Of all the words that come to mind when you say ‘Paris’, ‘simpler’ and ‘less expensive’ are probably not frontrunners.
The news media consistently lists Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York City among the Top Ten most expensive places to live. What’s more, Paris is often promoted–and often promotes itself–as one of the more glamorous and sophisticated places on the planet. So ‘simple’ might not be an adjective that works its way into the PR campaign.
As a resident in the fair city for almost 5 years now, I’ll testify to this: Paris is less expensive to live in than many major American cities. It is also simpler to live in than any American city. Bold statements, I know, but hear me out. And there are, of course, caveats.
I’ll explain, but first let me explain why I’m explaining. About once a month, I get an email from someone who’s considering leaving the US for a life abroad. They always want to know what I’ve experienced and often how they can do it.
First off, there are tons of websites, experts, and YouTubers who discuss expat living, expat living in France, and specifically expat living in Paris. Feel free to browse and enjoy (‘grain of salt’ is a phrase that comes to mind after reading or watching a few of these…)
Consult to the French government visa website for official and accurate information, watch out for scammers in the ‘buying French property’ arena, and prepare to be patient at every turn in this journey.
Now, let’s talk about the specifics of why Paris is less expensive.
First and most importantly, you don’t need a car to live here. In fact, owning a car in Paris is a huge pain in the posterior. So forget about buying a car, putting gas in a car, insurance, repairs, and maintenance for a car. There’s limited parking for the cars that are here, and a parking space alone could set you back a couple of hundred euros a month. You’ll ride the metro (subway) or take a train.
So all that money that you’re dishing out every month on your automobile in the US stays in your pocket when you live in Paris.
Where does that money go? Some of it…probably to rent. Paris is not the cheapest place on the planet to rent an apartment, but judging from my conversations with my friends still living in the states, it is not as expensive as many areas of Los Angeles, Austin, and Atlanta. Why? Because the apartments here (in the ‘city center’ of Paris) are smaller, older, and more heavily regulated in terms of what they can charge for rent.
You aren’t paying for ‘new construction’. (The building we live in was built in the 1600s.) Also, most apartments in Paris are rented ‘furnished’, not just with furniture and a bed, but with dishes, silverware, sheets, and pillow cases. Just bring your toothbrush, as they say. So you probably won’t have the expensive of furnishing your first apartment in Paris. Extra savings there.
What you will have, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, is the challenge of living in a smaller space. But this challenge will offer you the opportunity to save even more money. Let me explain…again.
When you relocate to Paris, I’m encourage you to give almost everything you own to charity, relatives, or friends or sell it. It will be difficult, but you will thank me later.
Arrive here with two suitcases full of:
black, navy, or grey jeans and/or slacks,
white blouses or dress shirts,
a couple of navy or white polo shirts,
black, navy or grey wool sweaters,
black or navy warm up suit,
sturdy white sneakers (Adidas preferably),
black or brown dress shoes,
and a single elegant ‘evening’ outfit: dark suit for men, little black dress for women.
Bring a winter coat or two…and stop.
While Parisians have a well-deserved reputation for stylishness, in reality they dress in deceptively basic ensembles that revolve around a tight constellation of colors: black, white, grey, navy. The reasons for this are many: they live in the afore-mentioned small apartments. Closet space is precious. Versatility is essential. Simplicity is required. Nobody knows how many white shirts you own if you wear them everyday. Just make sure the quality is good and the shirt fits. (Or you could just show up here with the clothes on your back and send me an email. I can steer you to quality, value-oriented vendors where you can get locked and loaded with the basics, whatever your budget.)
Furthermore, Paris is a walking city and a wet city. Fashion is often secondary to function, but style is always a priority, ergo the Parisian fixation with scarves: they bounce up a basic outfit, can be stored easily, and can be purchased inexpensively at street markets everywhere. (You can also splash out for Hermes, but make sure the rest of your outfit is comparable in quality.)
So you’ll spend less on clothes here, especially if you learn where and when to shop, and how to dress for the city. (Think vintage stores, twice yearly sales, and simple.)
I’ve also mentioned the numerous and frequent farmers markets in Paris. Fresh and often organic fruits and vegetables are abundant and delicious. If you’re vegetarian or leaning that way, you can spend 20 to 50 euros a week on groceries and live well. Cheese, well, that can cost you, but you’ll learn to manage your luxuries and still stay on budget.
The wine is incredible and incredibly inexpensive. So is the fresh bread. So are the desserts. When you’re ready to eat out, turn to your favorite local pizzeria and enjoy. (The French eat more pizza than the Italians, by the way.)
Parisian restaurants can hurt price-wise, but the food is often unforgettable. So, again, be selective. Locals can steer you to the best off-the-beaten track establishments. You also have the low to no-cost option of buying a bottle of wine, a wedge of cheese and a baguette and doing what the Parisians do, namely, going to sit on the river, savor the flavors, and watch the sun set on the Seine. It ain’t exactly awful.
The caveats I mentioned earlier may be obvious but warrant consideration. You will need to have a valid passport, at least emergency health insurance (World Nomads), money in the bank and preferably a regular, passive source of income. (Visitor visas do not permit you to own or invest in a business or get a job in France. ‘No commercial activity’ is the official phrase, which obviously doesn’t apply to authors.)
You will most likely need to make a ‘reconnaissance trip’ here in advance in order to open a bank account in France and rent an apartment. The lease will be part of your visa application. A French phone and an account with EDF (the electric company) will also be on the horizon for you, but these are routine and straightforward issues to address.
To summarize, my wife and I eat better, live better, and are more productive here in Paris. Our health is better because of the quality of food and because the city is laid out for walking and for living, not for cars and not for capitalism, even though it flourishes here just the same.
So if you are thinking about a change of scenery, closing in on retirement, or ready for a new adventure, consider Paris. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be…and a couple of things it’s not.
6 thoughts on “The Simpler, Less Expensive Life in Paris”
Great and informative post Byron. The French capsule wardrobe has always inspired me to pare down to the essentials. I would love to know what do Parisians (particularly women) typically wear during the summer months?
Hi, Sue. Great to hear from you. Hope you’re well. Parisian women favor a loose (men’s?) cotton shirt half tucked into some cotton pants and sandals during the summer. They also do the ‘shirt dress’, which is a one piece cotton shirt with an extra long tail that extends to just above the knee. A thin leather belt around the waist and sandals. Usually a blue & white bengal stripe. Cool, comfortable, classic.
But autumn is creeping in now…back to sweaters and jackets! – BGT
I absolutely agree that, in the right neighbourhood, Paris can be a fabulous place to live.
However, I respectfully disagree with your arguments to move there.
First, don’t you overstate the cost of car ownership? It’s like clothes. Buy quality and maintain well.
Second, don’t you overstate the cost of house furnishing? Old money inherits stuff, rather than buying new. Yes, maintenance is a cost, but also an investment.
Third, can’t one live in a thousand places with a simple set of clothes? I believe so.
If quality of life is concerned, there are several places that come to my mind before Paris: Auckland, Vancouver (Kitsilano, anyone?), Zürich.
To let a house in, say, NY and then renting “cheaper” somewhere else might be a nice option. Especially if healthcare (!) is better in the place of destination. But maintenance and taxes of the owned house will still be on the bill. And what about the cost of flights to visit family and friends back home? In the end, I guess it’s more a personal choice.
Thank you for the report on Paris! I have only been once but have to say the city made quite an impression.
I remember in the late 90s how Western Europe seemed expensive and the US a bargain. People from France and Germany that I worked with in Southern California lived quite well in the US.
I think the tables have turned now. The US has become a relatively high cost place! A nice life in Paris could be a bargain. I also hear of the ability to buy homes in the countryside of Italy and Ireland for very little.
Daniel, you have heard correctly about being able to buy in the Italian countryside cheaply, but there is a flipside to that story. I traveled to Sicily back in March 2019 prior to Covid and discovered that rural Italian towns are offering very inexpensive homes for rockbottom prices, but only if you are willing to invest thousands of dollars in bringing them up to code after you buy them, so a house that might seem a bargain at $30,000 may also come with $25,000 worth of repairs that need to be made prior to you being able to occupy it, and they will not sell it unless you can provide proof that you have the funds necessary to do the repairs. For some that might be easily doable. For others, not so much.
‘No commercial activity’ i….which obviously doesn’t apply to authors.) is the funnest thing I’ve read all week!
Thanks for the insight, Byron. It is important to remember, I think, that not everyone lives they way we do in the U.S. But I am still surprised that Parisians have so few items of clothing. For me, the number of coats alone for the upcoming season here in Chicago demand space.