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EXPLAINED: How expensive is childcare in France?

If you are looking to start a family in France, you might be wondering how affordable it is and what you can expect in terms of options. Here is a breakdown of French childcare:

EXPLAINED: How expensive is childcare in France?
Children play with employees in a creche of the Karapat association on February 8, 2012 in Lovagny. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

Parents in France enjoy a reasonably generous system when it comes to childcare, but the system can be complicated and much of the financial help on offer depends on your income.

Here’s a breakdown of what you’re entitled to if you have children in France;

Parental leave

The amount of time you can expect off from work depends on whether you are expecting your first child, and whether you are having twins or triplets. 

France’s social security website, Ameli, has a graph breaking down the number of prenatal and postnatal weeks you get off, as well as the total maternity leave. 

Ameli breakdown of maternity leave in France

To receive maternity pay you need to have been registered with social security in France for 10 months prior to the expected birth date, and you must have worked at least 200 hours prior to the start of your prenatal (antenatal) leave.

The amount you can expect to be paid is determined based on your average (pre-tax) salary for the three months prior to the start of your maternity leave.

Parents who plan to adopt also benefit from paid time off work when the baby arrives.

READ MORE: Pregnancy to maternity leave: What you need to know about having a baby in France

Fathers can also benefit from paid paternity leave – if are a salaried employee and in a couple, whether that be marriage, PACS or cohabitating with the mother of the child, then it should be guaranteed.

This applies regardless of whether you have a CDI (permanent contract) or a CDD (fixed-term contract).

Childcare options

If you decide to return to work at the end of your parental leave, childcare is a necessity before your child reaches the age of three, as that is the age where compulsory education begins in France.

You will have to register your child for maternelle (pre-school) at the latest in June before the start of the school year in September. 

For children under the age of three, there are a few options:

Nannies or childminders

Having one’s own childcare provider is not exclusively for the wealthy in France. Depending on your situation, up to 50 percent of the costs of a nanny or professional childminder can be reimbursed by the government. In order to benefit from this, your childcare provider must be a declared employee (garde à domicile). 

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

You must pay them at least the minimum wage for professional childminders in France. As there are different classes for childminders, minimum wage ranges. According to the Paris public services website, the minimum gross hourly wage for level 1 (Baby-sitters) was set at €10.85, and the gross hourly minimum wage for level 3 (childminder A and childminder B, family childcare worker) was set at €10.88 gross, in July 2022.

You may also be eligible for another social benefit related to childcare – the CMG which is a “supplement for free choice of childcare.” Similar to the tax credit described above, the CMG is a partial payment of the wages of your licensed childcare provider. The amount of the CMG varies according to the number of dependent children, the age of your child and your resources.

You declare the costs of childcare when you complete your annual tax declaration, and the refund is either paid to you, or deducted from that year’s tax bill. 

You can see if you are eligible HERE.

Nurseries (crèches

The first type of crèche is the crèche collective. The majority of nurseries in France are this type. They are typically managed by the municipality, though some are run by associations or companies. 

The employees are all professionals who specialise in early childhood. However, due to current shortages in qualified workers, exceptions may be made to diploma and experience requirements under special circumstances.

The ratio is one professional for every five non-walking children, and one professional for every eight walking children. 

On average, crèche collective have between 20 and 60 children who are between 3 months and 3 years old. Typically, they will run during normal working hours, though specific hours will depend on the municipality.

In terms of cost, the crèche collective are likely one of the most affordable options, as they also provide meals and diapers/nappies.

You have to request a place for your child in the crèche collective, and slots fill up quickly. Some recommend even beginning the search during your second or third trimester of pregnancy. You can do this on your local mairie’s website.

The second type of nursery is the crèche parentale. These can accommodate up to 24 children, either on a regular or occasional basis. This type of crèche is managed by parents themselves. 

In order to open one, the département must provide authorisation and follow the advice of maternal and child protection services (PMI). The level of parent involvement depends on the establishment. 

The next type of nursery is a crèche familiale. This is basically when someone sets up a crèche from their home. Typically the professional childminder only looks after one to four babies or toddlers at a time. Family-based nurseries may not guarantee meals or free diapers, so keep this in mind as you search.

Finally, you can enrol your child in a micro-crèche. As these take a maximum of 12 children, they allow for more individualised care. They are subject to the same safety standards and other rules as traditional day care centres. The primary difference is that they are not required to appoint a director in the same way crèches collectives must.

If you are not able to get a spot in a crèche, you might also consider a halte-garderie. This is a good option for parents who work part-time. It is considered more of a drop-in daycare, where childcare is provided either a few hours or half-days during the week, either on an occasional or ad hoc basis.

For most crèches, you pay based on your family’s income. When you go online, you will see the pricing based on your quotient familial, which is basically your financial aid calculation. For these reasons, crèches tend to be the most affordable option for families.

For example, high earners might pay up to a maximum of €4.20 an hour, whereas low-income families might pay €0.26 an hour at a crèche collective.

The structure to determine how much you must pay is the same for all nurseries across France, as along as they are considered a PSU (Prestation de Service Unique) structure. As mentioned above, micro-crèches use a different calculation method.

Au Pairs

Another childcare option is hiring an au pair – a foreigner who comes to France in order to provide live-in childcare, and improve their French while they do it. They work under the status of “foreign family assistant trainee” and must stay for a period between 1 month minimum and 12 months maximum. An au pair’s visa can be renewed once. 

It is worth noting that au pairs are not cleaners – they will take care of your children and are allowed to help you with daily chores related to the children, but should not be expected to clean your home. 

You will also need to provide housing, food, and other essentials for your au pair during their stay with you. The au pair must have their own bedroom.

READ MORE: Being an Au pair in France – the good, the bad and the tantrums

In addition to providing housing and food, you must pay your au pair ‘pocket money’ at a minimum of €321.30 per month. You may also need to pay for a travel pass for your au pair if you live in a city.

You should expect your au pair to spend approximately five hours a day participating in ‘family tasks’ (about 25-30 hours a week). This includes babysitting time. Additionally, your au pair must have at least one day off per week. 

Finally, non-EU nationals working as au pairs must attend French language courses (a minimum of 10 hours per week). This will be a requirement to apply for their visa. It is up to the au pair to pay for their own language courses.

After school care

Many public schools in France operate on the basis of two “full” days from 8:30am to 4:30pm, with two shorter days from 8:30am to 3pm, and then a half-day on Wednesdays from 8:30am to 11:30am.

For the shorter days, many schools will offer afternoon activities like dance, sports, or art until 4:30 pm. 

For parents who work longer hours, there are options for after-school care. While you could seek out your own private childcare for after-school hours, you can also send your child to the centre de loisirs (daycare centre or ‘after-school club’). Most stay open until 6pm, though some might stay open until 7pm. They are generally offered to children from ages three to 13. Some venues offer places to older children.

Cost varies based on the commune, particularly as some municipalities partially fund after-school care. If the centre is financed by CAF, then the rates depend based on family income. 

Childcare during the school holidays

For children under the age of three, some crèches will remain open year-round, though many will close for one week during the December school vacations and for three weeks in the summer, during the August holidays. Others may close for longer periods of time. 

READ MORE: Childcare headache: What do parents in France do with their kids all summer?

One of the most affordable options during the holidays are the centre de loisirs summer options, usually hosted either in schools or community centres and run by local authorities. You can expect your kids to take part in activities like drawing, trips to the zoo or the pool, and some sporting activities.

For families in the lowest income bracket, you can expect to pay as little as €0.47 per day, including lunch, so if your child spends the six weeks of summer vacation there, you would spend €14. For families at the middle bracket, pricing is about €10 per day, so about €300 for six weeks. For families at the highest income bracket, you would be charged €26.30 per day, amounting to €789 for six weeks.

If you are looking for more involved activities, you might consider the colonies de vacances. These are typically sleep-away summer camps with different themes.

You can look into which camps are offered by your local mairie on their website, as some might have different themes.

In terms of affordability, public colonies de vacances are staggered in price based on income. 

For example, the city of Paris’ “Arc-en-ciel” summer camp listed rates for families in the lowest income bracket (for 12 days of full-time summer camp) as €25.44, in contrast to a fee of €692.88 for families in the highest income bracket listed. 

Compared

When compared with other countries’ childcare costs, France typically comes out in the middle.

The OECD calculations on the percentage of income spent on childcare – based on two parents both working full time – is 13 percent in France. This is roughly similar to Spain, Italy and Ireland, significantly higher than Germany and the Nordic countries but significantly lower than the UK.

However as we have shown the French costs vary considerably based on your income, so low-income families can benefit from very cheap childcare. 

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READER QUESTION

Reader question: How many public holidays does France have?

You would think this would be a simple question - but in fact the answer depends on the year, the region and your job. We explain.

Reader question: How many public holidays does France have?

Question: How many public holidays does France have per year and how does this compare to other countries?

The most commonly-given answer to this question is that France has 11 public holidays per year, ranging from the religious (Ascension and Assumption) to the secular (May Day and commemorations for World War I and II).

There are, however, some caveats to that.

The first is regional – if you live in the three départements that make up the historic region of Alsace-Lorraine you get 13 – the extra ones being St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) and Good Friday (the Friday before Easter).

The reason for this is that the region had been part of Germany and became French again after the end of World War I – but the inhabitants had become used to having the extra holidays when they were part of Germany and showed no interest in giving them up. A compromise was reached.

The second is the year – some holidays (like Easter) change date each year, but others (such as November 11th which marks the end of World War I) stay on the same date each year, and sometimes that date will fall on a weekend.

Some countries change the day of holidays – for example in the UK the Remembrance Day holiday is always on the Monday closest to November 11th – but in France holidays happen when they fall. So if it falls on a weekend the holiday is ‘lost’ in terms of time off – it’s still a public holiday, but workers don’t get any extra days off. 

For this reason there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ holiday years in France – 2023 is a very good year. It also gives rise to the practice of ‘faire le pont‘ – where workers use a single day of their annual leave allowance to ‘bridge’ a holiday – for example if Tuesday is a public holiday they take Monday as a day’s holiday and create a nice four-day weekend.

And finally, there’s Pentecost.

The Christian festival has a curious history in France, in that it used to be a public holiday and then the government scrapped it and introduced instead ‘solidarity day’, in which workers donated a day’s salary to charity.

Pentecost: The ‘holiday’ where some people work for free

They they ditched this idea, but some companies kept it – the upshot is that on Pentecost some workers get the day off, some work as normal and some work as normal but that day’s pay goes to charity. 

And how does France compare to the rest of Europe?

It’s mid-table – French workers do better than those in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the UK but worse than those in Spain or Italy. For Germany and Switzerland it depends which region/canton you are in as there are lots of local holidays.

Here’s those French holidays in full, with the days they fall in 2023. French rail services typically offer sales in advance of holiday periods, as well – you can learn more HERE

  • Sunday, January 1st – New Year’s Day
  • Monday, April 10th – Easter Monday
  • Monday, May 1st – Worker’s Day
  • Monday May 8th – V-E Day
  • Thursday, May 18th – Ascension Day
  • Monday May 29th – Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte – for some workers only).
  • Friday, July 14th – Bastille Day (Fête Nationale)
  • Tuesday, August 15th – The Assumption (l’Assomption)
  • Wednesday, November 1st – All Saints’ Day (Toussaint)
  • Saturday, November 11th – Armistice Day
  • Monday, December 25th – Christmas Day
 
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