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MOVING TO FRANCE

France v Spain: which is the better place to move to?

Trying to decide to if you want to move to France or Spain? Want to know which country is better for taxes, which one has a cheaper cost of living and which offers more diverse culture and landscapes? Here's everything you need to know.

France v Spain: which is the better place to move to?
Barcelona or Paris? Spain or France? Which country has the most to offer to new arrivals?" Photos:  Kristina Spisakova/Pixabay, Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Ultimately the decision of whether you move to France or Spain will come down to personal preferences – the areas you like, the language you want to learn and the types of cuisine you want to enjoy, but there are several factors that can make living somewhere more difficult than others, such as taxes, visas and cost of living.

Taxes

France has a long-standing and justified reputation as a high-tax country – in 2021, it had the second highest top statutory personal income tax rate among European OECD countries, after Denmark (55.9 percent), France (55.4 percent), and ahead of Austria (55 percent).

It’s almost impossible to compare and contrast tax systems between the two countries – and much depends on personal circumstances as to how much an individual or household pays in taxes and social charges.

Like many nations, it has a progressive tax banding system, which are as follows:

French income tax bands

Up to €10,225

€10,226–€26,070

€26,071–€74,545

€74,546–€160,366

€160,36

French tax rate

0%

11%

30%

41%

45%

Self-employed workers under the micro-entrepreneur scheme benefit from a tax status that simplifies tax and accounting requirements. For income taxes, you’ll file under the standard personal progressive rates.

Like France, Spain has a progressive tax system. The rates for 2022 are as follows:

Spanish income tax bands Spanish tax rate
€12,450–€20,200 24%
€20,200–€35,200 30%
€35,200–€60,000 37%
 €60,000–€300,000 45%
over €300,000 47%

France may have the second-highest top statutory personal income tax rate among European OECD, but low to mid earners pay significantly less income tax in France than in Spain. 

When it comes to being self-employed, Spain is unfortunately not a great country to choose regarding taxes. Autónomos (self-employed) pay the highest monthly social security fees in the EU. Currently, this is paid as a flat monthly fee of €294 per month, no matter what your earnings are. Taxes are then paid on top of this monthly fee. 

If the new proposed changes come into force in 2023, self-employed workers could end up paying double the amount of freelancers in France.

Golden visa

France doesn’t offer a ‘golden visa’ per se, but it has a ‘passeport talent’ scheme for any non-French self-employed person planning to create a business or make an economic investment. 

Be aware, this scheme does not allow investors simply to stump up €300,000, or buy an apartment in Paris and expect to be handed a passeport talent. They must take an active role in the business in which they are investing.

READ ALSO: How France’s ‘talent visa’ programme works

Golden visas do exist in Spain, allowing you to essentially ‘buy’ Spanish residency by investing €500,000 in property. The Spanish golden visa is also a pathway to citizenship, enabling you to renew your residency status and apply for citizenship after 10 years. 

Spain also offers a residency visa for entrepreneurs and business activities, also known as the visado de emprendedor in Spanish. Entrepreneurial activity is considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain. There are no minimum capital requirements or a minimum number of jobs that your business must create, however you must submit your business plan to be approved. 

READ ALSO – Pros and cons: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

You can buy a property in Spain to get a Golden Visa. Photo: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden / Unsplash

Digital Nomad Visas

France does not offer a visa option specific to digital nomads – professionals whose line of work allows them to engage in remote work and who are therefore not location-dependent – but long-stay options are available for those who do want to spend some in the country.

READ ALSO: Working remotely from France – what are the rules for foreigners?

In 2021, Spain announced that it would be introducing a digital nomad visa, as well as tax cuts for startups and investors, but has yet to finalise all the details. 

Spain currently also offers a non-lucrative visa (NLV) scheme, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work on the NLV.  For 2022 you need to prove you have an income of €27,792 for the year to be eligible for this visa. 

READ ALSO – Tax cuts and visas: Spain’s new law for startups, investors and digital nomads

Cost of living

There are cheaper places to live than France, we have to say. Much, as always, depends on where you plan to stay – property is, as you’d expect, more expensive in the big cities, with the capital, Paris, particularly hard on your bank balance.

Outside the big urban areas, property prices, whether you want to buy or rent, fall away rapidly – but you can pay for a cheaper property with a reduction in amenities.

Eating out and grocery shopping can be pricey, depending on where you shop, but you might be pleasantly surprised by the cost of a reasonable midweek lunch, and there are always the regular markets to explore and lose yourself in.

READ ALSO Bikes, gig tickets and holidays: 7 things the French government might pay for

Paris

Paris is more expensive to live in than Madrid and Barcelona. Photo: Pete Linforth / Pixabay

Traditionally, Spain is seen as having a low cost of living compared to its western and northern European neighbours. But of course, it does completely depend on where you live within the country. 

According to expat price comparison website Expatistan the cost of living in Madrid is 48 percent less than in Paris. Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 sqft) furnished accommodation in an average area costs €968 in Madrid and €2,289 in Paris. 

But if you compare the two countries’ second cities – Barcelona and Marseille – the cost of living is about the same. Generally speaking in Spain, the south and western parts of the country such as Andalusia, Murcia, Extremadura and Galicia are cheaper than Madrid and northern regions like Catalonia and the Basque Country. 

You can still get some incredible bargains in Spain when it comes to property, and both eating out (a three-course menú del día for €10) and clothes shopping a generally cheaper than in France too. 

Keep in mind though, wages in Spain are generally less than in France. In 2022, the average salary in Spain is €2,710 gross per month or €32,520 per year, while in France it’s €39,300 per year. 

Lifestyle and culture

For all the talk of snooty waiters and rude public officials, the French are generally laid-back and fairly welcoming. If you’re polite, they’ll be polite, too. Try a bit of French – it really is appreciated. Just be ready for a direct answer if you ask a direct question – and don’t expect them to act like your best friend straightaway. Politeness is one thing, bosom buddy status has to be earned.

Culturally, France is very diverse. As well as French, France has five ‘regional languages’, not counting those spoken in its overseas territories – Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, and Occitan – and each region has its own cuisine, festivals, dances and traditions.

France boasts 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has more historical and cultural centres than you can shake a stick at. The likes of Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes, are known for their fine food and their impressive museums. 

The Spanish are generally said to be friendly, easy-going people who are fun-loving, passionate and very family orientated. You’ll notice this in the music and the way festivals are celebrated. Think Spain’s fiery Las Fallas festival, Catalonia’s human towers, the crazy Canary carnival and southern Spain’s Semana Santa parades. 

Like France, Spain is also very culturally diverse and also has five different regional languages – Castilian (Spanish), Catalan, Basque, Galician and Arranese. Each of Spain’s 17 regions has its own cuisine, festivals, dances and traditions which differ greatly from one to the other.

Spain equals France when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, also boasting 49. Paris may be one of the world’s most famous capitals, with more sights than you can visit in one trip, but Madrid and Barcelona can definitely hold their own when it comes to art museums and architecture. Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Málaga and Granada are also known for their great museums and cultural offerings too.

Alhambra

Granda’s Alhambra is one of Spain’s 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Photo: granagramers / Pixabay

Nature and landscapes

France – with its mountains, extinct volcanoes, plains, coastal areas (its coastline is nearly as long as Spain’s), dunes, lakes – is a nature-lover’s paradise whatever the season. It has 9 national parks and 58 regional ones, dotted all over the country.

It’s hugely popular with tourists all year round, with the Alps and Pyrenees must-go areas for winter sport lovers. Get the time of year right, and you can ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon…

Spain is also great for nature lovers, especially those who love hiking, cycling and water sports, and comprises diverse landscapes from soaring mountains and wide river estuaries to lunar-like deserts and one of Europe’s best coastlines. 

Home to 16 National Parks, as well as countless natural parks in each of its 17 regions, it offers many options for nature lovers to get out and explore. Like France, winter sports can be found throughout the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees and in the region of Granada skiing and sunbathing can be done on the same day too. 

Camargue

France’s Camargue National Park is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Photo: Christian Klein / Pixabay

Healthcare

Healthcare in France is widely reputed to be among the very best in the world – evidence of your tax euros at work. Once you’re registered with a doctor and on the social security system, care is routinely excellent, speedy and affordable – with almost all point-of-need costs covered by the State. 

Many people also take on top-up health insurance to cover additional expenses that do crop up – be aware glasses can be expensive, though the government has stepped in to ensure genuinely affordable eye care is available. And the system is smart and co-ordinated enough to ensure that any paperwork is kept to a minimum.

READ ALSO How to register for a carte vitale and why you need one

Spain is also said to have a great healthcare system. According to the World Health Organisation’s latest global report, Spain’s health system ranked number seven in the world. Those paying into the social security system, either via their employer or through being self-employed, have access to free healthcare and primary healthcare services are available within a 15-minute radius from where you live in most of the country.

Having said that, many Spaniards – 19 percent to be exact – opt for private healthcare. This is because it’s very affordable, sometimes a little as €15 per month. The advantages are that waiting times are dramatically reduced and you are able to see a specialist directly without having to be referred. 

READ ALSO: How to apply for a public health card in Spain

Transport

The French state-run high-speed rail service makes getting from place to place easy and relatively affordable, while in the big cities, public transport is generally good.

Get out of the towns though and you’re pretty much dependent on having a car. For driving longer distances the pay-as-you-go motorway system allows swift and, generally, easy travel.

Spain has a very efficient and affordable public transport system, which comprises highspeed rail networks run by RENFE, as well as regional rail networks and buses across the country. The regional rail networks are extensive and often serve small towns and villages, as well as larger cities. However, if you choose to live in a more rural area, then having your own car is best. 

Most highways in Spain are free to use, apart from a few which require you to pay a toll. In 2021 400km of motorways in Spain (mainly in Catalonia) became toll-free.

Renfe

Spain has an excellent transport network. Photo: Antonio Garcia Prats / Pixabay

Language

Speaking French helps in everyday interactions. Even if you have just a little basic French, use it – especially bonjour. The effort is appreciated, and you’ll find life becomes a whole lot easier. 

And it’s easy enough to find places to improve your language skills – your local mairie will probably have information. Even something as simple as listening to French radio or watching French TV shows helps. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up.

Speaking Spanish is almost essential if you move to Spain, apart from if you choose to live in one of the towns in southern Spain where Brits outnumber locals.

The Spanish are also not as good at speaking English as many of their European neighbours, so learning the local lingo will go a long way to helping you get by. 

READ ALSO: Spanish now ranked worst in EU at speaking English

But don’t worry, according to language-learning app Babbel Spanish is the third-easiest language to learn for English speakers, way above French which comes in at number eight on the list. Spanish is also the world’s fourth-most spoken language with over 500 million people speaking it worldwide. Conversely French comes in fifth place, but only has 282 million speakers. This means that your Spanish will help you not just in Spain, but when you travel too. 

The Spanish are also a lot more accepting of foreigners who try to speak their language, even if they get it wrong, and will rarely switch immediately to English, except in very touristy areas. They are encouraging and don’t mind if you make mistakes. 

Compromise

Really can’t decide? The Basque country is predominantly in Spain but also covers parts of south west France, including Bayonne and Biarritz.

It has its own culture, traditions and food – including delicious spicy peppers – and the countryside is stunning.

Zorte on euskerarekin

*(good luck with learning the Basque language) 

Member comments

  1. Can one obtain a Carte Vitale if residing in France more than 3 months per year, but without establishing primary residence in France?

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For members

MOVING TO SPAIN

REVEALED: The cheapest and most expensive areas to buy or rent in Valencia

If you're thinking of a move to Valencia, you should know that the eastern city is renowned for its relatively cheap cost of living compared to other big cities in Spain. So where are the cheapest and most expensive 'barrios' (neighbourhoods) to rent or buy a home?

REVEALED: The cheapest and most expensive areas to buy or rent in Valencia

The Mediterranean coast, climate and diet. A city with history, charm, and bustling with life. Valencia has it all, and that is why so many foreigners make it home.

In fact, over 100,000 foreigners have made the eastern Spanish city their home in recent decades, and for good reason.

But what’s the situation when it comes to renting or buying a property?

Before diving into our neighbourhood property guide, let’s have a look at the big picture and see how Valencia stacks up against other Spanish cities. 

Buying a property in Valencia in 2022 costs an average of around €1,839/m2, which means that if you buy a 80/m2 apartment, it would cost you around €147,000.

That’s cheap – in fact, if we compare the average prices in Valencia to Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll realise just how affordable Valencia can be if you know where to look.

Let’s take, for example, Valencia’s most expensive neighbourhood, l’Eixample, in the city centre, which on average costs €3,024/m2 to buy.

That’s quite a bit more than the city-wide average (in barrios further afield the average is around just €1,400/m2), but pales in comparison to the Salamanca district of Madrid (€6,149/m2) and the Sarrià – Sant Gervasi area of Barcelona (€5,228/m2).

Valencia’s affordability is one of the main reasons why so many foreigners have flooded the market in the last two decades.

More than four out of five foreigners in Valencia (82 percent) believe that housing is affordable in the city, compared to 41 percent globally, according to the annual Expat Insider Survey published by InterNations which recently ranked Valencia as the best city in the world for foreign residents.

READ ALSO: Living in Spain: Why Valencia is officially the best city in the world for foreign residents

And renting is cheap too – international cost of living calculator Numbeo found that Valencianos fork out just 27.7 percent of their monthly budget on paying rent.

Before we continue, it’s worth noting that due to rising inflation in Spain and a lack of available properties in Valencia itself, rent and sale prices have increased, keeping in mind that the data in this article is from February 2022, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But we know that by general standards Valencia’s is fairly affordable – but where are the most and least expensive neighbourhoods in the city? 

Cheapest neighbourhoods to buy a property in Valencia

According to Spanish property site Kasaz.com, these are the cheapest Valencian barrios to buy in 2022:

  1. Rascanya is the cheapest place to buy an apartment in Valencia. In the north of Valencia and bordered by better known barrios such as Benimaclet to the east, La Saïdia to the south, and Benicalap to the west, Rascanya is really cheap to buy – on average, buyers pay around €1,133/m2.
  2. L’Olivereta comes in at number 2. Located in the west of the city but just a 15 minute walk from downtown, prices in L’Olivereta average out at around €1,302/m2 but it varies quite a bit within the neighbourhood itself. L’Olivereta is home to five neighbourhoods and prices vary depending on where you are: La Fontsanta €862/m2), Tres Forques (€1,017/m2), Soternes (€1,387/m2), La Llum (€1,415/m2), Nou Moles (€1,456/m2).
  3. Jesús district was a historically industrial neighbourhood, and despite many years of housing shortages, prices have stayed low: buyers there pay on average €1,355/m2. However, having 5 neighbourhoods, prices may vary depending on where you are: Sant Marcellí is the cheapest neighbourhood (€1,214/m2), followed by Camí Reial (€1,238/m2), L’Hort de Senabre (€1,306/m2), La Creu Coberta (€1,353/m2) and La Raiosa (€1,453/m2).

    An official map showing Valencia’s city’s neighbourhoods. Map: Valencia City Hall
  4. Benicalap – the fourth cheapest area in Valencia is one of its oldest. Benicalap dates back to 1238 and it even existed as a separate municipality until it was eventually annexed by the city of Valencia in the late-19th century.

    Located in the northern part of Valencia, Benicalap averages out at about €1,408/m2, but within the district are a few neighbourhoods within which prices vary quite a bit. Ciutat Fallera, for example, is very cheap (€1,006/m2), but Nou Benicalap is much pricier, with averages of €2,148/m2.

  5. Patraix – a family friendly area just 3km from the city centre, prices to buy average €1,437/m2.

    READ ALSO: Moving to Valencia: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in

Cheapest neighbourhoods to rent in Valencia

  1. Favara – sandwiched between Patriax and Jesús is the small barrio of Favara in the south of the city, where renters on average pay just €6.03/m2 – the cheapest rate in Valencia.
  2. The Torrefiel neighbourhood of Rascanya comes a close second, costing on average just €6.47/m2 to rent.
  3. San Antoni is Valencia’s third cheapest neighbourhood- up in the north of the city and neighbouring Rascanya – where rents average €6.67/m2.
  4. La Llum – on the western outskirts of Valencia lies La Llum, where renting is also a very affordable €6.86/m2.
  5. San Marcelino – a small neighbourhood belonging to the bigger barrio of Jesús, San Marcelino is an old working class area with cheap rents – €6.95/m2 on average.

Renting or buying in Valencia’s old town Ciutat Vella is logically more expensive. Photo: Al Elmes/Unsplash

Most expensive neighbourhoods to buy in Valencia

If money’s no object to you, here’s a quick breakdown of the most expensive parts to buy in Valencia. See a more detailed sub-neighbourhood by sub-neighbourhood breakdown list over at 7televalencia, which includes both the most expensive and cheapest barrios, but be warned, it’s in Valenciano!

  1. L’Eixample – €2,876/m2 – Upscale L’Eixample is filled with wide, leafy streets lined by department stores and posh brunch spots. Pricey, but trendy.
  2. Ciutat Vella – €2,859/m2 – The old town, or casco antuigo in Spanish, is stuffed to the brim with gothic cathedrals and cobblestone side streets. This is the ‘heart’ of Valencia, and living amongst such hustle, bustle, and history comes at a price.
  3. El Pla del Real – €2,487/m2 – Known by some as Valencia’s nicest district, El Pla del Real is full of green spaces and parks, and is a great place to bring up kids.
  4. Campanar – €2,082/m2 – Campanar’s canal walks and vineyards give it a village like quality right in the middle of the city.
  5. Extramurs – €2,062/m2 – Bordering the old town, Extramurs central location mean it’s pricey and brimming with life – the barrio is home to some of Valencia’s best tapas bars and very popular with students. Top tip: visit the university’s botanic garden for an escape from city life.

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