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MYTHBUSTERS: Is the quality of life actually that good in France?

When asking people why they moved to France, one answer comes up again and again - a better quality of life. But is the quality of life really that good in France? We crunched some data to find out.

MYTHBUSTERS: Is the quality of life actually that good in France?
A couple hugs while sitting on painted chairs on the promenade des Anglais in the French Riviera city of Nice in 2020. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

Life expectancy in France is among the highest in the world, and many believe that is thanks to the high quality of life in France. In fact, when we asked our readers what makes living in France worthwhile, over half said they had come for a ‘better quality of life,’ with another third citing ‘retirement’ as their reason for living à la française.

When asked to expand on the positive quality of life in France, our readers tended to reference access to social benefits, a better lifestyle and work-life balance, and the idea that France is a good place to retire. 

READ MORE: ‘Our life is so much better here’ – Why do people move to France?

But how true are those things on their own? Is France really that good of a place to live in terms of ‘quality of life?’ We decided to find out:

First, we took a look at the French healthcare system. There are several different things to look at when judging the quality of a healthcare system, so we chose a few indicators.

Number of doctors – In regard to the amount of practising medical professionals, France performs better than both the United Kingdom and United States, with a higher number of medical doctors and nurses per 1,000 inhabitants. France’s 6.5 physicians per 1,000 people is also higher than the EU average of 4.9. 

Here is a graphic of the number of practising generalists per 100,000 inhabitants in the EU – France has the fifth highest ratio.

Cost – It’s difficult to compare an individual’s spending on healthcare, since every country’s system is different.

In France the majority of your healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

Any top-up costs can be covered by private insurance known as a mutuelle – the average cost for under 30s is €38 per month, and if you are an employee your company must pay at least half. 

The UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS, which is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

Some things are not covered by the NHS such as dental care or prescriptions and for most people these must be paid for in full as out-of-pocket expenses. The average cost per person for prescriptions and medical devices is £303 (€357) per year.  

In the US the system is different and is largely based on private health insurance with only minimal public healthcare.

The average health insurance premium for a 40-year-old is $477 per month – how this plays out in terms of income share depends on their earnings. Those in the bottom ten percent by income spend 35 percent of their pre-tax income on health care on average, whereas those in the top 10 percent only spend about 3.5 percent of their pre-tax income.

Doctor and appointment wait times – In comparison to other countries, France was more or less average in terms of doctor wait times.

A study conducted in 2016 showed that 56 percent of people in France reported being able to see a healthcare provider within a day, which is better than 51 percent in the US, but slightly worse than the UK who reported 57 percent of people able to see a provider within a day. However, the pandemic has had a major effect on wait times for certain types of healthcare.

When focusing on elective care in the UK, wait lists can become notoriously long, by some accounts exceeding the population of Denmark. As the French healthcare system allows for a more flexible ‘shop around’ approach for both primary and elective care, these types of wait lists less common – if your GP has no available appointments you can go and see another doctor without having to register. In the UK, long wait times was listed as the ‘most concerning issue’ facing the NHS, according to a recent IPSOS survey.

On top of that, in terms of simply finding care, France’s unique med-tech start-up Doctolib, which allows patients to book appointments using their portal, claims to have reduced these wait times even further in recent years. For specialists like ophthalmologists and dermatologists, the company claims to have more than halved pre-existing wait times. 

But the healthcare system must be doing something right because life expectancy in France is pretty good – 82.4 years compared to 81.0 in the UK, an EU average of 80.6 and 78.5 in the US. The world’s oldest person also lives in France, her name is Sister André, she’s a nun who lives in the south of the country and enjoys chocolate and a glass of port.

Next, we looked into the idea of “a better, healthier lifestyle” in France. Several readers pointed to the quality of life in France being better due to a more outdoorsy lifestyle and a better work-life balance generally. 

Nature and the outdoors – France does have a lot to offer in terms of nature – almost 10 percent of mainland France is protected as national parks. From forests to mountains, and oceans and even volcanoes, there is something for everyone to see and enjoy in the outdoors. 

When it comes to France’s cities, the country is home to several ‘European green capital’ winners and finalists. 

However, on the “Fresh Air Living” index, which ranks the best countries for outdoor enthusiasts to live in, France came in 14th place, behind both Spain and the United States, but ahead of the United Kingdom. The scoring combined the country’s US News’ official ‘adventure ranking,’ the number of natural UNESCO sites, air pollution levels, and the number of hiking routes offered, as well as general attractiveness.  

Is France a sporty, active nation? Well, it depends where you live but overall an IPSOS survey of 29 countries placed France in the bottom five in terms of hours of physical exercise per week, with almost a quarter of French people reporting not exercising at all.

In 2017, the OECD issued a report on how much exercise children are getting, and in this case, France came second to last. 

Work-life balance – France is often praised for its work-life balance, with many referencing the country’s 35-hour work week. It is a bit more complicated in reality though – the average French employee actually works 39 hours a week. That being said, this is still a bit below the European average of 40.3 hours a week. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How does France’s 35-hour week really work?

Speaking of time off – it does make sense that Americans might be a bit more excited about life in France due to the legally mandated time off work. In the United States, there is no federal law requiring a minimum amount of time off (though the country does have 11 federal holidays). 

When combining annual leave and paid federal holidays, it is Austria who tops the charts for the most (38 days per year) time off-work. France comes in a close second with 36 days total, so it is a good place to be comparatively for getting to take a vacation.

Despite French people’s reputation for complaining, France actually performed better than the EU average for the number of people reporting being happy in the last four weeks.

Finally, we looked into the claim that “France is a good place to retire.” For a lot of our readers, retirement in France was one of the country’s most attractive attributes, but what is it actually like to be of retired age in France?

Retirement age – It’s no secret that France’s low retirement age has been a controversial topic these past few years, as President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to reform the country’s current pension system. While it is true that French workers do get to retire a bit earlier, France does not have the youngest retirees.

The legal age of retirement is 62, which is one of the lowest in Europe, according to data from economic forum the OECD.

But that is not the lowest – in Austria women can retire at 60 and in Bulgaria at 61 years and 8 months. However, when compared to the US – where the retirement age is 67 for anyone born after 1960 – and the United Kingdom, where the retirement age is being gradually increased, those born after April 1977 may need to wait until 68 before they can access state pension benefits. 

Pensioner passes – Free or reduced travel options are available for older people in France – anyone over the age of 60 can qualify for SNCF’s Carte Avantage Sénior, which costs €49 annually fee, and gives 30 percent off train fares in both standard and first class. 

The Greater Paris region offers its residents over the age of 65 (with an income less than €2,200 per month)  free Navigo passes, allowing travel on the Metro, RER trains, trams and buses.

That being said, the 60+ Oyster card in the greater London area does allow for free travel on bus, Tube, and most National Rail services in London.

READ MORE: A few of the benefits of growing old in France

Cost of living – This depends where in France you live, as some places are less expensive than others, and as is true in other countries, rural areas tend to be more affordable than urban.

However, on the whole France is a better place to live (based on cost of living) than Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. When compared to other anglophone countries, France ranks better than the United States and Australia on cost of living, but worse than the United Kingdom.

Access to home care or nursing homes – In 2019, the median price for a single room in a nursing home was €2,004 per month in France, which is significantly lower than that of the United States where a semi-private room in a nursing home median monthly cost was $7,756, (€7,637) and $8,821 (€8,685) for a private room.

The United Kingdom fell between France and the United States, with the monthly average cost of residential care being £2816 (€3,322) and nursing care averaging at £3552 (€4,190) per month.

France does offer affordable options for low income elderly people to be able to access home help. Financial assistance for home care (cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, etc) is available for those over the age of 65 (or over 60 but unable to work).

Additionally, those living in care facilities whose income is less than the cost of accommodation can also qualify for assistance, and the same goes for elderly people with financial constraints who need to improve the accessibility of their home to prevent accidents. All of these services are typically available via the town hall or by contacting the ‘services du département‘ (regional authorities). 

All in all, the OECD has ranked France pretty well on its Better Life index, saying it performs highly “across a number of well-being dimensions,” so you could say in France, la vie est belle.

Member comments

  1. One thing to note…the US may have 11 federal holidays but most companies will only give 5-7 of them off.

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For members


Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

If you're researching the French property market, you might have come across mentions of 'courtiers' - here's what they do and whether they are necessary.

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

The French ‘courtier‘ is usually translated as a broker, and the Notaires Association describes their role like this: “the broker is a true intermediary in banking operations. His/her role is to negotiate the best rates for you, but not only that: they will also find the most advantageous financing conditions for the realisation of your project.”

Essentially they act as an intermediary between you and the banks, so they’re only required if you need a mortgage or a loan in order to buy your French property. 

Their job is to research the best deals for you and then to help you put together your application and ensure that all your paperwork is correct – unlike the notaire, instructing a courtier is not a required part of the process, so the decision on whether to instruct one is up to you. 

So is it worth it?

Among French buyers, around 30 percent of mortgages are obtained using the services of a courtier, and this rises to 60 percent among young, first-time buyers, who generally find it harder to access credit.

Some of things to consider are your level of French and confidence in negotiating French bureaucracy, your financial situation (since French mortgage lenders tend to be stricter than those in the UK or US) and whether you currently live in France or not (since there are extra hoops to jump through for overseas buyers).

READ ALSO Is now a good time to buy a home in France?

“Things have changed,” Trevor Leggett, group president of Leggett International estate agents, told The Local. “It’s now more important than ever to work closely with a reputable broker.

“In France it is all paper-based, very old-school and extremely bureaucratic, a different world entirely to the UK. Preparing the client “dossier” so that it will be accepted is an art form.”

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

He advised non-resident international clients, particularly, who may not be au fait with the French system to seek the help of a broker who knows the ropes.

“The question is no longer really about savings,” he said. “It is about finding a bank that can actually lend to the client profile, interests rate are secondary. 

“It occasionally happens that one bank can be played off against another, or to shop around, but it’s a rare event nowadays.”

READ ALSO Revealed: The ‘hidden’ extra costs when buying property in France

And he had no hesitation in recommending that prospective buyers find a broker to sort out the financing.

“The lending market has tightened for international buyers and a good one is worth their weight in gold,” he said.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Time-frame for buying and selling property in France

In France, you make an offer on a property and then you begin the mortgage process (while in the UK it’s the other way round) so problems in getting your mortgage approved could lead to you losing your dream property.

“[Using a courtier] can be the difference between buying and not,” added Trevor.

“It’s not just any possible language barrier – but understanding the process and the different players in the market.”

How much?

The cost of hiring a courtier is borne by the buyer – but how much do they charge?

The courtier usually charges a percentage of the total mortgage amount – fees must be fixed in advance and are only payable once your mortgage application has been approved. 

Fees vary between different areas and different businesses, but the average fee is €2,000, which amounts to around one percent of the purchase price.

Many brokers set a minimum amount – around €1,500 – for smaller loans, and take a percentage of larger loans, so how much you pay depends on your property budget.