This is the unwitting third in a series of “firing” articles. Once you realize that it’s definitely more difficult and hence, more satisfying, to fire service providers in France, you are far more willing to do so. Some time ago I shared the experience of firing Societe Generale, my very first bank in Paris, but a luxury afforded me because I already had a business account at BNP Paribas. A telemarketing experience late last year gave me the opportunity to much more easily fire EDF in favor of Engie. When I saw that cost savings in banking and electricity, I wondered where else I might trim the fat.
I walked into SFR within 24 hours of arriving in France in 2013. My French was impossibly lacking in confidence and vocabulary. Thankfully, two of the staff there spoke English fairly well and gave me a list of the documents I would need to get a mobile phone line. One of those was the banking details (what is known here as a RIB – releve identite bancaire) of my not-yet-in-existence French bank account. Thankfully, I was able to get a bank account set up the following day, and bank details in hand, I made my way to the SFR store once again.
I knew that I would be calling the United States and I didn’t want to have to switch to Skype all the time to make those calls. But, unlike cell phone plans in America, cell phone plans in Europe are not only fairly inexpensive with large data packages, but those plans include international calling.
The plan I originally signed up for offered hours and hours of free calls to the US as well as dozens of gigabytes of data. I was also allowed to roam around the EU on that data. Total cost? 60€/month.
Over the years the plan continued to upgrade and/or I would upgrade when I saw new features available. The plan I ended up abandoning recently had unlimited data and calling to the US and Canada and the EU. It also meant that whether I was physically in the United States or here in Europe, I really had no worry about getting additional charges, as that roaming was included. I would only get charged if I made calls to countries not designated in my plan, or traveled to places outside of my plan and wanted data.
Unfortunately, SFR’s data packages in Asia, South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand were always prohibitively high, so I ended up getting a local SIM when I traveled to those places and put that SIM inside an unlocked mini wifi device, which then allowed me to tether multiple devices, including my French phone.
Xavier Niel, who has an estimated net worth of $9.3B USD, is the founder of many businesses, including the ISP and mobile phone provider Free. A year before I arrived in France, in 2012, he created Free Mobile, which was offering unlimited text, voice, and data for 19,99€/month. Over the years this plan continued to upgrade until it essentially matched my SFR plan. The highest tier plan didn’t offer unlimited data, but 150 gigs of domestic data and 25 gigs of foreign data per month was going to be more than I would use. When I discovered this plan I checked with a friend who had Free to ask about the service. She said that in the city and in the United States it had been fine. The only times it had been iffy was in some parts of rural France, but that made sense, given that the company wasn’t even ten years old and was still building out its infrastructure.
Still, it seemed to be too good to be true! In addition to use in France and the EU, the Free plan gave me use of my phone and data plan in Australia and New Zealand, places that I normally spend at least $100-$200/month on data. But who was I to argue with what would be a 600€ savings a year from what was at that point a 70€/month charge (the price had risen slightly over the years) from SFR? I checked with SFR to make sure that I didn’t have a contract in place, then picked a day to go to Free.
I brought all the items I needed to open an account at SFR: passport, electricity bill, RIB. The woman who helped me smiled and said that I wouldn’t need any of that: just my debit card. The way number portability works in France is simple. You call 3179 from your phone. You will hear a recording that reads a number to you. That is the RIO (releve d’identite operateur). The recording also states whether your number is free of a contract (and if not, what you will have to pay if you choose to port your number anyway). You receive a corresponding text message with all that information.
The person helping me at Free typed in my mobile number and then this RIO. She then asked whether I preferred to be billed on the 1st or the 15th (I chose the latter). Then she scanned a card that held a nano SIM and handed it to me. She told me that I would get a text from SFR sometime in the coming days telling me precisely when my number would be ported.
Sure enough, about a week later, SFR notified me that my number would be ported on the 26th of the month between 11h-15h00. I thought that I would see the coverage drop at some point during that window and when it did I swapped SIMs, changed my voicemail recording, and went on with my day. A couple weeks later, SFR refunded me for the portion of the month that was unused due to my cancellation.
I’ve now had Free for almost two months and heartily endorse it. I’ve not noticed a change in my service quality but have certainly noticed the change in charges to my bank account each month! That’s to say nothing of the growing confidence that comes with choosing your service providers based on price and quality, not by default and laziness, which is something that is instinctive in America, but not-so-normal here in France.