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 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 US 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 new telecom service for travellers in France ( www.bienvenuetele.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 5 stars hotel in Paris. No roaming fees. Delivered to your hotel or at the airport. Send it back by mail vaia  prepaid envelope.

 

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

Telephone numbers
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:

  • 01 for Paris and l'Île-de-France,
  • 02 for the north west,
  • 03 for the north east,
  • 04 for the south east and Corsica,
  • 05 for the south west.
  • 06 for French cell phones
  • 08 for non-geographical fixed rate numbers
  • 09 for internet-accessed (VoIP) numbers

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 US by dialing 1 then area code then number, this works whether you are within that area or outside.

 There is a reliable 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..