Readers’ tips: The best mobile phone deals for foreigners living in rural France
Each week The Local asks its readers to share their tips about various aspects of living in France. This week we asked their opinion on which mobile phone provider to go with if you live in rural France. Here's what they had to say.
Published: 14 November 2018 17:06 CET
Mobile phone coverage in rural France is notoriously patchy.
And although France’s four main mobile providers (SFR, Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SFR) agreed plans earlier this year to bring coverage to the country’s most remote areas, this is expected to take until 2021-22 in most areas and up to 10 long years in others.
So, if you’re living in rural France and can’t wait until 2021 to make a decent phone call, which mobile phone provider is the best?
The most commented on provider by far was SFR, with many readers giving positive reviews.
Denise Butler Rizzo cited SFR’s affordability and reliability as plus points, writing, “I have a sim only contract for €3.99 per month. 20 gigs of data and free calls in France. Had it for quite some time and SFR Red has been great.”
And Jess Fitz appreciates being able to use SFR Red's mobile internet package as a back-up option, as it “supports wifi calling if you have a poor signal.”
SFR Red is a special offering from SFR which provides deals without asking you to sign a contract and without any conditions placed on how long you have to sign up for, which is likely to make it perfect for people who live in France for just a few months of the year.
There are several packages available at different costs ranging from €5 to €20 in cost.
However, other readers had less positive experiences with the wider SFR offering.
Louise Doddrell complained about SFR’s expensive contracts, poor connection and non-existent customer service, saying that she “had three months with no internet and no phone and once I was supposedly set up, no customer support.”
And her problems did not end there. Despite ending the contract she “paid about €150 for nothing as they took monthly payments from my account even though there was no service.”
Statistics from the French Association of Telecommunications Users (Afutt) released in 2018 suggest Louise’s poor experience with SFR was not a one-off.
Affut reported that SFR was the most complained about mobile and Internet operator in France, accounting for 54 percent of all mobile phone complaints nationwide.
SFR aside, some readers recommended using smaller networks for their affordability, rather than their reliability.
F Joseph Leonard-Peray says La Poste Mobile’s prices are so cheap that he can keep his mobile contract running throughout the year, even though he only spends three months out of 12 in France.
Although, he admits that the network might not be that dependable, as he often relies on “phone service from Switzerland in my home along the border.”
And Jennifer Freedman has given up on searching for the best coverage, opting for the cheapest mobile plan instead. Faced with a host of “mediocre” networks, she chose Symacom “because it's no different than the rest but just €1.90 a month for the cheapest plan, which allows plenty of calling and texting.”
The only reader to suggest another of France's big four networks was Sarah Schmidt, who stated that she used Free in Haute-Normandie “and typically had zero problems.”
But this recommendation might not help out many other expats living in the French countryside.
According to France's telecoms communications authority Arcep, Free is the least widely available of the big four networks, reaching just 48 percent of the country geographically, while SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Orange all reach over 70 percent.
Arcep has released an interactive map allowing mobile phone users to investigate how good coverage from each of the four main providers is in their area.
But for some rural expats options are limited, to say the least.
Christopher Tyle has been forced to switch between providers as he’s moved around France saying, “I had SFR in Monpazier, and it worked fine. When I moved to Villereal it was useless. So I went with Orange here.”
Similarly, another reader plumped for SFR out of necessity, as it was “the only one with signal in our village in the Limousin.”
As such, the luxury of choosing a phone provider remains out of reach for many rural expats in France. The 'best' provider is often the only one available.
We asked our readers who know France well to tell us where else in the country you need to be that extra bit cautious about your handbag, wallet or phone and for any advice on keeping possessions safe.
Unsurprisingly many of the places mentioned by readers were in cities with high levels of tourism.
One of the places that came up again and again was the eastern French city of Strasbourg, with readers noting that thieves tend to operate around the train station, old town and the very popular Christmas markets.
“I was targeted by pickpockets in Strasbourg walking near the old town. Two women – a 40-year-old woman with a 20-year-old girl — walked very close behind me, as I was walking very fast, and tried opening a small shoulder bag,” said Greg Moore from the US.
Another reader said that they “watched a group of girls working the crowd at the Christmas markets.”
The beautiful southern French city of Nice was also highlighted by several readers as a place where it is wise to keep a close eye on your belongings.
One reader noted that there are “pickpockets in abundance” and that the city in general “is horrible for pickpocketing”.
“My credit and debit cards were stolen and used when we visited there a few years ago,” they said.
Lyon, the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, is very popular with tourists who are drawn to the city for its architecture, culture – and of course the world famous cuisine.
But while it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by beautiful surroundings, Lyon was also highlighted by readers as a place to be cautious.
Linda Martz, who has lived in the city for three years, told us that a pickpocket stole her wallet while she boarded a train.
And another reader Sandra Beard told us that drivers should be particularly careful due to “scam artists” targeting people with cars.
There are “scam artists who “help” you at parking ticket machines while they palm (and take) your credit card (and tells you the machine took your card),” she said.
“They have your PIN after looking over your shoulder,” she said, adding that when this happened to her the man “withdrew €5,000 from three banks before we froze our account (within 10 mins).”
It might not be so surprising that the resort town of Cannes on the French Riviera, which has a reputation as a bit of a playground for the rich, was also on readers' lists, with one saying that his brother was pickpocketed as he stepped onto a train at Cannes train station.
Meanwhile reader Leslie White, who lives in Paris, said she and her husband were “hit with the 'bird poop scam'” while strolling in the grounds of the Domaine de Chantilly in northern France.
“A plop of green goop landed on my head. A helpful couple walking behind us helped to clean us off with disposable wipes. My husband somehow had some on him too. They also cleaned out his wallet and of course it was they who had thrown the 'poop' at me in the first place. We didn’t figure it out until the next day,” she said.
Other readers mentioned Tours train station and tram stop, the market in Arles – where reader Sue Byford said her gold necklace was snatched from her neck – and Disneyland, where one person told us they had their new phone stolen, as specific places where pickpockets operate.
Police around France are aware of the high levels of pickpocketing in certain cities and have offered advice on how to avoid becoming a target, including avoiding the “temptation to make valuables, such as expensive handbags and jewellery, too visible or easy to take”.
They have also advised caution when sitting on the terrasse of a bar or café.
It's important to be “very vigilant, do not leave a wallet or phone on a table, in front of everyone” or leave your valuables in your jacket if you leave it slung over a chair,” the Rouen police previously told the French press.
Our readers also had some suggestions of their own, including using zip ties on bags and neck pouches for credit cards and your phone.
One reader said they take the extra precaution of putting mini-locks on all the zippers on their backpack.
Two readers pointed out that unfortunately it is “necessary to be wary of friendly people”.
“Any distraction is an opportunity,” said one.
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