Whilst many of us know how to get a cheap flight deal or think nothing of bargaining hard for an antique in a brocante, the vast majority of us still fall victim to the horrendous cost of staying in touch whilst in France.
Whether you visit France on regular but short stays, plan to spend more time there in the future, or re-locate, you’ll want to communicate locally or internationally for a variety of reasons. It could just be that quick call back to check the children and grand-children are fit and well. Or you need to arrange drinks or a social gathering locally. You may even have to deal with the purchase, sale or refurbishment of a property. Whatever the reason, being able to do this without footing a large bill at the end of it is where many experienced travellers come unstuck.
However, there are now several communication solutions that are well established as well as many emerging services that can help you avoid being hit with a large bill. Many of them can easily be set up from the UK before you depart.
On-line searches for key terms in the main search engines will throw up a variety of companies that can help you stay in touch cost effectively. The following summary, though, will help you know what the options available – and decided which is best for you.
When setting up a new life in France, a mobile phone can prove very handy – for making local calls to builders and arrangements with new friends, as well as international calls to catch up with relatives abroad.
Whilst roaming fees are not what they were thanks to EU caps, a little prior preparation can help you avoid incurring them at all and adding to your phone bill unnecessarily.
1. Pay-as-you-go French SIM cards
If you want to use a French SIM in your existing handset, it may be necessary to have your UK phone unlocked in advance. This will allow it to accept SIM cards from providers other than your current network.
To do this, call your current network provider or go in store. A charge may be applied for this service. On returning to the UK, just swap your French and UK SIM cards over.
Alternatively, you could opt for a package that includes a new mobile phone that comes with a French SIM card. This often works out only slightly more than buying a French SIM only.
It also means that you won’t have to unlock any handsets and can run a French phone alongside a British phone if you think it might be useful to have both.
You can buy a SIM card from a French network store (Orange, SFR, Bouygues) either online (worth checking for web exclusive discounts) or in France.
Prices vary but you can expect to pay up to about €15, which usually includes some starter credit. The French SIM card will provide you with a French mobile phone number (starting 06 instead of 07 in the UK).
Your phone can then be easily topped up with credit by purchasing a top up voucher from as little as €5, available at thousands of local retailers.
These are exchanged at the checkout for a receipt with a top-up code to enter. French top-ups have credit expiry periods. The more you spend, the longer you will have to use it.
2. Pay-monthly contracts – France
A solution only recently available, these are designed to offer bigger savings compared to roaming or even a PAYG French SIM, as well as make the whole process more user friendly and convenient.
It is notoriously difficult to obtain a French mobile phone contract in France without a credit history so a UK-based solution can take the hassle out of the whole process for you. The Phone House www.phonehouse.fr are probably the easiest to deal with but the process of applying can be arduous.
SIM only contracts can be set up in the UK from as little as €9,90 per month and are fully supported from the UK. As well as increased savings and convenience, you do not need to top them up with credit and they are also enabled for data usage so can be a useful tool when accessing the internet via a lap top.
Contract periods vary, so even if adopted for the first year while you establish a French base they can be a useful tool before you decide to look around for local solutions.
3. Pay-monthly contracts – UK & France
With the recent introduction of EU roaming caps UK providers have been quick to introduce solutions that go one step further than simply reducing roaming charges. A 0044 Freedom UK contract, for instance, will provide you with a mobile phone that can deliver the usual benefits when used in the UK – keeping your existing UK number, enjoying free calls and texts as well as free calls to same network users.
However, the unique thing about this type of contract is that the phone can also be used in France (and across Europe) where calls to the UK only cost 25 p per minute and all incoming calls are free. Effectively you can now adopt a mobile solution for general use in the UK that also doubles as an effective solution for your trips to France and other European destinations.
It’s also worth making enquires with your existing UK mobile provider, such as www.o2.co.uk, www.vodafone.co.uk, and www.orange.co.uk as they don’t always tell you what money saving options are available from them.
French Telecom is the main provider of land-line connections within France although there are several other options now available from new networks such as UK Telecom.
If already installed, or if you have managed to set up a land line at your property with France Telecom then you’ll certainly be saving when you call the UK compared with using a standard UK mobile. The cost to call the UK can be as much as 23 p/min from a standard French land-line but, as with the UK, the national provider is not always the cheapest option.
There are many UK based companies that can now provide CPS (carrier pre select) services that work along side your France Telecom connection, but the calls you make are then re-routed and the savings can be enormous. A call made with a CPS service, for example, can reduce the cost of a call to the UK to around 2p per minute. This means that you still have an agreement with France Telecom as the first line supplier but that a CPS service dramatically reduces the costs every time you use the phone.
When friends or family call you from the UK they will be paying a premium to make a call to a French land-line or mobile phone. The actual cost varies depending on the type of agreement you have with your provider. Costs can be confusing when you try to dig deeper on the subject, but a quick call to BT customer services will confirm that it will cost you 30p per minute to call a French land line and 5p per minute to call a French mobile number from the UK.
Obviously that cost is reduced to around 10p per minute if the person you are calling is using their UK mobile in France, but instead they then get hit with the higher cost because they pay to receive the call – between 30 and 70p per minute on the main UK mobile networks.
Using a dial through service can mean calls to a French land line through your own BT phone cost only 2 pence per minute whilst calls to a French mobile can also be re-routed through these services at a third of the normal cost.
International Divert – UK & France
A new international land-line divert service that lets you redirect your calls from a UK land-line number to a French land-line of your choice is also now becoming a popular option with expats for business and leisure needs. Subscribers are provided with a 0844 (local rate; 3p/min from the UK) telephone number that when called immediately and transparently diverts the call to your French land-line number.
Whether you need to provide a UK number for friends and family, sales, customer support, or to establish a general presence in the UK, your divert number makes it easy and inexpensive for callers to get in touch with you. This type of service costs around £4 per month and is a simple way of maintaining a UK presence and saving your friends and family or customers money.
Your caller pays the local call and the divert provider pays for the call to be diverted to your French land-line. There is also no limit on the number or duration of diverted calls that you receive each month.
CALLS VIA THE INTERNET/VOIP
There are also now many web based services, such as Skype and VOIP (‘Voice Over Internet Protocol’)
that will allow you to make free calls to other users regardless of whether you are on your mobile phone, using a landline or online. Accessing one of these services from France or, indeed, anywhere in the world will enable you to route your calls for free or extremely cheaply.
When you sign-up to this sort of service you will usually be provided with a UK landline telephone number. If anyone wishes to call you, wherever you are in the world, all they need to do is dial the assigned UK landline number. If you are calling people outside who are not registered users you will have to pay for the call although these calls are extremely cheap – in fact many are actually now cheaper than the big players like Skype. The only catch is that to benefit from free calls you and your friend must both be registered users or you must have free calls left in your account.
There are many useful on-line resources such as the trade association of the world’s 700 GSM mobile networks – they’ll offer immediate on-line advice on the cost of roaming with your current plan, at least giving you a start point for further investigation.
Ofcom also closely monitor all UK service providers and can be used to gather facts and figures as well as to receive complaints if you feel you have been unfairly charged for services provided whilst abroad.
Using the same internet searches that you use for flights, ferries and car hire can uncover some great savings when communicating while you’re in France so an alternative solution may only be few clicks away.
ADVICE TO NON-UK RESIDENTS
The communication options detailed in this section are also available to non-UK residents who plan to invest in a property and live in France on part-time or permanent basis.
Certain products like SIM cards can be shipped anywhere in the world whilst land line services obviously rely on ownership of a French property and associated France Telecom land line connections.
The advice for non-UK residents interested in any of the products or services featured is to contact the specific provider, detail your situation and request guidance on how to get started. You’ll find that most companies provide services to French addresses anyway, but in the event that you don’t have one, an alternative solution can often be easily provided.