French cell phone for an American traveler?

It’s summer and I might be heading to France for a one-month trip – woot :smiley: I’d like to be able to make and receive calls while I’m there, but my Verizon CDMA phone won’t work there.

Is there any way for a US traveler to get a 1-month cell phone plan with reasonable prices? Maybe prepaid service of some sort? The only thing Verizon offers is a rental program that charges like $2 per minute, which is way too much.

I’m mainly going to be making local (within France) calls, so I’m not worried about long-distance capabilities. I can either get the plan here before I leave or buy it once I get to France, as long as billing can be worked out somehow.

As for the phone itself, I’m willing to either rent or buy one (if it’s a GSM phone that can be reused in the future).

I imagine something of the sort must exist for the occasional business or student traveler, but I don’t even know where to start looking :frowning:

Any dopers familiar with this process?

Check this link for what the AngloINFO has on cell phone rentals.

I am also going to France this summer and have wondered the same thing. I Googled “rent cell phone France” and got a zillion hits. I have not looked into it deeply yet but one typical deal was that they ship the phone to you before you start your trip and you ship it back once home. Here is the rate page of one that works like that (US$0.68 per minute for calls within France). It’s the first one that came up in the search, not one I have experience with, but they have a lot of information on their web site. You rent the phone and buy a SIM card, which is loaded with 6 euros of usage. They also have deals where you buy the phone.

Another thing to remember is that in the EU, the standard is “Calling Party Pays.” So you don’t pay airtime for incoming calls.

You can get yourself a good unlocked Ericsson T39 on eBay for around $40. They’re well contructed and work just about everywhere. Then get a prepaid Sim card from Vodafone, they start at €10. This is what I do since I’ve switched to Sprint. It alot cheaper and alot easier than renting a phone. You also get incoming calls for free, so you’ll probably not need as many units as you might think.

I am very interested in this idea. I went to the Vodafone web site and selected United States as my location, but then was directed to a Verizon Wireless site. Verizon is my carrier and, AFAIK, does not have GSM networks. Did you do this? How did you get the SIM card? Is this prepaid service only, or do you get billed for calls in excess of the prepaid amount? Thanks for any info.

I did this a couple of years ago. I got an unlocked phone off of eBay, then also got a SIM off of eBay for Virgin. Then when I got to England I put some money on it. It was a pay as you go plan and it worked out great. Even if you have to give them an address just give the one you’re staying at.

You can also just walk into a cell phone shop and buy a locked phone with a prepaid SIM card. In Germany those start at EUR 20-30 for a low end phone, France should be similar. It’s easier and faster than ebay and you have a new phone with a new number.

That’s a great idea! I might have a few old GSM phones lying around (thanks AT&T) and I think one or two of them are unlocked. Could you get ahold of a prepaid Vodaphone SIM card before you get there, though?

Edward the Head, was that a prepaid SIM or did you have to sign up for regular (contract?) service with Virgin?

And kellner, how hard would it be to find those stores? Do those countries have stores similar to Targets/Radioshacks where they sell prepaid stuff on the shelves? If not, how would you find one there?

What is locked vs. unlocked?

GSM phones in the U.S. broadcast on a different frequency that those in Europe, so for your old AT&T phones to work they must be multiband; the initial US standard was 1900 MHz, then 850 was added. In other parts of the world, including France, 900 and 1800 are the norm, so you’ll be somewhat limited if your phone has only one of these.

Locked - will only work with a SIM card from a particular network
Unlocked - will work with any GSM SIM card.
It’s a software lock, most phones can be unlocked with the appropriate software or by paying $10 to someone with the appropriate software.

I think tri-band GSM, aka ‘world phone’ is the description normally given for phones that work in both US and Europe.

Is there any reason why you need to get the SIM card before you go over? It will probably be a lot easier to buy one over there and then email all your friends/relations with the new number. My GF did this when she went to Thailand. 240 baht (about £3.50) for a SIM card plus phone unlock allowing her to receive free calls, and Skype Out which let me call her for virtually nothing from the UK. She stuck a couple of quid of credit on there, and then she’d just send me a text when she wanted me to call her.

Although I live almost within walking distance of the French border, I have to admit that I go there very rarely and I’ve never looked for a phone there. Every department store or big electronics store should have them but don’t take my word for it. There are also small provider-specific small shops (in our inner cities those spread like a pest and are impossible to miss) Anyway I would recommend looking for an acceptable offer on the web in advance. That way you can ask for something specific and you know the general price range, even if you choose something slightly different in the end.