One of the most frequently asked is: “for my upcoming trip, which prepaid SIM card for France should I get?” After extensive research, it came down to these two: Le French Mobile and Orange. I felt they were the best choices but which one you should go with really depends how long you’ll need the SIM card and how much data you think you’ll need. Here’s what you need to know if staying connected is important to you when you travel in France.
[At all times I have paid for Le French Mobile and Orange using my own money]
Updated February 26, 2023, to share my recent experience using Orange and to indicate new roaming price for Telus
Table of contents
- 1. Prepaid SIM Card For France
- 2. French Mobile Phone Providers: who sells French SIM cards?
- 3. What To Consider When Getting A Local SIM Card
- 4. Orange Holiday SIM
- 5. Le French Mobile SIM
- 6. Comparing Orange Holiday vs. Le French Mobile
- 7. Calls/Data Using Your Home Cellphone Provider
1. Prepaid SIM Card For France
Having an unlocked cellphone is key to being able to use a local prepaid SIM card for France. Your cellphone provider can unlock your phone for you.
Nowadays, the SIM card will come in all three sizes to fit in your cellphone: mini, nano, and micro. The cost of the sim card is usually negligible or even free. It’s the cost of data and calls where companies make their money. If I can pay less than $120 for 30 days and beat my home provider’s price, it’s worth it.
2. French Mobile Phone Providers: who sells French SIM cards?
There are French network operators such as Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Free Mobile and virtual mobile operators (MVNOs) like La Poste Mobile, Lebara, Le French Mobile, and Lycamobile. The MVNOs don’t own a network but obtain bulk access at wholesale prices, so they are basically resellers. Some are better than others.
Many of the plans are only available to French residents. If you’re just visiting France and not going to live there, you do NOT want the “forfait sans engagement”. It has a rolling contract and auto-renews each month. It often requires that you have a French bank account to get a French mobile phone and this type of plan.
Prepaid plans are the best for travellers. It came down to two companies for me: Orange and Le French Mobile. Neither one is perfect and some people love Orange and some people hate Orange. The same goes with Le French Mobile.
3. What To Consider When Getting A Local SIM Card
If you want to do your own research, these are five things to consider when comparing local SIM cards for France:
- Coverage: will it cover a broad area of France or the area you’ll be in?
- Validity period: Will your data last for 14 days? 30 days? Longer?
- Reliability of service
- Support: I am not alone in running into problems and needed to reach customer service. If customer service only speaks French, this could be a factor if you are not fluent.
Orange and Le French Mobile are both good but certainly not perfect (biggest complaint about both: customer service). The biggest problem usually lies with the user not putting in the correct APN settings and not turning on roaming.
4. Orange Holiday SIM
Orange is one of the biggest French cellphone providers. It is said to provide the best coverage throughout the country. The plan that is most popular for travellers (ie. visitors who are travelling in France and the EU for a few days to a few weeks) is the prepaid Orange Holiday SIM Plan. Many people like this company and its SIM card but there are two drawbacks: the price and the duration of the plan. Here’s what you should know:
(a) Orange Holiday Plan
- Coverage: excellent in France; this SIM also covers you all over the European Union (4G)
- Validity Period: 14 days
- Cost: 39.99 € gives you a French phone number, 20GB of data, 120 minutes of international calls and 1000 texts to the rest of the world and unlimited calls/texts within Europe.
- Holiday top-ups: (€20 or 40 € ) include data (5 GB or 20 GB respectively), plus the same international calls and texts and roaming throughout Europe, for an additional 2 weeks or 31 days.
- Requirements: an unlocked phone and some form of identity (ie. passport) to register your SIM
Orange boutiques: there are many locations and in most cases, the salesperson can install and set up your SIM for you (including changing your phone’s APN settings). Do this to ensure everything works before you leave. Hopefully, you’ll get someone who speaks English.
I went to the Orange boutique near Place de la Bastille and the salesperson set me all up. I had to show him my passport. Because I might want to use the SIM card again (after the 30 day period), I sent in an image of my passport using their online registration form: https://travel.orange.com/en/sim-card-registration/ . Everything was confirmed quickly.
After the 2 weeks, you need to top up your plan. You can top up online (website is in English). BUT you will pay a “service fee” of 3.4 € which I think is a rip-off for something that is online and not even delivered ) or get a top-up card (voucher) at most convenience stores and some Orange stores.
(c) Important Points
- Once your first phone call or text is made, your SIM card is activated and you can get your French phone number by texting “225”
- To find out how much remaining credit you have, dial into phone (not SMS): #123#
- The Holiday SIM card (& your French mobile number) expires after 6 months if not topped up. Set up an account via the Orange website and top up anytime before the 6 months ends. The SIM number will be active for another 6 months.
- You can tether your phone to other devices.
- Customer service: supposedly there are English-speaking phone customer service reps but from what I’ve read, when they can’t get their SIM card to work, many customers cannot get through and most of the web pages are in French.
- Website: Orange Holiday
5. Le French Mobile SIM
Le French Mobile is the prepaid SIM Card I’ve been using for the past 7 years. I looked into other options, but in the end, Le French Mobile’s coverage, price, and ease of use made it the winner.
Le French Mobile is a French company that is a virtual mobile operator (MVNOs). They are managed by the Transatel group and are not a network like Orange but the main network that is used is Orange. The hardest part is getting your head around their plans and how they work.
(a) Le French Mobile Plans
- Coverage: excellent-they use the Orange network and the speed is 4G LTE
- Validity period: 30-60 days depending on the plan/bundle
- Cost: 16.94 € and higher depending on the plan/bundle. Order either a “SIM + Data France” or the “SIM + Credit France”.
- Requirements: an unlocked phone and some form of identity (ie. passport) to register your SIM. After you have made your first call or first data connection, you have 15 days to complete and send in the personal information form that is included in your purchase. This is what all providers require and if you don’t send it in (mail or email), your account will be suspended.
- They have free worldwide delivery and it takes about 2 weeks to get to North America. [Note: you also have the option of buying a cell phone through Le French Mobile].
Here’s the difference between the two types of Le French Mobile plans:
SIM + Data France
This is a data SIM card for France that comes with 2GB of data, a French phone number, and 2 Euros of credit already loaded onto it. Why the 2€ credit? In case you need to make phone calls. The calls will be about 0.20 Euros per minute so you get 10 minutes worth of calls. Once the 2GB is used up, you can recharge your account with more Euros so you can buy another bundle. Or, you can just leave the credit there and do (more expensive) roaming.
- SIM validity period: 90 days
- Cost: 16.94 Euros
SIM +Credit France
With this plan, you spend 25 € and get a SIM with a French phone number and 25 € worth of credit to be used to “roam” or to buy a bundle. A bundle is a data package with a set amount of data available to use. It is much more economical to buy a bundle because “out of bundle” (roaming) costs are high. If you don’t buy a bundle you’re going to use your 25 € credit to “roam”, where each call, text, and data use is charged by the minute/use and it will be costly. Each MB is 0.09 Euros (so 1 GB of data would be 90 Euros).
- Price: one of the great things about Le French Mobile is that they often have sales and when you buy certain amounts of credit you are often given a bonus. I recently bought 45 € credit to add to my SIM card and got a 10 Euro bonus. I then use that 55 € credit to buy a bundle.
- A bundle can be 2 GB for 10 Euros, 5 GB for 20 Euros, 20 GB for 40 Euros, and 100 GB for 65 €. [Bundles for the European Union are slightly more expensive]
- SIM validity period: indefinite
- Cost: 25 €
(b) Set Up
To set up your phone and buy a bundle here’s what to do:
STEP 1: When you arrive in France use the PIN code that was included in the email to unlock your phone.
STEP 2: Connect to the internet using the free wifi (ie. at Charles de Gaulle airport)
STEP 3: Download the APN settings. All the instructions are on the Le French Mobile website and included in the delivery of your SIM card.
STEP 4: Once you are connected, you will receive this message:
“Welcome to LeFrenchMobile. Your phone number is XXXXXXX. To check your balance, send BAL to 22213. To recharge your account, visit www.lefrenchmobile.com
STEP 5: Send the message “BAL” to 22213 into iMessage or SMS. If you purchased a SIM + Credit (with the 25 € credit) the message will be:
“Your remaining credit is 25 €.”.
If you purchased a SIM+ Data (2GB), the message will be:
“Your remaining credit is 2 €. French data bundle(s): 2GB including 2GB to be used by (date)”.
STEP 6: If you decide to buy a bundle (ie. 2GB) using your 25 € credit, type in BUNDLE FR2GB and send it to 22213. A message will come back:
“Congratulations. You have successfully subscribed to LeFrenchMobile data bundle. To check your new balance, send BAL to 22213.”
STEP 7: To check how much data you have, type BAL and send it to 22213. The message will come back:
“Your remaining credit is 6 €. French data bundle(s): 2GB including 2GB to be used by (date)”.
[Please double-check Le French Mobile’s website for complete instructions in case details in these steps have changed]
(c) Important Points
- Customer service: available in English
- You cannot add a bundle until your remaining data is under 100MB
- You get your phone number by making a call or sending a text.
- Setting up your account online can only take place once you have activated your card and gotten your phone number. Once those two steps are done, you can add credit or buy a bundle. You can pay via Paypal or credit card.
- 1-800 numbers will NOT work. You might consider getting a SKYPE credit to make these calls
- You cannot tether your phone to other devices. I use a hotspot and put a SIM card in it when I want other devices to use data (accessing the internet).
- If the SIM card is unused for more than 1 month, it will be subject to a charge of 0.9 Euro per month—-in other words, 0.9 Euros will be deducted from the remaining credit on your card. If you don’t have enough credit on your account, you’ll have to recharge your SIM or else the card will be deactivated after 2 months.
6. Comparing Orange Holiday vs. Le French Mobile
When comparing the two companies, the best deal all depends on how much data you think you’ll need and how long you’ll need it and whether you need to use your phone as a hotspot. Neither company has unlimited calls. You either get so many minutes or pay by the minute. Here’s a cost comparison between Le French Mobile and Orange Holiday SIM for 1 month:
- 14 Day Cost: 39.99 € (20 GB)
- 1 Month Cost: 39.99 € + 20 € top-up = 60 € (20 GB for the first 14 days and then a top-up of 5GB for the next 14 days) [Duration of each bundle: 14 days]
Le French Mobile
- 14 Day Cost: 16.94€ ( 2 GB data + 2 € for phone calls)-SIM + Data France (note: it will actually last 30 days)
- 1 Month Cost: “SIM + Data France” =16.94€ OR “SIM + Credit France” = 25 €. Use this credit to buy the 5GB bundle and have 5 € left for phone calls (this credit doesn’t expire). (30 days)
For 14 days: 20GB with Orange for 39.99 € or 2GB with Le French Mobile for 16.94 €
For one month: 25 GB with Orange for 60 € (28 days) or 5GB with Le French Mobile for 20 € (30 days)
As mentioned, your choice depends on how much data you need and for how long. Le French Mobile ends up being cheaper and your plan lasts longer but it can be a little more complicated (a few extra steps); however, I feel that it is the best sim card for France for visitors and in all the years I’ve had mine, I have found the process to be easy.
Now that I’ve used both SIM cards, I’ll cut to the chase: if I need to use my phone as a hotspot (connecting other devices), I’ll go with Orange. If I just have my phone and want the cheapest plan, I’ll go with Le French Mobile.
It also depends if tethering your smartphone to other devices is needed. When I was in France in May 2022, I wanted to use my iPhone as a hotspot, so I could use the internet on my iPad or computer. You can only do this with Orange, not Le French Mobile. It worked seamlessly; however, I did use up a lot of data in the month: In addition to the initial SIM card and 20GB plan, I topped up two more times (20GB each), and at the end of the trip I still had 10 GB left. Total cost: 123.40 € using 50GB over 33 days. Not cheap, but really convenient to use.
7. Calls/Data Using Your Home Cellphone Provider
Many people want to stay with their home cellular carrier when they travel but it can be costly if you roam or get one of their travel plans. If you “roam” and don’t get a travel plan, the charges can be outrageous. Here’s an example of the roaming charges: $1.50 per minute for a phone call and $5.00 per MB of data. If you usually use 1GB of data a month. that equates to $5000!!! (That’s why you should NEVER roam outside of your country if you don’t have a plan).
An alternative is to get an international plan from your home cellphone provider. It’s easy, it’s cheaper, you keep your phone number, and everything will work as if you were at home. The only difference, especially if you live in Canada, is the price of the international plan. The high price! The mobile network company I use is Telus and their two travel plans are pretty much the same as the other cellphone carriers:
$16 a day (effective March 8, 2023) where you use YOUR minutes, data, and texts just like you would at home. For example, if you have a monthly plan that gives you 3GB of data and unlimited phone calls and texts, that’s what your plan will be when you are in France…for $15 a day. Going for 10 days? That’s $150. But it gets worse. Although Telus says the international fee will be capped at $300 per billing cycle (which is insane anyway), if you’re traveling for 30+ days, there’s likely a chance you’ll be in two billing cycles= $$$.
This is no longer offered by Telus but other providers might have it. This pass for Europe allowed you to purchase data/calls for a set period at a flat rate, much like “pay as you go”.
Note: Prices are subject to change.
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JohnJune 17, 2022 at 10:12 am
Never, ever ever use Freemobile.fr. They are a horrible company and you will regret every second of their service. They will actively attempt to rob you. Look out at any of their reviews online. They are RUBBISH.
ChristinaJune 23, 2022 at 10:32 am
Have you had an experience with eSim card Here’s one from Orange. Orange Holiday Europe: all-inclusive card data & minutes, calls and texts in Europe are unlimited) https://travel.orange.com/en/all-inclusive/europe/orhldeur8gb/
I’m researching for a future trip France/Italy for about 15 days. I might have to either activate the sim one day later or top up before 14 days expires (preferably the first option). My main question is do I still need to submit my passport information? Thanks
JanJune 23, 2022 at 4:21 pm
With regards to the Orange SIM-first, it’s only necessary to send in a copy of your passport if you want to keep the phone number after 30 days. Otherways, you can just discard the SIM after 30 days. BUT, as you already know, if you want to use the SIM after 14 days, you’ll need to top it up, so not starting it until one day after you arrive is certainly an option (and will save you money). This is in the Orange FAQ:
“Pay attention, do not confuse the validity of your line and the validity of your credit. Indeed your credit is valid for 14 days as soon as the activation of your SIM card. Your line is valid for 1 month without registration, if you register the validity period will be extended to 6 months.”
As for the e-sim with Orange, I did look into it, however, because I was so busy getting ready for my trip, I just didn’t want to spend the time figuring out what to do (ie. should I switch providers for phone calls? should I turn my Canadian SIM off entirely, etc).
I wanted to have a physical SIM in case I wanted to use it in a hotspot that I have. I’ve also read conflicting opinions about being able to put the e-sim in another device. Some say you can, some say you can’t. (and you definitely can’t download the esim for another time). And, for me, it wasn’t important to still be connected to my Canadian phone number. I preferred taking my Canadian SIM out of my phone, putting it in a safe place and then putting in the Orange or Le French Mobile SIM.
However, it is something I may consider for a future trip.
By the way, if you decide to go with a physical Orange SIM card, do NOT buy from Simoptions. I checked and although they sell it, the shipping costs are enormous! Such a rip off. I’d suggest waiting until you get to France, go into an Orange store and have them set it up. The guy at the Orange store near the Bastille was great. if you’re going to get the e-sim, you probably already know this but everything can be done online.
ChristinaJune 26, 2022 at 10:54 am
Thanks Jan. Sorry for the late reply. Simoptions’ shipping made me eliminate it from my choice right away.
e-Sim: I don’t want to use my Canadian plan in EU. I also have a fear that I’ll use my Canadian sim card by accident instead of my e-Sim for EU. I might just remove my Canadian sim card before flying out from Canada to be on the safe side. Also if I end up arriving on a Sun, it’s better for me to have e-sim before arrival and use the time to pick up the rental car at the airport (could be time consuming), then get some water, grocery before 12:30/1pm closure wherever I need to go. Of course I know Auchan at Aeroville has longer hours.
JanJune 26, 2022 at 5:01 pm
Thanks for your comment.
That was my fear: using my Canadian SIM by accident
Christel FeunteunJanuary 13, 2023 at 3:56 am
Hi, you can also switch to eSIM data plans unless you need to make local calls. As you can use whatsapp or signal or else to make calls with eSIM. It’s super cheap, you don’t need to remove your own SIM so your phone number is still active. I know Ubigi is same company as LeFrenchMobile and has 5G coverage in France but best is to compare.
JanJanuary 13, 2023 at 7:39 am
Yes, esims are another option. The biggest downside is that if you don’t want to use WhatsApp or another app to make phone calls, a regular SIM card is needed.
VeroniqueFebruary 1, 2023 at 7:08 pm
Thank you for making this information available.
I am a French/Australian… dinosaur when it comes to electronics!
I want a sim card for phone calls from Belgium to France, and data to Whatsapp Australia.
I will be there for 17days. and I don’t understand how to go about it!!
From previous experience, Orange was quite unhelpful !
I would very much appreciate some advice!
JanFebruary 1, 2023 at 7:44 pm
Technology is so confusing sometimes! You’re not alone.
Seeing that you only need a SIM card for data, you don’t need the physical Orange Holiday SIM that I talk about in my post. (That one includes phone calls). You just want a Data SIM card. As this is the case you could get an Orange data only e-SIM or an Airalo data e-Sim. There is no physical SIM card. You are simply given instructions to download the SIM card.
Many people speak favourably about the Airalo e-Sim.
It is the same as a physical SIM card but it is “loaded” onto your phone and you wait until you arrive in France to “activate” it. Unfortunately, I have not gotten one (as I like to have phone service).
Check the Airalo (dot) com website. There are different plans for France. Some are only for 7 days but there are ones for 3, 5, 10, or 20 GB for 3o days. If you do a Google Search for Orange e-Sim, you’ll see that their 8GB or 20GB plans unfortunately are only for 14 days and then you have to top it up (which is a pain, seeing that you only need it for 17 days).
So my recommendation would be: look into the Airalo offers. They’ll explain how to activate their plan when you arrive. You basically download their app, choose a destination (France) and plan and install the e-SIM via a QR code or do it manually (instructions are given on the website). The validity period starts when the eSIM activates. Most eSIMs will activate when the installed eSIM connects to the supported network at the destination.
Hope this helps you out. Good luck!