Tips on how to avoid mobile phone roaming charges when in France

It comes as more UK operators begin charging customers extra for using their phones in mainland Europe

Roaming fees can be avoided if precautionary steps are taken
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With three out of four of the UK’s major network providers now charging EU roaming fees - after EE recently introduced the charges for pay-as-you-go customers - many Britons will now hesitate to use their mobiles in France or elsewhere in the bloc.

They may also wince at the huge bills they used to rack up using their phones in Europe before the introduction of the EU’s ‘roam like at home’ rules

To help minimise the risk of this occurring again, we have provided a list of tips to help you avoid roaming charges while in France.

The tips below are mostly for limiting data roaming charges. To help limit the cost of calls and texts, you can usually purchase roaming packages which allow you to use your UK allowance when abroad.

We have also covered advice on how to purchase a French SIM card to use when in France.

1. Turn off data roaming on your phone

You will have the ability to turn off data roaming (which prevents your phone from connecting to internet networks but does not prevent you from receiving or sending calls and texts) in your phone’s settings menu.

Doing this will prevent unexpected charges from your phone automatically connecting to these signals and consuming data without you even knowing.

You can change this setting before you leave the UK, to completely prevent you from connecting to any other network when in mainland Europe.

If you really need to, you can turn roaming back on to quickly connect to a network, then turn it off again when you are done, for example, if you need to quickly access an email or train ticket on your phone.

Most phones should automatically have settings that limit application downloads to only begin when connected to WiFi (to prevent large data consumption), but you can also double-check to see if this is the case before you leave. This means when you turn data roaming on, there should be no large downloads onto your phone.

2. Always connect to WiFi where possible

To limit roaming charges for applications that connect to the internet, you can wait until you are connected to WiFi to open them.

Even if you have data roaming turned off, you can use these apps if connected to a WiFi network.

Most hotels and homes should have WiFi connections, and many public places (coffee shops, bars, train stations, and sometimes even entire cities) will have free public WiFi.

When using these public WiFi connections, however, you should be cautious in what you do – for example, you should not insert sensitive data such as your credit card details into your phone when on public WiFi, and should save this until you are on a private network (like in your home).

3. Using apps to make calls or send messages

You can use ‘internet-to-phone’ applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype to call or message people.

Provided the person you want to contact also has the app, and you are connected to WiFi, they are free to use.

This is particularly useful to speak to family and friends back home, especially for longer phone calls or video calls.

Read also: Is there a way to call French 0800 numbers from outside of France?

4. Set a roaming charge cost cap

Most networks will already have a data cap for those using their phone abroad, to prevent excessive bills from racking up.

These only apply to web data usage, however, and not for calls and texts. You can set an overall spending cap for all charges combined (calls, texts, and web data) when abroad, to prevent any nasty surprises.

You can usually do this via your phone’s settings, or through the account you have with your network provider.

If you hit the limit, you will be blocked from using these functions on your phone until you are back in the UK, unless you change the cap’s perimeters.

5. Download before you go

WiFi connections in public (or even in hotels) will rarely be as strong as back home, so you should download everything you think you may need onto your phone before you leave.

This can range from music, books and films for when you are travelling (especially on devices for younger children) or documents like boarding passes or tickets.

You can also download maps in advance from Google Maps – if you know where you are going – to be able to use them when offline, whilst still using your phone’s GPS to track your live location.

Read also: How do I find the best TV and internet provider for my French home?

6. Get a French mobile phone or SIM

If you are a frequent visitor to France, you could also consider getting a French SIM card to use in your phone when in France.

If your phone is unlocked, it will be possible to switch between different SIM cards in the device, allowing you to have both a French and UK SIM card.

You can read our article on checking if your phone is unlocked here.

You can either subscribe to a monthly contract with a French operator or use a pay-as-you-go SIM (called a carte prépayée), depending on how often you are in France.

Generally, if you are visiting for shorter periods, a pay-as-you-go SIM is more beneficial (especially if you have a UK contract or sim card you will use the majority of the time back home).

You can either subscribe to a French phone contract online or in a network operator’s store, or you may be able to purchase pay-as-you-go SIM cards in tabacs, supermarkets, or in certain network operator’s shops.

You can find a breakdown of 2023’s tariff prices for pay-as-you-go SIM cards in France here.

Once you have purchased a SIM card for the first time, you can then ‘top-up’ the SIM with additional calls/texts/internet data, usually via the internet.

Some French pay-as-you-go SIM cards, however, have a time limit on when you can consume the calls/texts/data by, so cannot be kept for extended periods. You should check when purchasing the card if there is a limit on using the package.

You should also be aware that you might have the inverse problem of facing roaming charges when using your French phone or SIM when in the UK.

As of 2023 the major French phone networks Orange, Free, Bouygues and SFR said they will not reintroduce roaming fees for those who travel to the UK, but this may not be the case for smaller providers.

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