6 things that are surprisingly cheap in France (and 5 that are shockingly expensive)

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
6 things that are surprisingly cheap in France (and 5 that are shockingly expensive)
Books in a bookstore window in France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

From washing powder to paint, books to electricity, here's a look at what is expensive in France and what is comparatively cheap - and the reasons why prices fluctuate so much.


When travelling from your home country, the following items might be worth stocking up on to help save you a few extra euros when shopping in France.

Things that are surprisingly expensive

Washing powder

If you ever visit Andorra, the small country found in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, you might come across droves of French people stocking up on washing powder. Many French people go to Andorra to shop - as sales taxes are very low or non-existent, especially for luxury items and things like alcohol and tobacco. Cleaning products, like washing powder, are also at the top of many French people's shopping lists when crossing the border.

A large part of the reason washing powder is so pricey in l'Hexagone is because the TVA (value-added tax) is 20 percent for all cleaning products. It's getting more expensive too - from 2006 to 2015, detergents and cleaning products increased in price by up to 44 percent in some cases, according to Familles rurales. 


When compared with the UK, a study by Which.UK found that the most expensive laundry detergent cost on average 40p per wash, with the cheapest coming out to 8p per wash. In comparison, the cheapest per cycle in France was €0.15 and the most expensive was €0.50.

Light bulbs 

While light bulbs were once something that foreigners may have packed in suitcases to bring to France in order to avoid high prices, the growth and advent of LED lights has meant that the bulbs have a much longer lifespan. An LED lightbulb's projected lifespan is 25,000 hours.

Nevertheless - lightbulbs are more expensive in France than in the UK, though French prices are quite average when compared to other European countries, like Germany.

In 2023, at Monoprix, you would be able to find a two-pack of standard 60w LED light bulbs for €12.50, but for the exact same product at Sainsbury's in the UK you would pay £5.


In the United States, you can go into Target and buy a standard bath towel for $3 to $10. However, in France, if you were to attempt the same purchase at Monoprix, you would struggle to find a bath towel for under €8. Most bath and shower towels on the Monoprix website were listed for about €13. 

If you shop at Ikea in France you will likely have to pay between €8 to €10 at minimum for a shower/ bath towel (which seems to be the standard price for Ikea stores in other EU countries).


Many Brits have noticed over the years that paint tends to be more expensive in France than the UK. Several bloggers have shared that paint was one of the top sources of frustration when renovating their French homes. 

A litre of paint is typically sufficient to cover one wall (depending on size), and in the UK you can expect to find budget paints that could be available for as little as £2 to £3 per litre, while the more established brands sell paint for between £5 and £20 per litre, if not more.


However, in France, however, while the average cost of paint is typically calculated by metre squared, and you can expect to spend between €5.5 and €13 per metre squared, if you go to a website like Leroy-Merlin you can see that a simple 1L of white interior paint costs approximately €30. 


In France, whether you are buying a book in a bookshop (librarie) or online, you will still end up paying more than you might expect to in a country like the UK or the US - the average price for a paperback book is €11.50. 

This is because the French government has set up specific protections for independent booksellers. In 2016, France banned free book deliveries, and in 2022 the country took steps to set up a minimum delivery fee that anyone selling a book must abide by. These actions were intended to help small businesses compete with large tech firms, like Amazon. 

It also means that French consumers pay higher prices than their anglophone neighbours when buying the latest best seller - but at least their local town probably has an independent book store. 

Here are the things that are surprisingly cheap in France

But it's not all bad news, there are plenty of things in France that are cheaper than you might be used to. 

Condoms and contraception

People under the age of 26 have benefitted from free birth control since January 1st, 2023.

France's President Emmanuel Macron announced in December 2022 that the country would offer free condoms to people aged 18 to 25, available in pharmacies. In addition to free condoms, France also made all contraceptive methods for women and girls under 26 free of charge.

Museums visits 

Many people can enjoy the permanent collections at France's national museums for free - in fact 40 percent of visitors to the Louvre in Paris do not pay.  Temporary exhibitions are not free of charge, but discounts are typically in place for groups such as students or the unemployed.

Members of certain professions in France can also benefit from free museum visits in France - like public school teachers and journalists.

Do you qualify for free museum entry in France?

Many cities also offer days when museums are free for everyone. In Paris this happens on the first Sunday of every month.


This may not come as a surprise - particularly after the baguette received UNESCO heritage status - but bread is quite affordable in France. A baguette is typically around €1 and considering the fact that over 9 out of every 10 Parisians lives within a five-minute walk from a boulangerie, they are not very hard to come by. 



Once again, wine being affordable in France may not come as a huge shock - obviously you can pay hundreds or even thousands of euro for rare vintages, but the average cost of a bottle of wine is €6.50, while it's possible to get a vin de table for as little as €1.50 per litre (if you take your own container).


In France, the vast majority of wine consumed is French wine, meaning you're not paying import costs.

Wine - the most consumed alcohol in France - also has a special advantage - it is taxed at less than one percent. In comparison, other alcohols in France can be taxed at over 50 percent. The reason for this is to protect the French wine industry, which is worth around €20 billion a year. 



When compared with the rest of Europe, France benefits from relatively low household electricity prices - and this was particularly marked in 2022 and 2023 when the French government froze costs for households to protect them from spiralling energy prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

READ MORE: Explained: How is France keeping its inflation rate (relatively) low?

According to Eurostat, in 2019, at €0.1765 per kWh, the average cost of electricity in France was still 26.5 percent cheaper than the EU average.

This is in part due to the fact that France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries due to its nuclear sector. The country is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – and around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants.

In 2024, French households will still see their electricity bills go higher, but prices rises are capped at 10 percent.


Cell phone plans and roaming charges

According to data from the American Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average phone plan in the United States costs about $114 per month or $1,371 per year. In comparison, for French consumers, the average cost of a basic mobile package - with at least 10G of data - was about €16 to €20 per month in 2022. In 2021, the average price paid per month by French consumers was €17.75.

As most French phone plans offer unlimited roaming within the EU, holidaying with a French cell plan can also be quite affordable. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Michael 2024/02/26 17:52
Betting more expensive? Took me a while to figure this one out 😄.

See Also