If you are planning to spend an extended stay in France, you will probably want to take out a French mobile phone (cell phone) contract.
Having a French telephone number can be crucial for organizing apartment viewings, signing up for certain subscriptions and paying utility bills at your French home.
Keep in mind that if you want to use your mobile phone from your home country, you will need to check that it is unlocked and compatible with a new SIM card. You can check this with your old supplier.
The main operators
There are four main mobile telephone operators in France: Bouygues Telecom, Free, Orange and SFR.
There are also smaller operators who can offer cheaper plans, such as Prixtel or La Poste Mobile.
Orange is often presented as the best telephone operator in France and one of the world leaders in telecommunications with more than 266 million customers around the world.
In France, however, Orange technically comes in second position behind SFR for 4G coverage throughout the country. According to data from the National Frequency Agency (ANFR), SFR covers 95% of the national territory with 4G access, while Orange and Bouygues each cover 94% and Free 92%.
As for 5G coverage, started 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 comes in second place with 9,942 installations. As for SFR and Orange, they come in third and fourth place, with 8,936 and 6,267 antennas respectively.
That said, these figures only show antennas built – Orange still being the one that has activated the most 5G sites.
How do they compare in terms of price?
When it comes to pricing, the four major cell phone carriers maintain similar costs. For 100 GB of data, Orange is offering a monthly offer of €16.99 for the first year from September 2023, then €31.99 after 12 months.
As for Bouygues and SFR, for a telephone plan (package) with 100GB of data, you can expect to pay €15.99 per month for the first year, then €30.99 after that.
Free did not offer a plan offering 100 GB in September 2023, but its closest option offered 120 GB for €12.99 per month for the first year, then €19.99 thereafter.
For plans with at least 200GB of data, you’ll pay more. Orange offered one at €32.99 the first year then €44.99 thereafter, Bouygues and SFR offered similar offers at €31.99 per year and €44.99 after 12 months.
Meanwhile, Free offered 250 GB for €19.99.
Keep in mind that you can also choose a ‘without engagement’ plan, which means that even if you sign a contract, you can cancel it at the end of the month.
Many telephone contracts will be ‘with engagement’ (or just engagement). This usually means that for a specified period of time – usually a year – you pay the reduced price, and then you can then pay a higher price, but you can cancel whenever you want.
Please note, with these types of plans, if you try to cancel before the end of the commitment period, you may be asked to pay the remaining fees.
Other differences between contracts will depend on whether they allow the service to be used 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 Internet or cable service.
Do I need a permanent address or a French bank account to set up a plan?
It depends on the company. As of 2023, Free was one of the cellular service operators that allowed customers to purchase a new SIM card by simply using a credit or debit card from one of their kiosks.
For this purchase, only a valid credit card and email address were required.
However, other cellular service operators tend to require at least some of the following: valid proof of identity (e.g. passport), an address in France (e.g. utility bill or lease) or a French bank account for payment.
What happens if I visit for a short/defined period?
If you’re traveling for a long time, it may be cheaper to turn off your phone’s data and purchase a prepaid France SIM or E-SIM card.
To get a prepaid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (driving license does not count).
Keep in mind that you won’t be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card, but you 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 if yours is) in order to insert a new SIM card.
You can find more information in The Local’s advice guide on how visitors can avoid roaming charges.
READ MORE: How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills when staying in France
How to terminate a French telephone contract?
Before canceling, you must check again whether you are under commitment (under contract) and if so, for how long.
Since September 2023, companies have had a legal obligation to offer “cancellation in less than three clicks” directly on their websites. This would be done in your online space.
Your operator has 10 working days to terminate the contract once you have requested it.
Some telephone services may also allow you to cancel by calling, but if you want to be completely certain that your cancellation request has been sent and received, you must send a registered letter.
READ MORE: Registered letter: Why you need them and how to send them to France
What should I do if I want to keep a phone number in my home country?
Many foreigners living in France wish to maintain a telephone number in their home country, perhaps to verify two-factor authorizations or receive banking information.
Some people opt for services like “Google Voice” to port their existing phone number. It is advisable to do this before settling in France.