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MONEY

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. 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.

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FRENCH POLITICS

What now for France’s public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Questions remain over the future of France’s public service broadcasters after bill abolishing annual €138 licence fee leaves future funding plans for the broadcasters vague.

What now for France's public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Households in France will no longer have to pay for an annual TV licence after parliament approved scrapping the annual €138 per household charge, meaning that this November the usual tax bill will simply not arrive.

The measure is part of a €65 billion package of financial aid to help people cope with the spiralling cost of living.

Revealed: What will you get from the cost-of-living package?

But abolishing the TV licence was not without its critics, while questions remain over the future funding of France’s public service broadcasters.

The €138 annual fee has been used to finance the TV and radio channels in the public sector.

It raises €3.7 billion a year – 65 percent of which is allocated to France Télévisions, 15.9 percent to Radio France, 7.5 percent to Arte, 7 percent to France Médias Monde, 2.4 percent to audiovisual archive agency INA and 2.1 percent to TV5 Monde, a Senate report revealed.

TV licence funding currently supplies about half of the total turnover of France Télévisions, while the rest comes from advertising.

Proposing the licence fee cut, president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to define a budget “with multi-year visibility”, with fixed financing amounts. But, no long-term concrete plans are currently in place.

The government has said there is no question of public service broadcasters losing money, insisting it will replace the licence fee “euro for euro” with public subsidies financed by VAT. 

This model, however, is guaranteed only to the end of 2024 – after which the government will have to present different financing strategies to Parliament.

Despite the bill passing, Senators lined-up to criticise the absence of a concrete long-term funding strategy.

Les Républicains’ Jean-Raymond Hugonet said the plans were being pushed through too quickly for populist reasons and argued it was a change that should have come with a definitive public broadcasting strategy. 

Socialist senator David Assouline said Malak had “hailed the glory” of French public broadcasting but was “creating the conditions to weaken it”.

Assouline has long been a critic of the plan. “From the moment there is no more dedicated funding and we have to draw from the general state budget, we will end up being told that it all costs too much and that we have to cut expenses, close a channel, or even, as we already hear sometimes, privatise,” he told a demonstration against the plans in July.

Concerned staff at France Télévisions and Radio France went on strike at the end of June in protest at the changes, saying that getting rid of the fee amounted to a “threat” to the independence of the channels in question. 

Unions and cultural experts have expressed concern about the possibility that broadcasters’ independence would be eroded if financing was at the whim of the government of the time. Bruno Patino, the head of Arte France, has told AFP that he feared for his channel’s future if the funding model changed.

Another critic, cultural economist Françoise Benhamou told Le Monde: “The disadvantage of budgeting is that we are much less protected from the vagaries of politics, since the latter decides on the budget.”

And LFI MP and journalist Clémentine Autain said in July: “This is a highly political and dangerous measure. Democracy needs a strong public audiovisual service, with a fair financing system that guarantees independence.”

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