.

You will be asked to provide proof of address if you’re buying a mobile phone in France.

Pre-paid SIM

Early on, it may be an idea to buy a pre-paid SIM card and telephone credit – known as forfait prépayé. It’s handy for short trips and to avoid roaming charges on your usual phone. 

The usual operators – listed above – offer pre-paid services, and you will be able to buy additional credit from supermarkets, mobile phone shops, or tabacs.

In the longer term, however, this could get more expensive than having a more formal contract phone.

Fixed-term contracts

All the above offer fixed-term contracts – forfaits avec engagement – that are taken out for minimum length of time, usually 12 or 24 months.

These deals tend to offer cheaper calls, and may include free calls to overseas numbers, including mobiles, in certain countries, which may be important to you. And they often come with a deal on a new phone and are billed monthly by direct debit.

These deals can be ‘blocked’ to allow for a maximum number of minutes per month, or a certain amount of data use.

After the term of the contract, your contract will be automatically renewed for the period indicated in the initial contract, unless you explicitly demand to change or cancel. This is known as reconduction tacite – or tacit renewal. Your contract should set a notice period for requesting termination. 

Non-contract offers

A non-contract deal – a forfait sans engagement – is a plan that does not have a minimum duration, which may be useful if your stay in France is relatively short.

The main providers all operate ‘low-cost’ basic non-contract plans, that include unlimited calls, texts, and a certain number of international calls and internet use.

Look out for SFR’s Red, Sosh, by Orange, and Bouygues’ B&You services. They tend to be marketed towards younger people, but could be just what you’re looking for.

Bundles

If you’re in France for the long-haul, the ‘big four’ – Orange, SFR, Bouygues and Free – also provide TV and internet services and can offer a bundle package including a mobile phone package at an overall price for all three that you might be interested in.

At the end of the day, you pay your money and you take your choice.

Pre-paid SIMs work well early on, for short stays, and for low-level mobile phone users. Those who want more from their mobiles, or who are planning on staying in France longer-term may then want to look at fixed or non-fixed contracts.

Eventually it’s also useful to have a French number with the +33 prefix, as certain French websites and services will not recognise non-French numbers.

Member comments

  1. On a different tack. Prixtel were the best when they offered 20gb for 4.95 on either Orange or SFR, but then decided to just offer SFR because Orange upted their resell rates. SFR are rubbish where I am, so went with Sosh. Free were good when they first started because they piggybacked on Orange. Bouygues were ok at first, but then became patchy.

  2. Does anyone have any experience of using a dual-SIM phone, one UK one French? I see you can get e-SIMS from Orange and others

  3. I use a mobile phone very seldom but I would like a pay-as-u-go simcard which doesn’t eat the money after a certain length of time.
    Has anyone got a recommendation please.

  4. To add to my previous question, I don’t use data, I don’t use WhatsApp, I just use old fashioned speech!

  5. Years (nearly decades) ago I got a PAYG no contract sim from LeClerc. I always have unlocked phones. It costs me €1,50 a month to maintain my credit. But then I don’t use the portable very much in my 6-month stays except for emergencies or if out and about.
    If I were to change, I would probably go to SOSH PAYG

  6. Free is great – broke the awful cartel pricing when they arrived. All you can eat in one price – not the cheapest headline but everything included – calls to uk fix and loads of other places too. My kids have cheaper sim contracts with SFR red, but lots not included and are optional add ones. I guess I could save a couple euros per month if i really kept on top of it but…

    Also my internet connection is now unlimited 4G replacing the useless ADSL connection that was all that was available. Free gives free box subscribers unlimited 4g allowance on their mobiles so i bought a 4g box, added another phone subscription for the card (16 euros) and the connection is 5 – 10 times faster while we await the fibre to crawl up the road….Very content

  7. SFR is pretty much rubbish everywhere. Once it was taken over by Altice, it was downhill from there. Avoid. Orange is very good for foreigners since they have agreements with most carriers in other countries. Not the least expensive, but very useful and good service just about everywhere.

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