LivingTravelCell phone information in France

Cell phone information in France

The cell phone you use every day at home could work while visiting France. However, you have to conform to several standards first, and roaming fees can be incredibly high. Or you may be able to access a French network for much less money. Find out how and if you can use your cell phone in France.

First of all, for the phone to work in Europe, it must meet all of the following standards:

  • GSM : OK, it may sound like Greek to you, but this is an important term to know. GSM, short for Global System for Mobile Technology, is standard in Europe. While it is commonly used by some English-speaking countries (the UK, for example), many phones in the US are not GSM. The carriers that use GSM or are changing in the United States are AT&T and T-Mobile. If you have a newer phone from these providers, you probably have a GSM phone. If you have Sprint or Nextel (now owned by Sprint), you probably don’t have a GSM phone. However, they sometimes offer GSM phones to rent for travel.
  • Tri-band : Your phone must be a tri-band phone, which means it can work on the band in France. US cell phones, for example, are in the 850-1900 band frequencies, but Europe uses 900-1800 band frequencies.
  • Unlocked : Check to see if your wireless company has arrangements to use your phone abroad (which AT&T and T-Mobile do, but MUST be activated by contacting them before leaving the US). If not, you can find several companies online that will unlock your phone. What unlocking means is that it allows your phone to work with other wireless carriers. Most phones are locked to your carrier, the company you pay your monthly bills to, and it won’t work with any other carrier.

To determine if your phone meets these standards, contact your wireless service provider. If you are not sure if the person knows what you are talking about, ask for a supervisor. You can also determine this by looking at your phone’s box or user manual.

Even if you can use your phone in France, if you are going to use your current provider to travel abroad, you need to do some homework. Be sure to check with your provider to see if you need to enable roaming abroad. Ask about the rates for roaming and for making local calls (as in, you are in France and you are calling France) and the rates for calling home (probably the longest distance roaming rate).

Other options

  • Update your phone or change providers . If you are no longer stuck in a contract with your wireless service provider, or even if you are and are converting from a pre-GSM technology (like AT&T), you can usually get a new GSM phone for free or very little. However, you will have to sign a new contract to get the good price. Make sure it meets the three standards I listed above. If it’s locked, you can probably still unlock it. If you are with a wireless provider that is not on the GSM network and your contract expires, consider switching to a GSM provider. Thanks to the new FCC standards, you can now keep your old wireless phone numbers, making the transition easier.
  • Rent a phone for travel . T-Mobile has special offers to rent a mobile phone. You can also rent phones in France once you arrive. Many airports now have booths where you can rent phones near or at the car rental desks.
  • If your phone is unlocked, tri-band and GSM, you can spend around 30 euros when you arrive in France to get a prepaid SIM card. I would insert this card under the battery (keep the existing SIM card – you should keep it safe). Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased at mobile phone shops in France (the main companies are Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR). You can also buy them before you go from various Internet companies. If your phone isn’t ready for global travel, you can also buy phones that work anywhere in the world from these stores.
  • Each major operator has its own outlets. Alternatively, try big chains like E. Leclerc, Carrefour, or Auchan for your offerings.

Specialty retailers include:

  • Darty
  • FNAC (in most cities and shopping centers)
  • LDLC
  • The telephone house

Also take a look at:

  • International Phone Calls: Dialing Tips for Travelers

More tips for a French trip

  • Your first trip to France? Avoid these mistakes!
  • Tips to save money
  • Packing checklist

Edited by Mary Anne Evans

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