If you’re living in France, here is a guide to getting a mobile phone, telephone and internet access, television service, and how to use the French post.
For new arrivals moving to France or living in Paris, here are the basics you need to know to set up fixed and mobile phone services, internet access, television service, and how to send an old-fashioned letter at the French post office.
French postal service
France’s postal service, La Poste, is a generally efficient, entirely state-run organization that also offers a full array of banking services.
There are post offices, bureaux de poste, in every urban neighbourhood and most rural villages. Standard first-class letters (20g or less) and postcards within France cost EUR 0.58; to continental European countries (from Scandinavia to Portugal), Baltic states, Greece, and the British Isles EUR 0.75; to other European or Eurasian countries (Iceland, Russia, etc.), Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania EUR 0.87
In most cases, a letter posted before 5pm with a rapide stamp will be delivered to an address in France the next morning. La Poste also offers same-day deliveries, as do all the major private courier firms.
If you’re moving, you must pay for your mail to be forwarded, réexpédition de courrier, for a fee for six months within France or to an international address. Likewise, you can also pay for temporary forwarding or for your local post office to temporarily hold your mail.
France Télécom, officially privatized in 1997, has resisted the opening of the telecom market every step of the way. But it has been losing ground steadily to outside vendors who are all competing vigorously on price.
The availability of multiple vendors is good if you want to reduce your phone bill, but it can be confusing to pick a provider.
The key thing to determine when setting up any communication service is whether your address is in a zone de dégroupage total or dégroupage partiel.
In the areas designated as zone de dégroupage total, the phone lines themselves have been opened to competitors and you can, theoretically, go through any operator to get a phone number and avoid a subscription fee to France Télécom.
But be aware that these services can be unreliable and the quality of the calls themselves sometimes spotty, especially in congested areas; if the power goes out, so does your phone service. Plus, many customers who have signed up for a dégroupage total service have complained that France Télécom cuts off their phone line without notice while the changeover is being processed, dégroupage sauvage,. This leaves them with no phone or Internet service at all while they try to fix the problem.
If you live in an area only partially dégroupé — or not at all — you will need to contact France Télécom first to establish a phone number.
To get a phone number from France Télécom, you pay a flat fee, abonnement. You will then automatically be billed for local and long-distance calls by France Télécom unless you subsequently subscribe to service from one of several competing telephone operators; you will still continue paying the subscription fee to retain your telephone number.
To establish a telephone number with France Télécom, you will need proof of identity (passport or residence permit) and proof of address (another utility bill or a rental contract or receipt) It takes about 24 hours to establish service. You will be billed every two months.
France Télécom has agencies in most urban neighbourhoods or can be reached by calling 3000 to find an agent or 1014 for customer service (free calls from a fixed phone). France Telecom also has an English-language website.
To disconnect service, send a letter to the address listed on your bill or visit the agency directly.
If you’re moving within France, remember to take your most recent telephone bill with you and show it to re-establish service more easily elsewhere; you may also ask for a free recording that informs callers of your new number when the old number is dialed. For a fee, you may be able to keep your old phone number depending on where you’re moving.
Expats who call frequently abroad are advised to shop around for telephone service; you will see dozens of companies advertised that want your international service. But do your homework before you agree to anything, even over the phone, and get all the rate details in writing.
Another way to reduce an international phone bill may want to try any one of several VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) software packages — MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Skype, Wengo or Free and France Télécom’s own Livecom — to make phone calls over your ADSL line. Some also allow you to call landline phone numbers.
Mobile phone service
Like the rest of Europe, France mobile service providers use a GSM network; all GSM-compatible phones should work here, but CDMA phones, used in North America and parts of Asia, won’t.
If you have a GSM phone and want to keep your current operator, you need a French telephone number to avoid international rates. Check with a telecom shop, found in any mall, to replace your SIM card and obtain a French number.
The contracts can be complicated and include hidden fees like connect fees, frais d’activation, and disconnect fees, frais de résiliation. Look for a contract sans engagement, that way, you can change providers if you’re not happy.
There are three big service providers. All have some information in English on their websites:
Broadband Internet Service
Again, you need to know whether your address is in a zone de dégroupage total or dégroupage partiel. If you’re in one of the limited remaining zones non-dégroupées, you can are get ADSL service but not at the highest speeds.
If you live in a zone non-dégroupées or dégroupage partiel (most of France), you must also first set up telephone service with France Télécom. You can then sign up with any vendor for ADSL or other digital services but be advised that it may take as long as several weeks to set up.
As with long-distance phone service, the number of competing operators and packages can be overwhelming and you should get any rate offers in writing.
France has five public television stations that you can watch for free. If you want more, including English-language programming, satellite and cable television services have exploded in France in recent years in terms of the number of providers and price competition.
There is also a network of digital television, télévision numérique, called TNT; programming is free but access requires a decoder. To see if your area has TNT access, see the TNT website. The decoders are available from any store that sells electronic equipment.
Several of the broadband Internet companies are also now selling packages that deliver digital TV, phone service and Internet access over your phone lines. While these cram a lot of service into one package price, again, be sure you read the fine print, particularly if you are separating your phone line entirely from France Télécom.
Satellite television is available with a shared (as in an apartment building) or individual satellite dish.
The subscription packages offered by the Sky Broadcasting Network, TPS and CanalSatellite have a good variety of entertainment for adults and children.
Prices vary greatly depending on the type of equipment you want. A basic satellite kit will include a receiver, antenna, cable and hardware. Installing a fixed-dish system isn’t hard but you can always ask the supplier to install it for a fee; most satellite service providers also have websites with installation tips for do-it-yourselfers.
For a non-comprehensive but useful list of pay-television services, see the i>Tele website.
Every household must pay the annual television license, redevance audiovisuelle. (There is no such tax for radio use). The tax costs EUR 121 per year per household; you don’t pay more if you own more than one television, even if you have two homes. If you buy a television in France, the store automatically declares the purchase to the authorities who will then bill you annually with the lodging tax, taxe d’habitation.
If you bring your television with you, you’re supposed to declare it to your local agent of the Trésor Public; you risk a fine if you fail to register a television or pay your tax.