Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions about utilities and motoring in France.
If you speak a little French, things will go easier than if you don’t, although in a big city it should be less of a problem. I live in a small town (8,000 people), so things could be a bit different in a big city.
Q Electricity/Gas/Oil/Water – which companies do people use? Cost more or less than UK?
A I guess most people go with EDF, Electricité de France (who also do gas, and own several power companies in the UK). Supposed to be a bit cheaper than the UK, since a bigger proportion is nuclear and not subject to prices hikes as with oil. There is also an environmental tax of about 5% levied on the bill, so the more power you use the more tax you pay. Your immobilier may well set up the transfer of electricity in your name for you. EDF will then send you confirmation of your account, which can be used for proof of address until you get the first bill. Bills are usually monthly, and you can opt for automatic direct debit. Many people will want to see a utility bill as proof of address, though you can use a bank statement or rental agreement. That’s why the confirmation of account from EDF is a good idea. Several companies supply heating oil, including the big supermarkets. Water is taken care of by the mairie, to whom you will pay the bills.
Many people use bottled gas for cooking, at least in the sticks, and dual electric/gas cookers are common for town or country. Most petrol stations carry bottled gas. They don’t refill, they exchange an empty cylinder for a full one.
Q Broadband – Which companies do people use? Cost more or less than UK?
A Uptake and service is generally better than the UK, though the price wars are levelling out at around €30 a month, but usually includes telephone too. See Wikipedia’s guide . France was the first country in Europe to introduce ADSL2 in 2004. Orange, owned by France Télécom and previously known as Wanadoo, has about half the market.
Q Mobile Phones – Which companies do people use? Cost more or less than UK?
A Three main mobile operators in France: Orange, SFR and Bouyges Télécom. Many plans exist, probably a bit pricier than the UK, but like there, it is very difficult to work out which is actually cheaper unless you happen to fit in with one of their examples. You can either have a contract (abonnement) or pay as you go, but if you don’t top up the latter before the deadline you lose your unused credit. Mobile numbers in France begin with 06, and French numbers are 10 digits rather than the 11 in the UK.
Q TV Licence – How much?
A TV Licence was €116 in 2004. Don’t have a TV myself.
Q Sky – which companies do people use? Cost more or less than UK?
A If you want British programmes, a Sky subscription is for you. French programming is on either Canal+ or TPS, but these are on a different satellite to Sky’s Astra.
Q Buying a car – cost more or less than UK?
A Car prices are more similar than they used to be, but probably still cheaper than the UK. Automatics are a rarity in France, and are more difficult to get fixed and retain their value less. There are an awful lot fewer used car places than the UK. Most people prefer to sell privately, and you will see cars parked all over the place with notices in the window with the details and A Vendre (often just AV).
Q Car registration/Insurance/Road Tax etc – what do I have to do?
A Car registration and licences are dealt with by the Préfecture or Sous-Préfecture (in cities it may have its own building). You have a week in which to change your registration. Note that on official documents and requests they refer to within huit jours (eight days) or quinze jours (15 days), but note that this really means seven days (a week) and 14 days (a fortnight – quinzaine) respectively, ie by 8/15 days it has to have already been done.
At the moment, the last two numbers on the number plate indicate the département you live in (useful for knowing whether the idiot in front is a faffing tourist or a local) but that system is changing soon. If you buy a car with an out-of-département number then you also have to get a new numberplate as well as changing your reg details.
You do not have to change your licence to a French one unless you commit an offence for which a penalty such as points or suspension is imposed, when it is obligatory to change it.
The French version of the MOT is the Contrôle Technique (CT), which is done every 2 years. They will sometimes flag minor things to be done for the next time.
You can get car insurance (and other insurance) from the many companies that do assurance. Most are big global companies. As with medical insurance, if you have a problem finding a company willing to insure you there is an ombudsman who will appoint one.
For the insurance, you will need registration, Contrôle Technique, your licence, garage receipt if the reg is not in your name and evidence of no claims. The latter is not so generous in France.
There is no longer any road tax in France.
Q Driving in France – what do I need to know?
National speed limit is 90km/h on normal roads, 130km/h on motorways (unless it’s raining, when it’s 110, or the overhead signs restrict you because of pollution, when it’s 100). In towns the limit is 50, but this is often unsigned. You are in the town when you come across the town name sign, black lettering on white with a red border, and are still in it until you see the same sign with a red diagonal line through it. Not as many speed cameras as the UK, but there are about 1,000, going up to 3,000. Note also to keep in a bit on right-hand bends, as the French often cut the corner a bit on left-handers.
The police or Gendarmerie can stop you at any time without reason to look at your papers or breathalyse you. By law you have to carry all your paperwork with you when driving ie licence (permis), registration, CT, insurance. The Gendarmerie can put you in jail until you produce it (a bit difficult) but if you’re local they may drive you to your house to get it. Spot checks for documents are frequent. One reason why French guys carry little handbags!