France Telecom/Orange ( http://boutiques.orange.fr ), previously a state-owned company, is now a private one, which means you are not obliged to use them for your phone service. In many cases, though, you will have to pay the line rental and service of the phone (abonnement) to them. Orange is one of the most expensive telephone operators in France, in spite of their effort to compete since their privatization. Definitely spend some time and shop around for the best rates that suit your needs.
The first step in getting your telephone line and initiating your local phone service is to contact France Telecom/Orange. You can call their English-speaking customer service office at 09.69.36.39.00 from a fixed line, 3970 from a mobile phone, visit the local branch, or go to http://www.francetelecom.com/en. (The section in English does not give complete information; typically, you will directed back to a French page). You may be requested to provide a photo I.D., like your passport, plus proof of residence, which can be a rental contract or an electricity bill. If you would like to pay by direct debit, a bank account I.D. (a RIB which is discussed in the “Real Estate Market in Paris” section) is required.
If telephone lines already exist, service can normally be activated within 4-24 hours. If you need a second line, or would like to change the number or placement of the phone jacks, you have to make an appointment with an installation technician. If a data line for Internet communications requires a technician, he will make the changes in the central repository for phone lines on the block or in the building. Even if you require a technician, ask to open a service connection while you wait so that you can get your service quickly.
France Telecom provides an information booklet in English on its services and is available at any branch.
Although you usually have to use France Telecom for the line service and rental, you may choose from a growing number of discount telephone services in France. It is cheap; rates can be as low as 0.0097 Euro/minute to the USA. Subscribing to these services is easy. You simply contact them and they work with France Telecom/Orange to do the rest. Some charge a monthly fee for certain number of minutes or hours of calls; others have no monthly fee. You still pay your line charge and service fee to France Telecom. New companies are always emerging and some advertise in FUSAC monthly.
- Telerabais, http://www.telerabais.com/english.php, English version
- Les Minutes, http://www.LesMinutes.com, English version
Another alternative for inexpensive calling exists through the Internet. Certain ADSL Internet providers are offering options to use them for line service, without using France Telecom at all. Refer to the “Internet” section for more information.
Only two years ago, there were only 3 mobile phone providers in France. Now, there are roughly 15! These are the most popular companies that currently provide mobile telephone services in France:
- Bouygues, http://www.bouyguestelecom.fr
- Orange, http://www.orange.fr
- SFR, http://www.sfr.fr
- Virgin Mobile, http://www.virginmobile.fr
- Free, http://www.free.fr
There are many retail shops throughout Paris and electronic stores such as Darty, http://www.darty.com, and FNAC, http://www.fnac.com, that carry mobile phones and service packages from all of the companies. This makes comparison among the different carriers much easier. There are countless different packages and options which makes giving a price range impossible. The website EdCom ( http://www.edcom.fr ) allows you to answer 3 questions about your mobile phone requirements and will give you the top packages that match your search. The site is in French, but is quite simple to navigate and understand.
There are two ways to obtain mobile phone service, either with a prepaid card (carte or Mobicarte) or through a subscription (un abonnement). With the carte system, you buy the phone and a carte, which gives you a certain amount of pre-paid call time as well as the ability to receive calls. You may buy a new carte to renew your calling time at tabacs, post offices or in some large supermarkets, or refill your existing carte using your credit or debit card at any Credit Lyonnais ATM, at specially marked phone booths, or by calling a special service number on your phone.
With an abonnement, you sign a contract to pay for a specific amount of call time per month. The subscription systems offers lower per-minute rates and is generally best if you use your phone fairly regularly and are sure to use almost all of the subscribed minutes each month. However, you will be obliged to sign a contract committing you for between 12 and 24 months. To obtain a subscription, you are usually required to have a French bank account to pay by direct debit. If you do not yet have your account, you will have to start with the carte system and then convert to the abonnement system with the same carrier.