Recently DW and I took a trip to Europe to not only travel but to experience what living in France is like. Would it be “better” than the life we have here in Australia?

Obviously “better” isn’t a very accurate word here as whether or not living in France is better for you personally will depend on your circumstances and what you prefer. That being said I’m sure we’re not alone in having the desire to live overseas at some point in our lives.

Maybe it would only be for 6 months, maybe a few years, maybe permanent? We don’t know. But we figured this would be a great way to dip our toes in the water and also report back on what we found.

Where To?

So it turns out France is a pretty big country (who knew!?). As such the first part was to decide what location we would be testing out. For this trip, it was the gorgeous city of Strasbourg, France. Situated at one of the most eastern points of France it’s a stone’s throw away from Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg whilst still retaining all the charm of France.

Everyone obviously speaks French, riding bikes around with baguettes in the front basket is something that happens, smoking is unfortunately everywhere and the bread, pastries and desserts are amazing!

But living is more than just how good a places croissants are. So we looked into a number of different parts of what typically might make up a “general life” while we were there. Things like getting around the city, the culture and people’s attitude, how safe it felt at various times, food prices and so on. All to hopefully get a short, but semi accurate impression about whether or not it’d be “better” having a mortgage and living in France rather than Australia.

The Comparison

Now many of you might be wondering why we didn’t chose Paris as the comparison city. Paris is indeed gorgeous and big and busy and fantastic and perhaps if there’s lots of requests for it in the comments I can write up another more in depth piece doing the same with that city. But choosing Strasbourg was done this time simply because we wanted to see what French life in a smaller city was like rather than the big, huge, hustle and bustle of Paris.

That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to compare Strasbourg to a huge city like Sydney or Melbourne in Australia either. So we’ll be putting it up against the still decently big, but smaller city of Canberra. Currently Canberra has a population of around 400,000 people which compares nicely with Strasbourg’s roughly 300,000 people. This way we don’t get huge discrepancies in house or wage prices.

So without further ado, let’s dig in and see how the two cities fair!

Housing Costs & Quality

There’s no denying that the architecture in Europe and especially France is just beautiful. Literally thousands of years worth of history, museums, buildings, chateux and more make for some gorgeous scenery and travel photos. Strasbourg is no different in this regard either with beautiful rivers, bridges and more. But is it actually pleasant to live in? Is it expensive for the quality that you get?

Again this will differ for different parts of France just like a 3 bedroom house in Sydney CBD is going to be more than one 50 km’s out but we can hopefully get some general ideas of how apples to apples compare.

Given European cities tend to be far more apartment orientated than here in Australia we are choosing to only look at apartments for both comparison cities. I’ve also set a modest price target of $400,000 AUD as this isn’t dirt cheap here in Australia, but also not absurd. It’s a mortgage that two people working can comfortably pay off in under 10 years even on average Australian incomes. This is still Mutilate The Mortgage after all!

So if we’re spending $400,000 AUD or about €250,000 at today’s rates, and we look at some property listings in Canberra you can pick up brand new 1 bedroom places for around $400K (64 m²) or get 2 bedroom places that are only a bit old, the choice is yours.

Doing the same for Strasbourg though it seems you can actually get quite a bit bigger places at 120 m² for an older 4 bedroom apartment here or even a brand new 71 m² 3 bedroom place in the city centre here. As such it seems like this round is won by Strasbourg as you can get about 10% more m² area for about the same price. Not bad!

As for quality of the houses, from what we saw whilst over there it’s about what you would see here in Australia. Some places that have been renovated and kept up to date (or are new) are absolutely lovely and modern (but more expensive). Others that haven’t been cared for as much or are just older are a bit more run down (but cheaper). As Canberra is a newer city than Strasbourg though the ratio of “new to old” is a bit higher as one might expect.

Finally it’s important to also note that mortgage interest rates over in France average around 1.5% vs the 4% they do in Australia which again makes a huge difference.

Work Life & Income

France is typically known for their large number of public holidays and generous leave entitlements which obviously makes for a good employee experience. Australia is no slouch either though with more public holidays in some states, Annual Leave, Parental Leave and even EDO/RDO’s at some workplaces.

Heading over to the very handy city cost comparison site Numbeo.com we can easily compare Strasbourg with Canberra and see what type of local salary differences we’d be looking at. According to the sites data your average monthly (after tax) salary in Strasbourg will be $3,142 AUD. That’s almost 40% lower than the $5,123 AUD it’ll be if you’re working in Canberra!

So while you can spend the same $400,000 AUD and get a house that’s 10% bigger in Strasbourg… your after tax wage will be almost half. That being said there’s also the potential that due to Canberra being the place where all the big wig politicians are, this might be pushing up numbeo’s numbers a bit for “average” salaries.

As for getting to and from work, the city of Strasbourg clocks in at 1,351 km2 while Canberra is about 40% smaller at 814.2 km2. One would assume that being smaller means commuting is easier, so this gives Canberra a win here. Strasbourg is about 25% cheaper though when it comes to public transport but it’ll cost your about 25% more to buy a car there than in Canberra. Then when you try and fill it with petrol that’ll be 50% more!

Life & Atmosphere

Very few people leave a French city without loving the experience from the many accounts we’ve heard and read in the past. Certainly none of our experiences have been bad and our stay in Strasbourg was no different. The weather was not too hot, not too cold, the food quality and range was excellent, everyone was very polite and helpful. We had a fantastic time!

As great as it was though, I must admit it was pretty much on par with what you’d typically find here in Australia too. People are happy to help if you ask for directions and the food or coffee is excellent. In fact one thing that constantly surprises me is just how good food in Australia is.

Our coffee – especially in Melbourne – is apparently world class (I don’t drink the stuff so can’t comment), the array of choices we have is huge due to our diverse cultures ranging from Asian to Indian to Greek to French and more. Add to all this our excellent specialised bakeries, butchers and fruit shops and I honestly can’t think of a place we’ve been to that beats what’s on offer in cities like Melbourne or Sydney.

If you’re not aware of this take note of the food quality next time you’re in America. See what the meat is like in Paris or how good the dumplings are the next time you visit Italy. We are truly very lucky when it comes to food here as everything is at such a high quality and there is always a massive range of different types to try too.

From a pure cost perspective though it seems like prices are generally cheaper in Strasbourg even if the range isn’t as good:

Groceries Prices in Strasbourg are 11.62% lower than in Canberra
Restaurant Prices in Strasbourg are 7.16% lower than in Canberra

Life isn’t just about eating and drinking though and one thing Strasbourg does have over Canberra and Australia in general is the potential for travel. While Australia is 5+ hours flight from basically anywhere “holiday” like, Strasbourg is very well positioned for a huge number of adventures.

From Strasbourg you can be in the mountains of Switzerland within 2.5 hours via train. You can be in London in 5 hours again via train for as little as $180 AUD return! Barcelona takes just 4 hours via plane and Copenhagen is about the same. You can pretty much get to any point in Europe from Spain to Greece to Sweden all via a cheap train or plane ride that costs less than $200 return and takes less than 5 hours.

This means that while you live in Strasbourg, you can cheaply, quickly and easily go on weekend travels (or bigger ones) all around Europe week after week. You could go skiing at famous alps. See vastly different countries and their cultures. Experience different foods in their home country and much more.

By comparison, going from Canberra to a (relatively) close destination like Singapore takes 8 hours via plane. Egypt, Mexico, New York or anywhere in Europe will take you 24 hours or more! As such quick “weekend get aways” aren’t really possible in Canberra. Your only real options are driving 7 hours to Melbourne or 3 hours to Sydney. Anywhere else and you’re out of luck.

As such what you like to do day to day will determine which one of these wins I think. If you’re big on travel, big on experiencing new things, skiing, hiking etc etc then Strasbourg probably will suit you better. If you are perfectly happy just relaxing at home and eating/drinking the excellent produce here in Australia and don’t go out much then Canberra might suit you more.

A Different Life…

While most think of Paris life when talking about France there are many other amazing cities in what is a huge country. From Strasbourg, to Nice to Biarritz they all have fantastic food, a more “walking” lifestyle as compared to Australia’s “driving everywhere” one and just an overall different culture too which is to be expected.

While house prices (and mortgage interest rates) are cheaper in Strasbourg, your salary is likely going to be lower too. If you’re wanting nice new, modern style housing or apartments that’s also going to be more rare as well. While the food and general safety levels are both excellent (as are the working environments) Strasbourg does definitely have the edge when it come to travel being so close to everything.

In the end our final verdict was that Strasbourg is indeed an excellent place to live and mutilate a mortgage in. Whether or not you think it’s “better” than living in somewhere comparable such as Canberra depends on you personally.

For us, as we love travelling and the fun you can have while doing it I think we’d have to say it is better… but by a surprisingly small margin. Australia is pretty damn great, we just need faster travel options like this!

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