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There's no question that a cellphone can be convenient as you travel around the French Riviera. But it can be expensive if you incur roaming charges on your out-of-country mobile.
About French Cell Phones
France is on the GSM 900/1800 frequency which means that some American phones are not compatible. 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.
Where to Get a France-Compatible Cell Phone Before You Leave
I recommend buying a dual band cellphone with a prepaid calling plan from STA Travel Known as the travel agency for student travellers, STA Travel offers unbeatable deals on dual band cell phones and offers a plan that allows you to receive FREE CALLS from friends and family. Prices start at US$29. More.
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.
Bringing a Cell Phone to France
If you do have a GSM phone you can use it in France
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.
In order to use the features of your smartphone in France you need a data connection. More hotels are offering free wifi access and there are an increasing number of cafes and public spaces that offer free wifi. For wifi hotspots in Nice, click here.
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. The best deal for a prepaid SIM card with a data plan comes from Orange. Under Orange's new "Internet Max" plan, you buy a SIM card for €2 and then charge it with €20/30 for 150/300MB of data, plus unlimited local calls and texts. The offer is available in any Orange store. Bring a passport and get the service activated before leaving to avoid having to call #123# and navigate a menu of options in French. It may take 24 hours to activate.
Caveat: store employees may or may not be helpful in getting you started as the prepaid option is not generally chosen by locals. You'll have more luck in a store in a well-touristed location.
For a complete discussion of prepaid SIM cards with data plans, click here.
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