Buying a SIM Card Abroad


If you’ve been following our blog and business, you probably know that our primary services are for expats located in Paris. But did you know we also do tourist itinerary planning? Now that tourist season is approaching, we thought it would be helpful to put together a comprehensive guide on how to stay “on the grid” while you’re traveling Europe. As helpful as phones have become recently, not having data can still complicate your travels (who has time to wait for wifi to post that Instagram story?!). Instead of paying hefty fees for international plans, let us help you get the most out of your time abroad!

1. Your SIM card options

In Europe, we are very lucky to have inexpensive phone plans, comparatively to the cost of plans in the US. My current plan is with Bouygues and costs €25 for unlimited calls and texts within Europe, to the US, and to 120 other countries, and 50 gigs of data, 10 of which I can use across Europe. It’s a pretty awesome deal! Knowing back in the US my family is paying hundreds of dollars a month to share 10 gigs of data makes me cringe. Anyway…

You have a few different options for service providers. The big ones are Orange, SFR, and Bouygues, but all the plans are relatively similar. Because of that, we recommend going with Orange, as they have a great English-speaking customer service hotline. SFR is a nightmare to get ahold of if anything goes wrong, and Bouygues is fine as long as you speak French. So if you’re planning on being in Europe for a week or two, we recommend going with the Orange Holiday pack. This plan costs €39 and allows for:

  • A SIM card with a French phone number
  • 120 min + 1000 texts
  • International calls and texts from European zone
  • 10GB of mobile data valid in European zone
  • 14 days of service

If this seems like too much there are of course other plans available, this is just the most comprehensive calls and data plan. The plans start at €5 and increase in increments of €5. If you do decide to go with a smaller pre-paid plan, just be sure to get a SIM card that is “sans engagement“, so as not to find yourself with a full year-long phone contract!

Photo by John Dulaney


2. Buying the SIM card

To purchase the SIM card, all you need is your passport and a credit card. That’s it! The SIM card can be purchased either directly in the provider’s boutique, at a tabac, or at most of the news stands you’ll see around Paris.

If you’re a “do-it-yourself” kind of person and can follow the instructions to complete the setup on your own, we recommend going to a tabac or to a news stand, as the wait time will be significantly shorter. If you’d rather have someone else complete the set up for you, stop in at the provider’s boutique and they’ll get it fully installed for you.

Once you’ve completed the set up, you’ll be asked to restart your phone, and once you do… voila! You officially have a French phone number.

But wait!


3. Unlocking Your Phone 

Before purchasing a SIM card, you must check with your service provider at home about unlocking your phone. The rules for locked phones differ from provider to provider. Some will charge a fee to unlock, others will unlock for free. If your service provider is trying to charge you high fees to unlock you have two options:

  • If you have an iPhone, we love Official iPhone Unlock, a British company with very reasonable fees who will unlock your phone in a very short delay. All you have to do is fill out a form and pay online, and they do the rest! If you’re the type of traveler who likes to be prepared, you can take care of this before you leave for Europe. That way all you have to do upon arrival is pop in the SIM card.
  • Our clients have had much success at the various electronics stands lining boulevard Barbès. In addition to selling chargers and adaptors, fixing broken screens and any other physical or technical issues, they also unlock phones, all at very reasonable prices.

You may find that you’re unable to unlock your phone, due to being an older model, or the restrictions placed by your service provider at home. If this is the case, you can easily purchase a cheap phone here in Europe. There are phones that cost around €20 and have all the basics (including Facebook and Instagram!).


And that about wraps it up! If you have further questions or would like assistance planning your itinerary, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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