BACKGROUND: Social isolation is associated with poor prognosis in schizophrenia. We aim to determine the effect of rural or urban residence on frequency of social and family contacts. METHOD: We analysed data from the European Schizophrenia Cohort, a two-year follow-up study of 1,208 patients in Britain, France and Germany. Frequency of contact was elicited with Lehman’s Quality of Life Inventory. Between-effect error component regression models adjusted the effects of living environment for country, age, gender, education, schizophrenia symptoms and global functioning. RESULTS: Across all living conditions, contact with family occurred more frequently than contact with others. Family visits, social visits and planned social activities were less common in urban compared to rural settings, whereas no significant differences were found for social and family telephone calls and time spent with a spouse. Patients living with a partner had more family, but fewer social contacts, while women had more contact by phone. Family and social contacts across all categories decreased with age. Employment increased social contacts, but did not affect visits or phone calls within the family. Schizophrenia symptoms, particularly negative symptoms, and impaired global functioning decreased all aspects of social and family contacts. DISCUSSION: Contrasting with results of previous studies, we found rural living was associated with greater frequency of social contacts in patients suffering from schizophrenia. Beyond living environment, our findings stress the importance both of an adequate control of negative symptoms and of employment opportunities for schizophrenia patients in order to enhance their social networks.