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.
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.
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Taxes Spain vs France
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 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||French tax rate|
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|
France may have the second-highest top statutory personal income tax rate among European countries, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 finalize 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.
The higher education system in Spain dates back to the Middle Ages. Therefore, The oldest and most reputable universities offer courses and programmes to local and international students. While, Spanish institutions maintain the same level of quality as across the higher education institutions in Europe.
Study in Spain for International Students: Step by Step Guide
The higher education system in France is comparable to that in Germany. There are degree programs called “Licence”, which usually last three years. They are comparable to the German bachelor’s degree.
Spain is one of the best study destinations among European countries to pursue a degree for international students. Its higher education sector comprises 76 Spanish universities, out of which 45 are public, and 31 are private universities. However, Spanish universities also provide a wide range of advantages for international students with many offerings English-taught degree programs.
13 Universities in Spain for International Students
France has three different types of universities where you can study:
- Instituts Universitaires de Technologie and
- Grandes Écoles
The state Universités (universities) are essentially comparable to the universities in Germany and offer a very wide range of courses.
In addition to the Universités, there are the Instituts Universitaires de Technologie (University Institutes of Technology). These are independent divisions of the state universities, which often offer courses leading to professional qualifications.
The third group consists of the Grandes Écoles (Elite Schools). They usually specialize in a few disciplines, at which executives are trained.
Spanish Universities Tuition Fee
Tuition fees for universities in Spain are some of the lowest in Europe. The public universities of Spain are very affordable for students.
While, Tuition fees in Spain will depend on certain factors, the university you choose to study and the type and subject of your study program.
Annual tuition fees in Public Spanish universities are generally between 2,000-3,500 Euros.
A Bachelor program can cost between 680-1,280 Euros per year at a public university.
Tuition Fees vary between 5,500-18,000 Euros per year for a Bachelor program in a private university in Spain.
Masters or Doctoral degrees at a public university can vary between 22-36 Euros per credit.
Tuition fee in France
You have to pay tuition fees to study at a French university. Unlike in many other countries, however, the fees in France are not set by the universities themselves, but by the government. They are, therefore, the same at all state universities.
In addition, tuition fees in France are very low by international standards. For a Bachelor’s program, you pay 175 EUR per year. A master’s program costs 240 EUR and a doctoral program 360 euros per year. For medical and engineering studies, you can expect to pay fees of up to 500 euros.
Studying at a private university in France can be considerably more expensive. There, tuition fees can be up to 15,000 EUR. The fees at the Grandes Écoles are also considerably higher than at the state universities.
Pros & cons of Studying
Pros & cons of Studying in Spain
Studying in Spain offers you these advantages: Every student wants a friendly country. That’s exactly what you get with Spain. The folks are friendly and polite. The main reason you want to visit Spain is because of study. So, here’s a good reason why you have to choose Spain. Their universities are historical. Nightlife in Spain is vibrant. There’s just so much to do after sunset. From pubs to clubs, you got everything you need in this beautiful country.
While, the disadvantages are: The unemployment rate in Spain is ridiculously high compared to other European countries. As a student in Spain, you might struggle to get jobs. If you do get one, it won’t be the one you want. And then, there’s August. This month is the slowest in Spain. Almost everyone is on holiday. Most shops close and the country goes to sleep.
Pros & cons of Studying in France
Studying in France offers you three main advantages: Firstly, the country has numerous very good and internationally respected universities. Secondly, tuition fees are very low by international standards. And thirdly, many of the French university cities such as Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Montpellier are among the most beautiful cities in Europe.
The biggest disadvantage of studying in France is the relatively high cost of living. Especially in the large and popular cities, first and foremost Paris, housing is very expensive.
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.
Traditionally, Spain is seen as having a low cost of living compared to its western and northern European neighbors. 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 & 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 centers 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.
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.
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 coordinated enough to ensure that any paperwork is kept to a minimum.
Spain is also said to have a great healthcare system. According to the World Health Organization’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.
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 high speed 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.
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 neighbors, so learning the local lingo will go a long way to helping you get by.
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.
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