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Unlocking Your Phone to Use in France

You've just moved to or are visiting France, and you want to be able to use your mobile phone in the country. Find out how to unlock your phone and use it in France in our guide.

  • Unlocking Your Phone to Use it in France: What you need to know
  • Unlocking your phone will allow you to use your phone in France and be able to communicate cheaply
  • Depending on the length of your stay in France, you can purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card or sign up for a postpaid mobile phone plan
  • Just don't forget to bring an adaptor for your charger!

Using a Mobile Phone in France

Whether you are visiting France, or moving to the country for an extended period of time, it's worth considering unlocking your phone and getting a French SIM card to use for the length of your stay. France, like the rest of Europe, runs on the GSM network, meaning that if your phone already works in Europe, it should also work in France (as long as it isn't locked to a certain country or provider).

Advantages of Unlocking Your Phone and Using a French SIM card in France

  • Instant access to a French phone number, which will allow you to communicate easily throughout the country without paying expensive long-distance charges (handy for making restaurant/hotel reservations, etcetera). All calls in France are charged at the same rate (except for special customer service numbers, which may be paying numbers)
  • Many pay-as-you-go plans come with data allowances and access to wifi hotspots, allowing you to avoid roaming charges
  • Pay-as-you-go recharge credit is easy to find and easy to use. You can purchase as much or as little credit as you wish.
  • You can receive incoming calls from anywhere in the world for free, and some pay-as-you-go plans include cheap calls to certain international destinations
  • You may be able to keep the same French phone number for repeat trips, as long as you keep some minutes active (make sure to check for how long your credit lasts)
  • If you have a smartphone that you can use in France and you are staying for an extended period of time, you can take advantage of cheap mobile phone plans, and can save money by avoiding the cost of a phone

Disadvantages

  • You may need to get an adaptor for your phone charger, if voltage in France isn't compatible
  • Depending on your data/calling time needs, pay-as-you-go credit can add up
  • It can be difficult comparing prepaid mobile phone offers, as there are many factors to take into account (cost of the SIM card, calling time, credit validity period, etcetera)

How to Unlock Your Phone to Use in France

Unlocking your phone is easy, and takes only a few minutes. Your best option is to contact your current provider and to ask them to unlock your phone. You can also unlock your phone online, or at a specialized telecommunications shop. For ease of communication, it's best to unlock your phone before arriving in France, but you can find shops in France that will unlock (débloquer) your phone for a fee.

If you cannot or do not want to unlock your phone, you can purchase a new phone fairly cheaply to use in France.

Unlocking or Buying a New Phone to Use in France?

mobile phone closeup

Whether you want to use your existing phone or purchase a new one depends on your needs. If you're just visiting France, you might want to consider buying a cheap "burner" or "throwaway" phone (though we don't recommend actually throwing away you're phone) with a pay-as-you-go SIM card that you can use during your stay. A basic phone with some prepaid credit can cost as little as €30, making it a small but worthwhile investment.

If you are staying in France for an extended period of time (three months or more), you're better off signing up for a postpaid mobile phone plan, which will be cheaper than a postpaid phone in the long run. Many operators in France offer low-cost mobile phone plans sans engagement (without a contract or time commitment), but you must already have a phone that works in France to take advantage of them (only a SIM card is provided). While phones are easy to find in France, you can save yourself the cost of purchasing one if you have a phone that already works. 

Purchasing a Mobile Phone in France

You can buy mobile phones at: 

  • Electronics shops (FNAC, Darty, The Phone Shop),
  • Mobile phone boutiques (Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom),
  • French post offices (the French postal service operates a mobile phone service called La Poste Mobile)
  • Large supermarkets 
  • You can also find phones for sale online, though we don't recommend buying a phone off of an online marketplace like LeBonCoin, as you can't verify the origin of the phone, nor do you have any guarantee as to how well it will work.

You may be required to show a piece of ID (passport, identity card) when you buy a phone and credit. If you are staying in France for an extended period of time, you can also purchase a phone through a mobile phone plan (see below). As some phones are only compatible with one type of service (pay-as-you-go or postpaid), make sure to specify which type you would like.

Pay-as-you-go or a Postpaid Phone Plan?

If you are just visiting France, your best bet is to go with a prepaid phone plan. A pay-as-you-go SIM card is easy to set up, and you can find prepaid credit in tabacs and supermarkets throughout the country. Many providers offer prepaid credit with cheap calls abroad and/or data allowances, making a pay-as-you-go SIM card a practical and cost-effective means of communicating in Europe.

That being said, purchasing prepaid credit can be costly and time-consuming over the long run, and if you are staying in France for three months or more, you're probably better off getting a postpaid phone plan with a French mobile phone provider. Most operators offer at least one plan that is sans engagement (without a contract), meaning that you can end the plan at any time without penalty and with relatively little hassle. Rates are generally quite low, calling time and data allowances higher, and many providers offer free calls to international destinations. However, this option is only available to you if you have a French bank account, which is why it is only an option for people with medium to long stays in France.

How the Mobile Phone Market Works in France

Mobile phone providers in France

There are four main mobile phone providers in France, along with several smaller providers and low-cost offshoots. Each major provider has its own network, and smaller providers rely on one or a combination of the major provider networks.

The main cell phone providers are:

  • Orange (pronunciation: "Aw-runj"): Formerly France Telecom, Orange is the biggest mobile phone provider in France. The company offers both postpaid and pay-as-you-go mobile phone plan options.
  • SFR (pronunciation: "Ess-eff-air"): The second-largest mobile phone provider in France, SFR offers both prepaid and postpaid mobile phone plans
  • Bouygues Telecom (pronunciation: "Boo-eeg Tel-eh-com"): Bouygues Telecom is the third largest mobile phone provider in France, and offers both pay-as-you-go as well as postpaid mobile phones
  • Free Mobile (pronunciation: "Free maw-beel"): The most recent mobile provider, Free mobile offers low-cost postpaid mobile phone plans, Sans engagement (no contract)

Of the smaller mobile phone operators in France, the following offer pay-as-you-go mobile phone plans:

  • La Poste Mobile (pronunciation: "La poh-st maw-beel"): La Poste Mobile relies on SFR for its coverage. You can purchase credit for La Poste Mobile in any post office in France.
  • NRJ Mobile (pronunciation: "Energy maw-beel"): NRJ relies on Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom's networks for coverage.

Choosing a Pay-as-you-go Phone in France

While pay as you go phones are a quick way of getting a French phone number, rates are often somewhat confusing to read and difficult to compare. Our guide to prepaid phones in France will help you find the cheapest prepaid SIM card provider.

How to Use a Prepaid SIM Card in France

SIM cards

Our guide to prepaid SIM cards in France explains everything you need to know about pay-as-you-go phones.

All you need to get started with using a prepaid SIM card in France is your phone (which should be unlocked or otherwise able to be used in France), and some ID (your passport, for example). We recommend buying your prepaid SIM card from a larger electronics store or from a provider's boutique as you'll be more likely to find someone who speaks a bit of English there than in a supermarket or a tabac.

Once you've found someone who can help you, explain to them that you are looking for a prepaid phone (carte SIM prépayé). If you are lucky, the salesperson might help you set up your new phone (if you've bought one) and French SIM card.

Don't worry if they don't help you, setting up your phone with a French SIM card is easy! Simply note down the phone number associated with the SIM card (your "zero-six", or "zero-sept"), insert the SIM card into your phone, and you're good to go!

Travelling to Other Parts of Europe?Your French SIM card will still work in most European countries, and you should be able to purchase credit with a partner provider to use on your French phone.

How to Sign up for a Mobile Phone Plan in France

If you are staying in France for three months or more, it's well worth considering signing up for a postpaid mobile phone plan. Over the long run, postpaid plans are cheaper and come with more generous data allowances. Many providers offer plans that are sans engagement, meaning that you can leave your plan at any time with relatively little hassle.

Looking for a Mobile Phone Plan?Call our English-speaking customer service at 09 77 55 72 27 (Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 7:30 pm), or ask for a free callback to find a mobile phone plan that meets your needs.

To sign up for a postpaid mobile phone plan, you will need to provide proof of identification, your full address, and banking information (RIB) Check our guide to mobile phone plans in France for a detailed explanation of how to get a phone plan in France.

Is My French Mobile Phone Locked?

Though locking a SIM card to the provider is not prohibited, it is quite easy to find unlocked phones if you are purchasing one new. The only exception to this is when you purchase a prepaid phone, which are often incompatible with postpaid SIM cards and only work with one provider. Ask at a boutique of the provider (Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom) how to unlock your phone if you wish to use it outside of France.

Glossary of Telephone Phone-Related Terms
French Phrase English Definition French Phrase English Definition
Débloquer / Desimlocker  Unlock (when referring to a phone) Carte SIM SIM card
Prépayé Prepaid/pay-as-you-go Forfait Postpaid phone plan
Sans engagement Contract-free RIB Banking information