You need fast and reliable mobile data while traveling around France because much of everyday French life revolves around the phone—including needing your phone to access mobile train tickets, restaurant menus, museum/event tickets, Google Maps, UBER/taxi, and much more.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying a SIM Card in France and how to buy a French high-speed mobile data plan that won’t cost you a lot of money.
How To Buy A French SIM Card With A High-Speed Data Plan
There are two main options when it comes to buying a SIM Card for France:
- Buy a SIM Card Before Your Travel: Buying a SIM card before you travel is a little more expensive but it’s much more convenient (and you have mobile data as soon as you arrive in France).
- Buy a SIM Card In France: Buying a French SIM Card in France can be cheaper (especially for visits over two weeks) but it can be more of a hassle because you have to track down a SIM retailer after arrival.
UPDATE: Most new phones are eSIM compatible—which is MUCH more convenient than physical SIM cards because it doesn’t require you to install a new physical SIM card. You simply buy the prepaid data plan, scan a QR code that’s sent to your email to install the digital “card”, and you’re ready to go. Read The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide To The Best eSIM Data Plans for Europe and our guide to the Best eSIM Data Plans for France.
How To Buy A Prepaid French SIM Card Before You Travel
Most major French mobile carriers have SIM cards with pre-paid mobile data plans geared toward tourists.
These data plans are often sold through third-party resellers that will ship them to your home address. The most well-known authorized French SIM Card reseller is SimOptions.com (I’ve used them in the past).
These SIM cards are slightly more expensive than buying them in France but you get the convenience of not having to track down a SIM upon arrival—simply install the SIM once you arrive in France and you’re good to go.
You’ll probably spend an extra $15-$20 over the course of a two-week trip if you buy ahead vs waiting to buy in France. Personally, I think the extra cost is worth the convenience.
The Best Tourist Friendly Pre-Paid SIM Cards For France
Here are my top SIM cards if you’re wanting a pre-purchase your SIM before arriving in France:
Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card
The Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card is probably the best all-around option for SIM cards that can be purchased abroad because it offers a lot of data for a good price—and it includes a lot of worldwide calls and text.
Additionally, Orange is one of the largest mobile companies in Europe so they have great coverage throughout most of Europe (which isn’t always the case with smaller European carriers).
- PRICE: $50
- DATA: 20GB
- CALLS: Unlimted in Europe and 1200 minutes worldwide
- TEXT: Unlimted in Europe and 1000 worldwide
- USED AS A MOBILE HOTSPOT?: Yes
- CREDIT VALID FOR: 14 Days
The Orange Holiday Europe plan is good because it gives you a lot of mobile data for a decent price but the only possible drawback is the 14-day validity period—which doesn’t matter if your trip is less than two weeks. That said, you can buy an extra 10GB of credit after the two weeks are up for around $25.
If you need less data and want to save a little money, check out the $30 Orange Holiday plan that gives you 8GB of data for 14 days.
Three UK PAYG AIO15
Three UK is another large European mobile carrier and their PAYG AIO15 plan is a good value for people who don’t need the 20GB offered by the Orange Holiday Europe plan. I like how the plan has a validity period of 30 days so it’s good for longer trips.
- PRICE: $30
- DATA: 10GB
- CALLS: Unlimted in Europe
- TEXT: Unlimted in Europe
- USED AS A MOBILE HOTSPOT?: No
- CREDIT VALID FOR: 30 Days
Bouygues Telecom Vacation Prepaid Plan
The Bouygues Telecom Vacation Prepaid Plan is very similar to the Orange Holiday Zen but the Bouygues plan must be activated in France.
- PRICE: $50
- DATA: 20GB
- CALLS: Unlimted in Europe
- TEXT: Unlimted in Europe
- USED AS MOBILE HOTSPOT?: NO
- CREDIT VALID FOR: 30 Days
- Must be activated in France but can be used anywhere in the EU.
Note: SimOptions.com has other cards for sale but these are the best options/deals.
How To Buy SIM Card With High-Speed Data in France
Purchasing a SIM card in France is a fairly easy and straightforward process since SIM cards are sold virtually everywhere—including newsstands, airports, vending machines, grocery stores, mobile phone shops, and more.
What To Consider When Buying A French SIM Card
Most French mobile carriers are starting to sell pre-paid data plans on a month-to-month contract basis. This is a great value if you’re spending weeks/months in Europe or for super heavy data users—but for shorter visits, I think it’s easier to pre-purchase something like the Orange Holiday Europe plan.
When buying a data plan in France, you may be required to show your passport, provide a French address (use your hotel/Airbnb’s address), and fill out some paperwork before buying a French data plan.
You may also need to cancel your contract because most contracts will auto-charge your account every month.
Where To Buy A SIM Card with a Data Plan in France?
- Carrier-Specific Storefronts: The major mobile carriers will have their own shops in most major cities that sell their SIM cards. Most employees should speak some English but they install SIM cards all day so they’ll be able to set you up without much communication needed.
- Third-Party Phone Shops: There are many mobile phone shops that sell a range of phone plans from multiple companies. Employees might be able to offer some help getting set up but service probably won’t be as good as carrier-specific shops.
- Newsstands, Tobacco Shops, Vending Machines, etc: You can find SIM cards in multiple smaller shops at airports, train stations, and randomly throughout most cities but don’t expect any customer service.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy A SIM Card with a Data Plan in France?
Mobile data plan prices in France vary based on plan options and various promotional deals—so it’s hard to accurately predict how much you’ll pay. But there is a lot of competition between the French mobile carriers so most companies offer similar prices.
Here are the main mobile carriers in France if you want to learn about their specific offerings:
However, below are some example prices to give you a better idea of how much you’ll potentially pay:
- SFR offers a €20 plan with 25 GB of mobile data that’s good for 30 days or a €10 plan with 10 GB good for 8 days.
- Orange has a deal where €29.99 gets you 10 GB of mobile data and €39.99 gets you 20 GB of mobile data.
- FREE Mobile has a €20/month plan that offers 200 GB of data a month.
Note: Many mobile plans charge a €10 activation fee—which is kind of expensive if you’re only traveling for a week or two.
The Best SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans in France
Let’s take a deeper dive into the various mobile data plans available in France.
Free Mobile SIM Cards and Data Plans
Free Mobile has some of the cheapest mobile data plans in France and their data packages come with a ton of high-speed data.
Free Mobile’s most popular options are their month-to-month plans that range from €10-€20/per month (there is also an additional €10 activation fee) and you’ll get more data than 99% of users will ever use.
The main downside to Free Mobile is that you can only sign up for the service at a Free Mobile store and they have limited locations—notably, they don’t have a shop at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. You also have to buy the SIM from an automated machine and the last I checked it was all in French.
Important: When buying this plan, you must choose the “one-month” plan as the alternate option will automatically charge your card every month and you can only cancel this service by sending in a physical form via the mail.
Learn more at https://mobile.free.fr/
Orange France Mobile SIM Cards and Data Plans
The Orange Holiday Europe plan is a good option because it gives you a lot of mobile data for a decent price but the main drawback is the 14-day validity period—which doesn’t matter if your trip is less than two weeks. That said, you can buy an extra 10GB of credit after the two weeks are up for around $25.
If you need less data and want to save money, check out the $30 Orange Holiday plan that gives you 8GB of data for 14 days.
You can buy this data plan from any Orange retailer in France or you can buy it from SimOptions.com and they’ll ship it to your home before your trip (which means instant access as soon as you activate the service).
Learn more at https://www.orange.fr/portail
Bouygues Telecom SIM Cards and Data Plans
Bouygues also has a number of affordable mobile data plans that range from €13 to €20/month (there is also an additional €10 activation fee) and each plan has plenty of data.
For the sake of convenience, you can also pre-purchase the Bouygues Telecom Vacation Prepaid Plan for €39.90 and it gives you 20GB of data that’s good for 30 days. This particular Bouygues plan must be activated in France—so that’s a drawback if France isn’t your first destination in Europe.
Learn more at https://www.bouyguestelecom.fr/forfaits-mobiles
Lycamobile SIM Cards and Data Plans
Lycamobile is a budget European carrier that’s mainly sold in small shops, newsstands, grocery stores, tobacco shops, etc. so don’t expect any help from customer service if you have issues. Their plans range from €15-€30/month (plus a €10 activation).
Learn more at https://www.lycamobile.fr/en/
French SIM Card and Prepaid Data Plan Basics
Here is some helpful background info on mobile data plans so you have a better idea of how mobile data service works in France.
European Union Wide Coverage
A law was recently passed in the EU which banned mobile carriers from charging roaming fees within the EU—which means you can use a SIM card you bought in France and use it in Italy without paying any extra fees. This is great for travelers because you can use one plan everywhere.
- Here are the countries/areas where there is no data roaming: Andorra, Azores, Aland islands, Austria, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Canary Islands, Cyprus, Corfu, Crete, the Cyclades, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faeroe Islands, Finland, France mainland, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg. Madeira, Malta. Isle of Man, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Rhodes, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, San Marino, Sardinia, Sicily, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, Vatican
Your Phone Must Be Unlocked
Some mobile carriers (mainly in the US, Australia, and New Zealand) “lock” their phones so they’ll only work on that carrier’s network—this typically applies if you have a plan that includes a free phone with a multi-year contract. You’ll need to contact your carrier and have them “unlock” your phone so it will accept a third-party SIM card.
In the US, carriers are required to unlock phones if the customer requests it but it’s rarely unlocked by default. That said, a few carriers still make customers jump through hoops to unlock their phones so don’t put this off until the last minute or you could be out of luck.
A New SIM Card Gives You A New Phone Number
Installing a new SIM card gives you a new phone number so your old number won’t work until you reinstall your original SIM card. So, if people need to reach you, you’ll need to tell people your new French number.
Furthermore, lots of websites and apps use two-factor authentication that’s connected to your phone number so that will no longer be an option with the new SIM installed. And if you use Uber/Lyft, you’ll need to update your new phone number in the app when you install your new SIM.
How Much Mobile Data Do You Need?
As long as you’re not streaming music/videos or uploading a ton of photos, you probably won’t use more than 3GB-6GB of mobile data a week.
If you’re spending a lot of time on social media (notably Instagram and TikTok) then you might use a bit more but if you’re just doing normal web browsing and using Google Maps then you might only use 1-2GB a week.
You’ll Need Your Passport and Local Address
Many data plans require you to provide your passport information and a local address (which can be your hotel or rental apartment address).
More Tips On Using Your Mobile Phone In France
I’ve written extensively about using smartphones and data plans in Europe as well as tips for buying SIM Cards For Visiting Europe but below are some more helpful tips about using your phone in France.
Get A Portable Battery Charger
Traveling with your phone will quickly drain your batteries so I highly recommend a portable battery. I use Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s tiny and affordable but there are multiple options.
Take Steps To Lower Your Mobile Data Usage
Data can be expensive and it’s extremely easy to unknowingly burn through a lot of data because many apps use data in the background. Facebook, email, Instagram, Snapchat… those all constantly use data throughout the day without you knowing it. That’s it’s important to know how to limit your data usage.
Use Airplane Mode And Block Data to Specific Apps
I’ll put my phone in Airplane Mode because that disables all data (but GPS still works in Airplane Mode). You can also go into the settings and disable data access to each individual app. I’ll go in and turn every off except for things like Google Maps or others that I’ll use more frequently — this way when I turn off Airplane Mode only those apps that will use data. Then I’ll turn Airplane Mode back on when I’m done.
Download Offline Maps
Google Maps lets you download entire city maps so they can be used offline. As an added bonus, GPS doesn’t use data so offline Google Maps works fairly well (but not all functionality works). Here is a good YouTube video that explains everything.
Make Calls Over WiFi
WhatsApp is an excellent app for free calling and text messages — I’ve found that many Europeans exclusively use WhatsApp to communicate (including many Airbnb hosts).
Get More France Travel Tips
- Paris Travel Guide: Our complete guide to Paris.
- The Best Things To Do In Paris: What to do in Paris.
- The Best Budget Restaurants in Paris: Where to eat cheap in Paris.
- Europe Travel Packing List and The Best Travel Backpacks: Tips for packing for your trip.
- How To Choose The Right Travel Insurance: Protect yourself when you travel.
- Netherlands Train Guide | How To Buy Train Tickets in the Netherlands - February 8, 2023
- How To Buy Train Tickets in France | Guide To Buying French Train Tickets - February 7, 2023
- How To Buy a SIM Card In France | Guide to High-Speed Mobile Data in France - February 7, 2023
No Funny Business
The Savvy Backpacker is reader-supported. That means when you buy product/services through links on the site, I may earn an affiliate commission — it doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support the site.
Thanks For Reading! — James