The Eye-popping Cost of Living in France (2020)

The Eye-popping Cost of Living in France (2020)

Figuring out what is the cost of living in France is like figuring out how long is a piece of string. The answer is “it depends”. And when it comes to prices in Paris, it gets even harder. Paris isn’t France, and the reality is that the cost of living across France varies as widely as the cost of living in the U.S. varies from Manhattan to Ohio. It depends on one’s income and resources, the area that you live in, and most of all, your own spending habits.

The only way to do an “apples to apples” comparison is to look at specific items. Each bucket of items is broken down into categories so that you can judge for yourself, whether you are a young singleton calculating the cost of living in Paris, or a family of 4 moving to Provence.

I. Comparing Costs across different French cities

If you are looking for a snapshot picture for the cost of living in France, here are approximately the costs you would be looking at. I’ve kept all the prices in Euros, to keep things consistent for currency fluctuations. The current average exchange rates (in 2020) are:

  • €1 euro = $1.1 USD
  • €1 euro = $1.55 CAD
  • €1 euro = $0.9 GBP

In terms of costs across major cities, Paris is the most expensive, while Marseille is on the lower end, and so serves as a good comparative. Cities like Bordeaux, Nice, and Montpellier are somewhere in the middle.

For a couplePARIS
PRICES
MARSEILLE
PRICES
Accommodation Costs
a) Housing
— Rent in a 2-bedroom apt (650sq ft)23001200
— For Purchase: budget €1m for a 2-bedroom apt in Paris
— Parking1500
b) Building charges260150
c) Electricity7575
d) Cable bills with 2 cellphones7575
Groceries costs
a) Food and other essentials700700
b) Lunch at work200200
c) Wine4040
Clothing costs150150
Transportation costs
a) Metro tickets (after reductions)1000
b) Gas50100
c) Tolls on roads05
Insurance
a) Healthcare insurance6060
b) Home insurance and Civil responsibility3525
c) Car insurance3535
Children and Education Costs (after reductions)
a) Nursery and daycare (1 child)500500
b) School (1 child)5050
Entertainment costs
a) Dining in Restaurants (2-3 times a month)350250
b) Movie tickets, Museums, and Theme Parks100100
TOTAL PER MONTH€5230€3715

Note: These figures have been provided for entertainment purposes only. All prices are approximate and are subject to each person’s personal situation. We are not responsible for any differences between actual costs and our estimates.

This calculation doesn’t really give the whole picture though, because there are a lot of circumstances where particular discounts and reductions are usually available to locals. These have been integrated in the above calculations, but may not be available to everybody.

In addition, if you are single or coming as a couple, this chart won’t really explain what costs you are looking at. The alternative is to look at each item individually.

II. Accommodation Costs

a) Housing

Renting in Paris vs Other cities

There are two main types of rentals in France, furnished (meublé) and unfurnished. Unfurnished is usually around 5% cheaper than furnished.

On average, a rental apartment in Paris costs around €33/square meter. A two-bedroom apartment in Paris of 70 sq meters (750 sq ft) will cost around €2300/month depending on the location and its condition.

For a studio in Paris, there is an added premium because of the sharp demand. A studio of 20sq m will be at least €800-900/month, which is closer to €45/sqm rather than the average €33.

Prices in other major French cities are approximately:

  • Marseille – €15/sq m
  • Lyon – €16/sq m
  • Bordeaux – €16/sq m

You can see that rental costs in Paris are more than double what they would be in other large cities in France, and small towns will be even cheaper.

In addition, most Parisian buildings that are from the 18th century do not have parking. If you require parking, you can count around €150/month for a parking spot.

Art Deco building in Nice, France

Purchasing in Paris vs Other cities

If you are looking to purchase an apartment instead of renting, prices in Paris are currently hovering around €10-11K per square meter. However the smaller the place is, the higher the premium. In addition, notary fees and taxes of around 7-9% are added to the purchase price.

Effectively, to buy a 70sq m apartment in Paris, (750 sq ft with 2 bedrooms), you are looking at around €825k, plus notary fees and taxes of €65k. The central arrondissements in Paris will be higher, with apartments around the Champs Elysées significantly more expensive.

Prices in other major French cities are approximately:

  • Marseille – €3k/sq m
  • Lyon – €5k/sq m
  • Bordeaux – €4.5k/sq m

Again, Paris apartment prices are more than double the price in the other major cities in France.

For houses outside Paris and other major metropolitan areas in France, prices will vary greatly depending on the location, amenities, and condition of the home.

All homeowners also pay an annual taxe fonciere , which is a type of property tax based on location and income (on average in the €1-3k range). In certain areas like Paris, if the home is a secondary residence, the taxe fonciere is increased by 60%.

There is also a taxe d’habitation on properties, which is paid only by high-income owners and secondary residences.

Renovations: While a lot depends on the finishes you choose, the general benchmark for renovation costs in the Paris area is around €1-2k per square meter. This is around 20% cheaper than costs for a house in the countryside.

b) Building charges

Both owners and renters of apartments will be required to pay building charges for the upkeep of the building, including if the building has elevators, parking spaces, and a gardien (concierge). On average, the price annually is around €40-50/ sq m. So assuming an average of €45 x 70 sq m = €3150, or €262/month.

Older Haussmannian buildings in Paris have centrally controlled radiators for heat, which are turned on by the building at the start of November. The price is usually included in the building charges.

The biggest portion of the charge is due to gardien, so buildings in Marseille, for example, don’t usually have those. Thus the building charges will slightly lower there.

c) Electricity 

Electricity depends on the size of your apartment as well as your consumption. For a 70 sq m apartment in Paris, it should be around €50 in the summer (no aircon in France) and €100 in the winter.

However, if you don’t have central heat radiators, you will have electric heaters, and the prices will significantly vary based on consumption.

There is also an option with your electricity company to only heat your hot water tank (chaudiére) at night at a slightly cheaper rate.

☞ READ MORE: Household items you will own if you live in Paris

d) Cable bills

A basic set of channels is available by antenna for all French residents. An annual amount of €140 is collected through your income tax return (called the rédevance télé), which all residents have to pay, unless they can prove that they don’t have a TV.

For cellphone, internet, and cable, you can usually get a package deal for around €50-60, which will also include a landline. Each additional cellphone line is around €25 with a mid-range data package.

Note, all landlines in France usually have free calling internationally to over 70 countries, including U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Farmer's market
Farmer’s market

III. Groceries costs

a) Food and other essentials

Grocery costs are pretty equivalent to North America, with a range of cheaper grocery stores up to more expensive artisanal shops. There is not really a price difference between Paris and smaller towns in France, since all the large grocery stores are online and offer delivery services.

The Whole Foods equivalent in France is the more expensive Monoprix, which can be found in every neighborhood and town. At the other end of the scale, the Aldi equivalent is the cheaper E. LeClerc and Leaderprice.

The main difference when grocery shopping is that there no such thing as extreme couponing, supersales, or buy-one-get-one type deals. Supermarkets are restricted as to the type of offers that they can propose, and deep discounting is illegal. It is hard to get a bargain in French grocery stores, the price you see is generally the price you pay.

Specialty shops: Unlike North America, French people do still tend to buy their meat at a boucherie, bread at a boulangerie, cheese at a fromagerie, etc. Some of these specialty shops are more artisanal than others and prices can vary widely depending on how unique the products sold are.

b) Lunch at work

In France, the employer is required to provide employees with “access to a decent meal in good conditions”. In practice, this means that most large employers have negotiated with their unions to provide a highly subsidized canteen on the premises. A full meal with entréeplatdessert at a work canteen should cost around €5-6.

If the employer is too small to have a canteen, it can instead purchase “ticket restos” which are meal certificates to give to employees. Fifty percent of the cost is picked up by the employer and the rest by the employee. These can be used in restaurants and grocery stores to purchase meals, as the employee wishes.

Cognac barrels
Cognac barrels

c) Wine

One item that is a lot cheaper in France is the wine. With France being a major international wine producer, some (not-great) French wines start as low as €2.50. And you can actually get a decent bottle for as little as €5. You can, of course, get more expensive bottles (sky is limit!). But if you just want a simple bottle for an apéro picnic along the Seine, a trip to the local french grocery store will see you walk out with wine, cheese, a baguette, and a pack of charcuterie for less than €10.

☞ READ MORE: What is an apéro?

Christian Dior in Saint Tropez
Christian Dior in Saint Tropez

IV. Clothing costs

Clothing costs vary widely from fast fashion to high-end luxury brands, so it really depends on your own tastes. That being said, retailers in France are not allowed to deep discount. Sales periods (les soldes) are allowed only twice a year, and you will not find the door-crasher deals that you find in the U.S.

Moulinard in Grasse

V. Transportation costs

a) Metro tickets

A metro ticket in Paris costs around €1.90 which gets cheaper if you buy a pack of 10. Prices in other major cities in France will be similar.

The real difference when calculating the transportation cost of living is that French employers are legally obligated to cover 50% of the costs of traveling to work. So they usually pay for 50% of the unlimited monthly metro pass, bringing the price down significantly from around €75/month to €37/month.

Parisian children also get their transport reimbursed by the local government.

b) Gas

If you are American, you will be shocked at the cost of gasoline in France. The current price in France is around 1.6/litre which is around €6/gallon in Euros or $7.10/gallon in USD. That is approximately 3 times the price that Americans pay. Most of the difference is due to taxes in France.

Also, gasoline prices are much higher on the highway if you are driving around France, so don’t be surprised to see 1.7/litre or more.

c) Tolls on roads

If you travel outside the city a lot, you will also come across a lot of toll roads. The roads were sold off of private entities years ago, and price inflation has been swift.

There are also a lot of smaller tunnels and bridges that have tolls that you wouldn’t expect. I once missed an exit just outside Paris and ended up on a toll road that cost €8 to get off at the next exit, and another €8 to come back.

As an example, a 7-hour trip from Paris to Marseille by car can easily cost over €60 in tolls each way, so when you factor in the cost of gas, you are easily looking at a €300 road trip for a roundtrip.

d) Airline tickets 

Budget airlines are the norm in Europe, and even mainstream airlines like Air France have their own budget brands. Flights are quite cheap, with add-ons like luggage, etc. tacked on.

For example, you can get a flight from Paris to London for around €100-150.

e) Train tickets

Convenience aside, it is usually more expensive to take the train than it is to fly. The same trip from Paris to London on the Eurostar high-speed train would be closer to €200-350. Paris to Marseille would be around €150-250 for a round trip.

One thing to take into account, however, is transportation costs to the airports which are outside the city.

VI. Insurance

a) Healthcare insurance

Healthcare is free in France for tax-paying citizens and residents, so that is a cost that we don’t usually take into account. Even if you had to pay out of pocket, the prices of medications, going to the emergency room, or giving birth in a hospital, are just pennies on the dollar.

Most people do have additional health insurance (called Mutuelle) through either their employer or private insurance to cover any overages such as glasses, dental, and prescriptions that are not covered by the government. For a family of 4, it is around €115, half of which is usually covered by the employer.

b) Home insurance and Civil Responsibility

Both renters and owners are required to get Assurance Habitation avec Responsabilité Civile to cover the family. The assurance habitation (home insurance) covers the home and contents.

Responsibilité Civile is more interesting because it covers actions outside the home as well.
It covers the material or bodily damage to a third party, whether through negligence, carelessness, his children, animals or things for which he is responsible. It does not cover intentional acts. Budget around €400/year for home and civil responsibility insurance.

c) Car insurance

Most Parisians don’t have a car, but if you live in Marseille, you might have a car for each driving member of the family. Car insurance for a small car is around €400-500/year.

VII. Children and Education Costs

a) Nursery and daycare

State subsidized daycare (créche) is the holy grail for most new parents in France, because of its high standards and affordable cost. The price is based on an income scale (by town), with the maximum being around €2.50/ hour. On average for a 40hour week, the monthly cost is around €800 euros for high-income earners. At the low end, the price can be as low as €50/ month.

If you do not get a spot in créche and have to get an assistant maternelle instead, a government agency called CAF covers a good portion of the costs, bringing the price down to the equivalent of créches.

A lot of larger companies also have Employee Committees (Comité d’Entreprises) which will cover a portion of the costs.

b) School

Maternelle (from 3 years old) to high school is free in France, although additional programs like early drop-off, late pick-up, and school canteens cost extra. Prices are based on income and town you live in. As an example, for school canteens in Paris, the amounts in question can be as low €0.15 per day, which works out to €4/month.

In addition, all childcare expenses (including créche and after-school activities) provides income tax credits on your annual tax return. The French government agency CAF also pays each family a stipend per month, depending on the number of children, the family’s resources, and special factors such as if it is a single parent, etc.

c) University

Public universities are free in France and every French student is guaranteed a spot somewhere. More interestingly, some schools like the National School of Public Administration ENA, actually pay the students a stipend of around €1700/ month to attend! Competition is steep to get into schools like ENA, and students are expected to work for the government for 10 years after graduating, or they pay those funds back.

There is another class of universities in France however, called the Grandes Ecoles that are more prestigious, but also more expensive. These French “Ivy League” universities can easily cost anywhere from €8k-15k a year.

On the other hand, students in France receive a subsidy for housing and other costs of living from the government agency CAF, which depends on the parents’ income and school location (The Parisian student’s cost of living is assumed to be higher than other regions).

☞ READ MORE: The French Education System Demystified

Restaurant in an alley in France

VIII. Entertainment costs

a) Dining in Restaurants

In France, you don’t really have the super-cheap $2 for a pizza slice deals that you see in North America. For one, most French people don’t snack, so there is no reason to offer deals like that. As well, the cost of adhering to French food rules and regulations means that it would not be profitable.

Restaurants in Paris can vary significantly from the tiny brasserie on a quiet street to 3-star Michelin restaurants in the fanciest part of town. Prices in France already include all taxes, and tips to the server are not required. Most French people usually leave only leave a couple of euros, because the waiter is expected to earn a full salary through his employer.

For a Frenchman in North America, he will be surprised to see taxes and tips added to the bill, while the American in France will be amazed by how “cheap” it seems compared to what he was expecting.

If a bavette de boeuf on the menu at a Parisian brasserie is displayed as €20, that is actually the price that you will pay.

b) Movie tickets, Museums, and Theme Parks

There is the full price that tourists pay, and then there is the price that locals usually pay. Most French people have access to large discounts on things like movie tickets and sightseeing attractions through their work, as part of their union-negotiated perks. Big theme parks like Disneyland Paris, Parc Asterix, and Jardin d’Acclimatation offer discounts to firms for their employees, as well as special offers depending on the time of the year. (Usually, the larger the firm, the better their Comité d’Entreprise benefits will be.)

Museums also offer EU citizens under 25 free access, as well as reduced prices for the unemployed, handicapped, and other special classes. There is also free access to most museums on the 1st Sunday of every month.

Courtyard inside Louvre Museum
Courtyard inside Louvre Museum

IX. Sales Taxes in France

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include taxes here since that usually relates to income, but then I realized that I had to mention sales taxes, or Value-added Tax (TVA or Taxe sur la valeur ajoutée in French).

TVA is a flat sales tax that is included in all the items I have noted above, at either a 0% rate for basic essentials up to 20% for everything else. The sales price already includes this, so you don’t need to account for this separately. Nevertheless, a 20% tax on goods and services is a lot.

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So there you have it, the deep dive into the cost of living in Paris and across France! Is there any category that I missed? Comment below and let me know.

A bientôt!

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The Eye-popping Cost of Living in France (2020)

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