If you want to use your cellphone while in France and don’t want to spend a million dollars in the process, there’s a couple of things you might want to check before you leave your home country!
Will your phone work at all in France?
The first thing is to make sure that your phone will work when you get to France. For this to happen, your phone needs to be a GSM phone (not CDMA). These are two different standards that coexist in some countries. In France, only the GSM standard is used. In the US, if your carrier is AT&T or T-mobile, good chances are your phone is a GSM. On the other hand, if your carrier is Sprint and Verizon, you probably have a CDMA phone. To be sure, talk to your carrier’s customer service representative.
The next thing to check is, if your phone is indeed a GSM, that it is also a tri-band phone (why make it simple, right?), meaning that it can work on the frequency bands used in France. Most recent phones are tri-band, but it’s better to make sure with your phone’s manual or your carrier’s customer service representative.
Now, if your phone is indeed a tri-band GSM, that’s good news: it will work in France! If not, you will still be able to use wi-fi, of course, but you will not be able to use your mobile network functionalities while abroad.
How not to end up with an astronomical bill?
So you’ve checked that your phone can work in France, great! Now you get to decide on which network you want to use it.
- Using your phone with your current provider
That’s the first option, straightforward, very simple. It’s also the option that can lead to a very bad surprise when you receive your next bill! If you are using a Canadian or US provider’s service, expect to pay about $1 to $1.25 per minute for all calls. Data roaming fees are very variable depending on the carrier but are also often quite prohibitive. If you plan to go down this way, we strongly recommend you call your carrier’s customer service and check their rates for roaming, local calls, and calling home.
- Get a French SIM card for the duration of your trip
The second option, the one with no strings attached, is to get a prepaid foreign SIM card for the duration of your trip. The SIM card is what connects your phone to its network: it is essentially your phone number. If you get a local SIM card with a prepaid amount of minutes, texts and data, your phone will not connect to your homeland network at all: it will only use the local networks. If you run out of minutes, just dial a number, buy some more, and that’s it! When you get back home, just put your original SIM card back into your phone, and it’ll be like before, using your normal provider’s service.
Just one catch, though (it wouldn’t be funny otherwise). Your phone will only work with a new SIM card if it is « unlocked ». Now, what does that mean? If, for example, you bought your phone with a two-year mobile plan and you’re still within the contract dates, chances are it is locked. It’s a way for your carrier to make sure you won’t just swap out your SIM card while the contract is ongoing. If, on the other hand, you bought your phone from an electronics store (say, the Apple Store), chances are it is already unlocked, ready to work with any carrier.
Here’s a fast way to check if your phone is unlocked :
- On an iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular Data. If you see « Cellular Data Options », good news, your phone is unlocked.
- On an Android, go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Network Operators. If you see other carriers, your phone is probably unlocked!
If your phone is locked and you want to unlock it, contact your carrier’s customer service.
Mobile phones picture by Eirik Solheim on Unsplash