June 15, 2013

The Cost of Living in France - Normandy Edition

Moules de Barfleur

Since moving to Normandy in December 2011, I've had a dozen or so readers ask if we've found the cost of living in the north of France to be more or less expensive than in the south of France. Here's what I've learned over the last eighteen months.

Everyone already knows that moving is expensive. In France, rental properties often come with only the key and the kitchen sink. You're lucky if they leave you with some light bulbs still in the sockets. We were prepared to either rent a truck and move furniture and appliances from our house in the south up to Normandy, or start over and buy everything new/used. Either way it was going to cost a bundle.

We decided to take our time and explore the area a bit before signing a lease on anything, so we spent our first month renting a gîte. Our days were spent driving around and getting to know which towns and villages we liked, and which ones we didn't.
The rest of our time was spent sitting in a café that offered free wi-fi, scouring the local real estate websites. We learned the hard way that the promise of wi-fi at a vacation rental can be, well, misleading.

Fromages Normands

les Halles

One day I signed on to leboncoin.fr and saw a little cottage with red shutters and teal green trim and I just knew. That was going to be our home.
We arranged to see it that week and loved it from the moment we walked into the garden. And the best part was that it was rented almost fully furnished! No need to rent a truck and schlep furniture across the country or shell out thousands to buy a new fridge, oven, bed, couch, etc. The deposit, agent's fees and all the other costs associated with renting a new place had already drained most of our savings account and left us feeling a bit shellshocked by the time we settled in.

But we've slowly recovered.

Pays d'Auge


Our current situation is this: here in Normandy we pay rent, taxes, electricity, water and renters insurance in addition to paying taxes, electricity, water and homeowners insurance on the house in the south, until it sells. Fingers crossed that will happen sooner rather than later!

So we're spending more every month than we did before. However, I'm earning more money than I did in the south, so after the initial moving costs and the fact that we didn't have to pay rent or a mortgage before moving, our monthly expenses are pretty much the same.

*Rent 700 € 
*Heating Fuel (to fill up the tank twice in the winter) 100 €
EDF (electricity) 55 € 
Phones and Internet 55 €
Heath Insurance Top Up (to cover the 30% that isn't covered by the state) 80 € 
Car and Home Insurances 70 €
Taxes (habitation and foncières and TV) 70 €
Water 30 €
Fuel (to fill up the car twice) 130 € 
Groceries (approx.) 500 €

Total 1790 €

Eating out and wine are the two things that we have found to be slightly more expensive in Normandy. Groceries, water, fuel and everything else seem to be about the same.
One thing that is definitely cheaper - a round trip train ticket to Paris!


Today the exchange rate is 1€ = $1.33.

When I wrote my first cost of living post in 2008, we were spending 800 € a month and the exchange rate was 1€ = $1.48.
Two years later I updated our situation. In 2010 we were spending 880 € a month and the exchange rate was 1€ = $1.24.
In the summer of 2011 I wrote my third post on the subject. At that time we were spending 1005 € a month and the exchange rate was 1€ = $1.44.

*Costs in Normandy that we didn't have in the Languedoc

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Caroline said...

Very very useful (you know why :P) so THANKS ! I also suppose life could be slightly more expensive because there are more fun things to do in the winter... and also, you should probably have a separate salted butter budget.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Good for you. It's best to tell it as it is, so people who are contemplating moving have a more realistic idea of what their lives in France would be. I hope your house in Southern France sells fast. I know it will be peace of mind for you. And I am happy to see relocating to Normandy has been a successful step for you. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Katie Zeller said...

Always interesting.... Makes me think 2 things: I wonder how much our EDF bill will go down when the hubs stops using all the power tools for construction....
And I really miss moules....

Sol said...

I really loved this post. it is really timely that you have done this now.

at some point we will move to France, I have to up my language skills as they are quite poor.

Would you say it would be worth staying in France for a month at a time?

I also agree our last visit to Normandy seemed to be more expensive than our stays near Bordeaux.

Do you have any advise on areas you have visited?

Does that mean that once you sell and buy in Normandy that it will be cheaper to live than the South?

SE said...

Thank you for this!

I stopped cold seeing your price for rent- 700 euros. Maybe the insane housing prices of Seattle have warped my brain, but I have such a hard time believing a furnished cottage... in Normandy...that, at least from the pictures, is adorable, could ever be rented for that. Seriously, is that typical, or did you get incredibly lucky? Because I cannot fathom what I am doing in gloomy overpriced Seattle when France has such treasures that....
Deep breath.
Must regain my composure- off to make tea.
Just wow.

Michel said...

I hope you can sell your house in the South of France very soon! I am sure it will be a huge financial relief to have that resolved.

Jennifer said...

Yes, much more to do year around here in the winter than there was in the south, so we have more of a chance to spend money.
You're right...I should have listed the butter as a separate category.
Glad this was of some help!

Thank you!
Yes, it would be great if our house sells soon. We would love to be able to buy something up here.

Jennifer said...

Your EDF bill will go down. A lot.
And I would miss moules too...

Thank you, I'm glad you found this helpful. I'm afraid I don't understand your question about being in France one month at a time...
I advise you to visit many areas and find which one suits you best. Every region of France, like any country, is very different and has its own unique "flavor."
On average, it is about the same to live here than in the south, so yes, if we weren't paying rent, our monthly costs would go down significantly. Good luck!

Jennifer said...

It's funny that you say how inexpensive our rent is, because actually, for the area, it is on the high side. We were willing to pay a bit more because it was furnished. The rents outside of major cities aren't that bad.

Yes, it would be a relief!

La Torontoise said...

Thank you so much for this honest and very informative summary!
I could relate to the numbers.

Have a good weekend!

Jennifer said...

La Torontoise
You're welcome!

Steve Findley said...

Thank you for your very informative blog! My wife and I have a question: we will be living in Poitou-Charentes for four months this fall/winter. We will be paid in US dollars, directly into our US bank account. Do you have any advice about changing USdollars/monthly paychecks into euros and transferring money into French bank accounts (of which we already have one)?
Thanks so much for any help!

Jennifer said...

We used to try to only move money once or twice a year to save on the fees, which are expensive. If you have a Bank of America account you can take 200€ a day from a BNP cash machine without any fees.
Hope that helps.
Enjoy your time in France!

Steve Findley said...

Thanks for your response! I've been looking into it, talking to my bank, and I'm now wondering whether we're not just better off using the French ATM to withdraw our monthly salary. Our lovely local bank in the states charges $1 in ATM fees, and has a $500 daily maximum. So for $4-6 we will have paid all the fees we'll have to to withdraw our monthly living expenses. (My memory is that French ATM machines don't charge a local fee? Maybe I'm wrong about that?) At any rate, our bank told us that the cost of wiring money was $25, and then expressed some reservations about it. And, not to mention the fact that ATM transactions give you the best exchange rate. Or so I've heard? better than wiring money? Sorry to pose so many questions masquerading as conclusions here, but, again, any thoughts? My wife and I are very appreciative!

Jennifer said...

I'm sorry but I don't know what all the French banks charge to use their ATM's if you don't have an account with them. I only use the ATM from my French bank to avoid any fees. If you look on individual bank websites, they should list the fees.
Also I have no idea of what it costs to wire money because I've never had to do that.
I'm sure you can find out if you have a look at Western Union?
Good luck with your move! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the information

For how many people is the total monthly cost? Is this for 2 adults or a family?

Jennifer said...

2 adults

Anonymous said...

great article ...
would just like to add something if i may to the exchange rate for those who are 'newbies ' ...
one american dollah ' gets you .75-.76 euro cents ..
it costs $1.30 ( approx. ) to buy a euro...
i know many people get confused with the exchange ...
kind regards from an old expat ....

Anonymous said...

very informative and fun blog. Pretty much fits in with our cost of living in the centre of france.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post it is part of our research, have you had interactions with families with non french speaking children? My children are 6 and 3 and we know that they will face some challenges. .. any advice?

Unknown said...

Any advice on schooling for young children and their transition. .. thank you for your thoughts

Jennifer said...

I have encountered families with kids and yes, they will face challenges. Especially the 1st year. I would start studying your French as soon as possible so you can help them with the transition...but eventually they will speak better French than you. :)

loupgris said...

Love your website. My wife and I have been Francophiles for decades and have spent some summers in rental homes near Grasse. We're ready to retire and have a big enough nest egg to do so comfortably. Just can't seem to find a simple answer to what our healthcare and related insurance options are. Major goal is to guard against catastrophic health event costs as we can domestically with Medicare. Help!

Jennifer said...

Call our insurance agent, Nick Chubb. He is brilliant! We've known him for 12 years, he speaks English and lives in the Languedoc.
You can tell him I recommended him. (My name is Jennifer Greco)
Nick Chubb
+33 (0)4 68 32 41 20

Enjoy your move to France!

Viviene said...


We're planning a move to France in January with our 2 small children (6&7) for 6 months. We won't be working during that time and your blog was very useful in giving us an idea of how much to budget for the 6 months. I've recently heard through an agency that it will be difficult to rent a place if one is not receiving a regular salary here in France. We have more than enough funds to cover our stay and have bank statements to prove it. Have you come across this before? Also we're wondering if we'll still be able to access the health system as non-working but self-sufficient Brits.

Jennifer said...

You shouldn't have a problem finding a short term, 6 month rental. It's the longer rentals that are usually much harder to get and require a complete dossier.
You'll have to check the current agreement with the UK and France about your heath coverage. As an American I've never really paid attention to them. :)
This website is up to date and should give you the information you need.

Have a great time in France!

Unknown said...

The U.S. bank, Schwab reimburses ATM fees anywhere in the world. I use in whenever I travel and it works. Also, they calculate exchange rates fairly, so far as I can tell.

Jennifer said...

Thanks Terrence!

TamaraThomas said...

Loulou, thanks a lot for all your posts, they are indeed of great help!

We're Brazilian and are moving to France in December/2016. We haven't made up our mind yet as to where to go! I'm a doctorate student and I was willing to have a scholarship, but that won't happen, so I'll have to live on my savings. I got in contact with some universities in Grenoble where I'd have access to their libraries, university restaurants, etc. to finish writing my thesis, but I was under the impression that it would happen anywhere I went. So, we gave it some thought, and decided to pick a place where we wouldn't have a high crime rate nor a high living cost, and where we would be able to ride bikes as our main mean of transportation and where 1,000 euros/month would do... that would, then, from our standpoint, place us in a small town. Which is ok for us, pas de problème at all! At the same time, however, we were willing to be in a place where my husband would be able to raise some more fundings, hehe, he is a jiu Jitsu teacher, so we thought of being near Marseille, but we've heard its crime rate is quite high... I don't know if Grenoble is our best shot... ah! on top of it, I'm taking a 12-month French course to become a French as a Foreign Language Teacher (I've been studying and speaking French for 15 years now, and I had lived in Paris for couple of times, before getting married) and my husband would be in a regular Alliance Française course, it's pretty much where our visas would come from... I've never lived in France-France, only in Paris. I know the South, but just as a tourist... I'm feeling really lost... I've been reading blogs, and blogs, but I haven't been able to make up my mind...
All in all, would you have some recommendation? Hints? Tips? Opinion? Anything?hehe
Je vous remercie énormément!

PS The courses we're taking is not part of the 1,000 euro-budget, and we were thinking of a 20m2 studio, nothing luxurious at all... Grenoble, from what I could grasp, has studios for 400 euros or so...

Unknown said...

Have you considered Strasbourg or one of the small cities in Alsace Lorraine?

Sara said...

I have been following you for years. I came upon your site, way back in 2009 when I saw your first cost of living. I have been following since, and now I am here. I asked you several years ago about Normandy, since I was debating between Normandy and Gironde. I settled on Normandy and I have been here for 6 months now and have (just today) purchased a house just across the border in Mayenne. I love it here. My biggest headache was getting a bank account, it took me the whole six months to finally get one. I love your blog. I just thought I would let you know I finally made it - with your help.

ankitha rajput said...

Hello ..Great job. Nice blog. Thanks for sharing the information. Good luck.