24 February 2014

International travel with a mobile phone - France

I'm presently in France for two weeks, and was interested in using a local pre-paid SIM. I settled on Lebara, which is a global virtual mobile operator. While Lebara operates in Australia, it bears little relationship with other Lebara operators, so I dealt with Lebara France directly.

I registered for a new SIM on http://lebara.fr before I left Australia, and within a few days Lebara had air mailed me a SIM and details of the phone number. I activated it on the web site, and that was that until I arrived in France.

Just before I left Australia I changed my voicemail on my Optus account to ask people to email me or SMS me. I then diverted all inbound calls to voicemail.

On arrival in France I inserted the Lebara SIM into my Nexus 5, and went to their website and added EUR20 credit. This was supposed to give me EUR20 credit and 3 GB of data. As it turned out, despite quite clearly clicking on "3GB" bonus data topup, I still only received 1 GB of data. Black mark for false advertising and an incorrect web site. Still, at this stage I had credit and 1 GB of data for two weeks, which is likely to be plenty.

I also put my Australian SIM into a spare old phone with good battery life, and data roaming disabled. The only point of this phone is to receive SMS sent to my Australian Optus phone number.

Another useful part of their plan is that there seems to be some level of free Lebara to Lebara calling, which is useful if you're travelling with others. I got two SIMS for this.

Lebara's web site is wrong

Lebara.fr must hate its customers. After adding credit you are directed to a web page which allegedly shows you how to add their APN into your phone so that 3G data works. Unfortunately it's absolutely wrong. In short:

- the APN name is fr.lebara.mobi
- the username is Web  (Lebara tells you it's wap)
- the password is Web (Lebara tells you it's blank)

After finding the above setting on Tripadvisor I was able to get 3G working, and away I went. If you have a problem with Lebara and 3G data, this is your answer.


Their rates are very good for an Australian traveller. Calls to Australian landlines are 15 cents flag-fall, and 1 cent per minute! Calls within France are more expensive, but still cheap.  I really only wanted data, the occasional phone call in France to book restaurants, and to call home (although I also have Skype credit to call landlines and mobile numbers). 


I doubt that Lebara.fr would be a great choice for someone who can't solve technical issues or might need to call the support line (business hours Mon-Fri). If you're a bit more determined, it's a great solution. Just watch out for the false advertising on the amount of pre-paid data.