This article guides you through buying and using a French SIM card.
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If you are not sure whether you can use your cell phone in France, read Can you use a U.S. cell phone in France? first.
How to get a French phone number?
Voice over IP applications like Google Voice or WhatsApp make it easy to communicate for free with people in the United States, but you need to get a French phone number for your local communications.
There are many inexpensive mobile plans in France but one challenge for foreigners is that you need a French bank account to subscribe to a postpaid mobile plan. French mobile companies require a RIB even when you pay with a credit card.
That is the reason why my advice is to purchase a French prepaid SIM card to get you started with a French cell phone number. You can switch to a regular postpaid phone plan once you have opened a bank account in France.
The choice of prepaid phone plans in France is vast but French mobile operators do not ship French SIM cards outside France. This was a limitation until recently but things have considerably improved with virtual SIM cards (eSIMs) growing in popularity.
If you know for a fact that your device is not eSIM compatible, then keep reading. If there’s a chance that your device accepts eSIMs, head to Best prepaid eSIM for France instead.
To help you get the best SIM card in France, I have selected 2 options for you: Orange Holiday Europe and Lebara. Ordering from Orange is the stress-free option because you receive your SIM card before moving to France. On the other hand, the Lebara option is more budget oriented. If you do not wish to spend time researching, pick one of the 2 best SIM cards I selected.
If you’d rather do your own research to find the best SIM card in France for your needs, jump to Prepaid SIM cards in France.
1- Best stress-free option: Orange Holiday Europe SIM card
Before moving to France, purchase an Orange Holiday Europe New Package on amazon.com and have your French prepaid SIM card delivered in the United States.
Orange Holiday Europe SIM card features
Orange Holiday Europe SIM card gives you unlimited phone calls and texts within France and Europe for fourteen days as well as 20 GB data for $49.50.
On top of that, you get two hours of international phone time and one thousand international text messages from Europe.
Orange Holiday Europe SIM card advantages
The Orange network is one of the best in France.
Having your SIM card delivered to your place in the United States is highly convenient. You pop in your SIM card before landing in France and you have access to secure and reliable internet immediately. You can call a cab at the airport without having to rely on free Wi-Fi.
Remember to bring your PIN number as well as a paper clip on the plane to easily open your phone’s SIM slot. I explain further down how to install your SIM card into your device.
I call this option stress-free because this is one less thing you have to worry about when landing in your new home.
Compare to prepaid SIM cards from other French carriers, the Orange Holiday Europe SIM card is super easy to buy and to recharge online.
Another advantage of getting your SIM card before moving is that you can start giving your French phone number to people in advance, like to your Airbnb host for instance.
Orange Holiday Europe SIM card drawbacks
This is not the best deal price-wise as you can get a much better price from LEBARA (see Budget Oriented Recommended Option ) when you have your SIM card shipped to France.
Another drawback is that the Holiday Europe SIM card is intended for tourists and it expires after fourteen days only. This means that you have to recharge your SIM card within two weeks after you activate your card.
In my opinion, the Orange Holiday Europe SIM card remains a good option option as it gives you peace of mind. You do not have to worry about getting your SIM card first thing when you arrive in France. Lowering your stress level is priceless when you are relocating.
How to order an Orange Holiday Europe SIM card
You can order your Orange Holiday Europe SIM card from amazon.com.
Validity period of the Orange Holiday Europe SIM card
Your credit is valid for fourteen days beginning when you start using your card. Make sure you recharge your SIM card before the validity period is over.Your phone number is not available to anyone else for six months after your credit expires.
How to activate your Orange Holiday Europe SIM card
Your Orange SIM card is automatically activated as soon a you start using it. Dial 225 to receive a text indicating your French phone number as well as your credit validity period. Dialing 225 does not use any of your credit.
Send your ID to Orange
You need to send your ID to Orange within two weeks of your card activation to make sure you do not loose your number. Have a copy of your ID ready to send electronically and go to the Orange SIM card identification page.
How to recharge yourOrange Holiday Europe SIM card
Make sure you recharge your card before your credit expires.You can check how much credit you have left by composing 225 (free of charge).
You can easily recharge your SIM card on the Orange website and pay with your credit card. Go to the Mobicarte recharges page and pick any type of recharge on the page. You do not have to stick with the Holiday plan but you can switch to any recharge you want, even a data only plan if you wish. Once you picked your plan, click on the following button.
On the next page, enter your cell phone number and click Continuer.
It is also possible to recharge directly from your cell phone. Dial 224 or #123# and follow the instructions.
Recharging your SIM card with Orange is very simple and your credit is immediately updated.
At this point though, since you are now in France, you can very well decide to purchase a prepaid SIM card from another French operator while keeping the same French number you had with Orange. There are many prepaid SIM cards available and you can jump to Prepaid SIM cards in France to find the best SIM card in France.
2- Best budget-oriented option: LEBARA Monthly Bundle SIM card
If you don’t need to have a SIM card the second you land, LEBARA Monthly Bundle is the perfect solution. Order a prepaid SIM card online from LEBARA and have it shipped to your place in France.
LEBARA Monthly Bundle features
Monthly Bundles from LEBARA give you unlimited phone calls and texts within France for 30 days.
There are several excellent options to chose from, depending on the internet data amount you need.
LEBARA Monthly Bundle advantages
In a nutshell, LEBARA Monthly bundle offers many advantages:
- SIM valid for one month that gets automatically renewed after 30 days
- excellent price with many data options to chose from
- uses the Orange network for great quality and reliability
- easy to order online
- no IBAN or French bank account needed
Last but not least, the LEBARA website is available in English, which makes the deal even sweeter if your French is not up to the task yet.
LEBARA Monthly Bundle drawbacks
In my opinion, the only drawback of LEBARA Monthly Bundles plan is that you cannot have the SIM card shipped outside of France. You get your prepaid SIM card only once you reached your place in France.
How to order a LEBARA Monthly Bundle
Ordering a LEBARA SIM card online is fairly straight forward. Pick one of the plans on the LEBARA monthly bundles page.
Enter your contact information in the next page. By law, anyone purchasing a prepaid SIM card in France is required to register it within 5 days of activating the card. Register your card right away by entering your passport number in the Document Number field.
If you’d rather register your SIM card at a later time, check out Register Later and use the LEBARA registration page whenever you are ready.
Click Pay, enter your credit card or Paypal information and you’re done!
The whole online purchasing process is pretty easy as you don’t even need to create an account. If you don’t have internet access, you can purchase LEBARA prepaid SIM cards in bureau de tabac or in grocery stores like Carrefour for instance.
How to activate a LEBARA SIM card
If you ordered your LEBARA SIM card online, you will receive it within 7 business days. Inserting the SIM card into your phone immediately activates your card. If you’ve never swap SIM cards before, read How to Install a French Prepaid SIM Card.
Once your SIM card is activated, you’ll receive a text message containing your new French phone number. If you don’t receive it, dial 144 and select 1 to display your French new phone number.
How to recharge a LEBARA Monthly Bundle
Unless you manually changed this option in your LEBARA account, your Monthly Bundle plan automatically gets renewed every 30 days. You’ll get a text notification on your phone the day before it’s renewed.
If you need extra internet data before it’s renewed, you can purchase LEBARA top-ups online. Enter your email address and your French phone number.
You can log in to your LEBARA account if you have one but otherwise, the guest check out works fine.
How to check your LEBARA remaining credit
To check out the remaining credit on your LEBARA plan, dial 2323 and choose option 2.
To sum it up, if you’re looking for a French pre-paid plan, LEBARA offers the best deal you can get with no RIB required.
Prepaid SIM cards in France
If you’d rather do your own research for a prepaid SIM card, there are 4 main operators in France: Orange, Free, SFR and Bouygues. You can order your prepaid SIM card online from Orange, SFR or Bouygues, as long as your shipping address is in France.
Click on the carrier’s logo to go directly to the prepaid cell phone plans page.
Prepaid SIM card from Free
Free offers an excellent deal with a €19.99 prepaid SIM card that gives you unlimited calls and texts in France and 150 GB data for one month. The trick though is that you can only purchase Free prepaid plans from Free bornes (automated terminals). If you are able to locate a Free terminal close to your place and if your French is good enough, it might be worth it to buy a prepaid plan with Free.
Even though getting 150 GB and unlimited calls and text is very tempting, purchasing a prepaid SIM card from Free is not the best option for non French speakers because of the lack of conveniency.
- you need to find a borne Free, you cannot buy online.
- activation is required before you can use your card.
- recharging is not as easy as entering your phone number. You need to create an account with Free.
Before moving to France, make sure you write down your phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number so you can block your device if it gets stolen. Dial *#06# on your cell phone to get your IMEI number.
Prepaid SIM card from SFR
For €20, you get free unlimited calls and text within France and 80 GB data with SFR Pass illimité.
Prepaid SIM card from Bouygues
My European SIM card from Bouygues gives you unlimited phone calls in France and Europe and 30 GB of data for €39.90. You also get an extra €25 credit for international phone calls and texts. This prepaid SIM card is valid one month.
Prepaid SIM card from Orange
Compare to Free and SFR, Orange is by far the easiest carrier to use for prepaid plans. I like that you can easily purchase your SIM card and your recharges online without creating a user account. There is a large choice of Orange recharges to choose from with four available categories:
- Classiques (classic) – You purchase credits and each phone call, text or data you use lowers your credit.
- Max – Each plan in the max category gives you a set amount of data and unlimited calls and texts within France.
- Internet mobile – You purchase mobile data only.
- Monde (World) – International calls and texts. I advise you use whatsApp or any VoIP application instead.
- Holiday – This is my number one recommendation to receive your prepaid SIM card at your home in the United States. Once you are in France, purchasing a Classique or Max recharge makes more sense.
Each category offers a wide range of prices with the lowest recharge starting at €5. This wide selection makes it convenient to only buy the phone time and data that you need.
How does a French prepaid SIM card work?
French cell phone number
A French prepaid SIM card comes with a French phone number. You pay at the time of purchase and you get an amount of phone time, texts and data for mobile internet access. There is no contract with the operator.
Did you know?
A French phone number is a ten-digit number in which the two first digits have a special meaning. Cell phone numbers start with 06 or 07, whereas landline numbers start with 01 (Île-de-France), 02 (North-West), 03 (North-East), 04 (South-East) or 05 (South-West) depending on their location in France. Phone lines over the internet all start with 09.
Activation of a French prepaid SIM card
Some French SIM cards require an activation and some (like Orange) do not. Your SIM card comes with a PIN number that you will need after you insert your SIM card and every time you restart your phone.
A PUK (personal unblocking key) number is also attached to your new SIM card. Keep it in a safe place as you might need it to unlock your phone if you cannot remember your PIN number.
Identification of the owner of a SIM card
By law, any person who buys a SIM card in France has to provide an identification to the phone carrier within two weeks of the SIM card activation.
Validity period of a French prepaid SIM card
French SIM cards have two validity durations.
- validité du crédit (credit validity period) – After your credit expires, you loose your remaining phone time and mobile data. Recharge your card before your credit expires. Your credit expiration date moves back with each recharge.
- validité de la ligne à expiration (phone line validity period) – Once your credit has expired, your phone number is not given to another customer for that period of time.
What data is stored on a SIM card?
A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card stores your phone number and phone service settings. It does not store your pictures or videos nor contacts. After you insert your new French SIM card in your phone, your texts, pictures and contacts will still be there.
How to install a French prepaid SIM card
There are three formats of SIM cards: mini, micro and nano. When you order a SIM card from Orange, SFR or Bouygues you get a triple cut SIM card that works for all three formats.Press out the format you need for your phone device.
If you purchase your SIM card from Free, make sure you order the correct SIM card format for your phone.
The process of swapping SIM cards is very simple. Open your SIM card slot with a paper clip, take out your current SIM card. Insert the new one, you are done!
Where can you buy a prepaid SIM card in France?
Many places sell prepaid SIM cards in France.
Buy a French prepaid SIM card at the airport
If you need a French prepaid SIM card right after landing, look for a Relay shop at the airport. You will pay pretty much the same price for a prepaid SIM card at the airport as you would for a Holiday Europe SIM card from Orange on Amazon.com.
Buy a French prepaid SIM card anywhere else
In France, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card in supermarkets, bureaux de tabac and phone stores. These places also sell recharges for your prepaid card. You will get a much better deal in any of these places than at the airport.
This article covered how to get the best SIM card in France. A prepaid plan is good for your first few weeks in France. Once you have a French bank account, you can switch to a French postpaid plan which is less expensive. Read Open a bank account in France as an American to get the ball rolling.