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How do you switch providers between countries?

We have a SIM card from the french service FREE. We need to connect with Tmobile their provider in Austria. We will need to switch to wind in Italy. Does anyone know how to switch?

Posted by
9363 posts

Why do you need to switch? Your SIM will still work in the other countries, just at a slightly higher roaming rate. If you really must switch, you need to buy a SIM from those providers when you get there. Your phone number will change every time you change SIM card.

Posted by
7 posts

This is what we were told so we're at a bit of a loss.

Posted by
544 posts

It sounds like you're talking about using the same French account through Free Mobile when you are in Austria and Italy. If this is the case then it sounds like T-Mobile is their partner in Austria and Wind in Italy.

Your phone will switch automatically when you cross out of France and into the other country. You will get a free text when you cross the border saying welcome and usually tells you the rates for roaming in that country.

Does that answer your question?

Posted by
31819 posts


As the FREE network apparently has a roaming arrangement with T-Mobile in Austria, the network will automatically select TM as the preferred connection when you start accessing Austrian towers.

When I'm roaming with my home cell network, it seems to choose the strongest signal in the area I'm travelling. As I move around during day trips, it changes networks as required.

If your phone doesn't automatically choose TM, you should be able to manually choose. It's been awhile since I last had to deal with that, but you should be able to go into the "Cellular" network settings and choose whichever network you want. The menu settings will vary with each type of phone. However, keep in mind that if you choose a network that FREE doesn't have a roaming agreement with, you could pay more.

If you're using a PAYG plan, be sure you're clear on how to top-up your plan when in Austria.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for your complete explanation, Ken. Our phone does not seem to automatically grasp the partner system. Though the line works - the French SIM card is live, but no calls come through to the phone. Our French friends who have loaned us this SIM card said that we might well have to make a selection.
We have installed an adapter to make the iPone 5-6 SIM usable in a Samsung phone. So far, nothing. Thanks very much for your time and thoughts.

Posted by
300 posts

Somewhere in the phone's menus there is a network provider selection. This can be set to automatically choose some preferred provider or you can also view all available networks and select the particular one that you think you should be roaming on.

Also verify that the phone is set for roaming; sometimes this defaults to "OFF" since you then make a conscious decision to incur roaming charges.

On my Android phone (yours is most likely different) I can access the provider selection by choosing Settings / Mobile networks / Network operators and then either Search Networks or Choose Automatically.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks, Peter. The details you provided are such good points to try. We will send your news to the travelers now in Italy. The phone is a Samsung with an adapter for the the french iPhone 5 or 6 SIM card, which uses the FREE network. Thank you for your time and experience.

Posted by
8889 posts

Sara, you should not need to do anything. When you cross the border it will automatically switch to the new service provider.

Posted by
11294 posts

"Sara, you should not need to do anything. When you cross the border it will automatically switch to the new service provider."

"Also verify that the phone is set for roaming; sometimes this defaults to "OFF" since you then make a conscious decision to incur roaming charges."

Both of these statements are true. Your phone should automatically switch to the correct service provider in a new country, but if you have (either deliberately or accidentally) disabled roaming, you phone will NOT switch. So, go into the phone settings, find "Networks" and then "Mobile Networks," and makes sure Data Roaming is enabled. Under that you will also see "Network Operators," where you can manually choose a network if needed. You do that by searching for available networks (which takes a few minutes), then choosing the one you want.

Posted by
30291 posts

I've never heard of the French network "FREE". (Free is an English word, the French word would be Libre, maybe they have adopted the English to be "cool"?)

Is it possible that it is a "piggyback" network? And that it actually doesn't roam internationally, which is why they said you needed to get the other sims?

I don't know - this is clearly a guess, but could that be the case?

Posted by
8618 posts

Free was started by Xavier Niel and kind of upended the French telecoms market. They started as a cable/internet/telephone provider for home lines/business lines, and then a couple of years ago started offering cell phone service at a drastically reduced rate than the other operators. And yes it's definitely a piggyback operator.

I had Free at home for years as my internet provider and was always happy with it; in our current apartment it doesn't provide as good a service, so we switched back to Orange. But I've seen coverage maps in the past couple of weeks that suggest that Free does NOT provide nearly as good coverage for cell phone calls as the traditional/legacy telcos in France.

(And yes Xavier Niel probably did choose an English word on purpose. he's known as a bit of an iconoclast and I believe he's one of the richest men in France now. Has started a school called 42 that provides FREE training in technology for those who are brilliant enough to get in, etc. )

Ah, here's the link with the coverage maps -- from the French official body responsible for granting licenses, monitoring, regulating, etc. They release it every year at the end of July so it's very current!! (Although the site itself says that the operators may have more recent maps, although those won't have been authenticated by the ARCEP yet.)

You can also see in the bar graphs just above the maps the Couverture (Coverage) for the 2g, 3G, and 4G networks as expressed as a percentage of the population or land (territoire) covered -- and see that Free covers only 3% of French territory (but 33% of the French population -- i.e. 1/3 of French people live in a place where they could get Free network on their cell phone).