Cost of Living in France: My Personal Experience
How much does it cost to live in France? I’ve received a few e-mails inquiring about the cost of living in France, so here is a listing of my monthly bills and yearly taxes. Hopefully this information will be useful for those who are looking to move to France and want to compare the costs. I do not live in Paris, where the cost of living is especially high, but I do live near the Alps and Switzerland in one of the more expensive areas of France. My city is the capital of its department, and has a population of about 50,000. I live with my PACS partner, David, so most of my expenses are cut in half.
Rent: 550€ total / my half: 275€
– one-bedroom apartment in old building (with poor electrical installation; can’t use hairdyer and microwave at same time for example…) about 10 minutes from train station and city center; 52 meters squared with two balconies and storage space in basement. Most apartments in this area are much more expensive (700-800€) which we couldn’t really afford so we chose the cheapest one possible.
Electricity & Gas: 65€ total / my half: 32.50€
– We have a gas stove & oven, but luckily regular radiators instead of those expensive electric ones (so heat is included in our rent.) Our hot water heater only heats at night during off-peak hours.
Water: 20€ total / my half: 10€
– washing machine but no dishwasher; hot water heater only holds 100 liters which is just enough for two showers and doing the dishes
Internet, phone, & TV: 30€ total / my half: 15€
– ADSL internet + land-line with free calling to US & Canada and free calls to land-lines in many, many other countries + basic “cable” channels
Groceries: 250€ total / my half: 125€
– Even shopping at Aldi and Lidl! We are trying to reduce this obviously.
Gas/Tolls: 150€ total / my half: 75€
– We only use the car once or twice a week – to get groceries or visit David’s parents. Our car is an automatic that takes the most expensive gas though.
Car Insurance: 30€ total / my half: 15€
Renter’s Insurance: 10€ total / my half: 5€
*Cell phone: 15€
– I just buy prepaid cards and very rarely need to use my cell phone thanks to the internet.
– This means my prescriptions and contacts are “free” and I get another 30% of consultation fees reimbursed. Government-run healthcare that almost everyone has (la sécu) generally reimburses the first 70%.
When I used to commute to work (100 km round-trip 4 days a week), I paid about 250€ per month for gas and tolls. David walks to work and I work at home now, so we have no public transportation costs. For reference, a monthly bus pass in our city costs 30€ while a monthly passe Navigo in Paris is between 55€ and 123€ (depending on which zones you need). However, it is now law in France that your employer must pay 50% of your public transportation costs for your commute to and from work.
- Total Monthly Bills: 600€ (*cell phone and mutuelle are the only bills that I do not share with David)
Residency Card Renewal: 110€ Unless you have the 10 year carte de résident, you must renew the yearly carte de séjour for a price of 110€.
Income tax: 611€ for my part. Since I am PACSed, my income tax is lower than for a single person plus I received a credit of 194€ for the prime pour l’emploi. The amount of income tax I paid was 5% of my imposable income (about 15% of my gross income minus a 10% deduction). In France, la sécurité sociale which includes health insurance, unemployment & retirement benefits is automatically taken out of your paycheck, but income tax is NOT. I calculated that 18% of my gross income was deducted for la sécu. I have no other source of income in France because I am not eligible for CAF, or rent assistance for low-income individuals or families, that most language assistants and lecturers receive. To be on the safe side, most people say you should save almost one month’s salary to pay for income tax.
Taxe d’habitation: 368€ for my half out of 736€ total. This is a renter’s tax that you must pay on the place where you are living on January 1st, even if you move out on January 2nd. (If you own your house or apartment, you pay la taxe foncière.) The amount of la taxe d’habitation depends on the city where you live, the size of your apartment, your income, etc. so it can be hard to know how much you will have to pay until you receive the bill in October or November. In general it should be around one month’s rent. Added to this taxe is the TV tax (or Contribution à l’audiovisuel public as it is now called) which is 121€. Every household that owns a TV must pay it. Two ways of ensuring you do not have to pay this tax is by living in university residences managed by CROUS or renting a furnished room (not apartment) in a person’s home. Sometimes you can get this tax decreased if you have a low income by explaining your situation to the tax center (a dégrèvement).
- Total Yearly Taxes: 1,089€
At the very least, I need more than 8,300€ to survive in France each year and the above figures do not include any extra expenses such as clothes, books, entertainment, birthday & Christmas presents, etc. We never go to the movies and rarely eat at restaurants – and when we do, we use David’s tickets-restaurant. In addition, every two years we have to pay 80€ for the vehicle inspection (contrôle technique) and every year our car has needed about 600€ worth of repairs (it’s a 1986 Renault Super 5 automatic with a manual choke.) And another expense that was free in the US is a checking account. I pay 33€ a year for my account, debit card and checks.
Personally I don’t feel that life is that much more expensive in France compared to the US. Internet/phone/TV is definitely cheaper here and cell phones can also be cheaper if you rarely make calls since receiving calls is free in France. However, clothes, books and especially electronics are definitely more expensive than what I’m used to. Movies and restaurants are comparable to larger cities in the US, but expensive compared to the area where I come from. Groceries, gas, and tolls are more expensive than what I used to pay in Michigan – though gas in general is much cheaper in the US and Michigan only has freeways. It’s harder to compare income tax since I’ve always received a refund in the US and never paid much attention to how much was taken out of my paychecks. And a renter’s tax just doesn’t exist where I lived.
Nevertheless, even if bills and taxes are similar and we receive great benefits in France with regards to unemployment and health insurance, the main difference I see with the US are the incomes. It is very frustrating to know that I earned roughly the same amount working full-time in France that I earned working part-time in the US. A lot of people working full-time only earn minimum wage in France, which is 12,600€ net per year. When I was an English assistant, I earned 5,460€ and only had a 7 month contract. When I was an English lecturer at the university, I earned 14,640€ per year before income tax and the job was considered full-time (I wasn’t even allowed to get a 2nd job if I wanted to) and required a Master’s degree. Most fonctionnaires (civil servants) start out between 14,500€ and 19,000€ per year. They may have their job for life, but the incomes do not increase much even after years and years of experience. French people who make American-like incomes work in Switzerland and Luxembourg, where they average 48-72k per year. French people working the same jobs in France tend to average 18-30k.
That being said, France does a good job of taking care of people who are extremely poor. People who earn minimum wage tend to receive a large prime pour l’emploi and monthly benefits from CAF. Even unemployed people get special discounts on public transportation, library subscriptions, museum admission, etc. Young people (under 25) also get a LOT of nice discounts and families with children receive very generous benefits from the state. Once you’re over 25 and earn just above minimum wage however, you get nothing. Being PACSed or married definitely helps with regards to income tax, though it also tends to make you ineligible for CAF. In a nutshell, there’s not a whole lot you can do in France to earn more money, but you can decrease your bills by living with a roommate and/or getting PACSed. If I were single and living in the same apartment, I’d probably end up paying 900-1,000€ in monthly bills (depending on how much I used the car) with a higher rate of income tax plus the full amount of the taxe d’habitation. So my advice to everyone is get PACSed!