This comprehensive guide explains how phone plans work in France. You’ll learn about the different carriers and what features you should consider before signing up for a phone plan in France. The good news is that most French cell phone service providers are affordable and reliable.
- Main phone carriers
- Low-cost French operators
- How to pick the best network
- Phone plan features
- Data in phone plans
- 4G and 5G coverage
- Phone and internet bundles
- How to pay your phone bill?
- Keeping your number
- Can I sign up for a phone plan online?
- How much is a phone bill in France?
- English helpline
- Expats and dual SIM cards
- Cancelling your phone plan
- Terminating a long-term phone plan early
- My experience with French phone carriers
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You have several options of phone carriers in France. You can use phone services from one of the main operators, from one of their low-cost brands, or from a virtual network operator. Let’s see what the differences are between these options.
Main phone carriers in France
Orange, Free Mobile, SFR and Bouygues are the four main French phone carriers. Click on the carrier’s logo to go directly to their cell phone plans page.
Each of these four phone operators use their own network.
Orange is known to have the best overall coverage in France (not by far though) but you should check which carrier has the best coverage in your area if you live in a rural zone. I explain how to check a phone operator coverage for a specific area in how to pick the best network further down.
Although Free Mobile is one of the four main operators, its prices compete with low-cost companies’s prices. Free Mobile also differs from the three other main carriers as Free Mobile only offers no-contract plans. As of January 2024, Free Mobile is also the phone operator with the best 5G coverage according to Arcep.
Low-cost French operators
As expected, low-cost companies offer better deals than main phone carriers (except for Free Mobile) and their prices vary from €2/month to €20/month.
The other difference beside the price between mainstream and low-cost plans usually lays in customer support and the number of available options. You usually don’t get to talk to someone when you need help but you can still reach support via an app.
The quality of communications for voice, text and cellular data is the same with low-cost brands because all carriers use the same networks.
Low-cost plans from main operators
SFR, Orange and Bouygues offer low-cost plans under the following brands. Click on the carrier’s logo to go directly to their cell phone plans page.
Low-cost plans from mobile virtual network operators
Mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) resell wireless communications services from the four main French operators under their own brand. This means that the quality of the communications they offer is exactly the same as the one offered by the main carriers because they all share the same networks.
There are many MVNOs in France and the most popular ones are: NRJ Mobile (Bouygues Telecom), Cdiscount Mobile (Bouygues Telecom), Auchan Telecom (Bouygues Telecom), La Poste Mobile (SFR), Prixtel (SFR), Coriolis (SFR), Lebara (Orange), Youprice (Orange, SFR and Bouygues), Reglo Mobile (SFR), Syma Mobile (SFR) and Lycamobile (Bouygues Telecom).
Since each MVNO uses the network from one or two of the main operators, picking a MVNO begins by choosing the wireless network that will work best in your area.
How to pick the best network
Picking a phone carrier starts with deciding which network works best for you.
If you live in a big city in France, you can probably go ahead and base your choice of network solely on price, customer support as well as options that are important to you such as international calls or a big amount of data.
If you don’t live in one of France’s larger cities, you should make sure that you pick the phone network with the best coverage and quality for your area and Arcep can help you with that. Arcep is an independent administrative authority which provides network-performance metrics that can help with your choice of operator.
Use Arcep’s coverage map
Go to Arcep’s map of France phone quality and coverage. On the Arcep map, enter your city (commune) in the Recherchez votre commune field located in the upper right corner.
The left-hand side lets you switch between the parameters you’re interested in. Switch between quality (qualité) and coverage (couverture) and check the results for each operator. Make sure you read the values for talk and text (voix et sms) as this is super important in rural areas if you don’t want to be asking over and over “Can you hear me?” or have your phone calls drop every few minutes.
At the very top on the left-hand side, you can switch between operators and see the results on the map.
On the above map, the darker red zones indicate areas where the SFR coverage is excellent for phone calls and text messages. That only represents 66% of the area and that explains why my phone calls were often more painful than enjoyable…until I turned on Wi-Fi calling on my phone.
The map gets updated whenever you switch between phone operators in the upper left corner.
Phone plan features in France
There are a few choices to make when picking a phone plan in France. Let’s take a look at the different features French mobile plans offer.
Long-term contract and month-to-month plans
The four main French operators offer both long-term binding plans (forfait avec engagement) and month-to-month no-contract plans (forfait sans engagement). Low-cost carriers offer month-to-month plans exclusively.
Long-term plans cannot be longer than 24 months in France. You have to pay penalties if you decide to end your subscription before your contract finishes. Since November 2023, breaking your phone contract before it terminates is not as costly as it used to be. Read Cancelling a phone plan for details.
Binding cell phone plans can be advantageous because they usually start you on a very attractive rate that increases after a few months. The following price for the 200GB 5G plan from Orange is interpreted as below.
Long-term plans can be interesting when you want to purchase a phone along with your phone plan.
Surprisingly, some month-to-month phone plans in France also start you on a lower price that increases after a few months. Check out this no-contract plan from Orange.
If you’re on a long-term plan, you can find out when your plan ends by calling 3179 from your cell phone.
Limited/unlimited talk time
There are only two types of postpaid phone plans in France when it comes to talk time: unlimited and two-hours talk per month.
Two-hour call plans are popular amongst parents of 11 year old who start middle school. It’s a great option as a first cell phone plan for teens if you want to limit their screen time. Most of the time, limited phone plans in France come with unlimited text, which is also great for teens. Your teen will probably hate you for that but limited cell phone plans in France come with only 50MB or 100MB of internet data.
With a limited plan, you usually have the option to get it blocked or not.
Blocked/non-blocked phone plans
With a non-blocked plan (forfait non bloqué), when you exceed your phone plan limit, you are charged extra without necessarily being notified beforehand. This is obviously not a great option for your teen or for yourself if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises.
A blocked plan (forfait bloqué) offers more security in that regard as your phone stops functioning once you’ve reached your plan limits. You pay the same amount each month, no surprises.
Pay-as-you-go phone plans
While less common, there is also a small choice of pay-as-you-go phone plans in France(forfait flexible). The amount you pay monthly depends on the amount of data you use. Prixtel offers three flexible plans called Le petit, Le grand and Le géant with a monthly price that varies based on your data usage. As an example, check out the rates for Prixtel Le petit plan.
Data in phone plans in France
When your phone is not connected to Wi-Fi, you connect to the internet using data on your phone plan. Once you’ve decided on a network, the next step is to figure out how much data you need on your plan.
Gigabytes are called gigas (short for gigaoctets) in French and the abbreviation for gigaoctet is Go. The same goes for megabytes called mégas (short for mégaoctets), abbreviated as Mo.
I personally only use my phone data for GPS, music or emails when I’m away from home. My Red by SFR wireless plan allows for 5GB data and I’ve never reached that limit. I do have to monitor my usage when I’m away from home for a few days though.
On the other end of the spectrum, people who are connected 24/7 to social networks, who watch movies on their phone or play video games, should consider plans with at least 100GB data per month.
French phone plans include internet data (internet mobile) ranging from 50MB (for 2-hour plans) to 300GB (Bouygues 24-month plan).
Unlimited internet data is extremely rare in France and the only plan I’m aware of is Free 250GB no-contract plan that gives you unlimited internet data when it’s associated with a Freebox Pop internet plan.
To give you a rough idea, according to Arcep’s January 2024 report on electronic communication services in France, people in France use on average 15.9GB mobile data per month.
4G and 5G coverage in France
As of January 2024, the 4G technology is the most developed phone technology in France.
France started building its 5G network at the end of 2020 and 5G access is not yet available everywhere in France. According to Arcep’s January 2024 report on electronic communication services in France, the number of users using 5G in France reached 12.4 millions at the end of September 2023, which is 15 % of the total number of SIM cards in France.
If you’re located near a 5G antenna, you might be able to benefit from a 5G plan and get speeds that are ten times faster than G4.
If you’re interested in getting a 5G plan, check your phone manufacturer to see if your phone is 5G compatible.
Calls over Wi-Fi in France
All phone carriers in France include calls over Wi-Fi in their plans. This means that you can use your home internet connection to make and receive voice calls. If you live in a rural area with a not-so-great 4G coverage but you have broadband at home, then this is a solution for you. All you need to do is set up your phone to accept Wi-Fi calling.
On your iPhone, go to Settings/Cellular/Wi-Fi Calling and turn on Wi-Fi Calling on this iPhone. The procedure must be very similar on your Android device (sorry but I’m an iPhone fan).
Phone and internet bundles
Most phone carriers offer their best deals on bundles (offres groupées). Getting both internet services and phone service from the same carrier usually gives you the best bang for your buck.
As an example, Free Mobile 250GB plan comes down to half-price (€9.99/month) when you add it to a Freebox Pop subscription and you also gain unlimited mobile data. This is a pretty unbeatable deal.
Read Internet providers in France to chose an ISP.
How to pay your phone bill in France?
Some phone carriers in France require that you have a French bank account. You give your phone carrier the authorization to withdraw money from your bank account every month via a SEPA mandate.
On a SEPA mandate, you specify the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) that appears on your bank’s RIB.
Do you need a French bank account for a French phone plan?
Fortunately, a few carriers (Orange, Free, Sosh, B&You, Red by SFR, Lebara, Syma Mobile) now allow their customers to pay by credit cards. In that case, you pay your phone bill every month after you received your invoice. LycaMobile allows payment with U.S. credit cards.
Phone carriers typically send out monthly bills via email or snail mail.
Roaming in phone plans in France
French carrier do not charge roaming fees (frais d’itinérance) inside the European Union.
For roaming outside the European Union, check your carrier’s contract to see if roaming fees are covered in the country you want to visit. If it’s not, look for an add-on to your plan or an international pass from your French carrier.
Keeping your phone number
It’s easy to keep the same number when you switch phone plans in France. Give your RIO number to your new phone carrier who will take care of it for free. Call 3179 from your cell phone to get your RIO number.
You can also keep your phone number when you move from a prepaid plan to a postpaid plan.
Can I sign up for a phone plan online?
Online subscription is the easiest way to get a French phone plan. Phone operators usually charge €10 fees for SIM activation fees (frais d’activation sim) when you subscribe.
At checkout, you can choose to purchase a SIM card or an eSIM. You also need to validate your ID. Foreign passports are accepted if you don’t have a French ID.
Once you received your SIM card, you need to validate your plan. Go to your user account (espace client) and enter the 13-digit SIM number that came along your SIM card.
How much is a phone bill in France?
According to Arcep’s January 2024 report on electronic communication services in France, the average monthly cell phone bill at the end of September 2023 was €15.2 before taxes.
As an English-speaking expat in France, being able to contact your carrier in English might be a big plus. If communicating in English is important to you, then Orange could be a good option for you because it’s the only main carrier that provides English speaking customer service in France.
To contact the Orange helpline, dial 09 69 36 39 00.
Lycamobile and Lebara provide English websites and they also have English speaking customer service representatives.
Expats and dual SIM cards
If you kept a phone plan back home, you can take advantage of dual SIM card phones and use one SIM card for home and another one for a French SIM card when you’re in France.
If your phone doesn’t have two physical SIM card slots, you can still achieve the same result by using an eSIM for your French card and save the physical slot for your home country card. You can also do it the other way around, get an eSIM for your home country SIM card and a physical SIM card for your French carrier.
If you’re interested in keeping your U.S. phone number while abroad, read Google voice number for expats.
Cancelling a phone plan in France
Switching phone carrier
If your previous plan was non-binding or if your previous contract has ended, switching phone carrier is easy as your new carrier takes care of cancelling your previous plan for free. All you need to do is give your new phone carrier your current phone number and they will switch you over.
Cancelling without subscribing to a new plan
If your phone carrier offers online subscriptions, you can easily cancel your plan online from your user account in 3-clicks. The 3-click contract termination law is enforced since June 2023 and it makes it much more easier than before to cancel any contract that you subscribed online.
If your phone carrier doesn’t provide online subscription, you need to send a letter to your phone carrier via registered mail (LRAR mail).
Terminating a long-term plan early
If you’re on a binding long-term plan, it’s better to wait until your contract ends or else you will have to pay penalty fees.
Thanks to a law called Loi Châtel and a new “pouvoir d’achat” law enacted in November 2023, you don’t need to pay the full remaining terms of your plan when you terminate your contract plan early. Here are the new rules for the penalties.
- plan only (no phone device) – You pay full price for the months before the end of the first year (months 1 to 12). You don’t pay anything for the second year.
- plan plus phone – You pay full price for the months before the end of the first year (months 1 to 12). You pay up to 20% of the price for the remaining months (months 13 to 24).
Only the months before the end of the first year (months 1 to 12) are due full price. If you had a 24-month contract, you don’t pay anything for the second year unless you purchased a phone device with your plan.
You also have to pay termination fees (frais de résiliation) specified in your contract on top of the penalty fees. Termination fees run around €50.
How to terminate your contract
To terminate your binding phone plan before the end, send a termination letter via registered mail (LRAR mail) to your phone carrier. Make sure to mention loi Châtel and the total penalty amount you calculated you should pay (including the termination fees).
Phone carriers in France cannot take more than ten business days to terminate your contract, starting the day they received your termination letter.
My experience of French phone carriers
Since I moved to France in 2017, I’ve tried Orange, Free Mobile and Red by SFR for both internet and phone service providers. I always get the internet and phone services from the same carrier to get better deals.
I started out with a plan from Orange and the experience was both horrible and frustrating. My internet connection went down during a storm and I stayed without internet connection for two months. Orange customer support was totally useless and I ended up paying for the two months when I had no service.
I then switched to Free Mobile. My experience was ok considering that I lived in an area with bad internet connection and almost non-existent 4G coverage.
I moved again and switched to Red by SFR with fiber optic. At some point, my fiber connection was lost and upon contacting Red by SFR, they immediately gave me an extra 100GB data on my phone so I could use it while they fixed my internet connection. They didn’t charge me for it or for the days when my internet connection was down. The issue was resolved quickly.
Red by SFR’s customer support doesn’t feel “low-cost” at all and I’ve never had any issue contacting them via their phone app. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with my €5.69/month plan 5GB from Red by SFR.
When you’re ready to sign up for a phone plan, read French phone plans for American expats to get a plan that covers calls and roaming to the U.S. and Canada.