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Let’s keep it simple, traveling abroad with your phone is expensive. Call, SMS or data (email, web, etc) will cost you a lot of money. I travel to France often (work and family) and have tried to figure out the best way for me to get data access while there.

First you’ll need a GSM phone that’s unlocked (T-mobile or AT&T in the US and some ‘international’ phones from Verizon or Sprint). An unlocked iPhone or GSM Android device will work with the added benefit of acting like a wi-fi access point (provided you have MyWi on the iPhone or 2.2 – or an tethering enabled 2.1 on Android) giving you internet access on your laptop or iPad.

So here are the steps:

  • Go to an Orange store (some post-offices, bars & convenience stores have them as well
  • With a passport and credit card (or cash) Buy a (pre-paid) Mobicarte SIM for 15 Euros with a 25 Euros recharge (that you’ll use to pay for the internet option and some voice calls)
  • Make sure they enter your information in the system or you won’t be able to turn on your internet option later
  • Turn off any data access on your mobile phone (not just data roaming) lest you’ll be charged for data access per minute (1 Euro for 2 minutes) until you turn on Internet access.
  • Power off your phone, insert the new SIM, turn on your phone. At this point you’ll be able to make phone calls to french numbers for 50c of a Euro a minute (don’t use for calling outside of France or you’ll quickly run out of credit on your SIM
  • After 24 hours, once the store has transmitted ID information to the Orange servers, dial: #123# on your phone and press the call button (yes, include the # signs) which will take you through a menu in French:
    1. Choose ‘2’ Menu
    2. Choose ‘4’ Vos Bons plans
    3. Choose ‘4’ Votre Multimedia
    4. Choose ‘5’ Option Internet Max
    5. Choose ‘4’ Votre Multimedia
    6. Now you get a description, choose ‘Suite’
    7. Then choose ‘Souscrire’ (subscribe).
    8. Finally, choose ‘Valider’ (confirm).

    This should be enough but you will not get a SMS confirmation of the new option. At this point, you should wait a few minutes and turn data back on your phone. All should be set.

Notes:

  • Transfer is supposedly limited and bandwidth throttled after that but I haven’t experienced this
  • Again, make sure the Orange store agent has entered all your information and you’ve waited up to 24 hours otherwise you won’t be able to enabled Internet Max
  • There is an option for POP3/SMTP for 9 Euros a month that you can add to Internet Max. I am told Internet Max does not include support for these protocols. I don’t use them on my android phone so I can’t attest to that
  • The 25 Euros credit you’re adding to your Mobicarte is used to pay for Internet Max (12 Euros) and give you a few voice minutes to make local calls (restaurant reservations and such).
  • Don’t call abroad with the mobicarte, you’ll use a lot of your credit quickly
  • Once signed up for the mobicarte you should be able to go to the orange.fr web site, get sent a password for your mobicarte account, check and add to your mobicarte credit, options and even enable internet max there (Chicken and egg issue).
  • This worked well for me in September 2010 on an unlocked (T-mobile) Google Nexus One with Android 2.2 Froyo. Wifi-tethering worked
  • This should work on your iPad if you get a micro-SIM mobicarte. In this case, you’ll probably need to enabled Internet Max on a phone prior or via the internet (Chicken & egg problem beware!)
  • You can buy 3G modems (GSM with USB or Wifi) called Clefs 3G+ which probably would work with a Mobicarte enabled as such though I have no tried. Those 3G modems are available as pay per use but not with an unlimited internet option without subscribing to a 24 months contract
  • SFR & Bouygues Telecom offer similar SIM cards but the Orange one seems to be the only one with an unlimited internet access
  • Usual disclaimers apply. I am not responsible for any overage charged to you, damage to your phone, etc. By reading and choosing to apply these instruction, you inherently agree to that