You got your visa, you found an apartment, you opened a French bank account and now you want to find a good French cell phone service. Well, I’m here to help you find out what are the best French cell phone plans for expats in France! Whether you are a student or expat, these are the best French cell phone plans and providers for new residents.
If you are a tourist in France, then please visit our article on the best French cell phone plans for tourists instead!
I have lived in France for a few years now and I’ve tried almost all of the major cell phone service providers. Most are reliable and affordable.
In fact, the good news is that what you pay here is likely going to be much cheaper than what you paid in the US. France is known for its affordability when it comes to everyday goods and services, especially in comparison to the United States.
My French cell phone service costs less than half of what I paid in the US and it’s far more extensive in terms of data and international services!
French Mobile Phone Companies
These are the major French mobile phone companies to know about. You’ll likely see different advertisements and commercials for these networks as you spend more time in France.
- Orange – the largest French telecommunications company, generally known for the most extensive coverage
- SFR – the second largest telecom provider in France
- Bouygues – the third largest provider, founded in the 90s
- Free Mobile – the newcomer who disrupted the whole industry (akin to T-Mobile in the US)
Something to know is that all of these companies are also the major French internet and television providers. In the US you might have a separate cell phone bill and TV/internet service bill, but in France, these are often bundled together to save money. Of course, you’re not obligated to do this, but it is cost effective if you are a resident.
I’ve never had an issue with any of these networks coverage (I’ve used all of them except Orange, the largest) but if you live in rural area of France, you should probably test out a no-contract plan first before committing to make sure it has good coverage in your area.
French Cell Phone Costs
You are probably wondering next, how much is a cell phone plan per month in France? Plans can be as low as 2€ per month, depending on your needs. If you like using apps and data, you can reasonably expect to pay 12€. An even more robust service might cost you 20€ a month – or 10€ when bundled with internet. I’ll share all the different options below.
Low Tier – as low as 2€
All four cell phone companies offer a low-tier plan that costs around 2–3 euros per month. It generally includes 50 or 100 megabytes of data, 2 hours of calls and unlimited texts. These plans are best for retired folks who aren’t internet savvy and just want to make a few calls a month. Any of the four companies would be suitable for this tier.
Mid Tier – around 10-13€
These plans are great for students and people on a budget. For around 10 to 13 euros per month, you get 60 gigabytes of data plus unlimited texts and calls. At this level, I recommend the middle “Série Free 60Go” plan because it’s only 10€ and you also get 8 GB of data from within the European Union – great for regional trips around the continent.
Upper Tier – 20€ and more
For businesspeople and expats who travel and call home often, I recommend getting a more robust, upper level plan. At this tier, you can get anywhere from 70 GB of data (Orange) to 150 GB of data (Free Mobile) per month in addition to unlimited calls and texts. What’s great about the upper level “Forfait Free 5G” plan is that you get 70 GB of international data in 70 destinations (including the US!) included in your plan at no additional charge.
Don’t forget to read How to Keep Your US Number!
The “Forfait Free 5G” plan is probably one of the overall best French cell phone plans for expats. This plan is ideal for expats who return home often and don’t want to sign up for an American cell phone service while living abroad and visiting home. I went with this plan and it has definitely come in handy during my trips back home! I am connected seamlessly to the AT&T network and I incur no additional charges while abroad.
Low-Cost French Cell Phone Plans
Each of the three bigger French cell phone companies has a corresponding “low cost” plan which they launched to compete with Free Mobile after it started gaining traction in 2009 with its ultra low cost mobile phone plans.
Orange has Sosh plans, SFR has RED plans, and Bouygues has B&You plans, all of which provide the same service with no contract (sans engagement). I personally don’t think those plans are worth looking too much into as the “main” plans have already come down so much in price.
Bundling Your Cell Phone + Internet
If you also need internet service, I recommend bundling your cell phone and internet within the same provider to save money. I did this and now I only pay 9,99€ a month for my upper level “Forfait Free 5G” cell phone plan instead of the full price of 19,99€.
- Free: 29,99€ or 39,99€ internet + 9,99€ cell phone
- Orange: 28–92€ per month
- SFR: 23–67€ per month
- Bouygues: 26–72€ per month
Making Cell Phone Payments
Here’s the kicker. The majority of cell phone companies in France only accept monthly payments from a French bank account. They withdraw your payment automatically each month which is convenient, but you’ve got to have the account in France, unfortunately.
The only exception to this rule is Free Mobile, which makes it a great choice for newcomers to France who haven’t gotten themselves fully set up yet. Free is a great company to start with as you analyze the best French cell phone plans for expats.
I signed up for Free Mobile right when I first got to Paris from their boutique near La Madeleine. The whole process was super easy and I walked out with phone service 20 minutes later. They debited my American credit 19,99€ every month with no problems.
This worked out great for me for around 7 months until the Free network settings changed and my unlocked American iPhone XR was no longer compatible.
Cell Phone Compatibility
If you plan to buy your phone in France, then you don’t have to worry about this section, but if you want to bring an unlocked American phone to France to use, then please read this.
I had an unpleasant experience last March when one day my iPhone just simply stopped working. The phone itself was fine but I couldn’t send or receive any calls or texts nor use my data to access the internet (Safari, Instagram, banking apps) – literally nothing. It was like I had no SIM card in the phone at all.
After three visits to the Apple store, and a visit to the Free store, we determined that my unlocked American cell phone was not compatible with the Free network. They said it never was and I was lucky to have used it for 7 months at all.
I was pretty shocked by this. You see, when you buy an unlocked iPhone in the US, they tell you it can be used anywhere in the world!
Guess what? That’s not true.
I learned the hard way that there are four regional types of the same iPhone and Apple doesn’t guarantee that the type you have will work in other parts of the world, other than where you got it. It may very well work like mine did, but it’s not guaranteed.
Visit https://www.apple.com/iphone/cellular/ and find your cell phone by model to see where it’s truly compatible.
You can find your iPhone model number by going to Settings > General > About > Model Name on your iPhone device. Tap the model number displayed and get the shorter one that looks like this: A2341.
As you can see, there are four major Apple iPhone regional models:
- United States
- Canada, Guam, Japan, Puerto Rico, USVI
- China, Hong Kong, Macao
- Europe & the rest of the world
It’s impossible to buy the “European” version of the iPhone you want in the United States to save on taxes. Where you buy the phone is the regional model you get.
You can determine compatibility by looking at the LTE Bands column on the Apple website for your corresponding iPhone model.
Cross reference your frequency bands with the ones needed by the network. If you speak French, this site explains the frequency bands needed for service on French networks.
Essentially, your phone needs to have bands 700 MHz (B28), 800 MHz (B20), 1800 MHz (B3), 2100 MHz (B1), 2600 MHz (B7) in order to be compatible with French cell phone networks.
I guess I just got unlucky with my iPhone XR but I thought it was worth mentioning! My new unlocked American iPhone 12 Pro is compatible with the Free network, thankfully.
Another thing to know is that some French cell phone companies require you to give them a security deposit just to sign up for service. This is primarily required for French people who have a history of non-payment with their phone bills – but it’s also required for Americans (and potentially other foreigners) because they are from outside the European space.
These deposits can be quite high for a service that costs roughly 10€ a month, so I would try to avoid them if you can. For example, SFR charges a 250€ security deposit and Orange has a similar fee.
Canceling a French Cell Phone Contract
If you’ve read this far, you probably think that Free is the best French cell phone company and has everything you need.
Well, not so fast. Nothing in France is perfect and canceling your French cell phone contract is actually the most difficult with Free.
Free requires you send them a letter stating you intend to end your service contract with them – you are month to month, so you can do it anytime, but it’s still annoying to have to print out and send a letter, especially in the digital age.
The other cell phone companies normally allow you to cancel your service online quite easily so I’m not sure why Free Mobile requires a physical letter in the mail.
Nothing in France is simple, as you can see! ;)
Just be sure to check and ask with the service how they require you to cancel the service if, say, you decide to move back to your home country.
On the other hand, you can easily transfer your cell phone number and plan to another provider in France and that will cancel your current contract – no questions asked.
To do that, you need to give the RIO number to your new cell phone company. You can get this number easily by calling 3179 from your phone, after which a text message will be sent to you with the RIO. The process is unified in France so you can get this number and transfer your number matter what plan or service provider you have.
It’s pretty simple to find the best French cell phone plans for expats once you know the basics, right? ;)