France and mobile phone + data for travellers
April 16, 2018 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to France for ~10 days and I'm considering my options to stay connected.

I still have plenty of time to decide, I just started looking early in case I decide to buy a burner phone from China.

What I need is a smartish phone with which I can use:

FB Messenger
Google Maps (likely downloading a couple of areas)
A taxi app (Uber or equivalent)
A transit app (metro + bus)
Voice is not essential

I'm in Canada, so roaming would be super easy at CD$10/ day. I'm thinking I'd like to save some cash since I'm on a budget but I don't know if that's feasible.

If I go the pre-paid route (I was thinking of using this Lyce Mobile plan), can I just get them to send the SIM card to my hotel?

Then I'd have to buy a burner phone. Thing is, I can find ridiculously cheap phones in the US (at Walmart for like $10!) but not in Canada -- what gives? This is the cheapest I could find, a BLU phone at Amazon. Still in total I would be paying less than roaming and I would probably use the phone in another trip. But can this phone handle those apps?

And I have an old iPhone 4s that's locked (British Telecom). I could unlock it, but I tried to bring it on a recent trip as a mini tablet but the OS is so old that it stopped running most apps. Updating to OS 9 seems like a nightmare and not advisable. I don't think it's very useful for a trip unless I'm missing something.

Of course I'd be interested in other ideas about being connected in France on a budget. Thanks!
posted by TheGoodBlood to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two questions which might make answers better:

1. What phone do you currently have/use in Canada?
2. Why do you need to buy a burner phone for use in France/is there a reason you can't just use a French SIM card in your Canadian phone?

There could be plenty of reasons for #2, of course, e.g. this is a work trip, you have classified information, you just don't want to use your Canadian phone, you don't have a smartphone, or whatever.

But given that the general (and my) advice in 2018 for someone who already has a smartphone would be to buy a local French SIM card and insert it in that phone, I just want to make sure there's a reason you're not considering the most obvious/straightforward solution here. (To build on this, my advice would be to get an Orange Holiday SIM card. Sold at all Orange mobile stores, €40 for 10 GB of data valid for 14 days from first use, they can insert it in store for you if you ask.)
posted by andrewesque at 1:39 PM on April 16, 2018

Response by poster: I have a locked iPhone. I didn't consider that option! Would it be easy and straighforward to unlock it and still use it normally in Canada?
posted by TheGoodBlood at 1:49 PM on April 16, 2018

Ah, locked -- that makes sense! In that case, I would call your Canadian carrier and ask them if they can unlock your phone for international travel abroad. It is sometimes the case that phones are locked for domestic use, but not for international use (but it could equally as likely just be locked for both).

If they won't unlock it, and you've tried a couple of times, in that case I'd just do the $10/day roaming plan offered. $100 is obviously not ideal for 10 days of phone usage, but I don't think you'd save that much money (if any) from buying a whole new burner phone, and I've found that it's just a lot easier to have your own phone with your own settings, contacts, apps, etc.

If they will unlock it, then what I'd do is to turn on the roaming plan (I live in the States where Verizon offers a very similar US$10/day roaming plan abroad) for the first 24 hours, which gets you out of the airport and to the hotel. Then you can go to a local telecoms store, buy the card there, have them install it for you (and troubleshoot any problems) and then use that for the rest of the trip.

I was in France in September 2015 and did just this and was pretty happy with the Orange card.
posted by andrewesque at 1:59 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having been in a similar-ish situation last summer (US phones, going to the UK for 10 days), my wife and I found that the $10/day/phone roaming plan from our provider was the lowest-friction option, and worked absolutely seamlessly. Not the cheapest option, but the least obnoxious. We used the hell out of it, particularly for smartphone-based navigation driving around the lake district.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2018

The CRTC banned fees for unlocking cell phones as of Dec. 1, 2017, so your carrier is obligated to unlock it for you and they must do it free of charge.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Note: to unlock an iPhone, you need to back it up, do a factory reset and then restore it from your backup! Effectively you have to unlock it before you leave for your trip.
posted by monotreme at 4:00 PM on April 16, 2018

Best answer: If you unlock your iPhone in advance then it's really easy to buy a Sim card at CDG airport and get data and phone access quickly. This article lays out the different options.

Your best bet is to find a Relay store or kiosk and purchase a $20 euro or $35 euro Sim card. Having done this a bunch of times in the last 6 months, I've found the Relay store in Terminal 2 Hall E to consistently stock Sim cards whereas the Relay kiosks in more trafficked areas sell out. The Relay store in Terminal E is behind the Marks & Spencer food market.
posted by hampanda at 9:09 PM on April 16, 2018

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