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I am planning to move to France and I am a bit curious, how do cellular carriers/networks operate in the European Union? If I have a mobile from Orange, will it stop working once I leave France? Is it like International Roaming here in the US, where you pay through the nose? How does it work?

Please do let me know, simply because I don't know.

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A few years ago, roaming within Europe was quite expensive. Since then, the European Commission have identified roaming as a notable impediment to the single market, so have been taking some strong steps to remove roaming as a problem.

As of the 1st of July 2014, the maximum allowed roaming rates for an EU phone in another EU country have dropped again, and can now be no higher than

Outgoing voice calls (per minute) - €0.19

Incoming voice calls (per minute) - €0.05

Outgoing texts (per SMS message) - €0.06

Online (data download, per MB*) - €0.20

All of those are the maximum allowed, but before VAT in your home country. They may well end up falling again in coming years. You may end up paying less.

Most of the European mobile operators now offer plans which bring the cost of intra-European roaming down even more. Some even offer free roaming in some or all of the EU, it varies by operator.

One of the stated goals of the EU Commission is for there to be no roaming within the European Union, and have customers able to select a plan from any operator anywhere in the EU and use the phone anywhere else without extra charges. It's still some way off that, but things are changing for the better of the European consumer.

For now, you'll need to check the details of your plan and planned operator closely, and compare it to where you're likely to want to be using your phone. If the maximum roaming rates above seem fine to you, just pick whichever provider you want based on their domestic price plan. If you plan to travel quite a bit, give serious consideration to paying a little more for your base price plan, in order to get cheaper or free roaming within the EU.

(For the UK, in July 2014, you have one network who offers free roaming in many but not all EU countries + a few non-EU ones, several who offer to let you use your UK price plan in other EU countries for a small daily fee, and at least one who offers free EU roaming on their more expensive plans)

Exact plans / offerings / prices change pretty much from month to month, so you're likely to need to check the exact situation once you arrive.

  • Thank you SO much for this info. It was so tough finding this information. – JessicaSideways Jun 29 '14 at 10:05
  • It's not the first time I hear about UK operators offering special deals for people who want to use their phone abroad but unfortunately, I am yet to find a French operator offering better roaming rates than the EU legal rates. – Gala Jun 29 '14 at 11:52
  • If you don't mind having a UK number, you can always just get a UK phone with a special EU roaming plan and use it in France! You do get some funny looks giving out a +44 number, and not all websites accept it, but other than that it works pretty well...! – Gagravarr Jun 29 '14 at 15:21
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    Note that some mobile carriers offer free roaming in Europe for a limited number of days per year. With Sosh you have unlimited texts/5 GB data in Europe roaming with some of their plans (15 days per year), with Free you also have texts and data in Europe (35 days per year). This type of roaming offers is becoming more and more common since Neelie Kroes announced the desire of fully free european roaming in the long term. – strnk Jun 29 '14 at 19:13
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In Paris, I use B&You mobile service. They provide roaming in most EU countries. I'm not sure about the US. I believe Free.fr does offer roaming in US and some EU countries. Both provide generous data service in the their roaming countries.

Regarding mobile phones, you have to make sure your phone is unlocked, matches the frequencies of your provider, matches the mode of the provider (2G, 3G, 3G+, LTE) and your providers antennas cover the usage area. Generally, data service coverage is good but LTE requires research. I switched from Free.fr mobile service to B&You service. In Paris, my LTE speeds are now insanely fast on my Samsung S4 (90+mbps), coverage is much better, and B&You is compatible with my iPhone 5 too. YMMV.

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    Everybody offers roaming, do you mean free roaming? – Gala Jun 29 '14 at 17:14
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More generally, when comparing offers in France from mobile operator, you have to take into account whether you want an offer without minimal duration, "sans engagement", whose monthly fare are lower than offers where you benefit from a subsidized mobile phone (that you eventually pay by a having a minimum contract duration of 12 or 24 months "avec engagement"). Notice also that once you have no more "engagement", it is quite easy to change of mobile operator while keeping your phone number.

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