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A guide to getting connected to utilities in France
You have had all the excitement of deciding to buy a property in France, you have finished with the heady days of property viewing holidays, you have had your fill of travelling from region to region in pursuit of your own piece of paradise and of nail biting your way through the long and sometimes complex buying process. It is easy to feel, as you sign the papers in front of your smiling Notaire, that you have done all the hard work, and now you can settle back and enjoy your new life or your holiday home. There is just the odd small task remaining to be done, such as getting the electricity turned on, arranging the telephone service, finding an Internet provider, sorting out a gas supply, sourcing a water supply, and, um, I hate to mention it, but have you considered sewage? All of a sudden you are weighed down with difficulties again, and unless you can find a straightforward way of dealing with them this can really take the edge off the relaxing new way of life you were planning.
Fluent (or even half decent) French speakers shouldn't find any of this much of a problem. Yes, the systems here are different, but if you can speak the language all you have to do is ask the relevant questions in the right places and you have it sorted. The vast majority of Brits moving to or buying property in France, however, are not skilled linguists, and the business of dealing with the utilities providers can seem more complex than it is. If this is your dilemma, don't panic, help is at hand.
There can be a very simple solution to these difficulties, as many people have found. Many estate agents, particularly those who specialise in helping British people find and buy property in France, also offer an 'after care' service which includes helping you to get connected up to all the utilities and setting up payment methods. This can prove a very useful extra for many people, but remember that you will eventually need to understand the systems as the estate agents will not hold your hand forever!
There is another possibility for those of you who have not bought your property through such an agent. It is possible to join an agency who do not sell or rent property, but who offer the hand holding service alone. You may pay a flat fee for this, usually a joining fee and a yearly subscription, and once you have your membership you can call the agency and ask them to make all these type of arrangements for you. They will make the telephone calls and arrange appointments with the utility providers, and advise you on the best payment methods.
Should you have decided that you are going to take the bull by the horns and make all the arrangements yourself, the first thing you need to understand is that, in France, things will only happen after you have provided the requisite mountain of papers. (All those stories you heard about French Bureaucracy really are true!) Your first task will be, therefore, to prepare a pile of papers and certificates which you will need to take to all your appointments. (Be prepared to still have to return home to collect yet more pieces of paper… it is an unwritten law in France that no matter how many certificates and papers you take to a meeting you will almost always need just one more!) These are likely to include:
RIB (Relevé d'Indentité Bancaire). This is a page from your cheque book which gives your bank details.
A copy of either a utility bill (if you have one!) or something from your notaire to prove that you have an address in France.
You may not need all of these items, but having them to hand could save time in the long run.
Make appointments to go to the offices of the relevant providers, as you will find that things move more quickly and successfully if you make arrangements in person, rather than attempting to do these things by telephone or mail. (If you are going to make the appointments by phone, and your French is weak it can be useful to write down what you are going to say first, and also have some idea of the language that you are going to be hearing, for example, the days of the week, appointment times etc.)
Electricity in France is most usually provided by EDF (Electricité de France), which is state owned. If you are moving into a property which has previously been occupied by someone else, you will need to ascertain that the meter has been read before your contract begins, to avoid the possibility of paying for someone else's electricity. It may be wise to arrange a reading yourself. This is known as a Relevé Special. In cases where the property does have an existing supply, you will pay a fee (frais d'access) to allow you to access. (This not expensive, currently in the region of fifteen euros.) Payment of your bills is usually and most simply done by direct debit (prélèvement automatique) and can be arranged at the time of your initial appointment, as long as you have the relevant paperwork! At this initial meeting, you will also need to decide on the tariff you require. There are different tariffs available, and it is important to choose the best one for your needs. The most popular tariff is the off peak option, which works by offering cheap electricity at times chosen by yourself from a list offered by the company. This is good so long as you remember to do your washing, dishwashing and water heating etc in the off peak periods!
The electricity supply also differs somewhat in France from that of England. Many older properties are only supplied with a low power rating, perhaps as little as three or six kilowatts. (Power in France is available in three, six, nine, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-four or thirty-six KW ratings.) You may need to upgrade your rating to cope with the demands of a modern life! This will incur a cost, however, and could increase your standing charges by up to 40%. If you are connecting electricity to a new build, or a renovation which has not previously had an electricity supply you will need to discuss the charges for this with EDF.
Mains gas is usually available only in cities and towns. The supplier is GDF (Gaz de France) which is connected to EDF. The system for getting connected and opening an account with GDF is similar in essence to that described above. If your property is in a town where there is a mains gas supply and you do not have gas connected, this can be arranged. You will need to contact GDF in order to get a price for this, as it can vary from property to property.
If your property is in the country and does not have mains gas, you will need to decide whether your gas consumption is going to be great enough to require the installation of a tank, or if you will be able to make do with smaller bottles of propane or butane gas. These portable bottles are readily available at many outlets locally, including petrol stations and garden stores. One important consideration if using bottled gas is where you plan to store the bottles. Butane must be stored indoors, whilst propane can withstand greater extremes of temperatures and can safely be kept outside in a garden shed.
Gas central heating in a rural area will require a tank. It is possible to arrange to hire a tank from your supplier (Total and Antargaz provide gas supplies and tanks in most areas) which will cost you in the region of 300 to 400 euros a year.
France Telecom is the first port of call for you with regard to setting up your telephone and Internet services in France. Most major offices have some English speaking staff, and there is even an English speaking hotline available (from France) 09 69 36 39 00 or 01 55 78 60 56 (this is a free line). If you are calling from the UK the number you will need is 0033 9 69 36 39 00 or 0033 1 55 78 60 56.
Setting up your telephone account for a property with an existing line is fast and simple, and unsurprisingly is best achieved by the usual visit to the office along with the usual bundle of papers! One difference from the UK system is that you will not be able to simply take over the number of the previous occupants. A new number will be allocated to you. As with all the other services, don't forget to check that the previous occupants have closed their account before you take over!
If you are installing a new line into a property which has not been connected before, you should contact France Telecom to obtain an estimate. You will need to have dug trenches of the necessary depth for the laying of the cable (laws here are quite strict on this) and you will need to supply details of the number and type of sockets fitted in your property.
Internet services are also provided by France Telecom, and many places in France can now receive ADSL broadband. Check the availability of this for your area. France Telecom claims that by the end of this year (2006) 98% of homes will have the possibility of broadband.
Paying telephone bills in France
Before we leave the subject of telephones, a brief word about the billing system is appropriate. You can pay your bill in the usual variety of ways, including on the internet, but be sure you do pay on time. France Telecom is quite quick to restrict calls in the event of non payment, sometimes even before a reminder has been delivered!
French water suppliers
Water is supplied in France by private companies. The company depends on the area in which you live. The largest of these companies are Lyonnaise d'Eaux, Cise and Vivendi. Unlike in the UK, most French properties have their water measured by a meter, and are individually charged according to consumption. Water tends to be more expensive in France than in England, with some areas much more expensive than others! Most properties can be connected to the mains water systems, so long as they are not too isolated, but very rural properties may have to rely on a well for their water. If this is the case with a property you are interested in, take care to find out if the well dries up in the summer or not! A new connection to the mains can be expensive due to the need for trenches and pipelines, so obtain a devi (a binding quotation) from the water company first. The changing of an account from sellers of a property to buyers is straightforward, with the usual proviso that you need to be sure the meter has been read.
Sorting out your sewage in France
And finally, sewage. Only the most rural of properties in the UK have septic tanks, but this is not the case in France. Even many village houses will have this sewage system, and it is really nothing to worry about as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. When buying your property, be sure that the system has been inspected and is up to all the standards. Find out what type of system you have, as there are different requirements for different types. Some need emptying yearly, some not for several years. Use toilet cleaning products designed for use with septic tanks (fosse septique) as these will help the system work properly.
Mains drainage in France
Urban properties will be connected to mains drainage, and the charges for this are normally included in the normal property taxation system. Information about this will be obtainable from your Mairie. New properties must by law be connected to mains drainage where possible, and there will be a one off charge for this connection.
Time for that glass of wine
So now you are not only the proud owner of a house in France, but you can also turn on the lights, cook a meal, wash the dishes, call a friend and flush the loo! Now sit down and pour yourself a glass of wine. After all that work, you deserve it!
The companies you will need to contact will vary according to where you live in France. There are too many to cover here, but your telephone directory, Pages Jaunes is the equivalent to the UK yellow Pages. (Pages Jaunes is also accessible via the Internet www.pagesjaunes.fr .) Here you will find details of EDF, GDF, France Telecom and the water companies. Further specific local information regarding these services, sewage options and their associated charges will be available from your Mairie or Hotel de Ville (town hall). EDF have a useful website from their head office, email@example.com and the response from this is usually quite fast and helpful.
About the author
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of South West France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
Hello, just wondering what the mains voltage is in France, would our appliances work if we move over there? Many thanks.
We have had no problems at all making English appliances work here... just change the plug or use an adaptor to convert. (French plugs are of the small round two-pin variety.) TVs, videos, Cd, Hi fi, microwave, an AGA cooker... all work fine here. According to my book, the voltage is as follows... "the power supply in France is delivered to homes at 380,440 volts through three separate phases and is then shared across the three phases at 220/240 volts with a frequency of 50 Hertz(cycles). Older buildings may have 110/110 supplies, though most are now converted." (David Hampshire, 'Living and Working in France'.)
How do I contact an English-speaking EDF office to resolve my electricity connection problems?
A visitor to our site has kindly let us know that there is an English-speaking EDF helpline, which can be called from within and outside France. The number, from the UK, is 00 33 (0)5 62 16 49 08.
Hi -do you know if you can pay utility bills in France using an English based account? Or does the account have to be domiciled in France? Is this the same for all utilities? Thanks.
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in touch with my colleague Joanna who lives in France, and she says that she is almost sure that you would need a French account for all utilities, as you have to give a RIB (Relevé d'Indentité Bancaire - this is a page from your cheque book which gives your bank details) when you sign up for a utility. To be 100% sure though, apart from of course contacting the utility companies directly, you could try asking your estate agent if you are at that stage, as many who specialise in helping British people find and buy property in France, also offer an "after care" service which includes helping you to get connected up to all the utilities and setting up payment methods. Or there are companies such as Help In France (www.help-in-france.co.uk) who will do the same thing for you.
Your above response seems a teeny bit unlikely to me. A RIB just gives bank account details such as name, IBAN and BIC. All English bank accounts have a name, IBAN and BIC - all you have to do is to ask for them. The term "RIB" is just an abbreviation for "bank acconut details", so write these out on a scrap of paper, and... voila! Mind you, it will be costly to pay bills this way - but maybe not much more costly than operating a bank account in France, which is not cheap.
I was wondering if you or any of your readers have experience with the installation of wood-burning stoves in France. Are there any specific regs or paperwork one needs to get signed off like you do with gas appliances. In the UK it is now all quite tightly regulated under Doc J of the Building Regs and only HETAS registered installers can fit and importantly sign the installation certificate for Building Control. Is there anything like that in France and where would I find the regs?
Thanks for contacting us. And sorry for the delay in reply but I was just checking with my colleague in France to see if she could help you. I'm afraid she doesn't know of any regulations and says the following:
"We have one and installed it ourselves and haven't heard anything like that here in France... but that's not to say it doesn't exist. I know you do have to sweep or have the chimney swept every year though to validate the insurance."
I would suggest therefore that you contact a builder who should know of such laws and regulations, or even an architect, perhaps one from our Services section on the following web pages:
Or there is the Mairie in your area, which usually knows about most things. I am sorry we cannot be of more help.
(Should anyone know any more on this subject, please do get in touch. We are always grateful for first-hand information such as this.)
We have a house in Brittany and I want to take out a tumble drier bought in England (a condenser one that doesn't need any plumbing). On your site you say that most UK washing machines work with just a change of plug. Can I use an adaptor instead of changing the plug and am I right to assume that because voltage in France is 230 there won't be a problem.
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in touch with my colleague in France and she says the following:
"As far as I am aware, this should be no problem. It's all we have done, and still do in some cases after 6 years!"
I hope this is of use.
Hi - I currently live in France and am due to return to the UK. I've been in France for a couple of years and have brought some electrical appliances such as a TV, washing machine and fridge, and want to know if these items will work in the UK? Do I just need to change the plugs or is it not as easy as that?
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in touch with my colleague in France who says she thinks these items should work ok in the UK, using an adaptor or changing the plug, though she herself has only used smaller electrical items bought in France in the UK, with no problems.
Thanks for your very helpful site. I have used the France Telecom English speaking helpline and found them useful, although it can take ages to get through. They can't deal with technical queries, though, and as far as I know there isn't an English helpline for that (shame!).
Please could you tell me where a householder becomes responsible for repairs to a sewage system? Is it at the point the system enters his property, or somewhere else? For example, we believe that a sewage pipe may need repairs under the road outside our house. Would we be responsible for the costs, or the utility company?
Also I believe that there is a form of "insurance" (similar to the British Homeserve company) where you can pay a fixed monthly charge to cover against the cost of future plumbing repairs which are not general maintenance. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for contacting us. I would suggest that you check with your Mairie, who should certainly know the rules and regulations to do with sewage. They should also be able to advise on how you go about getting suitable insurance.
I'm sorry not to be of more help.
Do you know if the Infineon tankless water heaters are still available? I thought they were made in France.
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in touch with my colleague who lives in France, but I'm afraid she is not familiar with this make. I guess you have tried googling them, or perhaps another option is to try contacting a company listed on our site to see if they know of them, using our Services section:
I am sorry we cannot be of more help.
I understand anyone can telephone EDF and get immediately electrity / gas service to an apartment without providing any documentation. Is this true? Are you aware of the written EDF regulation / rule that governs this request? Do you ever have to provide attestation as to your legal right to this rental?
Thanks for contacting us. But I'm afraid I am unaware of the EDF rules with regards to providing electricity/gas to apartments. I would suggest you perhaps contact them.
What is the company that supplies water to Chassieu Lyon France?
Thanks for contacting us, though I would suggest you contact your Mairie, as they normally oversee water supplies.
I have purchased a house in Castelmoron sur Lot. The property has been empty for more than 30 years. I will need to contact the electricity company as there is no consumer unit in the property. Will they put in a supply as I will need power to install temporary lighting and sockets to renovate. Also do you know the time scale for how long it takes them as I am hoping to start the work in March next year if I can find some where to rent for six-nine months.
Thanks for contacting us, though I'm afraid I cannot answer your questions. I would suggest you contact your Mairie, or ask an electrician for their advice, perhaps using our Business Directory.
Hi - I am about to exchange contracts/sign for our new house in Beaumont, Limousin and have a couple of questions. Firstly. can I obtain a list of English speaking tradesmen for my area from somewhere? Secondly do you know of an info service that helps non French speakers find an on-line French study course or teacher?
Thanks for contacting us. You could look in our Business Directory for English speaking tradesmen, as well as for language courses. But for those local to you, you could also perhaps contact your Mairie, or look in local papers, or ask your soon to be neighbours. Recommendation by word of mouth is usually the best way to go. Otherwise you could also search on-line and ask in forums, which is no doubt what you have been doing already.
We are connected to the mains water, but our house is not connected to the meter. How do we go about connecting? Will the builder just turn the water off and connect or do we have to have authorisation from the water company?
Thanks for contacting us. I would think you would need to contact the water company so that they are aware of the new meter apart from anything, but you could check with your Mairie and also your builder, as to what is normally done in your area.
I've tried but with no success to log on to the Veolia website to register our property in Port Launay. I thought I had given then everything they asked for but when I tried to confirm it said an error had occured. I have looked for an English speaking contact on the Veolia website but without success. Does anyone have a contact number? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for contacting us. Have you tried calling them anyway? The person answering may speak some English, and if you really can't understand one another you can always hang up. From the site https://www.service-client.veoliaeau.fr/home.html, they give this number 0 969 323 529.
Should anyone reading this know of a better number to use, please do get in touch.
I just phoned EDF today. I have some basic French, but am not brilliant so I asked in basic French if there was anyone who spoke English, so I could arrange connection for our house we are purchasing. Sure enough, she said, "Patientez," and then within a couple of minutes she had put me through to someone who could speak some English. Not too difficult. The only thing is understanding the auto phone before you get to speak to someone. It asked me to choose which service I wanted, and what department (French county) our house was in, but I guess, like in the UK if you're faced with the e.g. press 6 press 1 type etc, you can just hang on and not press anything and usually then you get to speak to someone. All you'd have to do then is to be ready to say something like "Est-ce-que quelq'un qui parle Anglais?" and I reckon you'd be OK and get through to someone who can speak English.
I have used the English speaking lines for Telecom, EDF (and IKEA and Amazon incidentally). All were very helpful and patient. A French friend who deals with UK customers says that she had problems with local accents and non RP (received pronunciation) which is what is taught. Or they might understand Berlitz English which is the English spoken with an American accent as by many non UK journalists. I well remember a colleague with a very ripe South London accent struggling with a Digital Voice to Text program. He complained that the machine didn't understand him, we had not the heart to tell him that many of us in the organisation had the same problem. And we were all Londoners too. Slow and clear and keep it simple if you are dealing with Anglo help lines in France. It's common sense.
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