If you have not spent a lot of time living outside the US and Canada, or working with international contacts, you may be confused the the way phone numbers are represented in France and Europe and phone calling in general. This short guide is designed to help clear up any confusion you might have on the topic.
- International country codes:
- By global agreement, each country or region in the world is assigned an international Country Code. The US and Canada share 1, France is 33, Luxembourg is 352, etc. For a complete list see this web page.
When you place a phone call to another city, region or country it is often necessary to dial a special prefix before the number you are dialing. In the US and Canada we usually dial a local 7 digit number without any prefix, then for long distance we dial a 1, followed by the area-code and then the number. For international calls we dial 011, the country code, area code and number.
The situation is similar in the rest of the world with one exception, the prefix code necessary to dial within the country and international calls may vary from country to country. While 0 is commonly used for in-country calls and 00 for international calls, the use of these codes is not universal.
This situation did not present much of a problem until the wide deployment of the mobile phones. To help users avoid the need to learn the international access code for each country they might travel to, the GSM mobile system (the system used in Europe and many other countries) implemented a shorthand code. This is the +. If a number is dialed with a plus in front, the local GSM system will automatically substitute the correct international access code. So, you can enter numbers in your mobile phone address book with a + in place of the internal access code. Then, no matter where you are in the world, you can just select the number and dial. This will even work in your home country, since local phone systems will properly process calls to their own country.
Because of its use in the GSM mobile system, the use of the + has become a universal way of representing phone numbers in print, on the Internet and in writing. Wherever you see a +, just substitute the international access code for the country you are in. For example, If I am in France and want to call a the Youth Hostel association in Germany: I might find their number written as +49 5231 99360. So, to call them I would dial
0049 5231 99360.
- Local Numbers:
- While many numbers are listed with the +Country-Code notation, within a country the + and Country-Code are often omitted. For example, In Paris the number for the US Embassy is 01 43 12 22 22. In this case, the leading 0 is the in-country access code, then the next digit (1 in this case) is the area-code (Paris), and the remaining 8 digits are the phone number. In France, phone numbers are usually presented as 4 pairs of digits and read in the same manner: zero-1, Forty-Three, Twelve, Twenty-Two Twenty-Two (of course in French not English). So, you could call the Embassy using two possible number formats: 00 33 1 43 12 22 22, or 01 43 12 22 22. Note that if you add the country code, you must drop the in-country calling prefix. In fact, you might see this number printed as +33 (0) 1 42 12 22 22. This means either dial the +33 (or 0033) and either do not dial the 0 or drop the +33 and dial the 0.
This system works in most European countries. However in a small number of cases (Italy is one) you may, or may not need to include the zero when calling from outside the country. The solution: If it doesn't work one way, try the other.
- Mobile Phones:
- In most of the world outside of North America, the mobile phone user pays any mobile fees (called airtime costs) for calls he or she makes and receives. However, in Europe and many other countries the caller pays the extra fees for calls to the mobile phone. The impact of this pricing plan was the much faster adoption of mob phones in Europe than in the US and Canada. However, it is much more expensive to call a mobile phone than a land-line (which is often free now-a-days). Costs can run around 0.015€ per minute depending on country and mobile operator. For this reason, it can be important to know if you are calling a mobile user. In France all mobile phones start with 6 (usually shown as 06).
If you brought your US or Canadian mobile phone with you to Europe there are a few things you should know, that your phone company may not have told you. First, you will be charged for calls you make AND for calls you receive. Second, if your French friends call you at your US/Canadian number they will be charged for the international call to your home system, then you will be charged for the international call from your home system back to France, PLUS, you will be charged roaming charges for the use of your phone on a French network. There are a variety of ways to reduce these charges and they vary by company to company so be sure to check before you leave.
Another possibility is to buy a prepaid-SIM for your GSM phone in France. The SIM typically costs 15€ and includes 5€ of calling (about 10 minutes) and are widely available. You can recharge your phone at any Tabac and many other stores, and even online. It is also possible to recharge a prepaid SIM at "Le Crédit Lyonnais Bank" (LCL) ATM machines, but that usually requires a French credit/debit card (the ones with a smart-chip on the card). Usage of the pre-paid cards averages 0.50€ a minute for local calls you place, but like any French mobile, you are not charged for incoming calls. If you still need your US or Canadian number, you can call forward your calls to your new French pre-paid number before you change SIMs. But watch out, North Americans are notoriously bad about calculating the time difference between North America and Europe.
Note: At Casa Milagro we often have a spare GSM phone available for loan and we might even have an un-used SIM card we can sell you. If you are interested, ask to see what might be available.
- Telling your friends how to reach you, and calling them back:
- If you will be using your home number in Europe, then callers will dial your number exactly as they would if you were in the US. The fact that you are in Europe is transparent to callers. However, if you want to call back to the US or Canada, then you must dial the international access code before the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the White House in Washington DC from France, you would dial: +1 202-456-1414 or 00 1 202-456-1414.