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MOVING TO FRANCE

France v Spain: which is the better place to move to?

Trying to decide to if you want to move to France or Spain? Want to know which country is better for taxes, which one has a cheaper cost of living and which offers more diverse culture and landscapes? Here's everything you need to know.

France v Spain: which is the better place to move to?
Barcelona or Paris? Spain or France? Which country has the most to offer to new arrivals?" Photos:  Kristina Spisakova/Pixabay, Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Ultimately the decision of whether you move to France or Spain will come down to personal preferences – the areas you like, the language you want to learn and the types of cuisine you want to enjoy, but there are several factors that can make living somewhere more difficult than others, such as taxes, visas and cost of living.

Taxes

France has a long-standing and justified reputation as a high-tax country – in 2021, it had the second highest top statutory personal income tax rate among European OECD countries, after Denmark (55.9 percent), France (55.4 percent), and ahead of Austria (55 percent).

It’s almost impossible to compare and contrast tax systems between the two countries – and much depends on personal circumstances as to how much an individual or household pays in taxes and social charges.

Like many nations, it has a progressive tax banding system, which are as follows:

French income tax bands

Up to €10,225

€10,226–€26,070

€26,071–€74,545

€74,546–€160,366

€160,36

French tax rate

0%

11%

30%

41%

45%

Self-employed workers under the micro-entrepreneur scheme benefit from a tax status that simplifies tax and accounting requirements. For income taxes, you’ll file under the standard personal progressive rates.

Like France, Spain has a progressive tax system. The rates for 2022 are as follows:

Spanish income tax bands Spanish tax rate
€12,450–€20,200 24%
€20,200–€35,200 30%
€35,200–€60,000 37%
 €60,000–€300,000 45%
over €300,000 47%

France may have the second-highest top statutory personal income tax rate among European OECD, but low to mid earners pay significantly less income tax in France than in Spain. 

When it comes to being self-employed, Spain is unfortunately not a great country to choose regarding taxes. Autónomos (self-employed) pay the highest monthly social security fees in the EU. Currently, this is paid as a flat monthly fee of €294 per month, no matter what your earnings are. Taxes are then paid on top of this monthly fee. 

If the new proposed changes come into force in 2023, self-employed workers could end up paying double the amount of freelancers in France.

Golden visa

France doesn’t offer a ‘golden visa’ per se, but it has a ‘passeport talent’ scheme for any non-French self-employed person planning to create a business or make an economic investment. 

Be aware, this scheme does not allow investors simply to stump up €300,000, or buy an apartment in Paris and expect to be handed a passeport talent. They must take an active role in the business in which they are investing.

READ ALSO: How France’s ‘talent visa’ programme works

Golden visas do exist in Spain, allowing you to essentially ‘buy’ Spanish residency by investing €500,000 in property. The Spanish golden visa is also a pathway to citizenship, enabling you to renew your residency status and apply for citizenship after 10 years. 

Spain also offers a residency visa for entrepreneurs and business activities, also known as the visado de emprendedor in Spanish. Entrepreneurial activity is considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain. There are no minimum capital requirements or a minimum number of jobs that your business must create, however you must submit your business plan to be approved. 

READ ALSO – Pros and cons: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

You can buy a property in Spain to get a Golden Visa. Photo: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden / Unsplash

Digital Nomad Visas

France does not offer a visa option specific to digital nomads – professionals whose line of work allows them to engage in remote work and who are therefore not location-dependent – but long-stay options are available for those who do want to spend some in the country.

READ ALSO: Working remotely from France – what are the rules for foreigners?

In 2021, Spain announced that it would be introducing a digital nomad visa, as well as tax cuts for startups and investors, but has yet to finalise all the details. 

Spain currently also offers a non-lucrative visa (NLV) scheme, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work on the NLV.  For 2022 you need to prove you have an income of €27,792 for the year to be eligible for this visa. 

READ ALSO – Tax cuts and visas: Spain’s new law for startups, investors and digital nomads

Cost of living

There are cheaper places to live than France, we have to say. Much, as always, depends on where you plan to stay – property is, as you’d expect, more expensive in the big cities, with the capital, Paris, particularly hard on your bank balance.

Outside the big urban areas, property prices, whether you want to buy or rent, fall away rapidly – but you can pay for a cheaper property with a reduction in amenities.

Eating out and grocery shopping can be pricey, depending on where you shop, but you might be pleasantly surprised by the cost of a reasonable midweek lunch, and there are always the regular markets to explore and lose yourself in.

READ ALSO Bikes, gig tickets and holidays: 7 things the French government might pay for

Paris

Paris is more expensive to live in than Madrid and Barcelona. Photo: Pete Linforth / Pixabay

Traditionally, Spain is seen as having a low cost of living compared to its western and northern European neighbours. But of course, it does completely depend on where you live within the country. 

According to expat price comparison website Expatistan the cost of living in Madrid is 48 percent less than in Paris. Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 sqft) furnished accommodation in an average area costs €968 in Madrid and €2,289 in Paris. 

But if you compare the two countries’ second cities – Barcelona and Marseille – the cost of living is about the same. Generally speaking in Spain, the south and western parts of the country such as Andalusia, Murcia, Extremadura and Galicia are cheaper than Madrid and northern regions like Catalonia and the Basque Country. 

You can still get some incredible bargains in Spain when it comes to property, and both eating out (a three-course menú del día for €10) and clothes shopping a generally cheaper than in France too. 

Keep in mind though, wages in Spain are generally less than in France. In 2022, the average salary in Spain is €2,710 gross per month or €32,520 per year, while in France it’s €39,300 per year. 

Lifestyle and culture

For all the talk of snooty waiters and rude public officials, the French are generally laid-back and fairly welcoming. If you’re polite, they’ll be polite, too. Try a bit of French – it really is appreciated. Just be ready for a direct answer if you ask a direct question – and don’t expect them to act like your best friend straightaway. Politeness is one thing, bosom buddy status has to be earned.

Culturally, France is very diverse. As well as French, France has five ‘regional languages’, not counting those spoken in its overseas territories – Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, and Occitan – and each region has its own cuisine, festivals, dances and traditions.

France boasts 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has more historical and cultural centres than you can shake a stick at. The likes of Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes, are known for their fine food and their impressive museums. 

The Spanish are generally said to be friendly, easy-going people who are fun-loving, passionate and very family orientated. You’ll notice this in the music and the way festivals are celebrated. Think Spain’s fiery Las Fallas festival, Catalonia’s human towers, the crazy Canary carnival and southern Spain’s Semana Santa parades. 

Like France, Spain is also very culturally diverse and also has five different regional languages – Castilian (Spanish), Catalan, Basque, Galician and Arranese. Each of Spain’s 17 regions has its own cuisine, festivals, dances and traditions which differ greatly from one to the other.

Spain equals France when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, also boasting 49. Paris may be one of the world’s most famous capitals, with more sights than you can visit in one trip, but Madrid and Barcelona can definitely hold their own when it comes to art museums and architecture. Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Málaga and Granada are also known for their great museums and cultural offerings too.

Alhambra

Granda’s Alhambra is one of Spain’s 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Photo: granagramers / Pixabay

Nature and landscapes

France – with its mountains, extinct volcanoes, plains, coastal areas (its coastline is nearly as long as Spain’s), dunes, lakes – is a nature-lover’s paradise whatever the season. It has 9 national parks and 58 regional ones, dotted all over the country.

It’s hugely popular with tourists all year round, with the Alps and Pyrenees must-go areas for winter sport lovers. Get the time of year right, and you can ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon…

Spain is also great for nature lovers, especially those who love hiking, cycling and water sports, and comprises diverse landscapes from soaring mountains and wide river estuaries to lunar-like deserts and one of Europe’s best coastlines. 

Home to 16 National Parks, as well as countless natural parks in each of its 17 regions, it offers many options for nature lovers to get out and explore. Like France, winter sports can be found throughout the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees and in the region of Granada skiing and sunbathing can be done on the same day too. 

Camargue

France’s Camargue National Park is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Photo: Christian Klein / Pixabay

Healthcare

Healthcare in France is widely reputed to be among the very best in the world – evidence of your tax euros at work. Once you’re registered with a doctor and on the social security system, care is routinely excellent, speedy and affordable – with almost all point-of-need costs covered by the State. 

Many people also take on top-up health insurance to cover additional expenses that do crop up – be aware glasses can be expensive, though the government has stepped in to ensure genuinely affordable eye care is available. And the system is smart and co-ordinated enough to ensure that any paperwork is kept to a minimum.

READ ALSO How to register for a carte vitale and why you need one

Spain is also said to have a great healthcare system. According to the World Health Organisation’s latest global report, Spain’s health system ranked number seven in the world. Those paying into the social security system, either via their employer or through being self-employed, have access to free healthcare and primary healthcare services are available within a 15-minute radius from where you live in most of the country.

Having said that, many Spaniards – 19 percent to be exact – opt for private healthcare. This is because it’s very affordable, sometimes a little as €15 per month. The advantages are that waiting times are dramatically reduced and you are able to see a specialist directly without having to be referred. 

READ ALSO: How to apply for a public health card in Spain

Transport

The French state-run high-speed rail service makes getting from place to place easy and relatively affordable, while in the big cities, public transport is generally good.

Get out of the towns though and you’re pretty much dependent on having a car. For driving longer distances the pay-as-you-go motorway system allows swift and, generally, easy travel.

Spain has a very efficient and affordable public transport system, which comprises highspeed rail networks run by RENFE, as well as regional rail networks and buses across the country. The regional rail networks are extensive and often serve small towns and villages, as well as larger cities. However, if you choose to live in a more rural area, then having your own car is best. 

Most highways in Spain are free to use, apart from a few which require you to pay a toll. In 2021 400km of motorways in Spain (mainly in Catalonia) became toll-free.

Renfe

Spain has an excellent transport network. Photo: Antonio Garcia Prats / Pixabay

Language

Speaking French helps in everyday interactions. Even if you have just a little basic French, use it – especially bonjour. The effort is appreciated, and you’ll find life becomes a whole lot easier. 

And it’s easy enough to find places to improve your language skills – your local mairie will probably have information. Even something as simple as listening to French radio or watching French TV shows helps. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up.

Speaking Spanish is almost essential if you move to Spain, apart from if you choose to live in one of the towns in southern Spain where Brits outnumber locals.

The Spanish are also not as good at speaking English as many of their European neighbours, so learning the local lingo will go a long way to helping you get by. 

READ ALSO: Spanish now ranked worst in EU at speaking English

But don’t worry, according to language-learning app Babbel Spanish is the third-easiest language to learn for English speakers, way above French which comes in at number eight on the list. Spanish is also the world’s fourth-most spoken language with over 500 million people speaking it worldwide. Conversely French comes in fifth place, but only has 282 million speakers. This means that your Spanish will help you not just in Spain, but when you travel too. 

The Spanish are also a lot more accepting of foreigners who try to speak their language, even if they get it wrong, and will rarely switch immediately to English, except in very touristy areas. They are encouraging and don’t mind if you make mistakes. 

Compromise

Really can’t decide? The Basque country is predominantly in Spain but also covers parts of south west France, including Bayonne and Biarritz.

It has its own culture, traditions and food – including delicious spicy peppers – and the countryside is stunning.

Zorte on euskerarekin

*(good luck with learning the Basque language) 

Member comments

  1. Can one obtain a Carte Vitale if residing in France more than 3 months per year, but without establishing primary residence in France?

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For members

PROPERTY

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)

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