by Hilary Norris
Why get a mobile phone in France?
While you can most certainly get by with a British phone in France if you don’t use it very often, setting up a French mobile phone will make communication in France cheaper and easier over the long run. What’s more, having a French phone number is often a requirement for various other administrative procedures in France, such as setting up electricity in France, so it is well worth it for conveniency and practicality purposes.
Mobile phone operators in France
There are four main operators in France: Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Free Mobile. Orange is the historic telephone provider in France (and was formerly known as France Telecom) and has a slightly more advanced 4G network, though overall network coverage is very similar amongst all providers. Most of these operators also have low-cost brands: Sosh (Orange), RED (SFR), and B&You (Bouygues Telecom).
Several smaller operators also exist, and rely on the big operators for network coverage. They include NRJ mobile, La Poste Mobile, Coriolis, and Prixtel. Lebara and Lycamobile are two online-based prepaid mobile phone providers that also operate in France.
Prepaid or a plan?
Buying a cheap prepaid phone is a good idea if you only spend a few months per year in France, or if you already have a fixed telephone line and don’t find yourself using a mobile phone very often. You can find prepaid phones at electronic outlets (FNAC, Darty, Boulanger), mobile phone boutiques (Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom), or even at the post office, and credit is pretty easy to find at most tabacs. You will need to provide some ID to purchase the phone itself, but this isn’t necessary when buying recharge credit.
While prepaid phones are convenient and easy to use, you’re better off with a phone plan if you live in France permanently and/or for an extended period of time but use your phone regularly. Many mobile phone providers offer mobile phone plans sans engagement (without a contract), meaning that you can leave them relatively easily and without penalty. Sans engagement cell phone plans are generally quite cheap (some plans are as low as 2€ per month), with calling time ranging from 2 hours per month to unlimited calling depending on the plan. Many providers offer free international calls as part of their sans engagement plans.
Postpaid phone plans can also come with a contract. They are often slightly more per month than forfaits sans engagement, but may be worth it if you don’t already have a mobile phone that work in France and need to buy one.
Choosing a mobile phone provider
Free Mobile shook up the mobile phone market when it launched in 2011 and does still offer very low rates, though the other providers have adapted to meet this competition. This is why it is a good idea to browse what is on offer before signing up for a plan, as the mobile phone market changes rather quickly and many providers offer limited-time deals.
You can sign up for a mobile phone plan online, over the phone, or in a mobile operator’s boutique. The Phone Shop, FNAC, and Darty also sell mobile phone plans along with phones. To sign up for a mobile phone plan, you will need to provide a piece of ID (a birth certificate or passport will most certainly work, a driver’s license might work as well). In some cases you may be asked to provide proof of your address, known as a justificatif de domicile, such as an electricity or gas bill. Most providers will require your banking information (your RIB) for automated payment.
Fixed line or mobile phone?
With the mobile phone becoming increasingly important to our daily lives, you may be wondering whether setting up a fixed telephone line for your home in France is even worth it. The answer depends on your living situation and your needs. While in most cases you can probably get by with just a mobile phone, most providers include a fixed line in their Internet “box” offers, so you may find yourself with a landline anyway. A fixed line may also be necessary in the countryside, where cellular network coverage is weaker. While there are no long distance charges when dialing within France, some customer service telephone numbers may be subject to additional fees when dialled from a mobile phone, but not when dialled from a fixed line. That being said, the fact that mobile phone penetration has overtaken fixed phone lines in France indicates that a fixed telephone line is no longer a “necessity”!