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I'm going to travel to Paris in two weeks for 5 days. I'd like to buy a prepaid SIM card for my phone, no calls or SMS needed - only data is sufficient. I've looked through French mobile operators and found nothing really acceptable. For example, in Finland I bought SIM card for €5 with 3GB of data.

So, the question is - what is the best SIM card for me, assuming that 1GB is enough (considering the prices) and that I am actually will be able to use it (I've read that some operators turn on mobile data only after 5 days which is unacceptable for me considering that I'll be there for 5 days only)?

closed as off-topic by David Richerby, Jim MacKenzie, Giorgio, bytebuster, Ali Awan Jan 30 at 5:36

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Forfaits Bloqués Sans Engagement

I am afraid France is a country where mobile internet is still very expensive. You could buy a standard prepaid SIM card and top it up with credit. You could then burn through this credit using internet data. Beware that rates are often somewhat expensive. SFR for example will charge you 0,50€/internet session, limited to 2MB (see the Mentions Légales on the SFR website).

There are, however, what are called forfaits bloqués which are monthly rolling plans, some of which are sans engagement i.e. contractless, in the sense that there is no minimum subscription period you must pay for before cancelling the contract. If you look at the main carriers in France, which are also the only ones with physical shops where you can purchase SIM cards, you will find a common pattern: to get meaningful amounts of internet credit on one of these forfaits sans engagement you will have to pay between 15€ and 30€. Here are examples from SFR, Orange and Free.

FYI I have never heard of carriers activating data 5 days after purchasing credit/SIM. As soon as your top-up goes through you can use the credit.

SFR Internet Prepaid Top-up

However, if all you need is internet (and not love, as the song suggests) SFR offers a internet-only prepaid top-up. With this you can get 1GB for 9€. The internet credit will expire after 7 days, which seems to fit the length of your trip. For more information see the SFR website and open the "Internet" tab (see the screenshot below):

SFR Internet

Low-Cost Carriers

There are also low-cost phone operators in France, such as Lebara. With the latter you can subscribe various internet-only prepaid rolling contract-free plans, ranging from 5€ for 500MB to 15€ for 3GB. See the Lebara Forfait Internet page for more details. Lebara SIM cards can be bought in various partnered shops across France.

  • Thank you! It seems to be the most reasonable options. Hope I'll manage to get one of the last two and that my zero knowledge of French won't be much of a problem. – Alex Jan 18 '15 at 20:14
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    (+1) Actually, France is kind of cheap when it comes to Internet access (mobile and otherwise) and telephone… for heavy users and residents. The thing is that prepaid offers are absolutely horrific and the best deals are either tied with home broadband contracts or only available through online virtual operators (including Lebara but even SFR and Orange have similar offers, RED and Sosh), which is all very bad for visitors. But if you want ADSL + unlimited calls at home and on the go + TV + 4+ GB mobile Internet, you will pay half of what the same service costs, e.g., in the Netherlands. – Relaxed Dec 25 '15 at 22:04
  • €9 (around £5, $7) for 1GB is cheap (it costs me £5 to get 500MB of data, so by contrast it's cheaper). – AStopher Aug 14 '16 at 7:02
  • France is super cheap for residents and heavy users - I pay €10 a month for 100GB of data per month. The offers are often less attractive for tourists - the SIM card usually costs around €10 (and you have to order it online if you want a good deal), you have to wait until "sale" season (Christmas, August) to get the good deals, and with Free, you have to cancel the contract by registered mail.. That said, I've found this comparison page to be the most useful. Some of them may be useful, especially if using it for a month or more. – JonasCz Jan 26 at 10:05
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France is actually super cheap for mobile data - if you use it for more than a few weeks, and you shop around a bit (the market is quite competitive).


Types of plans

The most common type of plan is a "Forfait Sans Engagement". This is a 30-day contract including a set amount of calls, texts and data, that renews automatically, which you can cancel at any time. Other types of plan such as pre-pay (top up and then use), and year-long "locked-in" contracts are much less common, and are often not as good value.

Additionally, some plans are marketed as "Bloqués", either when initially signing up, or as an option that you can toggle at any time. "Bloqué" means that you cannot be charged extra beyond the base amount, meaning that things like premium-rate or international calls are not possible, instead of being charged extra as would normally happen.

Network

The big three have roughly equal network coverage and quality, with Orange being the best. Free is somewhat behind in coverage.

Bands are pretty standard European ones, check here for the ones used, and cross-reference with your phone's specifications to see how well it'll work. Slightly less accurate is to check on https://willmyphonework.net/. If you go with Free, a phone which supports LTE B28 (700mhz) is definitely recommended, as that will improve your indoor 4G coverage.

Finding a provider

There are 4 network operators in France, namely Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, and Free. Some of these have their own low-cost "sub-brands", however, all others (technically called MVNOs) run "on top of" these networks, but have their own offers and pricing.

  • Orange, SFR, and Bouygues (as well as their low-cost sub-brands) require a French bank account (IBAN number), so are useless unless you have one. This Leaves you with Free and the smaller ones.

  • To get the best deals, you have to order your SIM card online to a french address, however OK deals can also be found by purchasing a SIM card in a big retailer chain store (e.g E. Leclerc).

  • SIM card registration is compulsory in France, and you have to give the provider your ID.

For actually finding a deal, I've found this comparison page the most useful. (remember, B & You, Red by SFR, and Sosh all require a French bank account). For Canadians who see the that you can get 100GB for €10 a month, ...well I feel sad for you. Come live in France :-)

screenshot of comparison website

It lists the promo price (which goes back to the regular price after twelve months, but remember you can cancel any time), the additional data you get while roaming in Europe (there are limits to this though, you can't take a SIM card out of France "permanently"), included calls & text, and promo code to use.

When you order, there is always a "fiche information standardisée" available, which lists all the details and conditions of the offer (cancelling it, use outside of France...), on an easy to understand way (if you can read French, that is.)

These are offers that are usually only available online.

Cancelling

You can cancel these plans at any time, but you always have to do so a specific number of days before the roll-over date into the next month. Check first.

Cancelling procedures range from easy (click a button in your online account), to archaic (send a registered letter).

You can also port your number easily (which cancels the contract automatically), if you port it to a low-cost prepay carrier, you can keep it for very little money if you want to return to France.

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