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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

Cost of living in France compared to the UK

One of the biggest questions we get asked as expats living in rural France is about the cost of living. In particular how France compares to the UK. Now as you can imagine it’s impossible to be precise as things change on a regular basis. Instead I’ve collated a ‘Cost of Living Guide’. This will provide some insight into the financial highs and lows of moving to South West France.

Now naturally, I’m a little biassed as I love living in France and enjoy the joie de vie this lifestyle gives me. But, I also want to give you a fair comparison. I’d be lying if I said the cost of living crisis hasn’t impacted us, because it has. But it definitely hasn’t been as severe in rural France as it has in the UK.

Of course you don’t have to take my word for it. If you fancy doing some research of your own here’s a few comparison sites you might find useful.

But be warned, it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s taken us a number of days to compile this guide so it’s not a quick job. Also, be sure that you check the date that the data was sourced!

And another thing, remember to check the categories within the index or comparison site. There may be an activity or something that you consume regularly that isn’t included or fall within the category you expect it to.

What Groups of Expats Move to France?

When I first relocated to rural France I quickly realised that expats living here fell into three categories:

  • Retirees – those looking to live out their retirement in France
  • Relocators – those looking for a new life but still at working age
  • Families – young families looking to raise their children in France

It was the last of these that surprised me the most. In fact, we have a number of friends that fall into this category with kids under the age of ten. But when I think about it, it’s the perfect place to bring kids up. There are so many things to do, many of which are free of charge, or relatively inexpensive, compared to the UK.

All kids love splashing about in the water, right? Well there are an abundance of inland lakes and picnic spots by the rivers that are free to visit. And the best bit, they aren’t completely overcrowded or litter filled.

And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only for kids. They also welcome well-behaved furry friends. Our dog Lottie, loves nothing better than going to the picnic area near us. It’s literally ten minutes drive from our house and is one of many locally to us.

What is there to do in Rural France?

If you love a day at the beach there are some beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast within the South West region of France. Even the very popular resorts, such as La Rochelle, have plenty of room. You can pop up your parasol, unfold your deck chairs and enjoy a picnic.

During the first year of lockdown in 2020 we were allowed to go on holiday as long as it was within France. Not really a problem with so many fabulous places to choose from. We ended up choosing a gorgeous beach called L’Amélie. It’s near Soulac-sur-Mer in the region of Aquitaine approximately 458 km South-West of Paris.

We stayed in this tiny little beach hut right on the beach with uninterrupted views of the sea. Every night we watched the sun go down, a fiery ball of orange dropping into the ocean. Accompanied with a glass of wine and the sounds of Rachmaninov playing through the speakers. It was the most magical experience.

Which reminds me, if you’re not sure which region of South West France would suit you best, take our Living the French Dream Quiz.

Driving in Rural France is so Quiet & Easy

Bottom line, if you love the outdoors, South West France is the place to be. And that’s not all. Driving anywhere in rural France isn’t really a drama because there’s no traffic. If it says it will take you an hour to get somewhere, it will take you an hour.

A game I love to play when travelling is ‘Beat the Satnav’. I punch in my destination and try to shave off a good few minutes. I wouldn’t fancy my chances of doing that in the UK!

So now I’ve tempted you with the delights of living the rural life here in South West France, it’s time to take a look at the main types of expenditure, and a comparison between here and the UK.

Remember though that we’re not looking at the larger cities here such as La Rochelle or Bordeaux. We’re talking about the more rural areas in the Nouvelle Aquitaine. So it’s country living rather than city living.

Property Prices & Rent in France

By far your biggest expense is going to be your property. Normally, Brits relocating to France are looking to buy, rather than rent. Although I would strongly advise renting short term so you get a feel for the region you’re looking to settle in.

“Rent prices are approximately 20% lower on average in France than in the UK. And mortgage rates are currently very favourable too.”

Life in Rural France

At the time of writing this guide (December 2022) UK lenders have seen mortgage rates pushing 7% compared to under 3% in France.

Of course, the other option is to buy outright and avoid the hassle of both, but that isn’t always an option. We bought our property back in 2015 before Brexit and got a good exchange rate. We were also able to avoid the issue of a mortgage.

Having said that, our bank, Credit Agricole, were really helpful and gave us some great advice around mortgages if we were to go down that route. Always worth talking to the banks over here. They’re generally really helpful and a lot of them have an English speaking help desk.

During the lock-down period we saw a surge in numbers of city dwellers moving to more rural regions. This doesn’t seem to have had too much impact on prices though. There are lots of bargains still to be had.

The Charente is one of the least expensive regions in the Nouvelle Aquitaine

The Charente certainly wasn’t on our hitlist when we started looking. In fact, the first region we looked at was the Pyrenees. That was until I realised I couldn’t cope with that much snow. Or how isolated it was in winter.

Next was the Dordogne, affectionately known as little Britain. Although I absolutely loved the scenery, the properties there were a lot more expensive than the Charente. So we put a list of properties together ranging from Confolens to Ruffec. And found our dream home in a little village called Saint Front.

The Healthcare System in France

The French healthcare system is exceptional although quite different to the UK. If you’re a non-resident and have a holiday home in France you can still register with a GP’s surgery. Unlike in the UK you pay a fee of €25 directly to the doctor at the end of your appointment.

If you’re a resident like us you present your ‘Carte Vitale’ and then pay.

(A Carte Vitale is a health insurance card for the national health care system in France).

By presenting your card you’re then reimbursed automatically. For a standard GP visit costing €25, 70% is currently reimbursed. 80% of the main costs of inpatient care in state hospitals and clinics accredited by the state is reimbursed.

It is advisable to obtain a top-up insurance policy!

A top-up insurance policy is called a complémentaire santé, also often known as a mutuelle. They’re generally affordable and while they increase in cost with age they don’t usually increase based on health conditions. Whether you’re fully refunded for a given service depends on the level of any dépassements. Plus the level of mutuelle cover you opted for.

For example, a 100% policy will top up your reimbursement to 100% of the tarif de convention that you paid (if the state did not reimburse it all). A 200% mutuelle will top up to twice this sum if the doctor’s fee was more (within the costs actually incurred).

Healthcare providers usually check if a patient has a mutuelle. And that they are able to transmit details to the insurance company for reimbursement of this part of the costs. Both state social security and the mutuelle will issue their refunds as direct electronic transfers to your bank.

Although UK NHS treatments are free, waiting lists are long and there’s a lot of waiting around. In France appointments and treatment happen quickly and the service is excellent. Not to mention lots of free health checks available.

I’ve also found that most of the doctors here will speak a little English if you’re French isn’t quite up to it yet. I was lucky enough to find an English doctor at my local surgery.

Unfortunately, she left a while ago leaving me to navigate my appointments in French. It’s certainly been the cause of quite a few hysterical moments.

One in particular where I used a Bridget Jones scene to try to explain to the doctor that I needed birth control pills. Cast your mind back to the second movie. Bridget skis into a pharmacy asking for a pregnancy test using a lot of hand gestures and very broken German. This should give you a good idea of the type of charade I was performing in the Doctor’s Surgery. Not my finest moment!

The Cost of Utilities in France Versus UK

You can expect to pay higher amounts for internet and telephone services in France. But this is more than offset by the lower costs charged for other utilities. The average bundle of services such as electricity, water, and heating for an 85m² apartment in France can be 30% cheaper than in the UK.

I keep referring to the cost of living increase, or ‘crisis’ as it’s often referred to. Here it’s definitely location dependent, as well as down to the type of home you own or live in. It’s these two factors that will determine the costs with respect to energy.

For example, many rural areas don’t have town gas (gaz de ville). We don’t have town gas so we operate our gas hobs using a gas bottle (propane or butane). It’s similar to what you’d see used on a gas barbeque.

It’s hidden away under a cupboard so you don’t actually see it. But the best bit is that it’s really cheap to run. Many supermarkets have 24hr access to exchange the bottles. A 13kg bottle normally costs between €34-€40. Butane gas is the most common and should be stored inside. If you leave it outside you might have problems if temperatures drop.

Remember too that the different gas types also have different valve systems which are not interchangeable.

Heating your Home in Rural France

Due to our lack of mains gas we heat our house with wood burners and back-up electric radiators. I paid €450 euros for a wood delivery in October that will keep me going for the winter. There should be enough left over to last till at least November next year, which is generally the time the fires are required.

The price has increased approximately 10% from last year, but it is still a very cost-effective form of heating. And who doesn’t love a real log fire?

Electricity prices are relatively stable in France. EDF are majority government owned, and have capped price increases at 4% until April 2023. Although peak and off-peak prices vary, you would pay somewhere in the region of between 14 and 18 cents / kW. This is approximately half the price of electricity in the UK.

Some rural homes are heated using oil. Prices have soared recently so be mindful of this if you’re searching for a property. Friends of ours got caught out this way. They filled their oil tank at a cost of just under €1,000 only to find they’d gone through it within a couple of months. Granted their house was big but even so.

Pellet burners are a very efficient way of heating your home. But again, prices of the pellets have increased quite significantly. And for me, they just don’t have the same aesthetics as a wood burner. And they have a very loud fan that puts me off too. But like I say, that’s a personal observation.

Currently, there are some energy efficiency schemes operating in France. If you’re a resident and fall below a certain earnings threshold, you can apply. They’ll do an assessment to see if you qualify for insulation, pellet burners, energy efficient water heaters etc.

WiFi and Internet speeds across South West France

Which brings us onto the subject of WiFi. For me, the installation of the fibre network was an absolute ‘game changer!’. We’d struggled with ADSL, radio and satellite internet for a number of years. We received appalling service and had constant disruption.

Word to the wise, don’t believe everything your satellite provider tells you. They’ll quite happily say that the speeds aren’t affected by the weather, but don’t believe a word of it. It’s not true!

Plus, you’re capped. I was paying a ridiculous amount of €250 a month to a satellite provider who shall remain nameless only to be capped at 200GB. And to add insult to injury the upload and download speeds were like dial up.

You can imagine my excitement one day when I was out on my dog walk last year and saw a huge machine digging a trench. And they were laying the fibre cables……I was sooooo excited! I was literally pacing out the progress on my daily dog walk and singing all the way back home.

Even then it wasn’t a seamless experience. Apparently our property didn’t exist on their plan so we weren’t originally eligible. To cut a long story short we did eventually get it sorted and signed up with Bouygues Telecom. And have never looked back!

For just over €40/month we have unlimited, high speed connection. It may be slightly more expensive than the UK, but you’ll normally be given an introductory offer.

Fuel & Transport in France & the Rural Areas

The fluctuating fuel prices are without doubt a factor when considering your mode of travel. Currently (December 2022) fuel prices are approximately 5-10% lower in France than in the UK.

Motorway service stations are generally more expensive and remote areas are more expensive than in built up areas.

As in the UK, diesel is more expensive than petrol and if you drive an electric vehicle charging points are becoming more commonplace.


It’s advisable to plan ahead if you’re driving through France. There is a network of toll roads with multiple payment options. There are fewer manned toll booths so make sure that you have a card that allows you to pay in euros. If you’re nervous about using the tolls there’s normally an English language option and a call button if you have a problem.

We often make the trip from the South West up to the North West to get to the ferry terminal. And we’re hit with quite a few tolls. But although paying the toll fees adds to the cost of your journey they’re hassle free. Traffic is relatively light and you rarely see queues.

If you want to avoid the tolls, this is possible, but will almost certainly take longer. Plus you’re more likely to use more fuel. So the savings are questionable. Not to mention the stress levels of driving in heavier traffic.

Here’s a useful link to help your preparation if planning to drive in France. RAC Toll Guide

Public Transport

You’ll find that public transport is certainly cheaper in France compared to the UK. In particular local bus and train services. And they’re efficient. As you would expect local bus services can be limited in rural areas and taxis are few and far between. In fact, a French friend of ours collapsed with laughter when we suggested ‘calling a cab’ one night. It just doesn’t happen here.

If travelling further afield use one of the websites or Apps to plan your trip and book tickets. I tend to use the https://www.thetrainline.com/ App as it’s easy and I don’t have to print anything off.

I recently took the train from Angouleme (our biggest city in the Charente), down to Bordeaux for the day. By car it’s 120km (75 miles) and would take around 1 hr 45 minutes. By train the journey was 35 minutes and cost just 33 euros return.

Another good website is https://www.sncf-connect.com/

The Cost of Food Shopping & Groceries in France

After a recent trip back to the UK the price increases in the supermarkets were quite apparent. Prior to 2022 I would have said that there was a noticeable difference in prices, favouring the UK. Now I think there is parity for a weekly shop.

I don’t often visit the hypermarkets or supermarkets in the larger towns, which do tend to be cheaper than the local supermarkets in rural areas. Instead I prefer to shop more locally, which for me is LeClerc in La Rochefoucauld.

And one of the things I love to see is how they showcase the local farmers. At the end of the fruit and veg aisles they display the seasonal products from their local partners. Sometimes this might be a couple of baskets filled with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Other times it might be like the image below where they’re displaying locally sourced apples and the juice made from the apples.

Just about anywhere you shop for groceries you’ll find this abundance of locally grown/sourced French produce. France produces IRO 80% of the food that it consumes. They are proud to be French and absolutely favour their own country’s products. For example, on the cheese counter you’ll only see French cheese. Sometimes, if you know where to go, you can get mature cheddar, but it’s usually French cheese only.

If you want to know how to survive grocery shopping in France as an Expat this article will tell you everything you need to know.

But the best places to shop are without a doubt the local markets. These are a huge institution in France and have almost become obligatory. There is nothing better than wandering the stalls at your local market and you’ll usually find them in the same place each week.

The produce is fresh, you’re supporting the local farmers and it’s just such a lovely thing to do. I love nothing better than grabbing my basket and heading to the market to see what I might discover. Not to mention the wine in the square afterwards, always welcome.

And when it comes to comparing costs I can only think of a few stand-out items that are more expensive in France, compared to the UK.

  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Berries
  • Confectionary
  • In-store baked desserts

Other than the above, you’d probably pay a similar amount for most groceries.
The biggest thing that can impact on the price of your supermarket shop is the lack of BOGOF (buy one, get one free). If it’s offers you’re looking for then these are generally only available through your store card. Most of the supermarkets such as SuperU, Leclerc, Carrefour, and Intermarché all have loyalty store cards.

Last week I stocked up on beer for hubby’s World Cup party and nabbed myself a store card deal. A crate of 24 beers had a discount of 60% for the 2nd crate. There’s normally a monthly promotion running, and they are quite varied.

So there you have it, my guide on the cost of living in France compared to the UK. I hope it’s been helpful but also given you a glimpse into what life is really like in rural France.

À bientôt et merci beaucoup!

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