Avoiding Roaming Charges: Pocket Wifi Hot Spots vs French SIM Cards

Roaming charges can be a horrendous surprise when you get back home and see your bill!  To avoid roaming charges when travelling in France, you can jump through hoops to get a French data sim card, or the easiest way, especially for a 1 to 2-week trip, is to simply rent a pocket wifi hot spot and get unlimited 4G/5G in wherever you go during your vacation.

Europeans now have free Europe-wide roaming, and Americans with T-Mobile Magenta plans or Google-Fi subscriptions also get free international roaming … but everyone else will get absolutely killed with roaming charges, or spend their vacation running around looking for wifi.  Here are the two ways to stay connected on the cheap:

Easiest Option: Rent a Pocket Wifi Hot Spot

Pocket hot spot for unlimited wifi while travelling in FranceThe Nice Tourist office (and other tourist offices around France) offer a great new service: a pocket mobile wifi hot spot with unlimited internet that you can rent by the day and connect up to 10 devices.

It costs 8€ a day, but less the longer your trip. You will easily drop 8 euros in roaming charges the first time you look up a restaurant, so your pocket wifi will pay for itself by the first day.

You book it on-line in English then pick it up at the nearest tourist office when you arrive (or have it delivered to your hotel); it’s all set up and ready to go – just turn it on, and when you are done you pop it in the prepaid envelope and drop it in any French mailbox even at the airport. That’s it!

For less than 8€ a day, you can give your whole travelling entourage unlimited 4G internet wifi access wherever you are in France.

Everyone in your family can have access to their apps, voice translate French on the fly with Google Voice Translator, get an Uber from anywhere, check map distances and train schedules in real time, translate menus, convert currency or sizing… and keep the kids occupied.  It’s the most internet bang for the buck, and with the least hassle.  I tested it personally before writing about it, and it was easy and seamless, and gave me a full strong connection everywhere, even for video conferencing, and streaming.

Going the French SIM Card Route

Sim cardAnother possibility, which is the better one if you plan to be here for a longer time, is to get a local French SIM card.  You’ll need an unblocked phone, so verify with your carrier in advance.  Here is a great article from the New York Times that explains this SIM card option is granular detail: A Comprehensive Guide to taking your Smart Phone Abroad for Cheap.

The best SIM card deals in France are online-only, with Sosh, SFR Red, SFR-la-Carte, or take the best deal with Free Mobile, which gives you unlimited worldwide calls plus 150 Go of 4G web use anywhere in Europe for just 19.99€/month with no commitment (‘sans engagement’ is the magic phrase here)… but the catches are that you can only order these cards on-line and the sites are only in French (hello Google Translate!), it takes around 2 weeks for the SIM to arrive in the mail (so you need to plan ahead), and they only mail it to France (so you need to give your hotel address).

You can also just walk in and buy a prepaid French SIM card from a phone boutique, an electronics store (Darty or FNAC) or even at a cigarette stand (tabac).  Of the 3 major phone operators, Bouygues has the weakest network connections, so stick with Orange or SFR as operators.  The best prepaid SIM card deal that doesn’t have to be pre-ordered is Orange Holiday which costs 40€ and is good for 14 days, and offers 30 Go internet anywhere you go in Europe, unlimited calls and texts in Europe, and 1000 free texts and 2 hours of calls to numbers back home (outside of Europe). You can also recharge the card on-line to add another week or 2 and it is good anywhere you travel in the Eurozone.

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