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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

PROPERTY

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

If you're researching the French property market, you might have come across mentions of 'courtiers' - here's what they do and whether they are necessary.

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

The French ‘courtier‘ is usually translated as a broker, and the Notaires Association describes their role like this: “the broker is a true intermediary in banking operations. His/her role is to negotiate the best rates for you, but not only that: they will also find the most advantageous financing conditions for the realisation of your project.”

Essentially they act as an intermediary between you and the banks, so they’re only required if you need a mortgage or a loan in order to buy your French property. 

Their job is to research the best deals for you and then to help you put together your application and ensure that all your paperwork is correct – unlike the notaire, instructing a courtier is not a required part of the process, so the decision on whether to instruct one is up to you. 

So is it worth it?

Among French buyers, around 30 percent of mortgages are obtained using the services of a courtier, and this rises to 60 percent among young, first-time buyers, who generally find it harder to access credit.

Some of things to consider are your level of French and confidence in negotiating French bureaucracy, your financial situation (since French mortgage lenders tend to be stricter than those in the UK or US) and whether you currently live in France or not (since there are extra hoops to jump through for overseas buyers).

READ ALSO Is now a good time to buy a home in France?

“Things have changed,” Trevor Leggett, group president of Leggett International estate agents, told The Local. “It’s now more important than ever to work closely with a reputable broker.

“In France it is all paper-based, very old-school and extremely bureaucratic, a different world entirely to the UK. Preparing the client “dossier” so that it will be accepted is an art form.”

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

He advised non-resident international clients, particularly, who may not be au fait with the French system to seek the help of a broker who knows the ropes.

“The question is no longer really about savings,” he said. “It is about finding a bank that can actually lend to the client profile, interests rate are secondary. 

“It occasionally happens that one bank can be played off against another, or to shop around, but it’s a rare event nowadays.”

READ ALSO Revealed: The ‘hidden’ extra costs when buying property in France

And he had no hesitation in recommending that prospective buyers find a broker to sort out the financing.

“The lending market has tightened for international buyers and a good one is worth their weight in gold,” he said.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Time-frame for buying and selling property in France

In France, you make an offer on a property and then you begin the mortgage process (while in the UK it’s the other way round) so problems in getting your mortgage approved could lead to you losing your dream property.

“[Using a courtier] can be the difference between buying and not,” added Trevor.

“It’s not just any possible language barrier – but understanding the process and the different players in the market.”

How much?

The cost of hiring a courtier is borne by the buyer – but how much do they charge?

The courtier usually charges a percentage of the total mortgage amount – fees must be fixed in advance and are only payable once your mortgage application has been approved. 

Fees vary between different areas and different businesses, but the average fee is €2,000, which amounts to around one percent of the purchase price.

Many brokers set a minimum amount – around €1,500 – for smaller loans, and take a percentage of larger loans, so how much you pay depends on your property budget. 

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