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August 11, 2010 11:49 PM   Subscribe

What's the best value prepaid SIM card for a week long visit to France, averaging...say...15-30 minutes of talk + 100 MB of data per day?

I'll be in France during the first week of September. I studied a bit of French in high school but to be honest I've forgotten it all, so I'm having trouble surfing the websites of French mobile operators.

Which prepaid service should I go with? I won't actually talk that much on the phone except for calling restaurants to make reservations, arranging times to meet friends, etc. More important is the ability to remain constantly connected to my work email (including viewing large attachments), surf on my unlocked iPhone, browse Google Maps, etc.

We'll be flying into Paris (CDG) and staying near Champs Elysees, so would appreciate advice on where to go buy this too.
posted by randomstriker to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Hmm...maybe 100 MB / day is excessive, though I could certainly see myself average 30-40 MB / day (if you include using Skype).
posted by randomstriker at 11:55 PM on August 11, 2010

Last I knew, after helping out an American exchange student a year ago, you had to have a permanent address in France in order to get a prepaid SIM card. Orange, SFR, and Bouygues are the main providers; hard to go wrong with any of them. But that's because they all practice price fixing (that may be a 2005 article, but it's still going on; there are lots of recent articles in French). There's little to no difference between their offers — while you may see differing amounts offered, pay close attention to the small print, that's where they even things out with prepaid cards. (For subscriptions it's downright obvious that they fix prices; they don't even bother covering it up with small-print exceptions.)

Does your current provider have any travel offers? Might be an easier way to go.
posted by fraula at 12:49 AM on August 12, 2010

Oh! Sorry, I overlooked that you'll very likely need a 3G connection for doing what you want. Well... French 3G users pay the most in the world (Wired article from a few days ago). You might not need a permanent (i.e. non-hotel) address to get a 3G key, though. Price fixing's the same, there's no major difference between offers. We're all impatiently awaiting a fourth player, named Free, who's known for shaking things up, to finally get out their own mobile and 3G offers.
posted by fraula at 12:55 AM on August 12, 2010

Not sure which would provide the best deal, but just to say, in case it's useful: I bought a prepaid Orange SIM card in France about 18 months ago with only a hotel address.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:03 AM on August 12, 2010

You won't be able to get a good deal on both voice and data with a single chip. I know it's a bit absurd but that's the way it is, or was a few months ago. Data on the pay & go plans is usually WAP and expensive. Last time I tried that was a year ago and it cost me close to a euro to login in to my gmail account, at glacial speed. SFR offers a 3G pay and go service for data, I think you pay 9€ for a days (access is counted as time) worth of internet, during which you can do pretty much whatever you please data wise. There are other recharge options for smaller amounts of time, usages is measured in connection time so what recharges you get will be up to you, do you want your 3G always on for lots of incremental email checks etc... or do you want it always on in the background. I managed to make skype calls and download large chunks of data without a problem. You can buy recharges at most tabagies or stores like Relai Press. They don't necessarily advertise them, so you have to ask. The annoying thing is that you have to put the sim in a phone to text the recharge code. Especially annoying if the chip is supposed to be in a 3G USB stick, I have no idea what poor ipad users need to do.

Also don't expect to find a bonanza of free wi-fi anywhere, except for parks... Cafés will either charge you or you'll have to ask for an access card which expires after a period of time as a customer. Also everyone's favourite travel wifi provider AKA Linksys, Netgear Router or Default, will not be available to you. Most of the routers provided by French ISPs have to be MAC addressed paired to the router and are set to run WAP.

You're going to have to get another chip for voice, if you don't have another phone you can just go into a Phone House or something and buy a cheap little Nokia or you can get a package deal with a pay & go. They sell extremely cheap phones with pay & go cards at Relai Press, though I don't know if the bright orange, is-it disposable is-it not phone from BiC appeals to you. Using 15 - 30 minutes a day will probably end up costing more than 10€ a day. A lot of companies offer free texting for a period of time if you buy a large enough recharge card, usually in the 20 - 50€ range. Even if you don't just text as much as possible.
posted by metsauce at 6:08 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, and based on your leads, I found this deal with SFR if you have an iPhone offering 10 days of surfing for 10 EUR, (call credit seems to be extra). Please see page 4 of this PDF Brochure.

Now...the part I can't figure out, because of my poor French, is whether this prepay plan is offered only with an iPhone bought through SFR. I have a factory unlocked iPhone 4 (as sold in Canada, NOT jailbroken) and am hoping to be able to use it with this SFR plan.

Can anyone help me read the fineprint in the SFR brochure, please?
posted by randomstriker at 10:23 AM on August 12, 2010

You don't need an iPhone bought through SFR, however:

1) You won't be able to use Skype (at least I can't on SFR; Skype says that 3G calls are not allowed, and I'm pretty sure it's the same for Orange).

2) If you buy the €10 recharge, that only includes 150MB of data. The 3€ recharge includes 20Mb, and the €20 includes 500MB. After you depass your limit you can still use the internet, but at GPRS speeds. So maybe you should just by the €24 card, as it also includes €10 of calling credit. Note that you also have to buy the SIM card usually, and I think it's 9€.

3) They should let you use your iPhone 4, but the prepaid package may not be available in micro-SIM format yet, so you might have to slice up a normal SIM card yourself.

Since you're so close to the Champs-Élysées, then go to the SFR store there. It's the best SFR store in Paris and they have people who speak english.

By the way, you don't need a French address to get a prepaid card, just your passport.
posted by helios at 10:49 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, the EUR 24 deal looks pretty good, I might just get that. Thanks!
posted by randomstriker at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2010

Some kind soul has created a wiki to address this exact issue! Exclamation point because I read this question earlier this morning, and not having been to France since '04, didn't think I had anything meaningful to contribute. Then as I was browsing my news reader, I found this via Lifehacker. Serendipity!

Have a look here for Franco-centric info, or here for a list of other countries' pay-as-you-go options.

Bon voyage!
posted by Salient at 12:01 PM on August 12, 2010

Ugh, of course I blow the important link.

Franco-centric info heretofore only teased can be found here
posted by Salient at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2010

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