Believe it or not, I never really had to deal with setting up or canceling les charges, or utilities– water, gas, electricity, heat, phone/internet/cable, until arriving in France in 2014. All of my US apartments came with included utilities, as did my first French apartment. So, due to my complete lack of vocabulary and background knowledge, I initially had a bit of a hard time when I first arrived in the north of France. Below, I’ve composed a semi-thorough guide of how to “open” and “close” basic utilities accounts, according to my own experience. If you have anything to add, please do leave me a comment below!
**Note: These things should be done AFTER you have a bank account with several copies of your RIB.**
France is one of the cheapest (if not THE cheapest) countries in the world when it comes to cable and internet. There are four main providers in France: Free, SFR, Orange, and Bouyges Telecom. Different people will have different opinions on their products and services and performance qualities. However, most of these companies charge around the same price, and it may be easier to have both your cell phone provider and internet provider from the same company.
Most of these companies have a standard combination package: internet box, TV box, and landline are sold together for usually somewhere between 20-30€ per month. These three things are all included whether you use all of them or not.
Setting Up Your Contract: When you make a visit to your chosen internet provider, be sure to bring your passport, copy of your lease, and a RIB. Let the provider know what you would like set up. Obviously the most important is the internet box. In regards to landlines, they are completely free with the internet box, and it is free to call most EU countries and numbers from a landline, which may save you a lot of money on your cell phone bill in the future (so, even if it doesn’t seem very useful, you never know when you’ll need to make a restaurant reservation for your upcoming weekend in London, confirm your hostel reservation in Prague, for example). The TV box is also usually included, but obviously you do not need a TV box if you do not have a TV (and do not want to pay the TV tax.)
Normally what will happen next is that the company will contact you when your boxes have arrived (or you may be able to have them delivered). Then, you need to set up the TV and internet and telephone boxes at your flat. BE SURE TO KEEP THE ORIGINAL BOXES AND ANY EXTRA CABLES, AND STORE THEM SAFELY. Finally, in about 2-3 weeks time, your internet box should be connected and you will (finally!) be able to get online.
Ending Your Contract: Thankfully, all of your bills and contracts are now online, so you can log onto your account (be sure to create one!) and signal the end date of your internet contract. Keep in mind that you will probably have to pay a fee of about 48€ to end your contract. Then, you will be responsible for sending your boxes and cables back to the internet provider. I recommend sending them back in the boxes in which they came. You should NOT have to pay for postage. Simply take the boxes to a Point Relai in your town to drop them off. The company should provide you with a mailing address to print and tape onto the front.
Changing the Names of the People on Your Contract
I had to do this when one of my flatmates moved out unexpectedly in January (he had been receiving the internet bill, and when he left, we moved the bill to my name). For Internet, the two of us had to physically go to the store, sign a piece of paper to sign me over, and submit a new RIB. It only took a few days and we received a notification via email. Becaues we also put down a deposit when we received our Internet / TV boxes, I had to transfer the deposit to my old flatmate’s account. Then, I was reimbursed the deposit when I closed our contract at the end of May (after the boxes and all the cables had been safely returned to the company).
For advice on setting up your cell phone, see my thorough post here. To cancel your cell phone, especially if you are not under contract, you will need to go old school, and send une lettre recomandée avec avis de réception to your phone company. If you do not know how to formulate your letter, do a simply Google search with something along the lines of, “Lettre de Résiliation Exemple.”
If you are responsible for setting up electricity or water or heat in your flat, be sure to first talk with your landlord about which company you will use. The most common company for electricity in France is EDF, and if your central heating is electric, it is also likely to be covered under EDF. My house’s heating was separate from the electricity, and it was covered under GDF, and our water was covered under Eau et Force.
Setting Up Your Contract: To set up your water, heat, and electricity, you will need to locate your flat’s meters, which will be located strategically. Usually, the electricity meter is near the front door, the water meter is either in the water closest (as ours was) or in the basement, and the heat meter was located just outside, next to our front door. Usually, you have to initially call to set up your account, and have these meter numbers on hand, as well as a RIB. After the initial activation, you will be contacted via email or snail mail to set up your account, where you can manage all of your monthly payments and keep track of monthly usage. You will also be able to transfer the account to another tenant if need be.
Typically, the number read on the meter will indicate how much you will be paying per month. There may be an official worker who will come to your house during the year to read and update your meters (but don’t worry, you will get a notification by post first), so your monthly bills MAY change.
Ending Your Contract: When it is time to cancel your account, you can either do so over the phone or online the day or two before you leave. When you cancel, you will have to enter the new numbers in the meter. Within the next few weeks, you will either be reimbursed money if you overpaid in your utility bill, or you will be charged a surcharge if you had used too much and hence paid too little.
Changing the Names of the People on Your Contract
For water, heat, and electricity, this can usually be done (relatively simply) online. All you need to do is change the RIB of the person receiving the bill, as well as update the account (new email, password, etc.) I believe you can also call to do this as well.
Overall, I highly recommend working this out with your landlords and flatmates before hand, as to make sure that everyone is paying their fair share (I speak from experience!)
Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns about dealing with utilities in France? Drop me a line below.