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Living in France
What You Should Know about Living Costs and More in France
Do you have concerns about how expensive it might be to live in France or perhaps how to get around without a car? Check out our guide to find out everything you need to know about the cost of living, public transportation, driving rules, and other general country facts.
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Cost of living is an essential factor to consider when preparing to move to France, mainly because it can vary significantly across the country, with Paris and Lyon being the most expensive places to live in. You will need to create a budget and factor in things like the cost of rent, food, education, etc.
This guide provides information on this, along with everything you need to know regarding living in France, such as public holidays, general practicalities, shopping, culture, social etiquette, communications, driving, and public transportation.
- Country name: French Republic/République Française
- Government type: unitary senatorial semi-presidential constitutional republic
- Area (km²): 643,801 in total; 551,695 for metropolitan France
- Metropolitan France: temperate
- West: oceanic
- Center and east: continental
- South-east: Mediterranean
- The Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Massif Central summits: alpine
- Capital: Paris
- Population: 65,480,710
- Population density: 120/km²
- Major urban areas: Paris (10.9 M), Lyon (1.6 M), Marseille-Aix-en-Provence (1.6 M), Lille (1.0 M), Nice (941,925), Toulouse (996,644) (2018 estimates).
- French (official)
- a range of Celtic, Germanic, Gallo-Romance regional languages (e.g., Breton, French Flemish, Catalan) as well as Corsican and Basque with comparatively low numbers of speakers
- French-based créole in overseas regions
- Religions: Christian 63–66%, none 23–28%, Muslim 7–9%, Buddhist 1%, Jewish 1%, other 0.5–1%
- Gross domestic product (GDP): 2.465 trillion USD (nominal), 2.734 trillion USD (PPP) (2016 estimates)
- GDP per capita: 2.583 trillion USD (2017 estimate)
- Unemployment rate: 9.3% (August 2018)
- Mercer Cost of Living Index 2016: Paris (34), Lyon (105)
- Human Development Index 2015: 24 out of 189 countries
- Euro (EUR)
- CFP franc (XPF) in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis, and Futuna;
1,000 XPF = 8 EUR (9 USD)
- Time zones:
- Metropolitan France: CET (UTC+01:00)
- French Guiana, Saint Pierre, and Miquelon: UTC-03:00
- French Polynesia: UTC-09:00 to UTC-10:00
- Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Martinique: UTC-04:00
- Mayotte: UTC+03:00
- New Caledonia: UTC+11:00
- Réunion: UTC+04:00
- Wallis and Futuna: UTC+12:00
- Telephone country codes:
- metropolitan France: +33
- French Guiana: +594
- French Polynesia: +689
- Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy: +590
- Martinique: +596
- Mayotte: +262
- New Caledonia: +687
- Réunion: +262
- Saint Pierre and Miquelon: +508
- Wallis and Futuna: +681
- Emergency numbers:
- 112 – Europe-wide emergency call number
- 15 – ambulance
- 17 – police
- 18 – fire department
- New Year’s Day – January 1
- Easter Monday – April 22
- Labor Day – May 1
- VE Day – May 8
- Ascension Day – May 30
- June 10 – Whit Monday
- July 14 – Bastille Day
- August 15 – Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- All Saints’ Day – November 1
- Armistice Day – November 11
- Christmas Day – December 25
- Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
- Paris Orly Airport (ORY)
- Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE)
- Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (LYS)
- Marseille Provence Airport (MRS)
- US – 2 Avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris
- Canada –130 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris
- Mexico – 9, Rue de Longchamp 75116 Paris
- Portugal – 1 Rue de Noisiel, 75116 Paris
- Algeria – 50 Rue de Lisbonne, 75000 Paris
- Morocco – 5 Rue le Tasse, 75116 Paris
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Cost of Living
The average cost of living in France is quite high and depends on a few different factors such as where you live in the country. Paris is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world (usually second to Singapore). Although Paris is a particularly popular expat destination, there are also other equally enticing areas of France with plenty to offer and all with a significantly lower cost of living. Main urban cities inevitably cost more to live in than rural areas.
So, is it expensive to live in France? The answer unfortunately is yes, but careful planning can help you not break the bank.
Living Expenses in France
When budgeting for France, the living expenses you will want to take into consideration are accommodation/rent costs, food, top-up healthcare, transportation, utilities, education costs, plus a little for miscellaneous items and any recreational activities.
It is a good idea to take a look at your current expenses in your home country, and compare them to the average costs in France. As costs can vary greatly in different regions of France, planning ahead like this can also help you work out which region would be the most affordable for you and your budget.
The monthly recommended amount you should budget for groceries is between 100-300 EUR (110-330 USD).
|White rice (1kg)||1.70||1.90|
|Local cheese (1kg)||15||17|
|Chicken breast (1kg)||10||11|
|Water (1.5l bottle)||0.60||0.70|
France Food and Alcohol Prices
In France, dining out for two, at a mid-range restaurant can be roughly 50 EUR (57 USD) for a three-course meal. Domestic beer is around 1.54 EUR (2 USD) for half a liter while anything imported will naturally be more expensive. Expect to pay an average of 6 EUR (7 USD) for a mid-range bottle of wine.
For all the basics which include electricity, gas, water, and garbage, costs are roughly 140 EUR (158 USD) per month. Larger families can expect to pay nearly 200 EUR (226 USD) in utilities a month. For internet, expect to pay about 30 EUR (34 USD) for unlimited data.
Cost of Education
The state provides free education for students in France. However, if you choose to enroll your child in private school, prices range anywhere between 300 to 600 EUR (339–678 USD).
Something else that the state provides nearly for free is healthcare. The government covers roughly 70% of healthcare expenses under their hybrid system, with the rest being covered for the majority of people via private health care. Costs for this can vary depending on the policy and your medical history. For a young, single person, the average price for a health insurance plan is around 70 EUR (79 USD).
While the average price of rent in all of France for a one-bedroom in the city center is about 650 EUR (736 USD), keep in mind that there are massive differences once you are outside of the major cities, particularly Paris. For example, in the capital, residents should be prepared to spend more than of 1,000 EUR (1,132 USD) per month on rent, while in Nantes – a popular expat destination in Brittany – the average rent is significantly lower (approximately 500 EUR (566 USD) per month).
Travel and Transportation Cost
France has an extensive public transportation network, providing convenient connections between regions, and through the country’s numerous cities. Public transportation in Paris will, unsurprisingly, set you back a little more than in other cities. A monthly travel pass can cost as much as 75 EUR (85 USD) in some places, while in others, as little as 30 EUR (34 USD).
Recreational activities can be pricy in France. Gym memberships cost around 55 EUR (62 USD) on average. A cinema ticket is around 9 EUR (10 USD). Clothes in France also tend to be quite expensive.
Most Expensive and Cheapest Cities in France
France’s most expensive cities are:
The cheapest cities in France are:
Culture and Social Etiquette
From the Gauls in the Iron Age to the modern “hexagone,” France has had many years to develop its traditions and customs. Many historical events have shaped the country, especially the French Revolution which lasted from 1789 to 1799. After the revolution, France’s monarchy with its rigid social structure shifted to a more modern nation with greater social mobility where not only the government had political power, but also the people.
Although Paris is often seen as a “model” for the surrounding regions, there are huge differences between the capital city and the rest of the country. The expression “la France profonde” is used to describe the provincial towns, little villages, and agriculture of the countryside.
The national motto of France is liberté, égalité, fraternité. Maximilien Robespierre first used it in a speech at the time of the French Revolution, and it has since been a slogan at protests, press conferences, and monuments. The three words are also displayed on the one-euro coin. Some political factions have shown resistance to this motto, but most French people consider it to be linked with their national identity and heritage.
French people consider a demonstration or a strike (grèves) their constitutional right, and it is therefore not unusual to stop working for a few days during strikes. Major protests against the government’s policy usually occur in Paris, where the protesters will walk from Place de la République to Place de la Bastille. Taking to the streets in France can sometimes become violent, and the media usually fuels the situation with daily coverage. In the past, employees of national railway service SNCF and airline Air France have organized significant strikes over salary and working conditions.
France is a melting pot of many different nationalities. It is a popular destination for immigration and expatriation, and influences from other countries have found their way into everyday life in France. Whether you opt to move to the north or the south, you will probably experience some form of culture shock. People in the south enjoy a Mediterranean climate with hot summers. It is a more relaxed, romanticized lifestyle than you might experience in the north.
Work-life balance is very healthy in France with only a 35-hour work week. Shops are closed on Sundays and in the afternoon every day for a two-hour lunch break.
Celebrating the Republic
Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion in France, which means that there are a number of traditional feasts which are also public holidays. There are eleven national holidays, including:
- Le Jour de l’Armistice – this day falls on November 11 when the French remember those who died or were injured in the First World War. There are special memorial services held in churches across the country, and the president of France lays flowers at public memorial sites. This day generally has a solemn mood, and just like other bank holidays, the majority of shops and restaurants are closed.
- La Fête de lalibération – This holiday celebrates the end of World War II on 8 May 1945 and the freedom of France that followed. Schools and universities focus their lessons on Nazi oppression and the war in the period leading up to this day. As everyone has a day off, many people attend parades and church services. Some display the French flag outside of their houses, as well as on public buildings.
- Le Quatorze Juillet – This fête nationale celebrates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, an important event at the beginning of the French Revolution. Many people attend events and parades that are organized throughout France. Service men and women also participate in an annual military parade at the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris. At the end of the day, this celebration is closed with spectacular fireworks that are set off from the Eiffel Tower and the gardens of Trocadéro.
Etiquette and Manners
The French can be very formal people, even in the most casual of settings. Shaking hands is common even among colleagues in the workplace to say hello and again once they are headed out at the end of the day. Women might kiss you on the cheek to say hello, but only among those they know well. Be sure to speak softly and graciously in every setting.
When speaking the language, the French “tu” (you) is considered informal and can be used among close friends and family. Use “vous” when addressing someone you have just met, do not know well, or even an elder to show respect.
People often mistake the French for being snobbish, but in reality, they are just being polite and respectful in true French fashion. For example, they are always impeccably dressed on the streets, and that is because being dressed down in public is considered being disrespectful to others. Also grooming in public is frowned upon, so toothpicks, nail clippers, and hair brushes are never used in public.
For social gatherings, arriving on time is appreciated, however, never early. Do not arrive more than ten minutes late to any event. The more south you are in the country, the more relaxed they are with their times and punctuality. The French are private people so don’t ask too many probing questions, unless speaking with someone you’re really close with.
If you are invited to dinner, it is polite to finish all the food on your plate. If presenting your host with flowers, always give flowers in odd numbers except 13 because it is considered unlucky.
In conversation, joke-telling is not customary. The French prefer intellectual or satirical wit. Some understanding of French culture, history, and politics will go a long way.
Driving in France
If you are planning on moving to a large city in France, such as Paris, Lyon, or Marseilles, driving is definitely not a necessity. However, if you wish to explore France’s provincial towns and villages, having your own car will certainly be more convenient. But of course, you will need a valid license to drive on the roads of France.
The good news for expats who already have a valid driver’s license from their home country (such as a person driving in France with US license) is that they will be allowed to use it in France to drive, so long as the license was issued in their country of residence before moving to France. You may need to get it officially translated and be asked to show an International Driving Permit, which you can obtain in the country where you obtained the original license.
Requirements for Driving in France with a Foreign License
- Driver must be the legal age for driving in France which is 18.
- The license must be without suspensions, restrictions, or endorsements.
- Must comply with medical restrictions (such as glasses).
- The driver cannot have been banned from driving in France prior to getting a foreign license.
- After a year, drivers must exchange their foreign license for a French one if staying longer than a year.
If you are driving in France with a UK or European license, the residency requirement applies: you must have been issued the license while still living in your native country. The difference is you won’t need to exchange your license for a French one unless you’re deducted any points for driving offenses.
How to Get a French Driving License
If you need to exchange your foreign license for a French one, nationals of certain countries can just exchange it without having to pass the exam in France. If your native country does not have an agreement with France, you will need to pass a written and practical driving test for a probationary driver’s license.
Driving in France: Rules
Before you start driving in France, be sure to familiarize yourself with the local rules and regulations, which may differ from your native country. Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
- Drive on the right side of the road.
- Follow the speed limit: they can vary depending on the area and weather conditions.
- Do not use a mobile phone or headphones while driving.
- Do not drink and drive – allowance is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and it’s 0.2% of alcohol for drivers with less than 3 years of experience.
- Wear your seatbelt.
Road Signs in France
There are three types of roads in France, which are classified as follows:
- A means autoroute. These are freeways or highways and usually require payment of tolls (à péage); you can plan your trip and find out the cost of tolls for driving in France on the national motorway website.
- N is a national road (route nationale). National roads have a lower speed limit than the autoroutes, but do not have tolls.
- D is a route départementale, i.e. a minor road under departmental (provincial) administration.
A color system goes along with the above roads. If the sign with the number code for the road has a red background, it signifies a major or national road. A number highlighted in yellow means a regional road of intermediate significance, and white is for minor or country roads. A provincial road, for example, will probably be a minor one and have a white number sign.
Toll booths on autoroutes are situated either near the entrance or the exit of the highway. When driving in France, you can pay your toll in cash or with a credit card. Fees are rather expensive. Get informed on key rates concerning French highways and expressways online before you choose a route!
Outside of metropolitan areas, traffic conditions are far better than the cliché suggests. However, be wary of motorcyclists and moped drivers, as they often drive rather fast, are easy to overlook, and some tend to overtake dangerously. Also, take care around large trucks and vans —keep your wits about you when driving abroad.
Driving a Rental Car
Some car rental agencies require the driver to be at least 21 or 25 years of age. Some may also require you to have had your foreign driver’s license for at least a year. It is best to check with the agency directly for their specific requirements.
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Public Transportation in France
If you prefer not to drive and avoid heavy traffic, France’s public transportation system is a great alternative. With excellent connections to all parts of the country and travel options for all kinds of budget, trains, planes, and coaches are a particularly convenient way to get around.
How is Public Transportation in France?
Be aware that public transportation in France is relatively prone to recurring strikes (les grèves). When traveling make sure you keep up to date with the French news. Get in touch with your airline, or contact the SNCF to find out if your transportation is affected by a strike.
Transportation in French Cities
Public transportation is also the easiest way to get around a city like Paris, for instance, where traffic is heavy and parking is rare. Fortunately, the public transportation systems in French cities are well-developed.
The following cities have an underground subway system, also known as the métro, in addition to their bus system:
Moreover, the following cities have a tram service which runs roughly between 5:00 and midnight:
In Paris, the métro runs approximately every five minutes and reaches almost every neighborhood of the capital. In addition to the métro, trams, and buses, Paris also has the RER (Réseau Express Régional). This express train connects the city of Paris to its suburbs.
Most départementsalso offer regional bus services that connect smaller towns. That being said, the service in rural areas can be somewhat limited, especially at night and on weekends. If you are not living in one of the bigger cities, check whether taking the car is the more practical solution for a night out.
Cost of Public Transportation in France
- Single metro/bus ticket: 1.90 EUR (2 USD)
- Weekly pass (Navigo): 22.80 EUR (26 USD) for all zones
- Monthly pass (Navigo): 75.20 EUR (85 USD) for all zones
- Single bus/tram ticket: 1.50 EUR (2 USD)
- Day-long bus/tram pass: 5 EUR (6 USD)
- Nice airport: 6 EUR (7 USD)
- Single bus/tram ticket: 1.70 EUR (2 USD)
- Roundtrip bus/tram ticket: 3.10 EUR (4 USD)
- Day-long bus/Tram ticket: 4.70 EUR (5 USD)
- 10 bus/tram tickets: 13.20 EUR (15 USD)
- Single metro/bus/tram ticket: 1.60 EUR (2 USD)
- Day-long bus/tram/metro/ferry ticket: 3.60 EUR (4 USD)
- Single bus/tram ticket: 1.60 EUR (2 USD)
- 10 bus/tram tickets: 14.90 EUR (17 USD)
- Day-long bus/tram ticket: 5.40 EUR (6 USD)
- Single bus/funicular/tram/metro ticket: 1.90 EUR (2 USD)
- 10 bus/funicular/tram/metro tickets: 16.90 EUR (19 USD)
- Day-long bus/funicular/tram/metro ticket: 5.80 EUR (7 USD)
|City||Start (EUR)||Start (USD)||1km (EUR)||1km (USD)|
For those who need to travel around France for business meetings or who would like to explore the country, the extensive rail network is an excellent alternative to driving. Major cities and towns are all connected to the French railway network and are usually linked by regional trains (TER — Trains Express Régionaux) or the famous high-speed trains (TGV — Trains à Grande Vitesse).
The service is mostly provided by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), France’s state-owned railway company. SNCF offers many different services at different prices. Aside from regional and middle-distance connections, there are also rail links to other European countries, such as Germany, Belgium, UK, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, and Switzerland.
TER: Regional Transportation
TER (Transport Express Regional) is the regional service provided by SNCF. With a combination of rail and coach services, TER connects towns and suburbs in 20 regions around the country. Many people use TER to commute, and SNCF reports one million TER passengers per day.
These train connections are developed in close collaboration with the transportation authorities of each region to decide on the specific routes, services, and prices. If you take the train to work, chances are that it is operated by TER.
Intercité trains are used for middle- and long-distance connections across France. They link major towns and cities in the country and operate day and night. In total, 340 intercité trains are in service, carrying about 100,000 passengers daily.
City-to-city links include connections between Bourdeaux and Lyon, Quimper, Nantes, Bourdeaux, and Toulouse, as well as Lyon, Tours, and Nantes. Moreover, intercité trains allow you to reach Paris from Rouen, Orléans, Amiens, or Caen in less than two hours.
Luxurious Travel with the TGV and Eurostar
The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is another “specialty” of the SNCF. This high-speed train service has been in operation since the early 1980s, with its popularity peaking in the mid-90s. It allows you to reach over 15 countries all over Europe at 320 km/h (199 mph).
Eurostar offers a high-speed link between Paris, Lille, or Calais and the UK, allowing passengers to reach London in under 2 ½ hours. This train has been running since 1994 and crosses the Channel via the Eurotunnel.
Ouigo is a particularly affordable travel option for passengers on a budget. These high-speed trains connect to towns such as Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Marseille, Montpellier, and many more. Fares can be as low as 10 EUR (11 USD) for a ticket from Paris to southern France.
If you want to charge your phone or work on a presentation during the journey on these trains, you have to book a power socket in advance or select a seat with a free power socket at a higher price. You will also have to pay extra for bigger or additional luggage, so it makes sense to travel light on the Ouigo trains.
Prices and Tickets
The price for a train ticket depends largely on the duration of the journey, the type of train, and how far in advance you book your ticket. Cheaper tickets are available but often sell out early. For a longer trip with the TGV, it makes sense to book a seat well in advance.
However, do not forget to visit the website of SNCF to look for special deals and last-minute bargains. Trips to other European countries are sometimes available for as little as 29 EUR (33 USD). If you use the train frequently, look into their cards and discounts. SNCF offers rail cards to specific age groups which allow them to save on train tickets. Group discounts and special fares for students, military personnel, and people with disabilities are available as well.
Another increasingly popular option for exploring France is to travel by coach. These are not the average run-of-the-mill buses you would use for your daily commute, but comfortable, modern vehicles with Wi-Fi, power outlets, and clean toilets.
- The Ouibus service, for instance, is run by SNCF and departs from city centers all around the country. They operate 130 routes nationwide and connect you to 46 French and European destinations. You can easily travel from Paris to Brussels or Lyon to Milan with this coach service.
- Eurolines combines the services of 29 independent coach companies, creating one of the largest networks in Europe. Destinations in their French network include Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Toulouse, and Strasbourg, to name just a few. Tickets are available from 8 EUR (9 USD) upwards.
- Flixbus has only been in business since 2013 but has quickly become one of the most popular coach services in Europe. Most connections start or end in Paris, but there are also Flixbus services between many other French cities. Tickets might be a bit more expensive though, starting at about 19 EUR (22 USD).
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