Orange Mobile SIM France - DON'T

Armentieres, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Friday, May 11, 2012

Begin rant: As I will be in Europe for 4 months, it makes sense to get a SIM card for those rare occasions when I'll need a mobile phone – and perhaps for emergencies. In Australia, you can buy a SIM card for $2 and load it with as much money as you like and it clearly sets out what a call costs and how much data download you have. 3G data is very very handy when you don't have wifi but still need to access a map or train timetable or other apps. Australia has very generous data limits – like 100mb a month. I’ve never even come close to using my limit even when I’ve tethered my iphone to my computer instead of wifi.

As quite a lot of my time will be spent in France, it makes sense to get a French SIM. I went into Orange in Perrone and attempted to ask the young lady for a SIM and what the call costs were and the data limit. She spoke no English whatsoever but relieved me of 47€ and handed me a brochure – in French!! The SIM credit was valid for 3 months but I could not establish the call rates at all, so looked up the Orange website that evening. It was all in French with no option for translation. I tried to squeeze it through Google Translate but it made very little sense and most of the information was inside pictures which doesn’t translate. So I’m none the wiser but as I will hardly ever be using the phone, it shouldn’t matter too much.


In the first few days I got no less than 7 sms messages from Orange – in French – apparently telling me I have now missed my 10€ bonus, my first week of free use has finished (who knew) and other gems of info that were probably critical – in hindsight. The "free" helpline was only in French but the English speaking helpline was a paid call – but doesn’t say how much I would have to pay Orange to get information about Orange services. As I crossed into Belgium, it informed me by sms that the call rate would change – but didn’t tell me what the new rate would be.

10 days later, my phone stops working. I have all roaming turned off, no push data or location apps running but it’s acting like I have no credit – no automated voice (like we have in Australia) saying "you do not have enough credit to make that call" and no warning sms from Orange. It would seem that I have chewed through 50€ of credit without using the phone!?

All the “free” numbers to contact Orange don’t work in Belgium because they are only free calls in France (I’m less than 10kms over the border) - even the recharge number to load more credit doesn’t work. The worst part about this is that no one can even ring me. With no credit, my phone is effectively locked.

On the day I am supposed to meet Phil, he can’t call me, I can’t call him except from a public phone. So before breakfast I rush into Ieper to find a public phone.
Mobicarte office (Belgian equivalent of Orange) first. Very unhelpful young man who says I need to ring Orange in France – and huffs as I ask him to look up the number for me.
Tourist Info office next – there’s a phone at the bus station – but you first have to buy a phone card from the newsagents. 5€ phone card, back to the phone booth, International call to France, Phil’s phone turned off and Orange Helpline is the wrong number.
Back to Mobicarte and this time I get the somewhat helpful girl. She tries to ring Orange for me, without success, and find another number on the net – also without success. She can sell me a Belgian SIM card – for 15€, and then I’ll have to load credit on. No point now as I’ve already missed Phil and I’ll be out of Belgium in 4 days.

Back home for breakfast and coffee – what to do – what to do.

It’s Friday –and if I don’t get it sorted today, who knows when I will have another opportunity. I drive to France – 20 kms to the nearest Orange office in Armentieres. As I cross the border, I realise it is now 5 minutes to midday and more than likely all the French workers will be going for a two hour lunch. I’ll be mightily pissed if I have missed them.

First bit of luck: parking space right outside the Orange shop.
Second bit of luck: they go to lunch at 12.30.
Luck runs out...

Nice Young Frenchman (NYF) doesn’t speak English (of course he doesn’t) – none of the 6 workers in the shop has any English.
Well tough – I have driven 20kms and I’m not leaving till this stupid phone is sorted.
No, I don’t care that it is 12.20 and you want to have lunch.

NYF looks up my record, plays with my phone settings, looks at my call history (nil), Looks at my failed call history (lots) and then rings head office. From the tone of his voice he is arguing that:
“No the customer has not made any calls or used the phone at all”

“Yes, 50€ of credit has just disappeared”

“Well yes the SIM card must be faulty”

“Yes, Orange has sent her several sms messages”.

“No I don’t think the customer understands that she has to pay for received messages – and received phone calls”

“I’m pretty damn sure the customer does not know that unsolicited messages sent from Orange - that she can’t read - are charged at an International Message rate because she went over the border into Belgium”

“Perhaps the customer would have been better with Roaming charges from Australia rather than the sub-standard crap that we have sold her”

NYF smiles at me.

NYF looks at his watch.

While NYF is on hold with Head Office, he tries to explain that there are NO DATA allowances at all on French SIM cards. No free Facebook or Twitter; any 3G used is charged per 100kb so one small email download could cost 6 or 7 euro. (AUD$10)

I show NYF that my email is turned off. NYF nods.

NYF’s tummy is grumbling. His boss has locked the front door and is tapping her foot.

NYF talks to Head Office for 30 secs then turns to me and says “They will call you tonight. They have credited your phone with 5€ so that you can accept their call”.

NYF shuffles me out the door.

Head Office did NOT call me that evening, nor the next.

Phil called me – on Skype! It was 2c a minute for Phil to ring me on Skype. It cost ME 2.5€ to RECEIVE a Skype call.

So the saga continues. I return to France next week and no doubt I will wrangle with yet another employee who has no English and perhaps get some resolution sometime in the next 3 months.

Now I know it is a lot to expect that the biggest Telco in Europe should have one person somewhere in the organisation that speaks English – or that they could spend a small amount of money to have their website translated; or maybe have a brochure in English – even if I have to print it myself from a pdf... I know I am being wholly unreasonable expecting that I should only have to pay for my own usage and not prop up a greedy, inept corporate that doesn’t give a monkey’s about their customers or solving their clients problems.

So I’ve learned my lesson. If I buy a SIM card it will NOT be a French one. It will NOT be one from Orange. This particular lesson cost me 50€, I suppose I got off cheaply. It would have cost me less to buy a UK SIM and use it on roaming. My intention now is to do Orange 50€ of bad publicity every day for the rest of my trip by using social media and blogs. If just one person heeds my warning and does NOT buy an Orange SIM, my work will be done.

So here’s to Orange Mobile France. Whatever you do, DON’T buy this SIM card!

Part 2 >>

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