As a general warning for telecommunication services, be extremely careful what you sign up for. Many operators bind you for a minimum period, typically one or two years. Cancellation fees may be expensive. There are laws to help consumers cancel a mobile phone contract after one year even if the binding period is two years, but consumer law does not apply to business subscriptions. Particular attention is needed if combining several services into one contract, for example an Internet subscription with mobile phone. Some of these contracts are made to make it difficult to leave, meaning you could lose your e-mail addresses and Internet subscription if you cancel the mobile phone. In many cases, the operators seem to go to quite some effort to blur the conditions and make it difficult to figure out what the conditions are. They may also add a binding period of for example two years if for example you add a mobile phone to an existing Internet contract without binding period. You may end up with some very complicated contractual conditions if you bundle several services into one contract. That is precisely what the operators want. The more the customer is confused and ill-informed, the less he will be able to insist on his rights.
France Telecom is the historic telephone operator. Their monopoly fell away many years ago.
Beware that contrary to certain countries, the previous subscriber's phone number is never carried over to a new subscriber. The only thing you can do with the previous subscriber's number is to identify the line. You cannot use it for signing up for any type of subscription in that number. It will only delay and complicate your subscription if you try.
General telecom information
Premium rate telephone numbers are common in France. A large number of businesses and public offices use such telephone numbers to boost their revenues by making people pay for calling them. Whereas many companies in the UK and the US seem to encourage potential customers to call them by providing a freephone number, many French companies seem to believe that premium rate numbers will attract new business. Watch out for numbers beginning with "08". Some may be free, some cheap, others expensive. The price may be higher from mobile (cell) phones.
Internet service providers and other businesses selling to consumers are obliged to provide a non-premium rate number for calls concerning the fulfilment of contractual obligations or complaining. They sometimes hide it and publish an overcharged number, so may have to go searching yourself on their web sites.
To circumvent premium rate numbers, you can often find a company's geographical phone number by looking the company up on a business information site or trying to find a normal-rate number on detax.fr/.
Le Médiateur des Communications Électroniques. The French ombudsman for electronic communications.
Landline telephone operators
Before signing up for an old-fashioned telephone line, beware that a VoIP landline is nearly always included in ADSL offers in France. Thus, you get your phone line and number through your ISP. Read more about Internet further down on this page.
Your most simple choice is a basic France Telecom phone line. You pay a subscription and all call charges to them.
As France Telecom doesn't offer the lowest call rates, you may want to use a secondary operator, either by dialling a code before each call or by setting up an automatic pre-selection to route all calls through the secondary operator.
In either case, you still pay the France Telecom subscription but you pay the secondary operator for calls routed through them.
Note: When comparing minute rates between the operators, then don't
forget to count the initial charges that are sometimes well hidden. Most fixed
operators bill per second, but there are usually other charges:
You can buy adapters for foreign telephones, faxes and modems from specialist stores. A foreign modem may or may not support the French telephone system. If it does not, you need a converter. If it does, you just need an adaptor plug that you can buy in a shop.
Before considering a classic telephone line for fax, note that some ISPs include a VoIP fax number in their ADSL offer, and that if they don't, you may use a fax provider on the Internet. This eliminates the need for a physical fax device, so long as you have a scanner.
www.arobase.org/services/fax.htm has a small list of providers.
You are settling in France for professional purposes and would like to have a fax? Do you share your voice line or do you buy a separate fax line? The choice is not obvious. Sharing your voice line means people cannot fax to you during perhaps lengthy phone calls. You also need to filter voice and fax calls, meaning that if you don't answer quickly enough, voice callers may hear a fax tone. If you transfer calls to your mobile, for example, faxes will be lost. A separate fax line is expensive, because you need to reserve a complete telephone subscription for it, and you won't be using much of its capacity. If you don't get your new fax number on the off-directory list (liste rouge) immediately, then you will be spammed with commercial faxes after just a couple of months. It's illegal, unless the receiver is a business, but no one cares, and public prosecutors in most cases cannot be bothered to pursue complaints. In my own case, I have estimated that about half of an ink cartridge has been wasted on ink-intensive commercial faxes, and when I needed to receive my annual accounts from my accountant, there was no more ink left; the spammers had wasted it.
Recycle your old mobile phone. Links to sites that purchase used mobile phones.
In France, there are four mobile operators (Free, SFR, Orange, Bouygues) with their own networks and more and more virtual operators that rent the physical network from the four aforementioned operators. In French, the English term MVNO - Mobile Virtual Network Operator - has been retained. They are also known as opérateurs virtuels. Most of France is covered by these networks, and the physical operators are working together to provide common cover of the remaining parts. Only Orange covers Monaco entirely. Free entered the market in 2012. Until they have fully developed their own physical network, latest in 2018, they use Orange's network.
It is very easy to change to another operator and keep your mobile phone number, and it only takes 10 days. The procedure is:
Conso.net: How to change mobile operator.
Mobile telephone operators
Add-on operators for cheap international calls
These operators require that you first have a cellphone operator from which you call the add-on operator's server in France. The add-on operator then bills you for the international call instead of the cellphone operator. Because the traditional cellphone operators charge an arm and a leg for international calls, there are savings to be had if you regularly phone abroad from your French mobile while in France.
"Anglopack" offer from Budget Telecom, all in English. They offer
landline, mobile and ADSL. No dégroupage.
The Physical Networks
There are four physical, independent networks in France. Only Orange covers the whole of Monaco. If you have a bad signal where you are, a swap to another network may solve the problem. If you have signed a contract with an engagement preventing you from cancelling the first 12 or 24 months (typical if a phone is included) and you find out that you don't have a signal at home, then you are entitled to cancel the contract anyway, but you must act quickly and send the cancellation by recorded letter with acknowledgement of receipt. When choosing an operator, take into account which physical network they use. You could ask neighbours which network gives them an acceptable signal. Roaming on another physical network than the one you're attached to is impossible in France. Only if you have a foreign SIM card can you roam between the French networks, depending on the agreements between the operators.
On the following three sites, you can study your local cover for the three
physical networks. Free is still developing their network, using Orange's
infrastructure in the meantime:
Operators with their own networks
Low-cost operator introduced on the mobile market in 2012, offering nearly unbeatable
prices, but see Prixtel's offer.
Virtual operators that rent their network (MVNO)
Brand names from the physical operators or MVNOs
Fnac. Rents its network from
Orange. Fnac is a major media store chain.
A typical ADSL offer in 2011 will be at least 8 Mbit ADSL, a VoIP phone number (telephone by Internet), unlimited phone calls to landlines in France and several countries, and more or less unlimited calls to French mobile numbers. Depending on the quality of the local network, a pack of TV channels will be included. A typical price is €30 a month. This offer replaces a classic (RTC) phone line so no France Telecom subscription is needed, on condition that your telephone exchange has been 'degrouped' (other companies than France Telecom have installed their equipment at the telephone exchange).
You can usually send SMS via the Internet, but it is not cheaper than doing it from a mobile phone, and most mobile phone offers include a number of SMS per month.
In a business offer, you will typically get a second VoIP phone line, fax by Internet with a separate fax number, and an entry in the yellow pages. A business offer typically costs 50% more than an offer for individuals. Customer service and reliability is not better.
There is a high availability of ADSL throughout France, although some rural areas are still not covered.
Beware that if you use VoIP and your Internet connection or the mains supply goes, so does your phone - and TV channels if your pack includes them. With a classic RTC phone, you could still use your phone during a power drop or Internet outage, since it is powered through the phone line (unless it's a wireless or other model that needs a mains plug).
The sound quality of the VoIP lines is typically better than the older RTC lines in my experience.
If you have a private alarm system that uses a phone line to keep in contact with a call centre, you need to verify that it is compatible with using ADSL on the same line.
In cities, cable operators provide a similar service.
Bi-directional satellite access is available at affordable prices in case you cannot find any other reasonable access.
A few local communities are installing wi-fi for local cover.
It is a stated government policy that the entire population should have access to high-speed Internet in one form or another, and work is in progress to assure that it will happen.
The only thing that lags severely behind is customer service and reliability, both of which are appalling and at a level I would expect to find in the middle of Africa. You have a choice between bad and worse, so you can just as well take the cheapest offer. Don't make the mistake of presuming that service or deadlines are any better just because you sign up for a more expensive business subscription. They are not. You just pay more for the same pathetic customer service and the same two-week drop-outs of Internet and telephone. Deadlines are frequently not respected, and you may find yourself without Internet for several days or weeks without anybody bothering to inform you when you should expect things to work again. If you are running a business that could collapse without Internet, you would be wise to consider two independent Internet connections, for example by ADSL and satellite or ADSL and a mobile broadband card (3G or 4G). Just taking two different ADSL offers isn't independent enough, because they may well use the same physical network.
ISDN lines (RNIS in French) are competitively priced and may be worth considering for Internet connection if no other solution is available, but ISDN is becoming telecommunications history what Internet access is concerned. France Télécom call this service Numeris. It is available throughout the territory.
Change of ISP
There is a high probability that you will be fed up with your ISP one day or another because of the high frequency of poor service and technical problems. You can change your ISP as you wish, but the inconvenience is that your Internet connection is interrupted during the switchover, often during an unknown period. If your Internet access is by ADSL, the only way to get around this is to have a second physical phone line installed if you don't already have one, and to order the new Internet connection on the phone line that doesn't already have Internet installed. Once the new connection is working, you can cancel the previous connection. If you run a business that depends on Internet, this may well be worth the additional cost. The inconvenience is that your phone number changes.
Before changing ISP, you may also need to consider that each ISP doesn't own its own network all the way to your house. They may well pass through France Telecom cables, so that no matter which ISP you use, depending on your local telephone exchange configuration, all ISPs may be concerned if France Telecom or someone else cuts a phone cable.
Mobile Internet (3G, 4G)
As elsewhere, mobile Internet is gaining speed in France, but I am yet to put together a list of providers. In the meantime, you can consult the ISPs in the list below, as the providers would be the same companies. At the time of writing, new subscriptions are still 3G.
In addition to the classic 'key' for a USB plug, some providers sell wireless 'keys' that use wifi to connect to several computers, whereas a classic USB 'key' can only be used for one computer. The cost of such a wireless multi-device 'key' as around €20.
Internet Service Providers
In French: FAI: Fournisseur d'Accès Internet
Hints: Check cancellation fees. Check connection fees. Check if a modem is sold/rented and the cost. Check the cost of the helpline. Check that they don't stack options you don't want on by default.
Pay attention to the download speeds displayed by these compare sites. The operators all promise 'up to' X Mbit/second, but the reality is often much less. In some places, some operators provide slower speeds than others, despite the local network being France Telecom regardless of the operator.
Dartybox. This company will become part of Bouygues.
Teleconnect. "Anglopack" offer from Budget Telecom, all in English. They offer landline, mobile and ADSL. No dégroupage.
Orange (France Telecom). The most expensive operator in general but not much better service. A survey by the French consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs put Orange second in at 87.4% customer satisfaction, but that rate is far behind Free at 94.5%. Watch out for their Orange Open pack that binds you on hand and feet, in reality preventing you from leaving to another operator. If you want to cancel just the mobile phone part, you also lose your entire Internet subscription and your orange.fr e-mail addresses. Unreliable, poor customer service. Incompetent technical service. Unable to respect contractual dates in case of a removal, leaving clients (business or not) without Internet for maybe one or two weeks. Unable to diagnose disconnection problems properly. Contractual deadline for reconnecting a line in case of an incident is 24 hours for business clients, but they often don't respect it. Messy web site. 24-hour help line. No sense of urgency to assure continued service, even for business clients. Sulky customer service, sometimes downright rude. They still suffer from the old bunker monopoly mentality and seem to take it as a personal insult if you dare use another telecom provider. Their telephone sales staff also once insulted me because I dared say no to what they were proposing after having taken a couple of minutes to calculate if it suited me or not. The problem is that most places, they own the physical network, no matter which operator you use, and they seem to put fixing competitors' lines on the backburner, favouring their own clients.
Club Budget. Targets expats and non-degrouped areas.
Free. The 'Ryanair' of French telecom. Operator with its own network. Free used to have a poor customer satisfaction rate, but a survey by the French consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs put Free ahead of its competitors with a 94.5% satisfaction rate. It appears that Free has improved its customer service while its competitors have been resting on their laurels. In January 2013, Free suddenly started blocking ads from web sites being visited. They want Google to pay for some of the network capacity needed to serve ads. While ads may be perceived as a nuisance by some users, they are nevertheless necessary to finance many web sites, some of which have no other revenue, and they help small businesses attract customers. These small and often fragile businesses were thus taken hostage by Free. Free quickly removed the adblock, but it is quite outrageous that an ISP modifies the html being served to the user. Free also limits the capacity for playing back Youtube videos, again because they want Google to pay for some of the network capacity required. Free has openly said that they are not going to extend the network capacity available for Youtube even if it is saturated. Hence, Free customers have a poor experience on Youtube. Finally, it is a classic experience with Free that a customer orders an ADSL connection, billing starts via direct debit, and for months, no ADSL connection is put in place. Some Free customers say they are satisfied, so it is a bit of a Russian roulette to sign up with Free.
Bouygues. Also known as Bbox. This ISP is the worst I have come across in France. A survey by the French consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs confirms this. Bouygues comes last with 80.5% satisfied customers, after Free, Orange, SFR and Numericable. My advice is to avoid them if any other ISP is available in your area. During two years' ADSL subscription, I was disconnected for one or another reason roughly once a quarter. Each time, it cost €10 to €20 to report the problem because when your ADSL goes, so does your VoIP phone, and their hotline is billed 50 cents a minute from a mobile phone, waiting included, and waiting is close to 30 minutes. Then you have to discuss with them to get your mobile calls refunded. The help line closes at 10 PM. As if programmed, at least half of the disconnection problems arrive after 10 PM or during the weekend, probably because they download updates to their modems just after 10 PM, so if anything goes wrong with the update, you can't call for support because they just closed. Contractual deadline for reconnecting a line in case of an incident is two weeks. No sense of urgency to assure continued service, even for business clients. High cancellation fee. If the fax service is occasionally out of order, they don't really care even if it's included in the contract. Low download speed. Their organisation is a complete disaster. It took them 19 days to fix my disconnected Internet, and that was only after a barrage of complaints by letter, e-mail and on their Facebook page. It remains to be seen if they are going to refund the some €300 of additional costs I had to pay for mobile calls and mobile Internet during the disconnection, or if more heavy-handed methods are needed. Since I suspended payment of their invoices until these refunds have been processed, they are now threatened to disconnect the line, well knowing they are the ones owing me money. They behave as if the purpose were to make a satire of French customer service, a concept that is an oxymoron in itself.
In case you are stuck in a problem with Bouygues Telecom and their hopeless customer service, it can sometimes help to send an e-mail directly to the managers listed here. But be realistic; they are very French and have not the slightest idea what customer service is.
Si vous avez marre que Bouygues Telecom ne s'occupe pas de vos problèmes et de leur SAV exécrable, ça peut parfois débloquer la situation d'envoyer un e-mail directement aux responsables indiqués ici. Soyez toutefois réaliste ; ils n'ont pas la moindre idée de ce que c'est le service client et la qualité.
Olivier Roussat, Directeur Général,
Alice. Owned by Free.
Prixtel. ADSL for €20 a month.
SFR. Operator with its own network. A survey by the French consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs puts SFR third after Free and Orange. SFR has an advantage that no other French ISP can muster: it is the French FON partner. FON is an international wifi hotspot sharing service. All the customer has to do to get free access to the hotspots is to allow unused bandwidth on his own Internet connection to be used as hotspot. This can save you hundreds of euros in Internet roaming fees during travel abroad. As Orange, SFR has many high-street shops, but the technical competence and willingness to help the customer in these shops isn't worth writing much about. They appear to be there mainly for selling. Their download speeds appear to be higher than Bouygues Telecom. When signing up for SFR after having fired the utterly incompetent Bouygues Telecom, SFR gave me a TV box in addition to the modem, allowing me to receive TV channels via the Internet. If you have a CanalSat or Canel+ TV subscription, you can receive your channels via the SFR TV box too, but even without a separate TV subscription, there is a decent basic TV choice. The TV box hooks up to the modem via an ethernet cable or via two optional plugs that transfer the signal via your electrical cables using PLC technology (CPL in French). They have made some billing mistakes, but they are being corrected. Their technical support has been extremely helpful the two times I have called because I had problems with slow download times. According to my own experiences, I presently consider SFR the best ISP in France.
Virgin Mobile includes a mobile subscription in their ADSL offer. They rent their network from SFR.
Numéricable A survey by the French consumer association 60 millions de consommateurs puts Numericable at 85.7% behind Free, Orange, SFR, and only ahead of the worst performing Bouygues Telecom.
Kiwi by e-téra. This
company uses a mix of fibre and wireless technology to provide broadband to
remote locations not covered by ADSL.
If you need a high-speed Internet connection and no other services are available, consider getting a satellite
connection. Bi-directional links are now
Sites comparing several ISPs:
French keyboards use AZERTY layout, whereas most other keyboards use the QWERTY layout. This means that a few letters - and many of the other symbols - are placed in different places. However, the French keyboard obviously allows direct or composite typing of French accented letters, whereas for example a UK keyboard makes that impossible without entering the 3- or 4-digit code for the letter. If you work regularly with different keyboards, then you are likely to keep making typing errors. Under Windows, you can plug in a different keyboard and quite easily tell windows what layout it is.
Software bought in France is, not surprisingly, in French. Fortunately, Internet shopping has made it easy to order the language version you want from other countries. Ordering from Amazon UK or simply downloading from the manufacturer is an easy way to buy English software. If you prefer using English software, then you wouldn't have much use of a new computer with pre-installed, French software.
Without being able to produce statistics, it is my impression that the French electricity supply suffers more power drops than what I was used to in the UK, Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark. Many of these power drops last only a few seconds, but that is enough to shut down a computer the hard way. In windy areas like the Rhône valley, where the Mistral can be quite strong, it seems that power lines are regularly damaged by the wind, not having been designed to withstand strong wind or maybe not having been maintained correctly. Given the high number of power drops lasting only a few seconds, it would seem that the French power grid does not have the built-in protection against these interruptions that exist in other countries' power grids. A UPS battery backup power supply, called onduleur in France, is a good idea to prevent data loss, and many use them in France. It will assure that a power drop lasting only a few minutes will have no impact on your computer, and it will give you time to shut down your computer correctly if the power drop lasts longer.
Computer tube screens from countries south of Equator may not display properly in France. Cathode ray screens are manufactured with a built-in compensation for the Earth's magnetic field, which are different on the northern and southern hemispheres. Before bringing such equipment, check with the manufacturer if it will work. LCD screens are not concerned.
Right to have an antenna
As part of the basic freedom to communicate, French law assures that every household has the right to fit the antenna needed to receive the TV channels of his or her choice. That right stems from law number 66-457. There may be some formalities to respect, particularly in an apartment building or a rented property, but as a matter of principle, the request for an antenna cannot be refused, even if for example cable is installed in the building, whether it is a satellite dish or other type of antenna. It is not enough to write a rule book for the apartment building to turn down a demand for an antenna. Such a rule book cannot override the law.
France no longer broadcasts analogue terrestrial TV signals. The migration to digital broadcasts was completed in 2011.
As historical reminder, the analogue standards for terrestrial analogue TV and VHS differ from country to country. Detailed technical information here.
However, the analogue standards are becoming history as country by country converts to digital terrestrial broadcasting, in France known as TNT - Télévision Numérique Terrestre. The government site tousaunumerique.fr (in French) gives the technical details about the migration. There are some 'black spots' without terrestrial cover. In these places, an alternative way of receiving TV must be used: satellite, ADSL, cable, or fibre optic.
Analogue TV sets sold in France were nearly all multi-standard supporting at least PAL and SECAM, and often also NTSC.
TV sets sold after 2008 have digital tuners built in. Older TV sets need a set-top box to receive digital TV.
VHS tapes follow the analogue TV signal standards (PAL, SECAM, NTSC). Video tapes bought in France may be PAL or SECAM.
VHS video cassette recorders sold in France are nearly all multi-standard supporting at least PAL and SECAM, and often also NTSC.
In case you need to convert recordings or other audiovisual signals from one analogue format to another, or from digital to analogue etc., a large number of transcoders is available. The colour balance may not be perfect for the cheapest models.
TV on Internet in reduced quality
AB Web / BIS TV. 20 free channels
on the Internet, including the French/English news channel France24. You need to
enter a French address and phone number. You will easily find a French address
on viamichelin. All
you need is a postcode, town, street and street number, then a phone number on
the white or yellow pages.
You will need to download and install software from the site. An English version
of the software is available.
There may be geographical restrictions on where one is allowed to watch TV via these and other sites.
Cable, ADSL, Fibre Optic providers in full quality
In cities and large towns, many properties are connected to cable TV. This may be less interesting for foreigners, because the vast majority of the channels are in French.
ADSL: Alice, Bouygues, DartyBox, Free, Orange, SFR. See above in the list of ISPs.
Complete list of TV satellites, channels and frequencies: Lyngsat
Free reception of the same channels as TNT
TNTSAT. Site in French. Broadcasts from the Astra 1H, 1L, 1M satellites at 19.2 degrees east.
There is a Wikipedia article about these packages, but the article is presently only in French.
The main French satellite package, broadcast from the Astra 1H, 1L, 1M
satellites at 19.2 degrees east.
French satellite radio is available on the Atlantic Bird 3 and Astra 1M satellites.
British TV by Satellite
BBC 1-4, BBC News 24, CBBC, Cbeebies, ITV 1-4, Channel 4, E4, More 4, Channel Five, Sky News, CNN, Euronews, France24 in English, Al Jazeera in English, Film4, True Movies 1-2, Men & Motors, Movies4men 1-2, Zone Reality, Zone Horror and various other English TV and radio channels are broadcast in clear from the Astra 2D satellite at 28.2 degrees east, which can easily be received throughout France with as little as a 65 cm satellite dish. These channels offer a vast choice of quality movies. All the channels mentioned in this paragraph can be tuned in with any digital satellite receiver and without having a card/subscription. Before rushing out to buy an expensive SKY package, take the time to check out the free channels on Lyngsat or elsewhere to find out if you really need more channels than what you can get free of charge. Programme listings are available on tvguide.co.uk.
The exact frequencies are listed at the satellite listing site Lyngsat. Depending on your receiver, the frequencies may not be pre-coded, in which case you'll have to add them manually. BBC 3 and 4, CBBC and Cbeebies have the particular feature that they turn off the signal when programmes end, so you need to tune them in during daytime for CBBC and Cbeebies and evening for BBC 3 and 4.
If you want the full SKY package, you need a SKY card and a Digibox to decode the signals. SKY will only sell the card and the decoder to someone who can provide a UK address. A few shops abroad sell the decoders and the subscriptions.
If you want to watch programs from more than one satellite, then you need a motorised satellite dish and a satellite receiver that supports it. A satellite dish can only receive channels from the satellite it is physically pointed to, so if you fit a fixed dish and point it to CanalSat on Astra 1M, you cannot receive the UK channels on Astra 2D. That a dish is motorised means that a motor fitted on the dish physically moves the dish to point it to the satellite corresponding to the TV or radio channel you select on the receiver. Once the receiver is programmed, the dish moving is automatic. With some technical and DIY skill, you can fit it yourself. Many French satellite firms will only fit fixed dishes, either because they are not competent for motorised dishes or to avoid complications with customers who don't know how to use it once fitted.
Danish TV by Satellite
Danish expats can find Danish satellite packages on www.viasat.dk.
French TV Licence
If you have a TV set, you must pay a TV licence, even if you cannot or do not tune in to a single bonjour. See the tax section.
French TV Channels
Films broadcast on the French channels are mostly dubbed in French, leaving little pleasure for English speakers. Arte broadcasts original versions with subtitles. TF1 and M6 occasionally transmits both the original soundtrack and the dubbed sound on satellite, cable and ADSL.
The 'historic' TV channels
TF1. French TV channel 1. Some
movies in original version. Can be viewed directly on the Internet.
Digital channels (cable, satellite, ADSL ...)
French Radio Stations
Other TV and Radio Related Sites
Télésatellite. Satellite TV magazine.
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