Using Your Phone in France

These days we cannot live without our mobile phones and they provide a wealth of information at our fingertips. Thankfully getting a European sim card and using your phone overseas is easy to do and means you do not end up with a large data roaming billing from your local provider.

France Mobile phone screen

Mobile phones in France

France’s mobile phone system uses the GSM platform and any phone compatible with this can access it. These days pretty much every country uses GSM technology with the exception of a some US based providers who use CDMA. This means that most people can use their phone in France without any issue. In the US, Sprint and Verizon use CDMA as their base technology meaning their phones will not necessarily work in France. Verizon are retiring their CDMA network by the end of 2019 so they will be fully GSM after that. For those on a CDMA network this link shows you how to check your phone as many newer phones will operate on either system.

There is no doubt having your phone on holidays is of great benefit whether it be to look up restaurants or find out how to get to where you are going. However, the cost of using your home provider while overseas can be fraught with danger and your mobile bill could end up costing more than your trip. I know a few people who got the shock of a lifetime when they got their bill. But a few precautions mean you will not end up in this situation.

Phone options

The first step is to check with your own provider about what they offer for global roaming. These days there are international passes available that give you access to your phone while you are away at a fixed daily cost. This cost is likely to be on top of what you already pay a month but generally it is only charged for the days you actually use the phone. Being aware of what your provider offers is key and making sure you activate it correctly before leaving home.

Secondly, you can purchase a European sim card in France from one of the providers there and use that. These will work across Europe so handy if you are visiting multiple countries. You need to ensure that your phone is not locked to your current network or this will not work.

There are 4 main providers in France, Orange, SFR, Bouygues-Telecom and Free. The Orange sim card offers 6 different recharge offers depending on the mix of calls, texts and data you want. The SFR sim card has three options including an 8 day plan which may be handy for a shorter trip. Bouyges-Telecom has a single holiday sim offer. Free offers a monthly service that can be cancelled at any time. Click on each of the links above to see what each company offers.

Hotel Wifi

Lastly you can rely on hotel wifi and not worry about having your phone on all the time as you would at home. This is what we have done on all our trips and it has worked well. These days most hotels have free wifi, although the quality can vary, so you can access data for free. Many map apps have offline capability so you can still navigate your way around without the need for a constant mobile connection. We know also the phone is there should we need it in an emergency as our global roaming is switched on but inactive.

Phone apps

There are a number of handy phone apps that are worth looking into while you are away. Listed below are some of the ones that we have found useful over the years and a few others we have heard about.

Mapping

Finding your way around a new country has come a long ways since the days of paper maps and trying to figure out where you are and where you need to be. You can now download a map of the area you are visiting and navigate to where you need to be with relative ease. Following are some apps that make this task nice and easy. All three have the ability to work offline, although there is some decrease in functionality when working in an offline mode. For example you will not see up to date traffic data or options for public transport may not be available.

  • Google maps – we discovered a few trips ago the ability to download portions of maps so that you can still use the app when you are not connected. The app is free and available on both android and apple.
  • Maps.me – another mapping app that allows you to download maps for offline use. We spent our last trip cycle touring and this was an invaluable resource. The app lets you select your transport mode e.g. cycling to select the most appropriate route The app is free and available on both android and apple.
  • Komoot – the focus of this app is cycling and hiking not driving. We are yet to use this in the field but have heard great things about it. It allows you to select different types of bikes for example road bike or gravel bike to select the most appropriate route. While the app itself is free and includes maps for a single region of your choosing you will have to pay to get other regions. Available on both android and apple.

Itinerary

These apps give you the ability to store your complete trip itinerary in the one spot so you know where you need to be when. They can be shared with friends and family should you wish so that people know where you are at any given point in time.

Tripit – your itinerary is automatically created by sending the emails you receive from airlines, hotels or other providers through to tripit. We have used this on our last few trips with no issues. Available for free on both android and apple.

Airlines

We have always found it helpful to download and install the app of the airlines we are flying with. It means all our ticketing information is available and it will also alert you to delays or changes to the flight schedule as the flight time nears. They can also be useful for checking in and storing boarding passes where available.

Accommodation

Depending on your trip you may need to book accommodation as you go and there are a few apps that we have used that make life easier.

  • booking.com – gives you access to a wide range of accommodation options that include reviews. Available for free on both android and apple.
  • airbnb.com – whether you are looking for a spare room in someone’s house or a place all to yourself you will find it here. Each property is reviewed by people who have stayed there giving you peace of mind on what the place will be like. We used this a number of times on our last trip and stayed in some amazing places. Available on both android and apple for free.

Others

Communication apps such as WhatsApp or Skype are great especially given they work over wifi for both messaging and calls. We found WhatsApp invaluable when we travelled with a group of 14 to coordinate where people were and to keep in contact generally. Messages could be checked periodically when wifi was available.

Tripadvisor is the leader in reviews for a range of hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions. When we get to a new place we always check it to find good places to eat or drink, although we still do ask for recommendations from hotel staff or simply wander around and see what looks busy and attractive.

Google translate is another handy app to have in a foreign country and can help translating menus or other words that you need. Using the phone camera it will translate a text from the document to the language of your choosing. It is available on both android and apple for free.

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