Many US and Canadian cell phones will work in France. The issue is this: will YOUR phone work in France and if so, how much will it cost?
France, like 200 other countries in the world, uses a system called GSM for its cellular service. In the US, only 2 of the major carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile) use this system and, they use different frequencies. Therefore, unless you happen to have an international handset with all the world’s frequencies, your AT&T or T-Mobile phone will not work. In brief, your phone has to have the 900 and the 1800 MHz frequencies. Verizon and Sprint use a different type of system in the US. However, they do have a few – very few – select phones that will work internationally.
As North American carriers do not specialize in international cellular service, there’s a good chance that the information you get from their customer service reps will not be totally accurate. Therefore, before you venture off to France assuming that your phone will work, you need to engage in some homework. Reading this article is a great first step. First, call your carrier and speak with at least two customer service reps to make sure that they both say that your phone will work in France and make sure that he or she knows what type of handset you are currently using. Most phone models are not indicated anywhere on the phone so you may have to refer to the original box or set of instructions.
My Phone does Work. Now what?
If you have determined that indeed your phone does work in France, you can do one of two things – make sure that your service is activated for international roaming and pay your carrier’s rates or, use your phone but swap out your current SIM (the chip inside the phone giving you service) for local SIM card for France. If you absolutely need to retain your US or Canadian cell phone number and/or you don’t mind paying app. $0.99-$1.29 (plus tax) per minute for both in and out calls, then make sure that the customer service rep has enabled international roaming for your service. You will then be able to receive calls as if you were at home, all except for the high cost. Please note that even if someone calls you and you do not pick up the phone and let it go to voicemail, you will be charged for that call.
An affordable alternative is to use a pay as you go French SIM card. There are several French carriers who offer pay as you go service (no contract or monthly commitment – perfect for a trip) but the best carrier is Mobiho. Their SIM card is made specifically for foreigners vacationing or living in France. Their rates are significantly lower than the other French carriers including SFR (Vodafone), Orange or Bouygues. Currently, it costs 0.18 Euro cents to call back to the US or Canada and incoming calls are free from anywhere. However, as it is a carrier serving a niche market, their SIM cards are not readily available in France. Cellular Abroad, based in Los Angeles, California, offers them for sale. You can get the SIM before your departure to France. Their website is www.cellularabroad.com. It is very important that your carrier gives you the unlock code for your phone. Cell phones purchased from your provider almost always come locked to their network. However, if you have been a customer for over1-2 months, depending on the provider, they will provide you with the unlock code for your phone. What does all this mean? Simply put, your carrier would prefer that you use their phone overseas so that they can charge their high rates. Therefore, when they give you a phone, they enable or “lock” the phone so that it will only work with their SIM card. If you call your provider and ask for the unlock code, they will give it to you but, they usually make you wait a few days to get it – and be prepared to “remind” them to send you that code. Once you have the code, just enter it into your phone as per the instructions. This is easy to do but you may have to have a different SIM card inserted, depending on your handset model.
My phone does not work. Now What?
If your phone does not work, other than not having a cell phone at all – which may sound like a good idea to many,unless you run into an emergency – you have two options. You can either rent a cell phone for France or you can buy an inexpensive phone that works in France. If you are not a frequent traveler, it makes sense to rent a cell phone. There are many companies that rent cell phones. The most expensive option is to do so at the airport. This should only be done out of dire necessity, for example, you absolutely need a phone, just found out that your phone won’t work, and you are leaving in a few hours. Per minute rates may run a couple of dollars a minute and the phone deposit may be several hundred dollars so again, this is probably the worst solution out there.
There are plenty of cell phone rental companies that offer cellular service for France. A few things to consider include, how much is the deposit and what are the rates. You also want to go with a reliable company that has been around for a while and preferably has a Better Business Bureau rating.
Also, find out if the cell phone number will be a French number. This is preferable to, say a UK number for a number of reasons. First, it is a French phone number; this means that it will not be roaming which is preferable in terms of reliability. Another reason is that if someone from France needs to call you (a friend or your hotel for example), they would certainly prefer.
Third, this is probably the least expensive option there is. Cellular Abroad can rent you a cell phone to use with one of their France SIM cards, which offer the advantageous as explained above.If you travel overseas once or twice a year or more, it makes sense to buy and not rent a cell phone for France. Even if you do not necessarily go to France this option still makes sense. A French cell phone, with the proper SIM card, will actually work in 200 countries. Therefore, if next year you will be going to the UK, Italy, China or nearly 200 other countries, you can simply put in a local SIM card for that country. That way, you will never have to rent a cell phone again. Again, compare Cellular Abroad for their France cell phone packages at www.cellularabroad.com.
I am going to France will also travel to other countries. What should I do?
If you are traveling to multiple countries, you will need a cell phone that works in multiple countries, hence a roaming solution. The National Geographic Travel Phone works in nearly 200 countries and offers unlimited free incoming in over 80 countries, including France and all of Western Europe. This works similarly to the above solutions and is available for rental, purchase and, if your phone does work internationally, you can simply buy a stand alone SIM card (remember to make sure it has the correct networks AND is unlocked.
This solution will cost more for the outgoing calls than with a SIM card that works only in one country. However, if you are traveling to multiple countries it is usually a better solution than buying different SIM cards for each country. The National Geographic Travel Phone service, besides the great rates, also offers toll free customer service from the handset – a feature that even most of the large telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T don’t offer.
As a recap, there are three basic solutions; you can buy just the SIM card if your phone is compatible, you can rent if you don’t travel often and you can buy a phone/SIM package if you travel often. All of the above mentioned solutions are available at www.cellularabroad.com and you will be able to save $10.00 USD per phone when you mention you came from France.com