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Avoid SFR SIM cards when travelling in France from the USA

So I arrived in Paris last Tuesday with my USA issued android phone (samsung galaxy). There was a shopping center near my hotel so the first night there I went to the shopping center looking for a French SIM card for my phone. There was an SFR office there so I bought an SFR SIM card.

BIG MISTAKE!!!

For the first week it worked fine. Internet access and phone service worked.

Then this morning the internet access stopped working. Phone calls work but no internet. And no, I did not exceed my data limit. I bought 10 GB worth of data and the phone reports I've used 58 MB of it. I've restarted the phone, removed and reinstalled the SIM card. No help.

It turns out that SFR SIM cards don't work reliably with phones not sold in Europe. Some sort of proxy configuration that happens automatically with European cell phones doesn't work with a USA issued phones. This problem is documented at:

http://www.prepaidgsm.net/forum/showthread.php?t=9792

but the instructions provided by that poster no longer work. Furthermore, the instructions provided at the SFR web site referenced in the above post:

https://assistance.sfr.fr/runtime/mobile-et-tablette/offres-mobile/parametrer-apn-sfr.html

don't work either. Maybe they would if the site had a translate to English button, but it doesn't.

Furthermore, when I walked to the local SFR retail outlet here in Beaune, the nasty jerk wad at the store told me that since I wasn't buying anything from his store he wasn't going to help me resolve this.

Tomorrow I am going to spend another circa $50 buying a SIM card from another vendor here in Beaune (Orange). They were closed today. I don't know if it will work better.

Curiously, the SFR SIM card in my daughter's iPhone works fine, at least for now. But maybe its going to stop working too before the end of the trip.

But stay away from SFR SIM cards if you have an Android phone that's not French. You've been warned.

This internet BS was supposed to make life easier.

Jeffrey Haran

Posted by
15 posts

BTW, if you are curious as to how I posted this, I posted this via my hotel wifi on my ubuntu linux laptop. In the past I've had issues with getting linux to work with European hotel wifi. I thought it was because I was using linux. Not so. The internet is just broken in Europe. Even stock android phones don't work. What a cluster f**k!

Posted by
4931 posts

Did you set the Access Point Name (APN)? Sometimes you need to - for ANY SIM card. You could have exactly the same problem with an Orange SIM, Vodafone SIM, etc.

For SFR, try this:

https://assistance.sfr.fr/mobile-et-tablette/offres-mobile/parametrer-apn-sfr.html#

Their APN is a tad more complicated than others, but it's really just a few fields to add. The method of setting the APN varies by make/model of phone and the version of Android you are using. If you can get back to an SFR store, ask the agent there to set the APN for you. Will probably take about 5 minutes.

My old Android phone always needed the APN set in Europe, but my newer Moto phones have never needed it. Some new phones still do. Again, varies by make/model of phone.

Posted by
4931 posts

Google Chrome has built-in translation of French to English FYI. That's how I view all non-English pages.

Posted by
401 posts

Hmm... I've had trouble with an SFR-branded SIM card purchased a tabac but not with one purchased at an SFR store. That was with a clamshell phone I lend to visiting guests from the U.S.

My wife and I have had no problems with SFR in our iPhones (admittedly, bought in France) other than the occasional locked SIM, which is easy to remedy by entering a 4-digit code.

Can't speak for Android phones.

The behavior you've described of the SFR employee also seems odd. I've dealt with SFR stores to resolve issues (related to home internet rather than cell phones) at stores other than where I've purchased things. Is there any chance a language barrier might have enhanced your perception of the problem?

Posted by
8401 posts

So sorry you’ve hit this wall. I feel your electronic pain. Andrew, a real techie compared to most mortals, has given you great advice, which I’d follow before spending any more money.

I can’t be sure it’s a lost cause because my US unlocked androids always worked with SFR for my stays of up to seven weeks. On the other hand, I have a long list of Orange horror stories I could share going back over the years when we’ve lived in France: internet, TV boxes, phone tech hanging up on me, another yelling at my French husband, sharing grief stories with other Orange customers while waiting in long service lines.

Customer service can be rough in France, but do go back to another SFR and try the “I’ve got a little problem that I hope you can help me with”, or better yet, send your daughter and have her do the “I have a little problem” routine. Showing any anger or frustration makes jerk wads jerkier. I predict that jerk wad will be happy to help your daughter and your phone will be working.

Posted by
15 posts

Did you set the Access Point Name (APN)? Sometimes you need to - for ANY SIM card.

Yep. Didn't do any good.

You could have exactly the same problem with an Orange SIM, Vodafone SIM, etc.

Could be. I bought an Orange card yesterday and so far it works. But then again the SFR card worked for several days before it crapped out. Time will tell.

For SFR, try this:

https://assistance.sfr.fr/mobile-et-tablette/offres-mobile/parametrer-apn-sfr.html#

I did that too. No help. There were several fields on the phone which that above site made no mention of so I left those blank.

Hmm... I've had trouble with an SFR-branded SIM card purchased a tabac but not with one purchased at an SFR store.

We bought it at a tabac after the cell phone store we went to first told me they don't sell sim cards and suggested a tabac, but after that walked over to an SFR store to have them configure the thing. The written instructions that come with the sim card make no mention of entering any of this data. It doesn't even mention setting an access point. I guess that's intended for European phones.

My wife and I have had no problems with SFR in our iPhones

The SFR card in my daughter's iPhone continues to work fine.

Is there any chance a language barrier might have enhanced your perception of the problem?

Well, ya the guy didn't speak English and I don't speak French, but what does it take? I held up the phone, typed in a search in the google bar, it comes back "couldn't load data" or some such thing and I showed it to him. How hard is that to understand if you are in the business of selling phones? The guy just couldn't be bothered.

Showing any anger or frustration makes jerk wads jerkier

I was quite polite until I got the "Not my store, not my problem" response from him. That's when I got mad. Didn't make any difference. He was quite adamant that he wasn't going to help before I got PO'ed.

I did a little more research and I think I know what happened.

Apparently when you buy these sim cards for a US phone, they are supposed to ask for you for your passport and fill in some online form. That's what happened at the Orange office yesterday when I bought the Orange card. Apparently, if this doesn't happen, the network bounces you off. That didn't happen at the SFR store in Paris.

Now, text and voice still worked with the SFR card. Just no internet. So if this is what happened, SFR could have at least sent me a text telling me why the service was being turned off. No such text arrived. In my book, that makes 3 strikes against SFR:

1) Incompetent employee at SFR Paris store who failed to collect passport. That means SFR is too cheap to train their employees.

2) No text as to why I was being knocked off the Internet. No diagnostic on the phone to indicate why it no longer works.

3) And the jerk wad in the Beaune SFR store.

The only thing I don't get is why my daugher's iPhone continues to work with the SFR card.

Posted by
31471 posts

For future reference, you might try using a travel SIM on your next trip abroad, as they will work in European countries and provide consistent rates and easy top-up. A couple of firms you could check are iRoam and Cellular Abroad.

FWIW, I've just used roaming with my home network for the last few trips to Europe, and that has worked extremely well, although it's a bit pricey.

Posted by
4931 posts

The only thing I don't get is why my daugher's iPhone continues to work with the SFR card.

My guess is that the APN was never set correctly - and the iPhone didn't need it set (it was able to determine the APN automatically). As I mentioned above, I've never needed to set the APN with my recent Moto phones (which are pretty cheap phones), but some very expensive Samsung phones still seem to need it set. It's a matter of some phones needing the APN set, some not.

I suspect the APN info on SFR's page was incorrect - it looked much more complicated than I am used to seeing with SIM cards.

You could swap your non-working SFR SIM card into your daughter's iPhone and see if still works for data. I suspect it does - in other words, the SIM card itself is still completely working even for data. But if data still doesn't work on that SIM card, maybe you used up all the data that came with it?

I can kind of understand a guy at an SFR store not wanting to support an SFR SIM card you bought at a Tabac. I do try to buy SIM cards at the actual mobile store where the people tend to be more knowledgeable. Or maybe he was just an idiot.

Posted by
8401 posts

So glad you came back to report.
Buying the SFR sim at a tabac isn't unusual. When they run out of them, they'll send you to the tabac. It's happened to me. Yes, your id is photocopied for the phone.

As for service: once at Orange, we bought a European TomTom GPS, turned it on while still in the store and had a question. The salesman handed me the store phone and told us to ask technical support. We're French speakers, so no problem with language--he had a sales quota to meet and wasn't going to spend time with us now that the sale was finished.

Glad you're connected. We'd be curious to know if the sim works in your daughter's phone. Please report back.