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Expat Exchange - Best Places to Live Overseas: France vs. Italy
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Best Places to Live Overseas: France vs. Italy

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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Summary: If you're deciding between Italy and France, find out what expats have to say about the differences between these two popular countries in terms of cost of living, healthcare, culture, climate and more.

As an expat, deciding where to lay your hat can often feel like trying to choose between two fine wines: French Bordeaux or Italian Barolo? Just as these wines are distinct in flavor, so too are France and Italy in their living experiences. Let's delve into the key differences between the two when considering climate, cost of living, quality of medical care, access to the public healthcare system, locals' attitude, and visa processes.

While this article helps compare and contrast France and Italy. Be sure to dig deeper into these hot spots with our articles about the 11 Best Places to Live in France and the 12 Best Places to Live in Italy, as well as the many other articles in our Explore France and Explore Italy sections.


In terms of climate, both France and Italy offer varied experiences. France, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, boasts climates ranging from temperate maritime in Brittany to semi-continental in Alsace and Lorraine, to Mediterranean in the South. On the other hand, Italy, a narrower peninsula reaching into the Mediterranean, offers more homogeneous Mediterranean climate, with slight differences between North and South. Winters are typically milder, and summers are hotter in Italy than in France. For those who prefer four distinct seasons, France might be a better choice, while Italy might appeal to those who love consistent warmth and sun.

An expat in Languedoc, France said, "The climate [in Languedoc] approximates North Carolina's Golden Triangle - moderate winters with no more than a dusting of snow once or twice that never lasts, the summers can be a bit hot, but the Mediterranean with its beautiful beaches is within reach. In the winter, the Pyrenees have wonderful ski runs. And the Haut Languedoc National Forest is a treasure for trail hikers. Yes, lakes and rivers and such can all be found in abundance. Housing is a bit more expensive than Brittany but that's because of the climate."

Cost of Living

Cost of living can be a significant factor for many expats. Generally, Italy is considered more affordable than France, especially in terms of rent and property prices. Cities like Milan or Rome might be exceptions due to their high-demand, but smaller towns and countryside areas can offer a high standard of living at a lower cost. France, particularly Paris, is known for being more expensive, but southern regions like Provence or Languedoc-Roussillon can be cheaper.

One member in Italy wrote, "As far as standard of living, if you have little money and live in an expensive area, central Rome, Milan, Florence, then you will have a low standard of living. That same income spent in less expensive areas will give you a higher standard of living. Your original post indicates that the areas you know are the tourist areas, Amalfi, Tuscany, etc. Those place are beautiful indeed but you can find "real Italy" where there are fewer tourists but real Italians. There are places that are also beautiful and full of history and culture that you don't need to wait on line for. Those are the places you want to live."

A member in France commented, "It's MUCH more costly to live in Paris or Provence. Languedoc in South West France has much of the charm of Provence at half the price. Brittany and Normandy are more affordable. These areas are also more likely to have English expats. If you have not traveled extensively in France, I would recommend a 3-4 week road trip (or a couple of 2 week trips) to explore the option." "Yes, I have found ways to save money. Most of these ideas come from talking to the locals, they know best where to buy cheaper and how to get good deals," explained one expat living in Marseille, France.

Cost of Living France Italy
Average Monthly Rent (1-bedroom, city centre) €900 - €1300 €700 - €1000
Average Monthly Rent (1-bedroom, outside city centre) €700 - €900 €500 - €700
Cost of Meal at Mid-range Restaurant €30 - €50 €25 - €45
Average Monthly Utilities €100 - €150 €80 - €130
Average Price for Public Transport (Monthly Pass) €40 - €75 €30 - €50
Cost of a Cappuccino €2.50 - €3.50 €1.50 - €2.50

Quality of Medical Care

Healthcare in both countries is of high quality, ranking well globally. France often tops lists with its excellent public and private healthcare, accessible to residents and expats alike. Doctors are highly skilled, and facilities are well-equipped.

Italy also provides excellent healthcare, but there may be discrepancies between the North and South. The North tends to have more advanced facilities, while the South might be slightly lagging. But rest assured, as an expat, you will be entitled to good healthcare in both countries.

Access to Public Healthcare System

Once a legal resident in France, you gain access to the state healthcare system, which is generally funded by social security contributions. In Italy, legal residents are also entitled to the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), which provides free or low-cost healthcare. Both systems can be complex to navigate for newcomers, and it's advisable to have some knowledge of French or Italian to ease the process.

The public healthcare system in Italy is called Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). It is funded by taxes and is free for Italian citizens and EU citizens, while non-EU citizens may be required to pay a fee. Expats and digital nomads are allowed to use the public healthcare system in Italy, although they may be required to pay a fee. Public hospitals in Italy are generally recommended for serious medical emergencies and major surgery, although the quality of care may vary.

Friendliness and Welcoming Attitude of Locals

The French and Italians are known for their warmth and hospitality. However, their cultural approaches can differ. French locals may appear reserved initially, valuing politeness and etiquette, but once friendships form, they are deep and long-lasting. Italians, on the other hand, are known for their immediate warmth and vivacity, embracing newcomers enthusiastically. In both nations, a little effort in learning the language goes a long way in endearing oneself to locals.

A member in Saint-Cirq, France said, "I spent half my life planning to come and live here, and it's exactly as I expected and intended it to be. It's beautiful, it's peaceful, it's friendly, and there are myriad historical and cultural attractions all around." Another member in La Redorte, France commented, "Being a small village, everyone, yes everyone acknowledges us when out walking in the village whether we know them or not. There is an old-world, gentle courtesy which is wonderful to experience again."

Many expats in Italy say it takes a long time to make friends with locals in Italy. One expat in Florence explained, "Once you become friends with Italians, they sort of treat you like true family. You will see a very considerate and loyal side to them then. They will do such wonderfully kind things which, will make you question why they behave so intolerably to strangers. I now understand there are aspects to their culture which makes it difficult at times to see just how wonderful they truly are. I do love living in Italy and the good really does outweigh the bad."

Visa and Residency

The process of obtaining a visa and residency in either country is relatively similar, as both are part of the Schengen Agreement. U.S. and other Non-EU citizens will generally need to apply for a long-stay visa followed by a residence permit once in the country. Both processes require paperwork and some bureaucratic navigation. The decision often rests on the specific circumstances of the individual, including reasons for moving, financial means, and personal ties.

France's Most Popular Visa & Residency Option
Type of Visa Description
Visitor Visa For individuals intending to stay in France for less than 90 days. No work permitted.
Student Visa For individuals accepted into a French educational institution. Part-time work permitted.
Work Visa For individuals with a work contract with a French company.
Talent Passport For highly skilled workers, researchers, artists, and investors.
Italy's Most Popular Visa & Residency Option
Type of Visa Description
Visitor Visa For individuals intending to stay in Italy for less than 90 days. No work permitted.
Student Visa For individuals accepted into an Italian educational institution. Part-time work permitted.
Work Visa For individuals with a work contract with an Italian company.
Elective Residency Visa For individuals who can financially support themselves without working.

Portugal vs. Spain: A Comparison of Key Factors

France Italy
Cost of Living Varies depending on the region, but generally higher than Italy. Varies depending on the region, but generally lower than France.
Taxes High taxes, especially for higher income brackets. Moderate taxes, with progressive tax rates.
Climate Diverse climate, ranging from Mediterranean to continental. Diverse climate, ranging from Mediterranean to alpine.
Ease of Obtaining Residency Relatively complex process, requires paperwork and proof of eligibility. Process can be time-consuming, but generally straightforward.
Easiest Visa to Obtain Long-Stay Visa (Visa de long séjour) or Working Visa (Visa de travail). Elective Residence Visa (Visto per Residenza Elettiva) or Work Visa (Visto per Lavoro).
Access to Quality Healthcare Excellent healthcare system with high-quality facilities and services. Quality healthcare system with a mix of private and public options.
Quality of Public Healthcare System Well-regarded public healthcare system with comprehensive coverage. Good public healthcare system, but may have regional variations.
Ability of Expats to Use Public Healthcare System Expats can access public healthcare by contributing to the French social security system. Expats can access public healthcare by enrolling in the Italian National Health Service (SSN).
Best Places to Live Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice. Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Bologna.
5 Biggest Cities Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice. Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, Palermo.
Best Coastal Places to Live Nice, Cannes, Marseille, Biarritz, Saint-Tropez. Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Sardinia, Sicily, Portofino.
Best Places for Expat Families to Live Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes. Rome, Milan, Florence, Bologna, Turin.

For those considering these two wonderful destinations, the choice between residing in France and Italy as an expat depends largely on your personal preferences and lifestyle. While both countries offer a rich history, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine, they each have unique aspects that may suit different individuals.

France tends to have a cooler and more varied climate, with a slightly higher cost of living but a robust public healthcare system that ensures quality medical care. The French people, although sometimes perceived as reserved, are often welcoming once a relationship has been established. Conversely, Italy offers a warmer Mediterranean climate and a somewhat more affordable cost of living. Italian healthcare is also of high quality, albeit access to the public system can be complex. Italians are widely known for their warmth and friendliness.

The visa and residency processes in both countries can be challenging but are typically manageable with adequate preparation. It is advised to reflect on your priorities - be it the weather, the cost, the healthcare system, or the local vibe - and perhaps visit both locations before making your final decision. This way, you will not only be choosing a place to live, but a lifestyle that will most resonate with you as an expat.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

First Published: Jun 09, 2023

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