Communications

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TRAVEL TIPS

Communications

Internet

Most hotels have in-room haut-débit wireless access, although some only offer Wi-Fi in the lobby or ground-floor rooms; if being connected from your room is important, be sure to confirm in advance. Also, if you need to spend a lot of time online, make sure to ask when you book if there's a charge for the service. These days it's usually included in the room rate except at some high-end hotels; but, if not, hourly rates can add up quickly. Remember to bring an adapter for European-style plugs, too.

Wi-Fi hot spots can be found at many cafés, and the civic government offers no-cost access at hundreds of public places in Paris; check www.paris.fr for "How to access the Wi-Fi free of charge." In other major cities, like Bordeaux, you'll find free access but will need to sign up online. Major airports also offer complimentary Wi-Fi, though sessions may be limited to 30 minutes. In smaller towns, ask at the local tourism office where you can get connected. Note: if you capture a wireless network called "Free," don’t be misled—it’s the name of the carrier used in France and is not free of charge.

Check www.wificafespots.com for the nearest hot spot. Worst-case senario—head to the Golden Arches for unlimited access with any purchase.

Phones

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; 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 or €0.34 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.

Note that when dialing France from abroad, you drop the initial 0 from the number. For instance, to call a telephone number in Paris from the United States, dial 011–33 plus the phone number minus the initial 0 (phone numbers are listed with the full 10 digits, which you use to make local calls).

Calling Within France

The French are very fond of their mobile phones (portables), meaning that telephone booths are on their way to becoming obsolete. But French telecom giant Orange does maintain some 40,000 nationwide, and the majority will accept a ticket téléphone, a prepaid calling card, which can be purchased through Orange boutiques (www.orange.fr). The cards 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. 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 €0.34 per minute.

Calling Outside France

Telephoning from a hotel is almost always the priciest option because hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. Calling cards can help lower costs. Then there are mobile phones, which are sometimes more prevalent than landlines. 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), the area code (minus any initial 0), and the number.

Mobile Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from what's used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile and AT&T), you can probably use your phone abroad. But be warned: this can be expensive, with toll charges on incoming and outgoing calls sometimes as high as $4 per minute. Roaming fees can be steep, too: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. Sending an international text message is usually a cheaper option, but be aware that fees abroad vary greatly (from 15¢ to 50¢ and up), and there's usually a charge for incoming messages. When using a cell phone abroad, it’s advisable to turn off your data services function to avoid exorbitant, unexpected fees.

If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a prepaid SIM card (your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use it); you can purchase one through Le French Mobile (www.lefrenchmobile.com), a service catering to English-speaking visitors. An alternative is to buy a cheap, disposable "BIC" prepaid phone; they’re available from Orange outlets, tabacs, magazine kiosks, and some supermarkets. You can then have a local number and make local calls at local rates.

Online Calls

A cost-effective alternative is to use Skype (www.skype.com), Google Hangouts (www.google.com/hangouts), or Apple FaceTime (www.apple.com), which allow you to make calls online. After downloading free software, you can place no- or low-cost calls anywhere in the world with an Internet connection from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

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