First off, nobody paid me to write this. This is an honest review of what we have found to be the cheapest solution for a pre-paid phone plan in France.
Do We Need a Phone in France?
When we arrived in France nearly 3 weeks ago we were not sure if we would need a phone. I am a firm believer in owning an unlocked GSM cellphone and had one with me, so if we did need a phone, all we would need to do is purchase a local SIM card. If you don’t know what an unlocked cellphone is, it is a phone that is not locked to a carrier and can be used with any cellphone company. That is, a phone that is locked to AT&T can only be used with AT&T, whereas, an unlocked phone can be used with any company that offers pre-paid SIM cards. There is a little bit more to it, so to read more about unlocked cellphones, you can read this article I wrote about them:
We soon realized that we did need a phone for making reservations, finding hours that businesses are open (many websites in France are not updated regularly), and calling family back home. We started looking around at the different options for pre-paid SIM cards.
Orange and SFR
The two biggest cellphone companies in France seem to be Orange and SFR. We stopped at one of the many Orange stores around Paris and asked them what are the costs for a SIM card and what their rates are. The SIM card cost €10 and includes €5 worth of credit. When asking what the charge for calls was we were a bit shocked, 50 cents per minute within France and €1 per minute to the United States. We were hoping to find cheaper and found an SFR store in the mall, which their prices were exactly the same as Orange. We then stumbled across a cellphone specialty store called “The Phone House” and found out that they used Orange and their prices were the same as what was quoted in the Orange store.
We had noticed a small internet café a couple of blocks down the street from our apartment that also sold cellphones. We stopped in and asked if they sold pre-paid SIM cards and they did. The guy that worked the counter told us that the SIM card costs €10 and has 7€50 credit. Better than Orange or SFR, but what was the charge per minute for calls? At this point we were skeptical of finding a cheap phone plan in France, but the guy said that the SIM card is through Lycamobile and is the cheapest plan available in France. Calls within France cost 15 cents per minute and international calls to the United States cost 5 cents per minute with a 15 cents connection charge. And the best part, calls between Lycamobile phones are free, even internationally. Unfortunately, Lycamobile is not in the United States, but if we wanted a second cellphone Kerri and I could call each other and it would not cost anything.
Once we got home I inserted the SIM card and went to Lycamobile’s website and activated the card, as per the instructions. You can also activate it through the phone, but you need to mail them a copy of your passport or drivers license. I needed to enter in my personal information including a French address and drivers license (or passport) number. If you are visiting and staying at a hotel, you could probably use your hotel address and not have a problem. After that, our phone was active and we had a French phone number. To top off the minutes, you can do it through the phone or through Lycamobile’s website. Piece of cake and really cheap!
Buying a Phone in France
You can always buy an unlocked cellphone after arriving in France, but many of the phones for pre-paid plans are not very good and you will probably pay more than if you had purchased one before leaving. Personally, if you are planning a trip to France I would buy one before you leave through Amazon.com where I have found the best prices for unlocked cell phones. You can get anything from a super basic Blu cellphone for basic calls or an unlocked iPhone for everything. The phone I am currently using is an inexpensive Samsung i5500 Corby Galaxy 5 which has WI-FI for free internet, and Angry Birds for entertainment.