In France, the system is a little strange and makes everything harder than it should be. Since my iPhone was unlocked, I’m fortunate enough to be able to use it in France and pop in a French sim card (many of my American friends don’t have the same luck).
Yet getting the Internet to work on it was somewhat more difficult as it required the network to unlock the sim card to be able to use Internet (which takes 24 working hours) – this was on a pay as you go phone of course. Getting a contract with the Internet included was easier, although the prices are most definitely more expensive than in the UK. It also seems strange that they seem to not value phone calls as much and often, contracts will include an hour of ‘free’ calls.
Getting a contract was relatively difficult also. In order to get a mobile phone contract, you need proof of address, which seems fair enough. Yet you cannot show your contract to the phone company nor even a bill that you have paid. You have to show your civil and house insurance. The problem I had though is that since I had only just moved when I was getting my contract, I did not have the insurance as the bank’s earliest free appointment was 15 days later.
Of course, I could have waited that long to get my contract. Yet pay-as-you-go is simply not worth it in France. €5 credit will expire after a week for example – which means that you have to pay at least €20 a month. What is more often the case though is that you will need to top up relatively often, simply because using a pay-as-you-go phone is also very expensive.
I therefore went to the shop of another phone network, on the same road, where they were more than happy to give me a phone contract. While they usually ask for the same details as the first store, I think they realised that it made more commercial sense to accept me as a customer especially considering that I was showing them a contract to rent an apartment for 6 months.
The next problem was getting Internet in my apartment, something I am currently without, 10 days after going to the store. Yet this is comparable with the UK, where people often have to wait a month or so to have a working Internet connection. However I received a text yesterday letting me know that my Internet should be activated in the next few days. The problem? I don’t yet have the router and other equipment to have a working Internet connection. Allow me to explain.
When I went to get an Internet connection, it was a very different experience to getting a phone contract. The only thing I had to give was my RIB (a little sheet with all the information about my French bank on it) so that the company could set up a direct debit. They then checked to see whether a phone line had previously been activated at that address by crosschecking the address with previous customers. At this point, I was shown a list on previous tenants and was asked whether any of them lived in my studio. Obviously I had no idea – so I dropped over to the nearest McDonalds and sent an email to my landlady asking whether [name removed] previously lived at my address.
Having confirmed this, I went back the next day, happy in the knowledge that I had saved the €50 activation fee and a rather weird experience. Another group of language assistants had to activate their line and were told, “A man will come to your building and create a line. You will not see this man but he will be there” and they then received an email with the same information.
Back in the shop, I then sorted out all the paperwork and asked about the equipment. Unlike in the UK, where technicians will often come and install the router, you have to go to a random address (it could be a café, a pub, a bar or just anywhere really) to pick up your equipment – and no, you cannot just ask to pick it up at the store, that is apparently too difficult. So I am currently sitting in a home that may have a live Internet connection and waiting for a text telling me that I can go and collect my router (Neufbox) from a bar.
However, I still feel a little lucky about this situation. Another group of friends in the same city were with Orange and it took over a month – and a lot of hassle and argument – to have working Internet. This is particularly strange considering that yet another language assistant with Orange acquired a working connection within 10 days.
So now I wait for a text to pick up my router while my emails are (mostly) read on my phone. The only problem is that when I need to properly work or need to send articles or documents, I need the Internet on my computer. Ah well, I guess all this time frequenting cafés is helping the French economy…