If you are in France for long or short term, it is a good idea to think about getting a cell phone. Even for a trip of several weeks, it is useful to have a way for members of your group or people you meet to contact you. This way you don’t need to find a dirty phone booth or buy a phone card either.
For short term use, just go into any cell phone carrier boutique (Orange, Bouygues or SFR) and say “je voudrais acheter mobicarte.” Mobicarte is a pay as you go SIM card. It costs around 10 euros. If your current cell phone is unlocked, meaning it can work with any carrier, you can just buy a mobicarte SIM card and insert it into your current mobile phone. (See below for more information about unlocking phones.)The pay as you go cell phone, should you need it, can be as low as about 24 euros. The employee will show you which cell phones are sold with mobicarte.
Once you have purchased mobicarte, you then need to buy minutes. Orange has packages ranging from 5-100 euros. For 25 euros and up, a bonus of 5 to 50 euros is added free of charge depending on the amount purchased. For example, the 25 euro package (with a 5 euro bonus) is worth a little over 1 hour of calls within France or about 275 text messages. In France, your minutes only count when you are making the call. Thus, if someone calls you, your minutes are not used. Still, many people in France use text messages instead so as not to use up their cell phone minutes. Once you purchase the package, you are given a code which you must enter into your phone in order to register the minutes purchased. An employee can help you with this if needed. To recharge your minutes, simply purchase a prepaid card at any boutique of the carrier or any tabac and enter the code into your phone per the instructions.
If you have established a bank account in France and you are staying for a year or more, you are eligible to sign up for a contract, which is cheaper than a prepaid phone in the long run. Be aware that most carriers also require that you have your carte de séjour, so stick to a prepaid phone until you obtain this. If you brought your US phone to France and it is unlocked, you can use this phone.
If your phone is locked and you would still like to use it, such as the iphone 3, find a boutique with several cell phone carrier logos posted outside and a sign that says “déblocage.” Asking a mobile phone carrier or an Apple store employee to unblock your phone will only send you in circles (we found out the hard way). The process of unlocking the phone is under the table and will cost you about 20 euros cash. It consists of the specialist performing what is called a jailbreak and installing a program on your phone that changes its address in the settings so the phone can work with a different carrier. Then you are free to visit the phone company of your choice.
In France, a contract using your current cell phone is cheaper than a contract with a new one. Like in the US, a 24 month contract is cheaper than a 12 month contract. A 12 month contract with 2 hours of calls, unlimited texting (SMS en français), unlimited talk to 3 people (or after a certain time of day) and 500 Megs of internet per month will cost around 40 euros per month. Shop around Orange, SFR and Bouygues to find the best deal for you.
For international calls, you can buy a supplemental plan from your carrier, or you can buy a separate SIM card from an internet café such as Lebara mobile with a lower rate per minute. Happy texting!
© 2011 Pasa’s Paris