Staying in touch when you’re in France…
Staying in touch when you’re in France…
Whilst many of us are familiar with the short cuts and savings that can be achieved for travel arrangements, property searches and other French services, 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 or perhaps plan to spend an increasing amount of time there in the future or even relocate, you’ll no doubt 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, perhaps arranging drinks or a social gathering locally, or even dealing 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 now well established as well as many emerging services that can help you avoid being hit with a large bill for staying in touch and 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 is designed to help to clarify the options available to you and to help you decide what the right solution is for you.
This is perhaps one of the most convenient solutions because you are able to use it travelling to and from your chosen location as well as where you stay in France. Even if you don’t use a mobile phone that much in the UK, you’ll be amazed by the reliance you may need to put on it when setting up a new life in France. However, using a UK mobile phone outside of the UK incurs a roaming charge where you pay a premium to make and receive calls. Recently these roaming charges have been addressed by the EU commission but that fact remains; you’ll pay around three times the cost you are used to in the UK to call home and you’ll still pay to receive all calls. You also will still be using a UK mobile number – not the best identity when you need to receive calls from French tradesmen or agents, particularly on property issues.
There are generally three acknowledged solutions available which provide multiple benefits to mobile users, but above all significant savings compared to using a UK mobile phone.
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) French SIM cards
A simple solution that can be bought in the UK from companies like 0044 Ltd www.0044.co.uk or from networks stores in France like Orange www.orange.fr and SFR www.sfr.fr These cost around £35 and come with a small amount of starter credit. You have a new French mobile number to circulate before you leave and they can be topped up locally in France by purchasing top up vouchers at thousands of local retailers like tabacs, supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. They offer savings over roaming charges and all incoming calls are free to receive, but you need to be aware that the French top ups have strict credit expiry periods so you need to make sure you familiarise yourself with these. A SIM from a French network like Orange Fr will fit in the majority of mobile handsets but you may need to unlock the handset to enable a new SIM to be used. Like all national mobile networks, coverage is good for about 95% + of the country but is never guaranteed.
Pay-monthly contracts - France
A solution only recently available from specialist companies like 0044 Ltd, these are designed to offer bigger savings compared to roaming or even a PAYG French SIM but also to 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 £6.99 per month and are fully supported from the UK. As well as increased savings (local calls start at 20 p/min) 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 range from 6 months to 12 months, 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.
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 as they don’t always tell you what money saving options are available from them www.o2.co.uk www.vodafone.co.uk www.orange.co.uk
Landlines - France
France Telecom is the main provider of landline connections within France although there are several other options now available from new networks such as Colt and The Phone House.
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 landline 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 provided by 0044 Ltd can reduce the cost of a call to the UK to around 2 p per minute. Other popular providers include Primus and UK Telecom. 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.
Landlines - UK
When friends or family call you from the UK they will be paying a premium to make a call to a French landline 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 30 pence per minute to call a French land line and 51 pence per minute to call a French mobile number from the UK. Obviously that cost is reduced to around 10 pence 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 70 pence per minute on the main UK mobile networks. Using a dial through service, such as 0044’s, 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 landline divert service that lets you redirect your calls from a UK landline number to a French landline 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 landline 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 landline. There is also no limit on the number or duration of diverted calls that you receive each month.
Calls via the Internet / VOIP (‘voice over internet protocol’)
There are also now many web based services that will allow you to make free calls to other users regardless if 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 second number and a UK mobile number. If anyone wishes to call you, wherever you are in the world you all they need to do is dial that number. If you are calling people outside of the online network 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.
(or call 0870 950 0044)
(Article supplied by 0044 ltd)
(Published March/April 2009)