Internet and Wi-Fi
Getting online here is rarely a problem because free or pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi (pronouncedwee-fee) is widely available. Many hotels have business services with Internet access or high-speed wireless access; and these days most accommodations offer in-room Wi-Fi as well, sometimes at an extra cost. Moreover, Paris has made a big push in going wireless in recent years, so Wi-Fi is now offered in 296 public places, including parks, squares, and civic centers (like the Centre Pompidou) as well as many libraries; look for the "Paris Wi-Fi" logo. Access is free and unlimited for anyone (you just need to select the "Orange" network, and then launch your browser); however, network speed may not be as fast as you are used to back home. Cafés will usually have a Wi-Fi sticker on their window if there is wireless available, but verify before ordering a drink. McDonald's also has free Wi-Fi spaces (sometimes disabled during peak dining hours), as do the 40-odd Starbucks outlets. 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. If you're traveling with a laptop, carry a spare battery and an adapter to use with European-style plugs. Never plug your computer into any socket before asking about surge protection.
The good news is that with Wi-Fi more and more available—although not always reliable—you should be able to Skype or Facetime for free (just make sure to turn off your Data Roaming). This means you can avoid using the phone in your hotel, which is almost always the most expensive option due to the huge surcharges hotels add to all calls, particularly international ones. If you do want to use the phone, calling cards can keep costs low, but only if you buy them locally. Mobile phones, which are sometimes more prevalent than landlines, are another alternative; as expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they are still usually much cheaper than calls 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. Note that it's often cheaper to call between 9 pm and 9 am. Pay close attention to numbers beginning with 08: some—but not all—are toll-free (when you dial one with a fee attached, a recorded message will tell you how much it will cost to proceed with the call, usually €0.15 to €0.40 per minute). Numbers beginning with 09, connected to DSL and Internet lines, are generally free when calling in France. Numbers that begin with 06 and 07 are reserved for cell phones.
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 00–33 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 00–33–1–40–20–51–51. To call this number from within Paris, dial 01–40–20–51–51.
French phone booths will be phased out by 2018, and, as of February 2016, French pay phones no longer accept télécartes (phone cards); however, 72% of them will accept a ticket téléphone, a prepaid calling card, which can be purchased through Orange boutiques. These work on any phone (including your hotel phone); to use one, you dial a free number, and then punch in a code indicated on the back of the card.
Calling Outside France
If you use a prepaid cell phone bought in France, calls to the United States and Canada cost around €1 per minute, and nearly double that to the rest of the world, depending on the provider; incoming calls are usually at no cost. Foreign cell phones used in France to call the United States or Canada will generally be more costly; it’s best to check with your carrier to know your options. Note that most telecom operators in France offer an all-in-one service, with Internet, free local and international calls, and French TV, for an amazing monthly rate of about €35; hence, many landlines feature free international calling to most countries. But if you’re staying in a rental apartment with a phone, ask first before you start calling abroad.
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) 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 the United Kingdom.
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. (For Les Pages Jaunes—the French Yellow Pages—you dial 118–008.) The average price for one of these calls is €0.40 per minute.
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.
Cell phones are called portables in France, and most Parisians have one. If you own a multiband cell phone (some countries use different frequencies than the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile and AT&T), you can probably use it while you're here. International travel plans are increasingly attractive; however, roaming fees can be steep—$1.29 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 these have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use it) plus a prepaid service plan that will cover your destination (this will usually include free incoming calls and texts). You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. When comparison shopping, check out Lycamobile; it carries SIM cards and has convenient pay-as-you-go plans with lower calling rates than Orange.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one online; 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.
Cellular Abroad rents cell phones packaged with prepaid SIM cards that give you a French cell-phone number and calling rates (you can also use your own phone or tablet with their SIM cards). Mobal sells GSM phones that will operate in 190 countries. Planetfone rents GSM phones, which can be used in more than 150 countries, but the per-minute rates are expensive. You can also buy a disposable "BIC" prepaid phone (available from Orange outlets, tabacs, magazine kiosks, and some supermarkets). Calls to the United States made with Le French Mobile—a service catering to English-speaking visitors—can be costly, but it offers a range of plans without the obligation of long-term contracts.
Cellular Abroad. 00800/36–23–33–33; 800/287–5072; www.cellularabroad.com.
Le French Mobile. 01–74–95–95–00; www.lefrenchmobile.com.
Lycamobile. 866/277–3221; www.lycamobile.us.
Mobal. 888/888–9162; www.mobal.com.
Orange. 09–69–36–39–00; www.orange.fr.
Planet Fone. 888/988–4777; www.planetfone.com.