Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France so expensive?

In this mini series, The Local answers common questions that comes up when you start typing questions with "France" or "the French" into the Google search engine.

Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France so expensive?
Will you need to splash the cash in France? It depends. Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP

Why is France . . . so expensive?

This one’s interesting. Some things in France are undoubtedly comparatively expensive – especially when it comes to taxes and Paris property. But not everything comes with a big price tag.

Food shopping is relatively expensive but wine is cheap, and – it must be said – delicious. Cars cost more than elsewhere, but public transport is frequently less expensive. Clothes tend to be pricier, but not childcare. 

In fact, here’s a comparison we did of the everyday costs of living in France and the UK which will give you a clue about how things work.

As in many countries, the capital is expensive while prices for things like dinner, drinks and haircuts are significantly lower in small towns.

As for property – every so often a French  ‘bargain’ comes along that hits the headlines, such as a chateau for €50,000. It is true that, particularly in comparison to the UK, property in France can be cheap. But there are hidden costs you need to be aware of, as we outline here.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 has prompted a shift away from big cities to smaller towns and rural areas, as people recognise the joy of having a garden they can spend time in.

READ ALSO Banlieue boom: Suburbs’ property prices soar as Parisians continue to flee the city

According to a survey published in June 2020 by French opinion poll institute Ifop and housing network Optimhome on the Covid-19 crisis’ impact on the French and on their view of the housing market, 23 percent of the French said télétravail (working from home) could influence them to move. We put together this piece on France’s sudden rush to the country.

And what about taxes? Yes, they are high in France – but they’re not the highest in Europe, according to a report in June

France’s tax revenues for 2019 represented 45.5 percent of GDP, compared to Denmark’s 46.1 percent. Belgium came third at 43.6 percent, with Ireland far away in last place, raising 22.1 percent of GDP.

Overall, France raised €1.1 trillion in taxes in 2019. For comparison, the United Kingdom only raised €852 billion.

Overall, 52.9 percent of France’s tax revenue went directly to social security funds (including healthcare) – the highest proportion of any EU member state.

Meanwhile, large French companies pay more taxes than anywhere else in the Bloc. The implicit tax rate (effective average tax burden) on corporate income was 33.2 percent in 2019, far ahead of Greece in second with 24 percent.

France is also among the European countries which impose the heaviest tax burden on high earners. The top rate of income tax including surcharges is 51.5 percent for 2021, putting France in sixth place, behind Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Portugal and Sweden.

Member comments

  1. The way it has been explained to me is that within France every step of the manufacturing process involving a real human costs more as said human is expected to earn a respectable living wage. This naturally pushes prices up all along the chain to the end consumer. From that perspective it makes sense that we pay more here for goods and arguably what we pay reflects more of the true value of the product than what is paid elsewhere (the UK for instance) for the same product.

    The cost of food – fruit and vegetables in particular – I find a bit harder to understand as a producer myself and given the relative earning power of the average person outside of the cities…quite how they find a market is a mystery to me, especially as often the quality simply does not match the price. Then again, I guess that is at least part of the reason most people who have the space for one have a potager.

    1. Except the French don’t employ relatively high numbers in their manufacturing process – which is why they have relatively high productivity and high unemployment. Most consumer products in any event are made in China.

      1. As an example of the high costs in France, I needed windows for an extension I was having built. local factory wanted 12,000 for made to measure units, 2 major store chains 6,000 for standard of the shelf units not exactly to size BUT not available for some months.
        I asked a company in UK – made to measure 2,500pounds Shipping 300 pounds tax 500euros
        LIDL – UK compare to LIDL France, Cauliflower 1-25 in UK in France 2-99E
        Brei cheese is less expensive in UK as well as several other French cheeses in a store with branches all over Europe, I wonder if French farmers get a much higher price.
        I have also not been happy with the quality (in France)at a supermarket with branches in both countries they seem to be very tired ie carrots last 3 or 4 days before unfit to use

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