Communication in France

How to change your French mobile phone provider? Is your home in France eligible for optic fibre? All you need to know about telephone and internet services, and mobile coverage in France.

Country code, phone booths and roaming

  • The international country code of France is 0033 or +33.
  • Telephone booths still exist in France, but they become very rare. You will pay for your call with you credit card.
  • Calls can be received at phone boxes where the blue bell sign is shown.
  • If on holiday, you use your mobile phone to call home, within the EU you benefit from the roaming rules. From 15 June 2017, when you use your mobile phone while roaming in the EU, you will in principle pay no extra cost. The European Council has agreed to suspend mobile roaming charges until 2032. More information in our article "Calls, SMS, Internet in Europe".

Good to know :

Since the end of February 2022, 22 European and seven Ukrainian telecommunications operators apply preferential rates for calls to and from Ukraine in order toensure that refugees from Ukraine can stay connected across borders.

To receive or make calls, SMS/MMS messages from abroad, set up your phone before you leave. 

  1. Activate the "international" option, 
  2. OR ask your operator to activate this option,
  3. OR set up the "automatic" network in your phone settings (instead of the usual operator).

To better understand the roaming rules in Europe, read our article "Calls, SMS, Internet in Europe".

Subscription to a mobile telephone service

If you are staying for a longer period in France, you may want to consider subscribing a contract as you may not be able to benefit from the roaming rules during the entire stay. If your operator finds indeed that you use your bundle more in France than in your home country over a period of at least 4 consecutive months, it may be required to charge you for mobile communications and data roaming up to wholesale prices.

Before signing a contract, compare all the offers and verify they fulfill your needs before signing a contract.Be careful of the minimum commitment period , if a telephone material is included in the offer or allows to buy a mobile phone at a lower cost and if the offer includes or not connection to internet and the data volume (limited or not).

You can open an account in a shop or on the internet. You will have to provide proof of your identity (passport, ID card, residence permit) and address (e.g electricity invoice), as well as a means of payment.

You will then receive an invoice every month. Regarding the payment, the operators generally propose an automatic debit from your account to pay your invoice.       

To terminate your subscription, check the general terms and conditions. Always prefer a written cancellation to keep a proff, rather than a simple phone call. If you have to send in a letter and material provided by the operator, prefer registered letter. You will need a proof of your sending and the date you asked for the end of your contract.

If you encounter any problem of difficulty with your operator during or at the end of your contract, contact the customer service of the operator. You will find its details on your invoice or on the operator’s website. If the problem with a French operator persists, the operator needs to inform you about the contact details of the competent mediator. If you are a resident of another EU Member State, Iceland, Norway or the UK, do not hesitate to contact the European Consumer Centre of your country of residence for further advice.

Changing your provider

Living in France, you opted for a French mobile phone provider and signed a 12 or 24-month contract, which is coming to an end and, now you want to change?

  • If you do not want to keep your phone number, you must personally unsubscribe from your current provider, even if your contract has no fixed-term. You must observe the rules laid down by your provider (on your contract or on your provider’s website) detailing the procedure to follow, deadlines to respect. See below on "When to leave".
  • If you want to keep your number, your new provider will be responsible to cancel your contract and ensure the "transfer" of your number. To do this, you must ask your previous provider to give you your personal identity code: "code RIO". A RIO code is the French equivalent to a PAC code in the UK and basically allows you to change mobile phone providers and keep your existing phone number if you have a mobile phone contract with a French mobile phone provider. The term code RIO stands for "relevé d'identité opérateur" (statement of operator identity). The code RIO is alphanumeric. It is 12 digits long and follows the format of NN L NNNNNN NNN.

If your mobile is locked (in the case of mobiles which are sold in a package at the time of the subscription), you must unlock it (called in French “désimlocker”) in order to use it with the SIM card of another provider.

If you are changing your mind at the beginning of your contract, a fee may be charged, so we advise to check your provider’s prices table. But once the first three months have passed, this operation is free of charge. 

When can I change?

If you are under contract but without engagement, you can leave your provider whenever you want. But beware! In any case, you will have to pay for the first twelve months of your subscription.

Your termination will be effective ten days after reception of your termination letter by the operator. If you want the termination to be effective later, make it clear in your correspondence with the provider. We recommend a cancellation letter sent by registered mail with acknowledgment of receipt.

In case you have a subscription with a fixed duration (12 or 24 months), you can also leave your provider whenever you want but you will have to pay “cancellation penalties”.

  • If you have a subscription of 12 months or if you purchased a 24-month subscription and you cancel it during the first year, you will have to pay all the monthly payments until the end of your obligation period.
  • If you purchased a 24-month subscription and you cancel it during the second year, you will have to pay a quarter of the remaining monthly payments, (article L224-28 French consumer code).

Limitation of early termination fees for telephone and Internet contracts

The law on emergency measures to protect purchasing power includes several measures, applicable to contracts entered into as of January 1, 2023, relating to the early termination of an electronic communication service contract (telephone and Internet subscriptions).

When a contract of this type provides for a minimum commitment period of more than 12 months, the consumer may terminate it early from the end of the twelfth month.

Until now, this termination could give rise to the payment, by the consumer, of a sum capped at a quarter of the monthly payments remaining due for the period remaining until the end of the commitment period, unless the termination was requested for a legitimate reason. The law now limits these termination fees to 20% of the outstanding monthly payments if the consumer purchased equipment such as a phone with the subscription. For other contracts, cancellation fees are abolished.

A consumer in overindebtness may also be able to cancel an Internet access subscription under specific circumstances.

Concerning the possibility of terminating a contract online, read "Electronic termination of contracts".

Using prepaid cards

If you want to use your former mobile phone starting in your country with a French prepaid card, you must contact your former supplier or the phone company to unlock your phone and allows it to receive a SIM card from another operator.

French operators propose a lot of formulas of prepaid cards. To find the one that most suits you, keep in mind the following point to check conditions of use of each prepaid card and find the most suitable for you:

  • What is the validity period of the cards and recharges?
  • Will you be informed by the operator about the upcoming end of it and how?
  • Can you receive phone calls when your recharge is empty?
  • What is the smallest recharge or validity period?
  • Will you be refunded of the remaining credit on the prepaid card if you leave France?

On this last point, note that the operator is not obliged by law to refund the remaining credit.

Mobile fraud

More information on missed calls/SMS from unknown numbers in our article.

Communication service coverage in France

You are looking into buying a bundled service or just an internet access alone? You want to know the quality of communication service you can expect at your place of residence?

Voice, SMS and moble Internet coverage of different operators in France

Since January 2017, l’Arcep has required the 4 main operators to publish maps of the territorial coverage of their voice and SMS networks.

This map allows customers to see the coverage zones for different operators.

Roadmap for the implementation of 5G

Begun in July 2018, the plan to deploy 5G in France has multiple objectives to reach before 2020.

  • Make available and designate the necessary radio frequencies for the 5G network
  • Promote the development of new industrial uses of 5G
  • Accompany the deployment of 5G infrastructures
  • Ensure transparency and dialogue on the implementation of the 5G network, as well as a public exhibition of it

Further information on this article.

Eligibility for fiber optics

To find out, go on the ARCEP website (the French telecommunication and postal service authority) where you can find a map showing the availability of fiber access. You can then check with the different operators, if they provide fiber access already at your place. "Testez votre ligne/éligibilité" by entering either either your telephone number and/or your postal address in the corresponding section.

Internet cafés

Internet cafes can be found in most cities throughout France. Rates may vary, but you will be charged according to the amount of time spent using the computer. To find an internet cafe, ask at the local tourist information point.

Free wifi

In certain places (train stations, public libraries, fast food restaurants, shopping malls etc.), it is common to offer free wifi access for customers. In other areas, such as airports and trains, you may have access but need to register and sometimes pay a small fee. Depending on your mobile phone provider or home internet provider you can have an access to your provider’s public network.

Please remember that every network is a potential risk of getting your data stolen or infecting your computer. Search for wifi network only in places that you know or that look secure and officially advertise their wifi hotspot. Use it only if you understand the terms of use as some networks might require hidden costs.

Premium rate telephone number

Since the 1st of January 2021, no administration of the state, nor organisations with a public service mission can use a paid phone number to be contacted by telephone

In addition, calls are no longer taxed to contact: Allô service public (3939), pension insurance (3960), speed camera fine payment services (0 811 10 10 10 et 0 811 10 20 30), as well as official electronic reports (0 811 871 871).

However, certain organisations, like the unemployment centre, tax authorities, CAF (Caisse d’allocations familiales), had already made their services free before January 2021.

Remember that even if the services are free, the call may be made a charge. However, the price is often included in fixed or mobile phone packages.

Good to know: the obligation for administrations to no longer use surcharged telephone numbers does not apply to local authorities (town halls, departments, inter-municipalities, etc.).

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.