Mobile Phones


Burn phones

One of the beauties of life in Europe, at least from the eyes of an American, is the easy access to cheap mobile phones. I think we call these “burn phones” in the US, but essentially they are the easy to get, easy to add credit, cell phones that you don’t feel terrible about losing. For thirty euros you can buy yourself a cheap mobile phone, along with the SIM card, and for another five, buy a few minutes of calls and text messages. This is great when you first land in Paris and need a means of communicating ASAP. We suggest you head up to Metro Blanche (line 2) and take advantage of the endless row of cheap phone stores that keep the prices low. Once you get a bank account and have an established address, then it’s a wise move to get an abonnement, or phone plan. If you’re not pressed to have anything more than calls and texts, depending on which company you purchased your SIM card through, you can go through them to get a plan and keep your trusty burn phone.

*I keep my old burn phone for my visitors to use, and I also bought another SIM card. With these, they don’t chalk up hefty phone bills with their foreign phones while they’re here, and there’s another phone to use in case they aren’t able to use theirs. (this also keeps me from having to text or call an international number when we want to get in touch during their stay) – Brenna

How to buy and add credit to your phone

Any local tabac will sell “mobicartes” in varying euro amounts for you to add minutes to your phone. The higher priced mobicarte you buy, the more credit you’ll get for free, ie buy a 15€ mobicarte and get 5 additional euros; 25€, get 10€ more; 50€ get 25€, and so on. Every phone company sells mobicartes. Ask for a mobicarte from your telephone company, and you’ll get a receipt with a long number on it. Dial the telephone number indicated on the receipt, follow instructions to enter your unique receipt number, and you’re set with new credit on your SIM. This same number should always serve for giving you your current balance of minutes. Please note that the instructions for recharging will almost always be in French.

Back to top.

Using Your Home Country Cell Phone

Maybe you’d like to keep the phone you’re currently using when you move over here. France operates on a GSM network, so if your current phone is GSM-compatible, it will likely work in France. A CDMA phone, found in North America and parts of Asia, will not work in France.

There are two options for users of GSM phones: 1) keep your current service provider and pay A LOT for roaming charges at international rates; or 2) buy a new SIM card with a French number. Ensure that your phone is unlocked from the current carrier so you can replace the SIM. It is easy to unlock, try googling “unlock _____ phone” and follow instructions from a YouTube video, or take it to a specialist telecoms shop, which will cost you €20-30 to unlock.

Back to top.

Buying A New, Real Phone

If you’re ready to sign up for a contract, then consider a phone company which gives you a phone with all the bells and whistles for free when you sign up for the plan, but do realize you’ll end up paying for it through the course of the contract. Most recently, Free Mobile started yet another revolution of inexpensive phone and Internet service for mobile phones. They started offering a non-binding contract of 19.99€ a month for unlimited text, calls, and 3GB (Go in France) of Internet. What’s more, you can call land lines in over 40 countries and cell phones and land lines in the USA and Canada. Other phone companies quickly followed suit as they quickly lost thousands of customers over to Free. Warning: a flood of users flocking to a new network means services will likely be interrupted. Text messages never received/sent, dropped calls, and spotty Internet were major problems for Free in the beginning…and they’re still ironing out a few problems (no incoming international text messages).

Back to top.

Service Providers and Phone Plans

Four main providers come to mind in France and we’re not promoting one over the other:

  • Orange : The largest of the three and a subsidiary of France Telecom, Orange typically has great coverage and good customer service (relative to French customer service) with easy to manage online accounts. It is the least “foreigner”-friendly as the site is mainly in French with a small section in English.
  • SFR : The website is available in six languages and gives a good summary of the different services and packages offered.
  • Bouygues Telecom : Despite some occasional network coverage issues, Bouygues is challenging SFR and Orange’s mobile hegemony. Sam has already switched from Orange and hasn’t looked back. What’s more, Bouyges customer service is staffed by fairy babes if the ads are to be believed.
  • Free : Free has shaken up the telecoms landscape, offering the lowest rates around on Internet/Phone/TV bundles. Please note that there are no brick and mortar Free stores–everything is done online or by phone.

Check out whether your mobile phone can be tied into your internet/phone/TV package you organize for your apartment as Sam does.

Back to top.


From France to France: from a mobile phone or a land line: dial directly the number starting with 0. Typically a number starting with 06 is a mobile number, and 01 is the land line (at least in Paris). There are now 07 cell phone numbers being offered.

From France to International: there’s an easier way to make long-distance calls/texts from a cell phone. Instead of dialing 00, use the + symbol. To do this day, we still add phone numbers to our phone books with the full +1-202… or +33-06… That way, when you leave the country, all your phone numbers will still work and you can still text people in France or wherever.

Back to top.

Do The Math

When I first landed in Paris, I regularly filled up my phone with credit only to run out a week later. I was putting off getting a monthly phone plan. I’d add nearly €200-300 a month to pay for the data, emails, calls and texts I was making, all in the name of not getting tied into a phone plan as I wasn’t sure how long I’d be in Paris. MISTAKE. Even if the plan costs €60 a month and you’re tied into it for a year, €720 for 12 months is a much better deal than the €600-800 I spent on charging up my phone in the first three months. I should have sprung for the plan from the beginning, regardless of my intended stay. Phone companies are obliged to let you leave your contract if you move, given you’ve read the fine print and know the conditions of leaving. I’ve had friends who were still being charged for their plan three months after leaving the country and “canceling”.


Back to top.


About Author


Comments are closed.