Traveling abroad is so much easier when you have a SIM card, because everything is so much easier when you have mobile data. As a tourist, though, you’re vulnerable to companies over-charging you, so it’s best to know exactly what you’re looking for. Here’s our guide to finding the best affordable pre-paid SIM card in Paris, France.
How do prepaid SIM cards work?
A prepaid SIM card essentially gives you a phone number and mobile service in a country you’re visiting. While most people around the world can just switch out their SIM cards at will, Americans often have phones that are not “unlocked.” This means that the phone will only accept SIM cards from a given wireless carrier (usually the carrier through which you bought the phone). Thus, if you have an American phone, you might first have to go through the process of unlocking your phone.
If you do unlock your phone, or if you have a non-American phone that is already unlocked, bear in mind that by removing your own SIM card you essentially temporarily lose your number. That means that you won’t be able to receive any calls or messages to your number until you put your regular SIM card back in, unless your phone supports two SIM cards simultaneously.
For both of these reasons, we decided to purchase separate, inexpensive travel phones. These are unlocked phones that we only use for travel. Check out our post about how to choose a travel phone if you’re interested in learning more!
Why you should avoid the tourist SIM cards
Once you’ve decided you want a prepaid SIM card, your next step is to find a good one. The big French telecom companies (Orange, SFR, Free, and Bouygues) offer SIM cards marketed at tourists. These are not what you want. Why? They’re WAY too expensive! (They start at around 40 Euros).
The tourist SIM cards from the French telecoms all inexplicably come with a lot of calling and texting credit. You do not need this. Most American wireless carriers have free calling and texting over Wifi anyway. Apple iMessages always work over wifi. This means that you’ll still be able to use your regular phone, your regular SIM card, and your regular phone number to call and text friends and family back at home, without having to worry about if they’ll be charged extra for connecting with your international phone number.
Even if your phone doesn’t have free calling over wifi, there are a million and one options that are cheaper and easier than purchasing phone credit abroad. You can use FaceTime or Skype. You can purchase Skype credit or Google Voice credit in order to call landline phones. These are extremely inexpensive and convenient options that won’t expire when your trip to France ends, unlike your prepaid French SIM card. All you need is a wifi connection (which is readily available all over Paris).
The best SIM card in Paris
What you really need is data, with maybe just a little bit of phone credit to make calls within France. You may need to call hotels, Airbnb hosts, or restaurants, for example.
This is the SIM card that you want. It costs 15 Euros. “15 Go” means 15 GB of data, which should be more than enough for your trip. (You DON’T need unlimited data, unless you plan to spend your entire vacation glued to your phone.) This SIM card also includes 5 Euros of credit, which can be used for calling and texting within France. It’s enough to make short, logistical phone calls as needed. This original data and credit package is valid for 30 days. If your trip is longer, you can recharge it as needed.
SFR is one of the big telecom companies in France, so you’ll have good network coverage throughout the country. Keep in mind, though, that this is a SIM card for France specifically, so you won’t have service outside of France. If you’ll be traveling around Europe and are looking for an international plan, you’ll probably have to pay more. In that case, it might be worth it for you to check out Orange, which has service in many countries throughout Europe.
How to get this pre-paid SIM card
In some countries, the SIM cards you buy in the airports are wayyy overpriced. This is not the case in France, luckily, which makes buying a SIM card in France a relatively painless process. We’d recommend buying this SIM card in the Paris airport as soon as you arrive.
Look for a Relay store. Behind the counter they have an array of SIM cards. If they see you looking, they’ll hand you an English-language info sheet that outlines four pricey “holiday SIM cards” marketed to tourists. You don’t want one of these. These are the ones that include unnecessary amounts of calling and texting credit that you don’t need. Some may even include unlimited calls. These are the ones that cost 40 Euro or more.
Instead, ask for the 15 Euro SFR prepaid “Carte Connect.” Show them the picture if necessary, but there is a good chance that the employees will speak English. You can pay with Euros, or with your credit card. And, voila! You have purchased your SIM card!
How to set up your SFR SIM card
Before you leave home, if you haven’t done it before, you should learn how to find the SIM card on your phone and remove it. Often, this means taking out the battery and sliding the SIM card out of a slot next to the battery compartment.
The SFR Carte Connect can be split into any of the three SIM sizes, standard, micro, or nano. Be sure not to make it smaller than you need to fit in your phone!
Once you insert the SFR SIM card, turn your phone back on. You may be asked for a code; just type “0000.” Although there are instructions in the packet for registering your SIM card online, this cannot be done without a French ID, and it’s not necessary. If your SIM card doesn’t work when you turn on your phone (mine didn’t), simply restart the phone. That should get it going. If for some reason it doesn’t, your best bet would be to visit one of the many SFR stores in Paris for some professional assistance.
You now officially have a French phone number! Keep the original packaging – your phone number is listed on the back (it’s the 06 number following”Votre No d’appel SFR est le…”). Now, ready to head to the Eiffel Tower? Go ahead and pull up Google Maps, and you’re off!