There's no question that a cellphone can be convenient as you travel around the French Riviera. Hotels and private lodging offer free wifi access and there are an increasing number of cafes, commercial centers and public spaces that offer free wifi. Nice tramways and TGV trains offer free wifi. For wifi hotspots in Nice, click here.
In order to use the features of your smartphone in France you need a data connection. A data connection is essential if you're on the move and need to use Google maps to get around when wifi isn't available. Step-by-step directions chew up a remarkable amount of data.
About French Cell Phones
France is on the GSM 900/1800 frequency which means that some American phones are not compatible because they use a CDMA system. Americans travelling in France need to equip themselves with a phone handling a GSM 900/1800 frequency. Most new cellphones and smartphones are "quad band" which means they will work in France. Check your phone before arriving in France.
Buying a Cell Phone in France
You can buy a complete cell phone package from one of the providers below that will include the mobile phone, SIM card, phone number etc. Prices start at about €25 and include about €5 of call time. These packages are only available in France and you will pay a roaming charge if you decide to visit Italy. All instructions are in French so make sure the sales clerk sets up the phone for you. You may be required to show your passport.
Mobile Phone Companies
Here are the major mobile phone companies that have stores on the French Riviera. In Nice, avenue Jean Médecin has the greatest concentration of stores.
|Orange||Numerous locations in shopping centers and commercial streets|
|SFR||Numerous locations in shopping centers and commercial streets|
|Bouygues||Numerous locations in shopping centers and commercial streets|
Bringing a Cell Phone to France
If you do have a GSM phone you can use it in France
- if you set it up for international roaming. This is an expensive way to make and receive calls as you pay two companies: your home cellphone company and the local French network. If you do choose international roaming, you may need to set it up before you leave home. Check your local carrier.
- if you buy a SIM card in France.This is the cheapest alternative. Each of the local cellphone networks above provides a start-up package that includes a SIM card, phone number, user manual etc. Prices start at about €20 for 2 weeks of unlimited calls and 8Go of data.
- In order to use a French SIM card your phone must be unblocked. Different carriers have different policies but check before you arrive.
- for texting. This is a cheaper alternative to calling if you only need to confirm your flight arrival time, for example.
French SIM cards
If you absolutely must stay connected than you need a SIM card with a data plan. Surfing the web without a data plan is extremely expensive, around €0.50/minute. Orange Holiday offers 8Go of data and 30 minutes of calls for two weeks for €19.99. And you can order online. Need more data and more time? Get 20Go of data, two hours of calls for 30 days by ordering on Amazon.
For a complete discussion of prepaid SIM cards with data plans, click here.
Cost of Cell Phone Calls
France has a "caller pays" system. You do not pay to receive local calls on your cellphone unless you receive calls from abroad which is expensive! If you call a mobile phone in France from a fixed line the charge runs from about €1 per minute depending on the network and the time of day.