Setting up your Internet connection and e-mail

PC and InternetAnyone visiting this site may be wondering about how they will connect to the Internet in France, and those already there may be wondering how to get the best out of their set-up and French ISP (Internet Service Provider). In this article we hope to help both groups.

Your equipment

Your UK desktop PC, laptop or Mac will work perfectly in France. You can install French software and hardware on a UK computer and all will seamlessly integrate. Similarly if you purchase a computer with a French version of Windows XP, you can mix and match English and French files and software.

When setting up a dial-up internet connection, a UK modem should also be compatible with the French phone system though you may find that there is a “country” setting in either the Windows control panel or the advanced modem properties, both of which are accessible from the Start button. Check your manual or the modem manufacturer’s website for specific details. You will need to use a specific French modem lead (simply because the French phone socket differs) and these can be found for under 5€ in large supermarkets. One end has the traditional French phone plug to fit into the wall slot and the other end will fit into your modem.

Many standard-length modem cables supplied in the UK are terminated in US RJ11 plugs at both ends because this is the standard connection to a PC. They are then fitted at one end with a suitable adapter for the UK. If this is the type of cable you are using, it’s a simple matter to remove the UK adapter and purchase the equivalent French adapter again from large supermarkets.

For ADSL internet connections, your ISP will probably provide you with a RJ11 cable to be used with a filter, which means you do not need to concern yourself with the above. However, you should not have too many problems finding the cable or adapter you need in French supermarkets.

Just because you are moving to France doesn’t mean that you have to change your keyboard, though a French keyboard will have the accented letters immediately accessible. If you only occasionally write in French or need accented letters on rare occasions, then definitely stick to your UK/US keyboard. If you do decide to purchase a French keyboard then use the Windows control panel (“Add Hardware”) to install it.

A new ISP

Even if you are not coming to live permanently in France you may still need some sort of connection to the internet via a French ISP. Some UK ISPs such as AOL do offer facilities to connect in foreign countries but they usually make an extra charge for this, over and above the cost of the phone call. So the best thing to do is to set up a French ISP account that comes with a cheap local access number that will cost you about 0.02€ per minute or less, billed directly by France Telecom (FT) onto your bi-monthly phone bill. Nearly all French ISPs offer this sort of access and there is no set-up charge, no monthly charge and no charge for non-use making it ideal for occasional users.

Those who want dial-up internet for more than an hour or two per week on a regular basis should perhaps look into the forfaits offered by most French ISPs. These consist of a fixed number of hours per month for a fixed fee, payable directly to the ISP. To connect, you then dial a freephone number that is not billed by France Telecom. Packages range from 5 hours per month for a few Euros to “all you can eat” unlimited use for about 20€ per month.

All French ISPs offer a regular analogue “dial-up” connection. They also offer a digital dial-up connection using ISDN, generally known as Numeris in France and BT HomeHighway in the UK. Numeris has the advantage of providing the equivalent of two analogue lines and a fairly fast digital connection for the same price per month as two regular lines. All the forfaits mentioned above are compatible with Numeris and it is very suitable for those in country areas without ADSL who spend several hours per day online.

However, ADSL, if you can get it in your area, is the fastest connection. Many readers will of course be familiar with Broadband now that it is widespread in the UK, and ADSL is spreading rapidly throughout France. If you don’t have it in your area, a trip to the nearest Mairie will let you know if or when ADSL is coming. Like Broadband, the service is “piggybacked” onto your existing analogue line without interrupting calls and costs around 25€ per month for unlimited use. However, your phone lines and those of your village or commune must be enabled by France Telecom engineers to carry out this piggybacking. The French know of the benefits of ADSL and it has not been uncommon for the local Maire to receive petitions to try to speed up the whole process!

If you know your phone number in France (or that of a close neighbour) or your 5 digit post-code, check for ADSL availability on your telephone line here:

Once established, use the same details on this site:

This will tell which ISPs you can use and a summary of which of their offers are suitable for your line. From here you can then go through to each individual ISP’s site to check prices.


Having selected your ISP you will need to sign up for service, even if you are opting for a “pay-as-you-go” package. Most ISPs offer a CD-Rom for installing their service, however some users feel you get a cleaner installation and fewer problems by avoiding using the CD. There is no hard and fast rule on this and I would advise choosing one of these options to get online:

1) Use a CD from an ISP (you can pick these up in supermarkets or ask for one to be sent), but before doing so set up a System Restore Point (Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore – follow the simple instructions). This will give you the chance to rewind your PC to its previous settings should any annoying niggles occur. If you still have problems with a CD try one of the options below.

2) Pop into your nearest France Telecom shop and ask them to set you up online. This will be with Orange (formerly Wanadoo), which in France is owned by France Telecom. You don’t need to commit to any long-term offers, just a pay as you go account which will then give you the chance to explore other options. When in the shop stand your ground if you do not want to commit for a year. Obviously the staff will want you to commit !

3) If you are not afraid of getting your hands dirty, you can set up the new connection yourself. This may be a good idea if you are planning on spending time between France and the UK. Choose your French ISP, and fill in the various boxes with your personal details. When asked for your e-mail address, provide the one you want to have with them, not any e-mail address that you already have with another ISP. At some point you will be asked to invent a password. You may also be asked to give a personal question and answer. This is to allow you to retrieve your login and password from customer service if ever you forget them. Make your question and answer memorable. Then finish the sign-up procedure but do not select the automatic installation when offered, select the manual one. You will be provided with some information that will vary according to the ISP you have chosen. Be sure to note it very carefully or save it and print it out. Be very careful to differentiate between lower and upper case characters, and between “0” (zero) and “O”.

The information will be something like this:

Login (“identifiant”) : may be in two parts – one for connection and one for e-mail.
Password (“mot de passe” or “code personnel”)
Phone number: the number used for the dial-up call – NOT your phone number.
E-mail address: may be the same as your login.
Pop server address (incoming e-mail)
SMTP server address (outgoing e-mail)

Go offline, and now set up the new connection. From Internet Explorer select Tools, Internet Options, Connections. You will see a box with your existing dial-up connections in it. Click on “Add”. A wizard starts up. Follow the prompts and indicate the modem used, the phone number (see the details above), give the connection a name (usually that of the ISP) etc. and finish the wizard. There will now be a new connection listed in the box containing your dial-up connections. Select the new one and click on “set default”. (This will make that connection the dial-up default whilst you are in France. When returning to the UK just select your regular UK connection from the same list and click on “set default”.) Then click on “settings”. Input your login (the connection one, if you were given two) and your password.

Be very careful to type these in exactly as they were given and to pay great attention to any information that you were given on the ISP sign-up page concerning the way this info needs to be treated. For example, with Orange the login is always preceded by “fti/”. All ISPs are different. Click on “OK” to exit those boxes.

Your new connection is now set up.

The procedure for forfaits is pretty much the same except that you will need to use a credit card for payment.

Setting up e-mail
You can log onto your e-mails using the homepage of your French ISP but if you prefer to use Microsoft Outlook, follow these instructions:
Open Outlook Express (OE) and click on Tools, Accounts, Add, Mail.
Follow the prompts and use the password, login (the e-mail “messagerie” one, if you were given two) and the SMTP and POP server information as mentioned above to fill in the blanks.

If you have an existing e-mail address that you want to retain as your principle one then for the “e-mail address” line use the address of your main ISP, not the new French one, and just use the new information to complete the other boxes. Once the wizard has finished you will see that you now have two entries in the “accounts” window where before you had only one. One will relate to your existing ISP. Highlight it and select “properties” at the right of the window. In the dialog box that comes up change the name to “UK” or whatever suits you.

Select the “connection” tab and uncheck the box that says “always connect using” if it is checked. Then click on OK to close the box.
Highlight the new French account and select “properties” as above. Change the name to “France” or whatever. Find the line just below this where it gives the e-mail address. This should give your main (UK?) e-mail address, not the new French one. If it doesn’t then change it. Click on “OK” to close the box.

Highlight the entry for the country that you are in and click on the “set as default” button at the right of the window. You should always change the default setting to suit the country that you are in.

From now on whenever you create an outgoing message you will find that the top line where it says “From” has a drop-down box attached to it at the far right of the line. You MUST ensure that all outgoing messages are selected to show the country that you are in on this line. Any other setting will cause the message not to be sent.

Remember this and you should have no trouble at all and both your mailboxes will be checked whenever you click on “Send and Receive All”.

If you have an existing e-mail address but want the new one to become your main one, then carry out the procedure described above, but insert your new French e-mail address in the properties page of both accounts, and set the French account as the default. Always check that “France” is listed in the drop-down “From” box of all outgoing mail when you are in France. When in the UK check that “UK” is listed in that box.

If this is to be your only e-mail address, then just add the new account as above, and delete any old ones that may be listed.

There are also many free Internet based e-mail facilities available if you prefer. Yahoo, Hotmail and Google’s contribution, Gmail are all popular and obviously don’t need you to make configuration changes depending on your geographical location. Nowadays they are very generous with storage space which means you can be pretty slack on emptying out your inbox !

Useful French words and terms

Internet Service Provider (ISP): fournisseur d’acces internet (FAI)

Fixed Price Offer: un forfait

Dial-Up: Bas Débit

High Speed Internet: Haut Débit

Broadband: l’ADSL

Pay-as-you-go: à la consummation



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