France has a high cost of living, particularly in Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Rents and food are cheaper in rural areas, but are still high compared to other western European nations such as the UK and Spain. The average academic monthly salary is around €2,100 to €4,400 (£1,890 to £3,963) in France, which many feel is not enough to match the high living costs. However, the draw of living in France is enough for most expats and it is possible to live well - and frugally - outside the major cities while enjoying the country’s excellent public services and high standard of living.
Only around half of French people own their own homes – everyone else rents their property. Therefore, finding a suitable rental property can be a challenge, particularly in Paris, where accommodation is in short supply. Rents in major cities can be very high - a furnished one-bedroom, 40m² apartment can range up to €3,000 (£2,701) per month in central Paris.
If you are willing to live in the outer suburbs, then finding decent accommodation for a reasonable price is easier. Most people own their own homes in rural areas and although rental properties are thinner on the ground, renting in the French countryside can be very cheap. France attracts thousands of new expats each year so there is a huge range of property websites geared towards foreigners, such as French Entree. Otherwise it’s a good idea to enlist the help of an estate agent (agent immobilier), particularly if your French is lacking.
A rental deposit (dépôt de garantie) of one month’s rent is usually demanded by French landlords/landladies. The deposit is used to cover any damages when the tenant leaves.
There are two types of property tax in France:
- Taxe d’habitation/Residence Tax: This applies to all property owners (with some exemptions) and the amount payable is determined by the local council (commune) per the notional value of the property. The tax is payable by the tenant if the property is rented out. It is levied to cover community services run by the local authority.
- Taxe Fonciere: A buildings and land tax paid by the owner of the property, irrespective of who occupies it.
The two main suppliers of gas and electricity are the partially privatised Gaz de France (GDF) and Electricité de France (EDF), both of which offer a range of tariffs. Utility bills are comparable with other western European countries. However, internet and phone costs can be high in France as most of the telecommunications network is operated by the mobile and digital giant Orange (formerly France Télécom). Water is supplied by private companies and prices are calculated by meter. Tap water is safe to drink in France, although most people prefer the taste of bottled water. For all utilities, it is common to receive a bill every two months.
The basic cost of utilities (gas, water, electricity, refuse) for an 85m² city centre apartment is around €135 (£120) per month. Broadband, phone and TV packages start at around €30 (£26) per month.
Even if you don’t own a television, all households in France are required to pay an annual licence fee (contribution à l'audiovisuel public) which funds the five public channels: France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5, and Arte. The fee is currently set at €121 (£109) and is collected each December alongside the taxe d’habitation demand (see property tax, above).
Healthcare and medical costs
France’s healthcare system has been ranked the best and most accessible in the world by the World Health Organisation (WHO). All healthcare services are funded by a national insurance scheme and contributions are automatically deducted from your pay packet on becoming a resident employee (after 180 days). How much you contribute is calculated according to your income.
Most French health services are state-run but patients pay the doctor upfront and are then reimbursed in part or in full. All residents are issued with a smartcard called a Carte Vitale to pay for services and then the cost is paid back into the patient’s bank account within five working days. The poorest people and the long-term sick are reimbursed in full. For more information, visit the l'assurance maladie website (in French).
France has an infinite range of shopping options. From the upmarket Parisian boutiques of the Avenue des Champs Elysées to the thousands of outdoor markets selling fresh produce and crafts: for shopping addicts, France has it all.
Food shopping in France is a cultural experience in itself and you could find yourself whiling away many hours in the local patisserie or cheese shop. For everyday grocery shopping, there are numerous supermarkets and hypermarché to choose from, the biggest chains being Carrefour, Leclerc, Casino and Auchan. There is also a wide choice of budget chains such as Leader Price, Ed, Aldi, Lidl and Netto which can help cut costs in expensive areas.
Supermarkets are generally open from 8.30am until 8pm, Monday to Saturday and are closed on Sundays. Smaller shops such as bakeries and butchers tend to close during lunchtime each day.
A sales tax (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée - TVA) of 20% is applied to most goods and services in France. A reduced rate of 10% applies to restaurants, transport, renovation/improvement works and certain medicines. A further reduction of 5.5% is applied to food, water and non alcoholic beverages, books, special equipment for the disabled and school canteens
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – €686 (£619)
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – €530 (£479)
- Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – €5,018 (£4,533)
- Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – €3,125 (£2,822)
- Loaf of bread – €1.30 (£1.17)
- Milk (1 litre) – €0.94 (£0.85)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – €0.68 (£0.61)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – €1.58 (£1.43)
- Packet of cigarettes – €7.00 (£6.32)
- Petrol (1 litre) – €1.26 (£1.13)
- Cinema ticket – €10.00 (£9.03)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed October 2016)
Budgeting and saving
Although France has a high cost of living, it is possible to cut costs by shopping locally or in budget supermarkets. Additionally, using public transport is considerably cheaper and more efficient than running a car in France, where motorway tolls, car insurance and fuel can be very expensive. To plan your budget, you can also use a comparison site such as Tous les Prix (in French).