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There are telecartes (phonecards) available at tabacs (tobacco shops) all over. You can buy them in varying amounts for calls within France and for international calls. You specify which type you want and for the length of time needed when purchasing the cards. Since most of the public phones do not accept coins, these telecartes are necessary to make calls. Instructions for use are posted in the telephone booths. The minutes used are deducted from the original amount and the remainder is available for future use.
UPDATE JULY 2016: This information updates the info on how to stay connected in France. It is possible to rent a connected smartphone from new travel startup INSIDR (www.insidr.paris). They provide a fully equipped smartphone with unlimited data browsing, text messages, and calls. The smartphone also features a digital guide with original content about Paris (maps, walks, access to a community). The phone is delivered upon arrival everywhere in Paris, and picked up upon departure. Price starts at 6€ per day, all-inclusive.
UPDATE APRIL 2016: This information updates the thread about purchasing a SIM card for your unlocked phone at CDG ("Cheaper French Sim Card"). The previous recommendation (of purchasing a 1GB data Lycamobile SIM card for 15 Euro or a Lebara SIM card) is no longer valid. Don't waste a 10 Euro on a Lycamobile SIM card that comes with 7,5 Euro credit (See the attached photo). That SIM card requires you to add additional Euro with your credit card (additional 3,5 Euro for 1 GB data with no Talk time or 20 additional Euro for 1GB and some talk time). There is a cheaper Lycamobile data plan, but it is confusing to implement at the busy airport (a 500 MB data plan but you must be able to configure your cell phone to activate this service: The Lycamobile customer service said sending the text 49250 to 3535 will allow you to opt for the 500 MB data plan. However, Lycamobile will then text you back in French that there is insufficient fund "Vous disposez d'un cr\351 dlit insuffisant, EUR 0.5100, pour activer ce Pass.". The phone's config file has to be reprogrammed to lycamobile IP addresss. If you are at CDG and you have family members anxiously waiting to get into Paris, this is not really a good time to figure all that out). The better (or easier but expensive) option is to purchase the SFR LA CARTE for 29 Euro (See the attached photo) which will automatically update your IP address configuration.
UPDATE Jul 2014: Old phone card from a previous trip didn't work. Local kiosk said that phone cards were removed from circulation sometime in the spring/summer of 2013 (unsure of date accuracy). Public phones still have a slot into which to insert a card, apparently now they take a debit or credit card with a built-in chip ("puce"), and the call is charged to your account. Have not tried to use that method, that was more expensive calling rate than using fixed-rate SIM card in mobile phone. Press kiosks and tabacs still sell cards to use the public phones, but this appears to be essentially a preloaded debit card - you give them cash, they give you the card preloaded with money and you then use that at the public phone. If you have trip companions wihtout their own cell phone, this would be the way to go so they can call back the person with the cell phone, if they get lost or separated from the group.
As far as cell phones go, you can visit a cell phone store in any large town in France and purchase a cheap mobile which usually includes a pre-pay SIM card. While there are several carriers, the best for calling internationally is an international SIM card. They cater to foreigners living in and traveling to France and needing inexpensive calling back home. If you are looking to purchase a low cost european SIM card before you travel you should try www.simsmartprepaid.com they have very low call rates. OneSimCard www.onesimcard.com offers free incoming calls and inexpensive outgoing calls & internet data. Cellular Abroad also sells and rents International SIM cards online at www.cellularabroad.com.You can also get a great France SIM card deal at www.CelloMobile.com. Rates as low as $0.05/min.
If you are staying for more than a few days, another option is to buy a regular French SIM card for your mobile phone (provided it can use the European cell radio frequencies, which are different from the
U.S. cell frequencies: they are called tri-band or quad-band phones in the USA). Many come with all-you-can-talk-or-text plans, and data up to a limit included in their monthly fee. Once your visit is over, you cancel the plan. One problem with this solution is: if you travel outside of France, then you are roaming by definition, so there is a roaming charge + the cost of the call from the carrier in the outside country (for instance, Belgium or Luxembourg). Only a few centimes per minute, but if the SIM card plan is new (less than one billing cycle), the French carrier will block the SIM from working because of theft concerns. Bouygues is a reliable network, they do have a low-cost "BandYOU" subsidiary (lower cost per month, but everything is handled by internet and this requires a French bank account on which they deduct automatically monthly plan invoices), as well as a French address just to fill their customer information fields. That said, if you anticipate needing to make lots of calls, or lengthy conversations, and don't want to continually have to recharge your prepaid SIM card, this pay-as-you-go plan makes sense.
If you are traveling with others then 2 cell phones are handy for meeting up purposes. They can be used in other EU countries with the appropriate SIM cards. Incoming calls are free, so for international calls home during a lengthy trip, it is easy for people back home to get an international calling program for a month or more and use this to call the cell phone. Use the cell just to signal for a call back. This allows you to chat freely. Alternatively, some U.S. and Canadian cellphones can be used abroad. Check with your phone's manufacturer to check it will work and check with your provider for information on call charges.
Owners of cell phones from any other EU country are able to use their cell phone in France without issue. A recently enacted European law has capped the cost of roaming from home networks to fairly reasonable rates, as of July 1 2011.
A very good deal is also available in Post Offices around the country. Here, you can purchase telephone cards for 7.50-20€, which work on 2 different systems: 1) you can call a number directly and be charged quite a bit, or 2) call a special number that actually calls you back in the phone booth, and then you dial your number. This way, you have 10x more minutes to use (7.50€ = approx. 400 minutes to North America).
There is a telecom service for travelers in France ( www.bienvenue-wifi.com.com), which ensures a high speed Wi-Fi connection for up to 10 devices starting at 5 euros/ a day via a "mini-box" small enough to fit in your pocket. The box ensures a quality 4G/LTE connection anywhere in France. Already available in 4 and 5 stars hotel in Paris. No roaming fees. You can call anywhere with FaceTime, WhatsApp, Viber or Hangout for free, watch a movie and check TripAdvisor App. Delivered to your hotel or at the airport (within 3 hours in Paris). Send it back by mail via a prepaid envelop..
The mobile hotspot rental service is also available with a European plan provided by MYWEBSPOT. An unlimited data plan can be accessed through the pocket wifi which can be used everywhere in France and extended eveywhere in Europe, in 4G. Delivery can be made in 24H everywhere in Europe.
00 is the International Direct Dial code you use to call overseas from within France.
For example, to call Seattle airport - (206) 787 3000 - from France, dial 00 1 206 787 3000.
33 is the International Country Code for France, which is followed by the telephone number omitting the initial '0'
For example, to call the Paris tourist information office - 01 49 52 42 63 - from the USA or Canada, dial 011 33 1 49 52 42 63
French telephone numbers consist of ten digits and are usually quoted in pairs of digits. The first two digits indicate where/what service you're calling:
One easy way to program your non-French mobile phone: in the past, from France you dialed with the leading "0", but dropped it when dialing from outside France. This required 2 entries in the phone, one for calling your party from outside France, one for once you're there. Alternate method below:
Discovered (July 2014) that if you program your party's number in your contacts with country code +33, then the number without the leading "0": the phone system is smart enough to connect your call even without the leading "0". Akin to dialing within one's own area code in the United States by dialing 1 then area code then number, this works whether you are within that area or outside.