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MONEY

Moving to France: How much money do I need for the cheapest areas of France?

If you want to move to France and you're on a budget, you will want to avoid Paris or the Riviera, but how much income do you need to be able to live in the cheapest areas of the country?

Moving to France: How much money do I need for the cheapest areas of France?
The Parc naturel regional du Morvan in Grand-Est. Photo by Hassan AYADI / AFP

One of the most common reasons people give for moving to France is the quality of life here, and many people are prepared to take a salary cut or reduce their working hours in order to achieve a better work/life balance – but how much do you actually need to live on?

On many national cost comparisons, France’s Grand Est region – along the border with Luxembourg and Germany – comes out as the cheapest part of France.

The flip side of this this is that it does suffer from a lack of employment opportunities and low salaries, but it’s not unusual for people to cross the border to work, especially for those living in the Metz area – which means that border areas tend to be more expensive.

It’s one of France’s lesser known regions, but it’s well worth checking out – its history means that its culture and cuisine has a lot of German influence and it also has some stunning countryside and great national parks. 

Housing – €420 per month

Using the Grand-Est city of Nancy as an example, an apartment with at least one bedroom that is at least 35m2 in size, you can expect to spend around €420 per month.

Once you are out of the cities and in the countryside you’re more likely to find houses than apartments and there are some good prices on offer – when we went looking for property in France on sale for less than €100,000 Grand Est was the region that came out on top by quite some margin.

MAP Where in France can you guy property for less than €100k

The average rental price for the region is €12 per square metre with purchase prices at around €2,422 per square metre.

Property taxes – If you are a tenant you probably won’t need to pay any property taxes as the householders’ tax taxe d’habitation is being phased out, but if you buy you will need to pay the property owners’ tax – taxe foncière. The TV licence – previously €138 per year per household – has been scrapped this year.

Transport – €177 per month (excluding purchase cost)

Public transport in rural France is poor, so if you are in a rural part of Grand-Est you’re likely to need a car.

Having said that, the region has several small to medium sized cities, such as Nancy, all of which have good public transport.

If you do have a car, according to a government report on energy published in 2021, the average French household with a vehicle spent about of €1,542 per year on fuel, which comes out to about €128.50 per month.

Afterwards, you would need to also add insurance – price comparison site Les Furets estimates the average national monthly cost of vehicle insurance in France at €46, although obviously a lot depends on your age, location and driving record.

There’s also the compulsory two-yearly contrôle technique vehicle check, the average national price is €78.

Utilities – €110-€150 per month

Energy prices are set nationally in France and in August 2022, the electricity cost per kilowatt for those with a regulated rate with the national energy provider (EDF) was €0.1740 TTC.

If you heat your home with gas, but use an electric cooker, your average energy bill in France is about €81 for both gas and electricity. In contrast, if you heat your heating, hot water, and stove top are all electric, then your average bill is likely to be higher, around €125 per month. The average internet bill is €29 a month.

Grand-Est is known in France for being chilly and rainy, so in winter you’re likely to spend more on heating.

The relatively affordable housing in Grand-Est also means that you are more likely to have a larger space – which naturally will cost more to heat. If you have purchased an old property it may also have a poor energy rating and inefficient heating systems. While there are government grants available to install more energy-efficient heating methods or improve your insulation, there is likely to still be a cost to you.

On a plus side, rural homes are more likely to have open fires or log-burners, meaning you can collect your own fuel to contribute to heating.

Groceries – €220 per month

Shopping for food in Grand-Est will be a bit less expensive than the national average.

Using the E. Leclerc store in the centre of the city, near the Gare de Nancy, as an example, you could expect to spend about 220 per month as a single person for a panier (the national measure of the average cost of groceries), according to price comparison site Que Choisir. 

Healthcare – €38 per month

Once you have lived in France for three months you are entitled to register in to public healthcare system – here’s how.

Once you are registered (and it can take a few months) the state reimburses the majority of your costs for medical appointments, prescriptions and treatments. There is also the option to purchase top-up insurance known as a mutuelle, which (in most cases) will ensure that 100 percent of your medical costs are reimbursed.

For a single person, the average cost of a mutuelle is €38 per month, and if you are an employee your employer must pay at least half of the monthly cost.

Childcare – €180-€400 per month (means tested)

This won’t be applicable to everyone, but if you have young children you might need to factor in childcare costs.

After the age of three, children are required to attend pre-school (maternelle). This is free, public and mandatory. However, until your child reaches the age of three, you may need to budget for childcare – usually either a nanny, childminder or a nursery (crèche).

For public nurseries, the prices are determined on the basis of income. Typically, if you earn between €2,000 and €3,000 per month, you will find yourself paying between €180 and €250 a month for full-time daycare at a crèche. If you earn between €2,000 and €4,000 you might the crèche will cost you between €250 and €400.

READ MORE: Family-centred society: What it’s really like being a parent in France

If your income is higher than €4,000 per month, then you may find yourself paying closer to €1,000 per month.

The prices are staggered because childcare through a crèche or nounou (childminder) is state subsidised,

Families in France also benefit from other state benefits. After your child is born, you may qualify for the “prestation d’accueil du jeune enfant (Paje)” which can be paid at the time of the birth (or adoption) of the child and until the child reaches the age of six, for families who demonstrate the financial need. CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales de Paris) also offers assistance to low-income families with children. 

For childcare during the summer, your child can take part in the colonies de vacances – which are an opportunity to go away from home to learn and participate in new activities. The price to send your child can be subsidised by CAF, based on income.

Salary

If you’re moving to France to work, you might notice that wages are lower than your home country, especially for Americans. You will, however, be covered by the minimum wage.

As of August 2022 the national minimum wage – known as the SMIC – in France is €11.07 per hour before taxes, which comes out to about €8.76 after taxes. A full-time worker on minimum wage would earn €1,329.05 per month, after taxes.

Total living cost – €970 per month

Grand-Est would likely be affordable for a person earning the minimum wage in France, with the added bonus that they could save on transport costs if they were living in a town and did not need a car.

The above totals are of course of only guides, there are lots of variables including whether you own your own home and whether or not you need a car. You would need to factor in taxes, but if your income is low you will generally not pay income tax.

While there is quite a significant amount of government help available to low-income households, this isn’t always available to new arrivals and will involve you navigating the French social security system, which is not always easy for newcomers. 

When we asked our readers who had moved to France, few had been motivated by money and the majority said that their overall quality of life was better in France. 

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

One major plus for life in France is that if circumstances mean that the cost of living rises dramatically, you can rely on your new compatriots to be very stroppy about it until the government takes action to help individuals cope with their bills. 

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

READ ALSO Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.

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