Cell Phone Service in France

Cell Phone Service in France
While it is true that more US and Canadian based cell phones work in France than ever, understanding if yours is one of them is increasingly difficult to figure out. To make matters worse, roaming rates from the North American telecom giants have actually increased rather than become more affordable. Despite these challenges, the good news is that there are new options allowing for affordable cellular service in France. Here is some information that should help you to get affordable cellular service in France. Does my current phone work in France and if it does, what’s it going to cost me? In 200 countries around the world, including France, GSM is the predominant cellular system. In the US and Canada, a variety of systems are used depending on the carrier. AT&T, T-Mobile and Fido in Canada are the largest GSM carriers. Other large carriers, such as Verizon and Sprint, do not use GSM. However, the GSM frequency used in North America is 1900 MHz with T-Mobile and both 1900 MHz and 850 MHz with AT&T. France, on the other hand, uses 900 and 1800 MHz. Still, most new models, particularly upper end models, have all four frequencies (known as “quad band” cell phones). If your phone is a quad band GSM cell phone, it will work in France. Verizon has a couple of handsets that are hybrid. They use CDMA system in the US and GSM overseas. Sprint has recently released one as well. Regardless of what your customer service representative may tell you regarding your phone working in France, you should double-check the specs to confirm that it has the necessary GSM frequencies – 900 MHz and 1800.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the carriers’ business is domestic and most reps are not properly trained to offer sound advice regarding international cellular service. You can check online or in your user guide to make absolutely certain that your phone has the appropriate networks. If your phone does work in France, you can expect to pay about $1.00-$1.25 (plus tax) for both incoming and outgoing calls from a US carrier and about $2.00 from Canadian carriers. If you think that is too expensive, you are not alone. The good news is that there are more affordable options. How can I pay less for cell phone service? If you have ascertained that your handset is compatible for use in France, you can purchase a French SIM card and pay lower rates than you would roaming with your usual provider. However, in order for your phone to accept a different SIM card, you must ask your provider for the “unlock code.” US carriers will give you the code without a problem but Canadian ones generally will not. You may have to go to a cell phone store that provides this service for a fee. Once you get the unlock code, you can follow the instructions and then your phone will immediately be able to accept other SIM cards. Usually it takes the provider about 24-48 hours to provide you with this code. There are a number of French SIM cards including Bouygues, SFR, Mobiho and Orange, and while they all offer free incoming calls, outgoing rates differ. One option is provided by Mobiho, a company that caters specifically to foreigners living in France and tourists traveling to France. Their outgoing rates back to North America cost about 1/4th of the competition, and, unlike the other carriers, they also have English instructions. However, as this company caters to a small niche, they are not as easy to find in France. Cellular Abroad in Los Angeles, California is the US distributor for Mobiho. It’is convenient to have the SIM card prior to your departure so you will have service from the moment you step off the plane and your phone number will be assigned before you leave, which you can leave with friends or on your voicemail. How does a French SIM card work? Most Europeans use pay as you go cellular service, meaning, they do not have to sign a binding agreement and they just add talk time as needed. This is a perfect solution for the tourist as well since it wouldn’t make sense to sign a long-term contract, of course. French SIM cards come with initial talk time and when you need more talk time, simply go to a convenience store or even a café and ask for a “carte recharge” (recharge card). They come in different denominations, generally from 5 Euros to 100 Euros. Recharge vouchers look like a sales receipt and are generated from a little machine that looks like a credit card machine. The voucher will have a unique code on it. Entering the code on the handset, as per the instructions, will add talk time to your account depending on what denomination you purchased. It is helpful if you speak French (unless you have a Mobiho SIM card, which has English prompts and instructions). My phone won’t work in France, how can I use a French SIM card? If your cell phone is not compatible with the French network, you will need to upgrade your handset or rent or purchase one that does. A free upgrade should be easy to obtain if you are with a GSM carrier such as T-Mobile or AT&T but a little more difficult with Verizon or Sprint as only the most expensive handsets have the proper…
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