Help someone be a (phone) genius in France
May 27, 2016 10:57 PM   Subscribe

My wife (C) is going to Paris soon. She'd like to use her current US iPhone there for voice & data, but is a bit technophobic about SIM-buying & -swapping. I'd like to get her a step-by-step how-to.

Here's the background.
- C and her mom (M) are flying into CDG, spending 10 days in Paris. They don't know anyone there.
- Both of them speak & read a moderate amount of French, but don't have much tech fluency in EN or FR.
- Their lodging will have wifi, but she'll need some mobile data.
- She has an iPhone 5s, and Verizon* says it's unlocked for international SIM use.
- Our current provider is Tracfone. They don't do international service. The phone currently has a Tracfone nano SIM for use with the Verizon network. (* I know the phone is multi-mode for GSM/CDMA/LTE. iPhones that were previously on VZW work better with TF, and TF's MVNO scheme keeps phones on a single network.)

Here's what I'm hoping to help her do. [Numbered questions follow.]
- Bring a SIM-removal tool and empty SIM case.
- Keep the TF SIM in the phone until she gets to Paris, so she can use it if necessary during her US outbound layover.
- At CDG, find a mobile phone store [1].
- Remove the TF SIM and put it in the SIM case.
- Buy a local SIM [2] with an adequate amount of local voice & data usage [3].
- Get help from the store to install and activate the French SIM [4].
- Use the phone, and top it up if needed [5].
- On the flight home, remove the French SIM, replace it with the TF SIM, so she can call using her normal TF number when she lands.

[1] Store/network recommendation?
[2] Like #1, what's the best network or kind of SIM for a short Paris stay?
[3] Voice use will be sparing, mainly for checking in with M at the apartment while C's out, or making reservations. Data will be more important for looking things up while out, and as a backup in case wifi is unavailable. SMS use would be low if any, since we text using iMessage.
[4] Are there things to watch out for when activating? Steps to be sure of? Delays to expect?
[5] It sounds like she can go into any Tabac-signed shop and fill up. Are there any tips for making that go smoothly?

I'd be glad for any advice that'll help her get through this with the least amount of stress and on-the-fly decision-making. If there are things we're not thinking of, but should, please let us know. Thanks.
posted by NumberSix to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I went through this when I was in Paris a month ago with my iPhone SE. Got a prepaid Carte XL SIM from Bouygues Telecom. The SIM is 10€ and a 10-day plan for voice, text, and data is another 10€ (calls within France only; 5€ more for international calls).

Sorry, I don't know if there's a shop at CDG. I went into a Bouygues shop in the city and they activated the card and account for me. Took around 10 minutes for them to set it all up and it just worked. I'm from Canada with moderate French and we were able to understand each other. I probably verified a couple things in English and the person helping me knew a bit of English.

I recommend downloading the free Here maps app and the Paris map within the app (also free). In offline mode, I got step-by-step navigation for walking or driving using only GPS so it didn't use up any of my data.

I also found the Google Translate app handy a few times.

Bon voyage to C and M! :)
posted by praiseb at 11:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

[1] Use googlemaps to search around where she's staying and find a store of one of the big brands: Orange, SFR, Bouygues are all fine. Choose one that is a single-brand store, not just a neighborhood mobile phone shop. This is because it will be easier to do the setup and they definitely will be able to activate the SIM right away. There are loads of threads on tripadvisor about getting sims in CDG but it is not as easy as going into a shop because of the need to verify identity to activate the sim. Whenever I land in the UK from overseas I'm always accosted by people who want to sell me a Lebara sim, but here there's no requirement to photocopy an identity document so it's a less complicated process. CDG also has free wifi, as does (a lot of) the Paris Métro, so unless there's a specific reason to get the sim at the airport then she's better off waiting until she gets into town and can go to a company shop.

[2] There's little difference in the pricing for a 10 day stay, so any of the brands listed above will have a PAYG plan focusing more on data than voice/sms. Keep in mind that unlike some other EU countries, money on a PAYG SIM in France usually has an expiry, covarying with the amount put on the card, so e.g. €5 will expire more quickly than €10. She should just look at the plans available in the shop and pick one that has enough data for the trip. For example, Bouygues offers a plan for €10 which is good for ten days, has ten minutes of calling to the US, unlimited local calls and SMS/MMS, and half a gig of data.

[3] not sure what the question is here

[4] You do need to bring a passport to activate the sim - it's the law in France and it's not difficult for someone from the US to purchase a local SIM but they have to photocopy her passport and she'll have to sign some documents.

[5] She should just get enough data on the plan to last the time she's there. Tabacs will enable her to add more if she needs it but it's likely that in ten days this won't be necessary if she gets enough data initially. Also every park in Paris has free wifi, as do many cafés, so even if she's uploading a lot of photos it's still possible to use little actual data from the plan. Also remember that you can pre-load googlemaps data for offline use which is a handy thing to do when travelling.
posted by tractorfeed at 7:09 AM on May 28, 2016

I did this the other year in Lyon. I think the most complicated part was sorting through the confusing array of companies and plans. You should be able to figure that out ahead of time based on their websites (may require deciphering some French). I found a plan I liked from a popular provider (Orange, I think) which had stores all over. I went in the first one I saw (downtown, not at the airport), they were helpful and fluent in English, and there was a bit of paperwork (a passport was required, I believe) and other fiddling around, but they swapped the SIMs and took care of everything. (I doubt the empty sim case or removal tool is necessary, but I suppose there's no harm.)
posted by bfields at 7:14 AM on May 28, 2016

Response by poster: @tractorfeed Whoops, you're right about [3]. The omitted question was: If this is her expected use, is there a good plan to get? Thanks for the helpful info!
posted by NumberSix at 9:44 AM on May 28, 2016

Just some additional useful info: Google maps app allows you to explicitly download maps for offline use, btw. We found this incredibly useful on our recent trip. Same goes for the google translate app - you can download a full language for offline use.
posted by soplerfo at 7:34 AM on May 30, 2016

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