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Working with US laptop in France (Europe)
Thread poster: Natalia Eklund

Natalia Eklund  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
Member (2005)
French to English
+ ...
Feb 16, 2010

Hello everyone,
I'm curious about something.

I have a friend in the US who asked me if I'd be interested in a new laptop sold cheap by his company in the US. I, however, live and work in France.

I'm wondering if there would be any reason NOT to invest in a laptop from the US.

Do any of you have experiences that made you regret not having a local laptop? Any problems with the software?

As far as hardware issues are concerned, I know that:
1- Voltage is not a problem for laptops and you only need a plug converter (which I already have)
2- The keyboard would be missing special characters which may make writing emails in French a little onerous. (solution?)
3- Some laptop makers block the DVD zone (but patches exist now that override this problem)

Are there any software issues that I hadn't thought of?
The computer would be a basic Windows 7 package with Microsoft Office suite.

Was French (or your foreign language) easily intergrated in your applications (Did you have to install something to include French?)

Any feedback would be welcome!!!!


Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:15
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
It should work fine Feb 16, 2010

The 120 V is not a problem - you just need an adapter plug. I am not sure about the keyboard though - if you are used to the French layout than even when you install French keyboard what is very easy - the keys are still going to be in places typical for English layout of the keyboard.

Best Regards

I've just noticed that you've already mentioned keyboard - the English keybard has exactly as many keys as French one they are in different places - you could use a marker or small stickers to mark the correct position of keys.


[Edited at 2010-02-16 17:16 GMT]


FarkasAndras  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
English to Hungarian
+ ...
OS language and the labeling of keys on the keyboard Feb 16, 2010

... are the only relevant differences I can think of.
If you don't mind having to reinstall or live with an English OS and you touch-type, you should be mostly fine. You can switch to the French keyboard layout in the OS easily.

You'll just have to buy a different cable for the thing (the cable that goes from the wall outlet to the power brick).

In fact, you could also buy and install a French-labelled keyboard if seeing the wrong letters/symbols on the keys bothers you. I'd investigate this option myself, because, while I touch type and don't care at all about what's on the letter keys, I haven't memorized the location of symbols like § ~^°$[]#&{} etc.
Of course if you have decided that you can live with an English keyboard this issue is a moot point.


Alexander Chisholm  Identity Verified
Italian to English
+ ...
I had a US laptop in Italy. Feb 16, 2010

Once you have the correct adaptor it should be fine.
However, the keyboard layout may be an issue.
I translate into English, so a US keyboard having a slightly different layout from the UK layout was only a minor drawback, but on the odd occasion where I needed Italian accents etc. (for searching glossaries and dictionary software) this was a bit of a pain. The alternative is to memorise the ascii codes for the characters you need, and if this doesn't slow you down too much then fine.

Regarding the software. You say that office is already installed.
I have UKEN office installed and since I write in English thats fine. But occasionally when I have to do some work in Italian, I get a message saying that "Italian proofing tools" are not installed. I'm not sure what this actually means, since basic spell checking etc. seems to work. Perhaps grammar checking etc. needs to be installed seperately for different languages.

[Edited at 2010-02-16 18:10 GMT]


John Di Rico  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
Member (2006)
French to English
get a Mac Feb 16, 2010

Hi Natalia,

I just got a Macbook Pro, ordered in the US but specified that I wanted a French keyboard layout. It's awesome!

Got parallels running for windows apps, quite happy so far...




Oleg Osipov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 08:15
English to Russian
+ ...
Can't find a better place Feb 16, 2010

In my opinion, the best place to buy a laptop or whatever gadget one may need in terms of friendly prices is in the US. Though the laptop I have does not have a Russian keyboard, it's ok with me - I don't even need stickers to type.

So, get it, if there is an opportunity.


Paul Harrison MITI
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:15
French to English
I wouldn't worry about the keyboard. Feb 16, 2010

I currently work in France and use a British laptop with the QWERTY keyboard without any problems.

Assuming that you are familiar with the AZERTY layout anyway, it's just a question of adding French to the language bar, and then using Shift+Alt to toggle between languages. This is what I do and it is a general success, although I do sometimes get caught out with the "w" and "z" keys, and finding the lesser used symbols does require some key mashing until you have it memorised.

[Edited at 2010-02-16 19:25 GMT]


Natalia Eklund  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
Member (2005)
French to English
+ ...
Hardware not a problem - software ? Feb 16, 2010

Thanks for your feedback. I don't think the keyboard would be too much of a problem.
Like Paul said, it's easy enough to toggle.

But were there any problems with the applications themselves? Should I plan on purchasing some special extension pack to be sure to have French capability for different programs?

I know that if I use Office on a French laptop, all programs have pre-installed dictionaries in English and in French, for example. Would I only get English versions if I buy from the US?


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:15
French to English
+ ...
Physical keyboard doesn't matter Feb 16, 2010

Remember which physical key produces which letter/symbol is just a software configuration issue. Just because you have a "US keyboard" doesn't mean you can't tell Windows to "pretend" that it's actually French and continue to type with the layout you're used to.


Daniel Weston  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:15
French to English
+ ...
You can download the French language pack Feb 16, 2010

Hi Natalia - my US laptop can be switched to do spellcheck in French. You can also purchase or maybe even download for free the French language pack from Microsoft. As someone else mentioned, you can change the keyboard to a French keyboard, you just have to get used to the letters that are already on there - in other words you need to know which keys do which functions without seeing them printed on the actual key.

I brouht my US laptop to France last year and had no problems. You are allowed to swtich the DVD region code back and fourth for a limit of 5 times. Then you are stuck with whatever you chose last. The only question I still have is, will French software run without issue, but I think that is where the French language pack will solve the problem. I think you may need to purchase that, but it is a download so it should be easy,

PS - there is a way to reset the 5 chances to switch the DVD back to 0, you just have to google it. I solved that problem by buying a region free DVD player from Amazon for about 50 USD. I keep my PC region 2 and then all my DVDs can play on my region free player for the tele.


Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:15
Spanish to English
I only problem is Feb 16, 2010

no warranty. I have a laptop that was bought in the US and two months after I bought it, the harddisk died and all the money I'd saved went on replacing it. However, to be fair, that just brought it up the price I would have paid if I'd bought it locally.


Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:15
Danish to English
Get a Macbook Feb 16, 2010

I agree with John. I use Office for Mac, and it works very well. Otherwise, the Mac is like a fine sports car in comparison to a windows laptop. My last windows based laptop almost drove me crazy.
I have traveled with my Macbook to Europe and Chile, and it can run a Danish keyboard just by clicking on an icon. I am sure it would be the same with French. In Denmark I had mobile broadband, which was just a little thing I stuck in a USB port. I had highspeed connections everywhere. It does everything, and is a neat little package.


madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:15
Swedish to English
+ ...
Most important issue Feb 16, 2010

Lesley Clarke wrote:

no warranty. I have a laptop that was bought in the US and two months after I bought it, the harddisk died and all the money I'd saved went on replacing it.

Keyboard can easily be sorted by adding French in the Control panel. Then you can either use a pen or buy some stickers (google "French keyboard stickers").

But if your new new laptop develops a problem, you're stuck.


Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
French to English
+ ...
After sales service Feb 17, 2010

While I never encountered hardware or software problems with a US laptop in France, two things were a headache:
- Declaring it to customs to pay the customs duties and VAT to be able to deduct it as a business expense. That upped the total cost to close what I would have paid here.
- After sales service: my 3 year warranty was supposed to be international, but it took MONTHS of hassles and faxes with the US to get the local subsidiary to accept taking in for repair under warranty -- only to then be stuck for months because they couldn't get the part quickly from the US (the motherboard, to be precise).

The combination of those two factors is way too much hassle for an essential business tool.


Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:15
+ ...
list of many different points to check Feb 21, 2010

Hi Natalia,

I have been back in France for past 10 years with an international move from US with both computers bought in the US over 4 years and computers I had bought previously in France. And I've had several personal and office desktops and laptops in France over past 10 years, so here is my feedback.

- keyboard: read posts above. good comments. Just get an external FR keyboard USB plug that you can plug into an USB to not hog a full port.
- set up your logical keyboard mapping in to Windows to toggle between the US and the FR dialect keyboard of your choice
- Laptops and other mobile devices in general have already been set up for both dual voltage (110 vs 230v) and dual Hz (50 vs 60) for at least 10 years. Desktops (from US) started putting a voltage switch on the back of computer about 10 years ago. However, desktop I bought in France 3 years ago does not have it. obviously due to reason of higher volume of desktops bought in US that get (re)exported to countries with different voltage/hz specs
- DVD zones. for a laptop, that is pre-installed. Certainly not dezoned. You'll need to get used to watching videos in Black-white (at best). Your easiest workaround is just to buy a cheap DVD portable viewing device if you really spend a lot of time watching DVDs on the road. Look for deals from time to time at Aldi/Lidl. If I see one sometime, I'll ping you if you send me your email. The reality of the situation is that the majority of US-purchased devices are only for US standards. I've been through this so many times for VHS machines, computers, TVs, etc with international moves to the US and back to France. And in Europe, the multi-standard devices are now quite common and cheaper because it is fully understood that there is a market need to listen to and watch things with are on support media originating from the US. But the market demand is not the same in the opposite direction. (for example, which average American would do anything/everything to be able to watch the brand new Asterix movie that comes out on DVD in Pal format and yet needs it in the equivalent US-standard format?)
- physical cables. Depending on the brand and how the charger block is set up: you will basically have 2 options. Either buy the partial cable from charger block to wall for 2 or 3 prong French system or if it is a moulded cable to the charging block, then just buy a passive adapter plug US-FR/Europe. In any event, it is best to have a set of those passive adapters anyway because there are actually two sizes of electrical wall plugs for those 2-prong plugs (depending on when they were installed. In the 1970s and earlier, the 2 progs were a smaller diameter, and now they are bigger). So I've got at different passive adapter plugs that I have for converting both directions. It isn't expensive to get them, but always good to have when you need them. replacing the part of the cable from charging block to wall depends on brand. If is the mini 2-prong charging block to 2-prong wall, no need to buy a cable, you might already have one in the house. Go look at cables for shaver, portable CD/radio player, or other types of small portable devices that need electric output. If it's an IBM, it is different prong set up on charging block side than for Dell and Acer. It's just difficult to find that specific cable at some local French store chains for one or the either, but both can be found. Just have to look.
- warranty: I've been through the situation of a US International warranty bought through Best Buy, and had a problem with computer in France under warranty. It was a real pain, not an onsite investigation warranty, and it meant that I would have to take my computer somewhere to have it fixed, and then send the paid invoice to the US and have them reimburse. I knew that would be a never-ending joke. It was a desktop computer, so friends and I fixed the problem ourselves. So for international warranties, make sure you read the fine print, and even then, I don't know if it's worth it. Laptops and mobile devices will encounter problems that you just can't fix yourself because of the small contained space of the device. It's easier to open up on a desktop and fix yourself with an standard replacement part you can buy from Surcouf. But laptop repair requires internal parts specific to the brand.
- software: there are actually 2 parts to this, the Operating System and then the software
* Operating System (OS): you said it is Win 7 US Eng. This is new on the market, and there are of course compatibility risks. As mentioned above, there might be L10N packs you can get to reduce the risk of compatibility with software and devices you will be running
* software programs: the bigger concern is actually the compatibility between your new OS and existing software program you may already be using. I have a lot of software that runs and is officially supported on all previous and current OS's up through XP, and runs fine on XP SP2 on both desktops and laptops. However, that is why I never requested nor installed Vista 2007 nor Win 7 on my office laptop nor personal computers. It would require upgrading many of my software programs (some are paid upgrades, some are not), and there are always potential upgrade compatibility risks between the different software programs once some or all of them have been upgraded. I don't need to upgrade anything. Well my office computer had an automatic forced upgrade install in Nov09 to MS Office 2007 and now also the VPN to Office Exchange 2008 (or is it 2009). Ah, I think your question and my answer have just provided me with the answer to a software compatibility problem that a colleague and I encouraged with installing a program on his computer last week. He certainly has Vista or Win 7, and the older software program probably doesn't support it. Thanks to your question, I may be able to figure that out.

Always upgrade your software incrementally, and be careful with dependencies. For example, if you are using any type of Translation Memory tool + a voice recognition software which both have plug-ins for Word/Excel/PPT, etc, then you will most likely run into problems. It is best to carefully plan your upgrades by listing out all that you have on your existing computer. To get this info
* see my step-by-step procedure "Windows computer troubleshooting tip" at:
* I believe that this might only be useful for MS Office applications up through 2003 (v9 I believe)
* for more recent computers and applications, I recall that this has been ported over to Start Programs > Accessories > System tools > System Information

Use the results of that diagnostic output list to check each of your existing installed software applications and their official declared support compatibility with Win 7 before you do any installs of those software to your new laptop.

Hope that helps.


[Edited at 2010-02-21 05:11 GMT]

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