Communications

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Communications

Internet and Wi-Fi

Getting online in Paris is rarely a problem, as free and pay-as-you-go (via credit card) Wi-Fi service is available in most of the city's cafés, public spaces, and hotels through providers like SFR and Orange. Note that you may pick up a signal for "Free Wi-Fi," but this is the name of a French Internet provider and its network is open only to paying clients. Paris has made a big push in going wireless in recent years, and Wi-Fi (called WIFI) is available in more than 260 public parcs and civic centers like the Centre Pompidou and many libraries. Access is free and unlimited for anyone. Cafés will usually have a WIFI sticker on their window if there is wireless available, but always verify before ordering a drink; McDonald's also has free Wi-Fi spaces (sometimes disabled during peak dining hours). Many hotels have business services with Internet access, in-room modem lines, or high-speed wireless access. You will, however, need an adapter for your computer for the European-style plugs. If you're traveling with a laptop, carry a spare battery and adapter. Never plug your computer into any socket before asking about surge protection.

Phones

The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. In some countries you can phone from call centers or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs low, but only if you buy them locally. And then there are mobile phones, which are sometimes more prevalent than landlines; as expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.

The country code for France is 33. The first two digits of French numbers are a prefix determined by zone: Paris and Ile-de-France, 01; the northwest, 02; the northeast, 03; the southeast, 04; and the southwest, 05. Pay close attention to numbers beginning with 08. Calls that begin with 08 followed by 00 are toll-free, but calls that begin with 08 followed by 36—like the information lines for the SNCF, for example—cost €0.35 per minute. Numbers that begin with 06 are reserved for cell phones.

Note that when dialing France from abroad, you should drop the initial 0 from the telephone number (all numbers listed in this book include the initial 0, which is used for calling from within France). To call a number in Paris from the United States, dial 011-33 plus the phone number, but minus the initial 0 listed for the specific number in Paris. In other words, the local number for the Louvre is 01-40-20-51-51. To call this number from New York City, dial 011-33-1-40-20-51-51. To call this number from within Paris, dial 01-40-20-51-51. To call France from the United Kingdom, dial 00-33, then dial the number in France minus the initial 0 of the specific number.

Calling Cards

French pay phones are operated by télécartes (phone cards), which you can buy from post offices, tabacs, and magazine kiosks. The ones you insert into pay phones have a "puce" microchip—a small copper square—that you can see on the card. There are as many phone cards these days as bakeries, so to be safe, request the télécarte international, which, despite its name, allows you to make either local or international calls and offers greatly reduced rates. Instructions are in English, and the cost is €9 for 60 units and €18 for 120 units. You may also request the simple télécarte, which allows you to make calls in France (the cost is €8 for 50 units, €15 for 120 units). You can use your credit card in much the same way as a télécarte, but there's a minimum €20 charge. You have 30 days after the first call on your credit card to use the €20 credit.

There are also international calling cards that work on any phone (including your hotel phone) because you dial a free number and punch in a code; these do not have the "puce" microchip. Don't hesitate to invest in one if you plan on making calls from your hotel, as hotels often levy service charges and also have the most expensive rates.

Calling Outside France

Good news—telephone rates are actually decreasing in France because the France Telecom monopoly now has some stringent competition. As in most countries, the highest rates fall between 8 am and 7 pm and average out to a hefty €0.22 per minute to the United States, Canada, and the closer European countries, including Germany and Great Britain. Rates are greatly reduced from 7 pm to 8 am, costing an average of €0.10 per minute.

To make a direct international call out of France, dial 00 and wait for the tone; then dial the country code (1 for the United States and Canada, 44 for the United Kingdom, 61 for Australia, and 64 for New Zealand) and the area code (minus any initial 0) and number.

To call with the help of an operator, dial the toll-free number 08-00-99-00 plus the last two digits of the country code. Dial 08-00-99-00-11 for the United States and Canada, 08-00-99-00-44 for England, and 08-00-99-00-61 for Australia.

Access Codes

AT&T Direct (08–00–99–00–11; 800/222–0300 in U.S. and Canada. www.att.com/esupport/traveler.jsp.)

MCI WorldPhone (08–00–99–00–19; 800/444–4444 in U.S. and Canada. consumer.mci.com/international.)

Sprint International Access (08–00–99–00–87; 888/211–4727 in U.S. and Canada.)

Calling Within France

For telephone information in France, you need to call one of the dozen or so six-digit renseignement numbers that begin with 118. Some of the better-known ones are 118–008 for the Pages Jaunes, or 118–711 for France Telecom. The number 118–247 is a bilingual option, run in partnership with the Paris tourism office. The average price for one of these calls is about €1.

Since all local numbers in Paris and the Ile-de-France begin with a 01, you must dial the full 10-digit number, including the initial 0. A local call costs €0.15 for every three minutes.

To call from region to region within France, dial the full 10-digit number, including the initial 0.

Public telephone booths can almost always be found in post offices, train stations, bus stops, and in some cafés, as well as on the street.

Mobile Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than what's used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).

If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.

If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell-phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Cell phones are called portables, and most Parisians have one. British standard cell phones work in Paris, but for North Americans only triband phones work. If you'd like to rent a cell phone for your trip, reserve one at least four days before your departure, as most companies will ship it to you before you travel. Cellular Abroad rents cell phones packaged with prepaid SIM cards that give you a French cell-phone number and calling rates. Planetfone rents GSM phones, which can be used in more than 100 countries, but the per-minute rates are expensive. You can also buy a disposable "BIC" prepaid phone or a MobiKit pay-as-you-go phone from Orange if you want the best rates.

Contacts

Cellular Abroad (00800/36–23–33–33 in France; 800/287–5072 in U.S. and Canada. www.cellularabroad.com.)

Mobal (888/888–9162 in U.S. and Canada. www.mobal.com.)

Planet Fone (888/988–4777 in U.S. www.planetfone.com.)

Orange (09–69–36–39–00 English helpline in France. www.orange.fr.)

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