Years ago, when we were preparing for our move from Paris to Panama City, my husband Lief presented me with a budget showing that it would cost slightly more for our family to be in Panama City, Panama, than it had been costing us to live in Paris, France.
I suggested he double-check his math.
My husband, the accountant, assured me his figures were correct, and, indeed, Lief’s projections played out. Our day-to-day costs of living in Panama City these past nine years have been a little higher than they were in Paris.
How could that be?
Paris is the most beautiful, most romantic city in the world. It’s also a place where your cost of living can be hugely variable and highly controllable.
That is to say, you don’t necessarily need a royal’s budget to be able to enjoy life in the greatest city on earth.
In Paris, you can live happily car-free, walking nearly anywhere you’d want to go. The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the wine shop, a half-dozen busy cafés, and as many lovely parks and gardens are all less than 15 minutes’ walk from almost any point in central Paris. And, when you want to venture beyond your quartier, the Métro will transport you from restaurant to nightclub, from museum to café for less than US$2 (when you buy your tickets in a 10 pack).
France boasts perhaps the world’s best infrastructure, and it’s a bargain. Cable TV, internet, and telephone, as well as the Métro, the bus, and the RER train system… all are likely less costly than comparable services where you’re living now.
Our phone plan in Paris costs less than 40 euros per month and allows unlimited free calls anytime to anywhere throughout Europe and to anywhere in the United States. That’s hard to beat.
My point is not that you should plan to move to Paris to reduce your cost of living. It is possible, in fact, to do just that, but that’s not the typical agenda where Paris or France is concerned.
My point is that you shouldn’t deny or delay your dreams of la vie française because you’re worried you can’t afford them. We lived in Paris for four years, with two children, and I’m here to tell you that we were able to control our costs within a very reasonable budget.
As you know, this summer Lief and I have repositioned our base to Paris. After nine years living in Panama City, it’s time for us to launch the next stage of our ongoing live-and-invest-overseas adventures.
The past years in Panama, we were hunkered down raising our son and building a business. Now that both are grown up enough to take their first independent steps, Lief and I are allowing our imaginations to wander.
If we could go anywhere, where would we go, we asked ourselves…
Paris will always be the first answer to that question for me.
For me, Paris… indeed, all France… is as good as life gets. And right now, this country, including its City of Light, is on sale for us dollar-holders. Our U.S. dollars go further in France today than they have in many years.
For Lief and me, it’s an irresistible window of opportunity.
But enough with all the theory. Let’s get down to brass tacks. How much would it really cost you to live in France right now? Here are two sample starter budgets…
This first one for a couple living in Paris’ Marais district, one of its most historic and appealing:
- Rent: 1,675 euros… for an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment
- Gas and Electricity: 100 euros per month total on average over 12 months… including heating but no air conditioning (few places are equipped with air conditioning)
- Telephone/Cable/Internet: 40 euros… for the package that allows free unlimited phone calls anywhere in Europe and anywhere in the States
- Groceries: 580 euros
- Transportation: 146 euros… for two monthly Métro/bus passes
- Entertainment: 400 euros… this could be much more or it could be less, of course… your entertainment cost living anywhere is 100% controllable
TOTAL: 2,941 euros
And now a second budget for a couple embracing French country life in the medieval town of Carcassonne, where Walt Disney is said to have gotten his inspiration:
- Rent: 400 euros… for a small house
- Gas and Electricity: 100 euros on average
- Telephone/Cable/Internet: 40 euros
- Groceries: 480 euros… a little more affordable than in the big city
- Transportation: 60 euros… for two monthly bus passes
- Entertainment: 300 euros… again, a little more affordable than in Paris
TOTAL: 1,380 euros
A few takeaways from all this:
First, remember that no matter where in the world you live, housing will likely be your biggest monthly expense. In France, the cost of housing is far greater in Paris than anywhere else in the country.
Buy your own apartment in Paris (locking in today’s strong dollar values), and your Paris housing expense is reduced to a monthly syndic (HOA) fee and property taxes, both typically relatively very small amounts.
Second, my Carcassone budget includes two monthly bus passes. You could live in this town comfortably using its bus system to get around, but, once here, you might decide you’d like to own a car… allowing for regular travel around the French countryside. That’d be a different budget.
Third, utilities are a relative bargain in France. Our monthly utility costs were much lower, overall and on average, in Paris than in Panama City before we made that move… and they will be again now that we’ve repositioned.
This has a lot to do with the cost of air conditioning. In Panama City, we ran ours most all the time. Here in Paris our apartment doesn’t have it. This means that, a couple of months a year (including right now), we’re hot. We open the windows to catch the breezes and live with it until the season changes. In winter, we have the expense of gas heating, but keeping our little Paris place warm the few months it’s cold outside is a fraction the cost of keeping our Panama City place cool year-round.
Fourth, again, entertainment expense can be a big part of your budget or zero. This is the case anywhere in the world… and, in fact, Paris is one of the best places in the world to live if the entertainment allowance in your budget is on the skinny side. This city is choc-a-block with fun free things to do.
Finally, your cost of living in a place like Paris will be higher at first and decrease over time. Lief and I continue to find new and more affordable options for everything from a scoop of ice cream to roast chicken, dry cleaning, and a glass of champagne (all items we’ve purchased in the past week).
Nothing makes Lief happier than finding a new, cheaper place to source something I’m in the regular market to buy.