I’m back in France, this time for a leisure trip (my first real vacation in Europe since I graduated here as a Ph.D.) Yes, it’s Winter, but promenading through the streets of Paris without having to worry about the next meeting / deadline / academic obligation is a nice change of pace, cold and rain notwithstanding.
I’m skeptical about the concept of unconnected vacations — in my leisure time I still want to have access to the hive mind, lest my IQ drop a full 30 points. But having a decent data plan in France without breaking the bank is not necessarily obvious, as I’ve been exploring for some time.
Orange Telecom, the main cell-phone company of France, has finally waken-up to the reality that 80M tourists come to France every year — 20% more people than the country own population of 66M. They now propose the Mobicarte Holiday, a pre-paid SIM card loaded with 2h of calls, 1000 SMS, and 1GB of cell data, and unlimited access to Orange Wifi Hotspots — at a price of 40€. If you already have a working Mobicarte you can buy a “Holiday recharge” for 30€. After you use all your credit (or after your credit expires) you can reload the Mobicarte with either the “Holiday” or a normal recharge.
That package is not exactly the cheapest, but it is the most convenient I’ve experienced so far : an offer completely adapted to the needs of the traveller.
The first limitation is that you’ll probably won’t be able to buy the Mobicarte Holiday from Orange Online store — unless you have a French credit card. This prevents having it delivered directly to your hotel. To compensate that inconvenience, several Orange physical stores are open from Monday to Saturday, until 19h30. I had no difficulty in buying it at the physical store at boulevard Haussmann on a Saturday afternoon.
The second limitation is much more irritating : you won’t be able to connect to the Orange Wifi Hotspots — unless you have a French credit card ! In order to get access to the Wifi hotspots, Orange forces you to install an iOS app — “Mon Réseau” (My Network) — but that app is only available at the French App Store ! Here the synergy of Orange’s nearsightedness and Apple’s greediness creates the perfect storm, as you won’t be able to create an Apple ID for the French Apple store unless you enter a credit card valid in France. (My love–hate relationship with Apple has such a healthy dose of hate because of those things.)
Finally, the kick on the shins : the Holiday credit is valid for meager 14 days, so for longer trips you’ll have to keep buying recharges.
Is there any silver linings ? Well, the SIM card itself will remain valid for 6 months after the last recharge. The price of 20€ a week is still 3 times cheaper than the data roaming offer of my Brazilian operator (Vivo Telecom). You can get a Mobicarte in any one of the mini-, micro-, and nano-SIM formats : you won’t have to deal with SIM clippers (or worse : a sharp kitchen knife and a steady hand). In addition, the 3G Internet offer takes effect immediately (some previous Internet options of Orange took up to 3 days to kick in.)
The Mobicart Holiday is far from perfect, but it’s still the most traveller-friendly offer by Orange France I’ve experienced so far.