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Utilities in France
At a Glance:
- Water prices vary between different regions and will depend on whether you have mains drainage or a septic tank.
- The domestic electricity supply is 230 V and electrical appliances brought from abroad are not always compliant with this voltage.
- There will be an abonnement (standing charge) in your electricity bill, determined by the power supplier.
- The national telephone grid is managed by France Telecom (Orange) and this is the only operator that can install or reactivate fixed landlines.
There is a wide range of water companies to choose from, although in smaller villages it is not uncommon to have only one provider. Depending on whether you have mains drainage or a septic tank, prices will vary between different regions.
Your water bill will show your consumption and the charge per cubic meter — the meters will usually be read by suppliers once or twice a year. Sanitation charges are included in the bill, except for when you have an independent septic tank. In this case, periodic inspection by the sanitation regulator will occur around every four years. This regulator is called Le Service Public d’Assainissement Non Collectif (SPANC).
If there are water shortages or there is a season when it is in very high demand, water restrictions may be enforced. The annual average water bill in France is 453.60 EUR, but again the rates vary widely across the country.
To open an electricity account, you will need the following: your contact information, the address of your new house or apartment, the name of the previous occupant, and your IBAN and BIC (if you choose automatic payment). It is also necessary for the property to have the correct planning permission to install a meter.
Électricité de France (EDF) is the state-owned supplier of domestic electricity in France, but there are also local co-operatives in rural areas, offering lower rates. Some of the lowest electricity costs in Europe can be found in France. EDF will connect you the mains for a small fee if your property does not have an existing electricity supply, simply ask for a connection quote and you should be connected within a month.
Additionally, EDF is the only supplier that offers a dedicated English-speaking customer helpline. This is available at +33 (0)96 9366383. Their lines are open from Monday through to Friday from 8:30 to 20:00 and Saturdays from 9:30 to 18:00.
In general, the domestic electricity supply is 230 V at single phase in France. However, you may sometimes find a three-phase, 380 V supply in bigger properties. If you are coming to France from North America, electronic devices may not work properly (electricity in North America runs at 120 V), and you will need a transformer and power adapter.
Your electricity bill arrives every two months and will include an abonnement (standing charge) which is determined by the power supplier. The number of units of electricity units used will be shown. TVA (same as VAT) is applied to the standing charge based on your consumption as well as local taxes. Bills can be paid online, by phone using a credit card, or by mail via cheque. There is an option to have this debited from your bank account after each invoice deadline or prorated monthly.
The two types of gas supply in France are gaz de ville (mains) from Gaz Réseau Distribution France (GrDF) or Gaz de France (GDF) which is part of EDF or bottled gas (propane or butane). Propane is more common as it’s better suited to external storage than butane. Bottled gas is more expensive than being connected to the mains gas, but there may be limited options if you live in a rural area. The two types of gas have different valve systems, so they are not interchangeable. Since the bottles are all from different suppliers, it is worth having at least one bottle of gas in reserve; they come in sizes from 5 kg to 35 kg. GrDF is responsible for conducting the meter readings and for responding to technical problems. The meter is normally read every six months.
Garbage collection is mostly privatized but organized by the local mairie (town hall). You should not have to open an account or complete administrative steps for rubbish collection. The taxe/redevance d'enlèvement des ordures ménagères (annual garbage collection tax) covers these costs. There is daily garbage collection in Paris, but it only occurs a couple of times a week in smaller towns. Disposing of dangerous substances, such as batteries and motor oil, in domestic bins is illegal. The majority of supermarkets have special bins for disposing of batteries. You can dispose of unused medicines at any pharmacy.
The main internet providers in France are: Alice Adsl, Darty Box, Free, SFR, Numericable, Orange and Teleconnect. You will be able to obtain a Digibox quite cheaply from most supermarkets in France, but it is always a good idea to ensure you enlist the services of a technician to install it, as this can be tricky.
The national telephone grid is managed by France Telecom (under the Orange brand). SFR, Free, and Bouygues Telecom are other phone networks to choose from. Packages are available from each supplier offering both internet and a fixed telephone line, with the option of adding TV channels and/or a mobile phone plan. These companies offer a wide range of packages with European and international call deals. Contracts are mostly renewable annually.
The only operator that can install or reactivate fixed landlines in France is Orange — even if you choose another operator, they will need to rent the phone line from Orange. You can speak to Orange’s English-speaking customer helpline to discuss installation, but you will generally need to visit one of the provider’s branches with proof of address and your identity.
You can check the availability of broadband (called ADSL in France) with all major suppliers by entering your phone number and postal code. When signing up for an internet connection, be aware that most companies require you to sign up for a year-long contract. Once you've signed these contracts, they are very difficult to get out of; if you decide to switch to a new provider, you may end up paying for your first contract as well! Most contracts automatically roll over for another year unless you give at least two months’ notice in writing (best sent by recorded delivery — lettre recommande). It is worth asking friends, neighbours, and other expats for recommendations before signing up.
In France, all households must pay a license fee if they have a TV set. This is called the contribution à l'audiovisuel public, or simply redevance télé, and is charged with your annual taxe d'habitation (housing tax). In 2017, the tax was 138 EUR. Your French TV licence is paid as part of your taxe d’habitation bill; this is around 120 EUR a year, so if you do not have a TV in your French home, you should let the tax authorities know so they can deduct the fee.
There are five public television stations in France: TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5, and M6. However, many people purchase additional cable TV channels, often as part of their internet plan. Digital television is also well developed in France. Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is known as TNT — Télévision Numérique Terrestre. You will need a decoder to access some of the main channels; you’ll find these in any electronics shop (e.g. Darty, FNAC, Boulanger). If you’re in the north of France, you may be able to get a UK television signal with a large enough satellite dish.
You may find a better selection of channels in the premium packages or by adding a "bouquet" of additional channels. Most internet packages include a certain number of television channels; packages tend to be France-centric, though you may find English-language international news channels. Orange currently has the most English-language channels in its standard TV package, though this may change over time. Though it’s becoming easier to find subtitled films in French cinemas, this is not necessarily the case for television. While you may find shows you recognize, they will likely be dubbed into French.
Important Phone Numbers
Here are some useful English-speaking telephone numbers to remember when in France:
- Emergencies: 112 — the international European emergency number. Call this number for any emergency service (paramedics, fire service, police) anywhere throughout Europe. This number is free.
- Electricity and gas account activation: +33 (0)98 7673793 — Selectra's English-speaking customer service line. Call this number to find an electric or gas plan from a supplier that may have cheaper options compared to the EDF/GDF Suez regulated tariffs. This number is free to call from any fixed telephone in France.
- Internet & mobile phone plans: +33 (0)97 7557227 — Selectra's English-speaking helpline for mobile phone and internet plans. Calls are free from a fixed telephone number in France.
- EDF English-speaking telephone number: +33 (0)96 9366383. Call this number to sign up for the regulated tariffs with EDF. Calls are free from a French fixed telephone line.
- Orange (formerly France Telecom) English-speaking telephone number: +33 (0)96 9363900. This number is also free when dialed from a fixed telephone line in France.
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