8 Things More Expensive in Canada than in France

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

French Graffiti, Ottawa, Spring 2011

Comparing cost of living between two countries is a national sport among immigrants. It’s a touchy debate because unless you’re an economist, it’s hard to make an accurate cost of living comparison. First, it depends on where you lived before (for instance, life in Paris is invariably more expensive than in Brittany) and where you are in Canada (you can’t compare Nunavut with Saskatchewan). Second, our perception is also easily skewed even though economically it all comes down to purchasing power.

I found this tool that make a cost of living comparison between two given countries and picked France and Canada. You can see the results here… no wonder French have purchasing power blues! In a nutshell:

  • Consumer Prices in Canada are 12.67% lower than in France
  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in Canada are 9.87% lower than in France
  • Rent Prices in Canada are 2.97% higher than in France
  • Restaurant Prices in Canada are 24.07% lower than in France
  • Groceries Prices in Canada are 17.15% higher than in France
  • Local Purchasing Power in Canada is 22.50% higher than in France

The results didn’t surprise me as I’ve always thought that life in Canada was cheaper than in France. So, what’s more expensive in Canada? According to the tool: imported beer, milk, bread, water, wine, cigarettes, local transportation, utilities, Internet services and one-bedroom apartments.

So what do I really find is more expensive in Canada than in France?

Some specialty foods — I used to love all kinds of cheese, the stinker the better. Unfortunately, cheese is expensive in Canada, unless you fancy eating yellow or orange processed cheese (no matter the colour it tastes like plastic). I sometimes treat myself to a piece of blue cheese bought in Lebanese stores but it costs around $6. Even the cheap Laughing Cow cheese is expensive here! French pastries are also pricey, as well as yogurts.

Wine I don’t care too much about alcoholic drinks because I’m not a fan but all French immigrants complain about the price of wine and beer. Plus, in Ontario, you must buy it from LCBO which can be inconvenient.

Some beauty products Forget about Chanel, Dior or Lancôme unless you really want to splurge. These brands aren’t cheap in France but in Canada they are downright expensive. Even “cheap” French brands such as L’Oréal, Garnier or Yves Rocher are more expensive on this side of the Atlantic. Fortunately, some U.S or foreign brands are much cheaper here than in France, for instance Clinique. It’s also funny to notice that French and North Americans have a total different attitude towards their “imperfections”!

Haircuts Some may disagree but I still think haircuts were cheaper in France, especially considering tipping is not a custom. Other services such as manicure and pedicure or massages are more affordable in Canada, though.

Internet services Harvard University reports that Canada has some of the slowest and most expensive internet access in the developed world. Not as bad as in Australia (where it was very slow!) but the country definitely lost the edge it had a decade ago.

Cell phone plans I had a lot of trouble understand how cell phone services worked when I first came here. The biggest difference with France (and most countries as far as I know) is that in Canada, you pay for incoming calls, and “options” such as voicemail and call display (which aren’t “options” anywhere else). It’s common to be locked into a three-year contract (!) and there are tons of hidden fees. CBC and the rest of us wonder: What’s behind those hefty charges?

Some banking services On both side of the Atlantic Ocean, banks are here to make money. No news here. But I was surprised to learn that in Canada, cheque weren’t free. Granted, Canada doesn’t rely on cheques as much as French still do, most people use Interac, the debit system, or credit cards. Typically, you get a few free cheques (usually five) when you open a bank account. Then, you must order them through a supplier. On the plus side, they are often personalized. On the downside, it costs around $35 for 50 basic cheques!

University studies In France, I had a scholarship to attend university and only paid about 400 euro a year (and that included my student health insurance). In Canada, tuition fees are about $5,000 to $6,000 per year at the University of Ottawa. Granted, university campuses are much nicer in North America but I’m still glad I completed my undergrad studies in France… at least I’m not in debt. I take some classes part-time whenever I have time (and I haven’t this year) but I’m grateful that I have a job and can pay for these upfront.

What do you think? Done any cost of living comparison?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Checks and cell phone plans are an eye opener. I guess there isn’t enough competition for cell phone providers.

  2. It’s funny because when I was living in Montréal, I didn’t find life cheaper there AT ALL! Maybe it’s the case for a parisian but as a lyonnaise, I found everything more expensive : the cost of the monthly transportation card (ouch!), the price of the renting bikes bixies (ouch! bis), any kind of food, even local food (in Québec, there’s some strange agricultural politics and quotas that makes local milk, cheese and cream verrrrry expensive). I’m not even talking about organic food! (ouch! again!).
    Yes, I’m a food lover, that’s very important to me.
    Anyway, even if I was, I think, buying local and american specialties (I never tried to buy imported stuff), it was way much expensive.
    Also, the flights! Air Canada are my ennemy. Thank god Westjet exists.

    • I think Montreal is a little bit more expensive than Ottawa but still, I’m surprised you found food more expensive there. I’m not even from Paris originally and still, food in France is more expensive than in Canada. I know cheese is expensive but all the rest of not bad.

      Which shows that two people can have very different perceptions!

  3. Interesting! For me, haircuts are definitely more expensive in France. 45€ vs. $25

    My checking account in the US was completely free, whereas in France I pay 33€ per year.

    Comparing rents is difficult though, because I think it really just depends on the city, and not necessarily the country. I used to pay $250 for half a house (2 bedrooms) with all utilities included in Flint, MI. For my one bedroom apartment in France, with no utilities, it’s 570€.

    • A free checking account? Wow! Never seen that, even in Canada. Although sometimes you can get free services for a year or so when you open your account.

      As for haircut… maybe it’s a Ottawa thing. Not enough competition I guess.

  4. Everything is more expensive in Paris.

    The most I ever paid for a haircut was 25 CAD and here can’t find a salon under 39€. Plus that’s the advertised price but then they charge you all kind of fees.

    I used to pay 4 CAD per month for my banking account and my lousy bank here wanted to charge me 7€ per month for even less services plus thay had all kind of weird fees. I’m glad I’ve changed for ING 😉

    Make-up is kind of more expensive, even for brands like Lancôme.

    I really enjoyed university in Quebec where I paid “only” 3 000 CAD per year. We had all kind of activities, lots of equipment and an amazing library. I wish I had that in France too … I ended up buying all kind of expensive books that the library should have had!

    The only thing really cheaper here is Decathlon, I love being able to actually afford outdoorsy stuff 😀

    • Ah yes, I miss Decathlon… Mountain Coop is pretty expensive but it’s good quality. It’s really hard to compare prices… and I have the feeling France got even more expensive since I left ten years ago!

      I agree that university here can be a good deal considering there are more services than in France, but it’s hard to pay up front for education when you are young. And getting into debt for university isn’t always a good idea, at least it’s against my French beliefs 🙂

  5. Hey Zhu,

    And life in the Savoie is far cheaper than in Lisbon. However, cities like São Paulo are becoming more expensive to live in than Lisbon…

    “La vache que rit” cheese…yummy. It is so cheap here in Portugal that everybody eats it.

    University studies are cheaper in Europe, period. In North America, college tuition is extremely expensive (for Ivy league unis which are the one with the best curricula).

    I always do cost of living comparisons whenever I stay abroad for more than a week: it is instinctive.


    • Really? I don’t know the British system much but I find it hard to believe, I’ve always thought U.S was the most expensive in terms of education.

    • Ouch! I had no idea. I’ll read the article, thank you for the link!

      I always have the idea that education is subsidized in most European countries, like in France.

  6. the US is really high compared to Canada for schools, but depends where you go. You have city(2 years), state which is cheaper – say $6k a year possibly, then university which might be $30k per yr… It all varies where you live and which state you are a current resident of…

    one handed typing so that’s where i stop…

  7. Very cool website. I used it to compare Vancouver with Shanghai. Comparing Vancouver with Ottawa. V is more expensive in buying and renting apartments (no surprise there) but also more for pre-paid mobile and renting tennis courts (take advantage of Ottawa’s cheaper tennis court rent, eh). O’s more expensive for men’s leather shoes and McD’s combo meals (nothin’ to worry about).

    • These little differences are funny! I guess real estate in Ottawa is cheaper, so by extension tennis courts are cheaper to rent. I’m surprised pre-paid mobiles are more expensive in BC though, I thought we had similar services across the country. What are the main providers there?

  8. I remember how much cheaper food was when I came back to the US. I could get a gallon of milk for the same price as a liter of milk in France! The cheese selection was partially a problem; there were types here that I had missed when I was in France, and lots of French cheeses that I miss.

    • Ah, so you got addicted to French cheese? 😉 I mostly miss the huge selection of yogurts and “crème” or “mousse”. Yogurts are so plain here!

  9. Interesting comparision. Since I’m American, everytime i go to France I think that it’s so expensive!! But I love the chocolate pastries- even though they are a little more than I would spend in US, I love them so much they are worth it!

  10. I don’t drink a lot either but Beer is ridiculously pricey in Ontario. And if I hear another Ottawan tell me to buy it at the Costco in Gatineau I’m going to have a seizure. I’m no beer connoiseur but I’m not driving 40 km to buy 24 packs of Coors light.
    What gives anyhow, all the Canadians I Know drink either Corona, Bud or Coors. What’s the deal? Canadian beer is actually pretty good.

    Eggs too are actually expensive too. I could buy 2 dozen for about 2 bucks stateside and here it’s 3 bucks for a a dozen. Prices here are crazy though. I bought ice cream at rexall (half gallon) for the kids for 7 bucks and the same exact ice cream at a discount grocer was (on sale) for 1.60 for the same.

    Even with the strong Cdn dollar prices for certain things havent’ come down vis a vis the states. There was a news article in the Citizen that said partly it was greedy merchants, plus low competition that was to blame. All the Canadians I talk to said things are better than 20 years ago when cost differences were much higher for the same product.

    congrats on the prize Juliette

    • It’s funny because a lot of Europeans think the US and North America in general are super expensive. Might have been true years ago when the franc was so weak compared to the US dollars but these days, I think most items are cheaper in the US. When we went to A last winter I couldn’t believe how cheap everything was, cigarettes (I know, I know…), food, gas, hotels etc.

      Prices do change a lot here, it’s crazy. We have Loblaws, Food Basic and Wal-Mart close to each other so we compare prices before we buy. Ice cream especially (Feng loves it!), prices goes from two bucks to ten bucks for the same bucket!

  11. Canadian cell phone companies are blood suckers! Rogers, Telus and Bell have practically formed a cartel to suck money out of Canadians. Thank god for up and coming such as Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile.

    Universities are also very expensive. Ever since fees for most programs were deregulated, the fees have just skyrocketed.

    • I agree, can’t believe how expensive cell phone services are. I’m with Virgin Mobile and prices went up quite a bit… will probably change or cancel the service altogether.

  12. Hi,

    Nice post Zhu. Just wanted to get the picture clear on the fact that Australia has a slow internet. Well I have been living in australia for 3 yrs now and let me tell you I get internet speed of upto 18 mbps in Perth which is in Western part of Australia. Do not be surprised when I tell you that I pay only $60 a month and I get Unlimited interenet usage for that speed. What say!!

    Regarding the cellphone plans I totally agree that Canada has the worst Telecommunications industry in the world but for now let me compare it with Australi where I am now. $50 a month and I get a free Smartphone and $500 a month to spend over international and other network calls as same network users dnt pay to call each other. and also 2gb of internet data included in the plan. And its not a 3yr contract as well its jst 2 yrs.

    • Thank you for your input! I’ve been to Perth but in 2003 and I don’t remember much regarding Internet access. However we were in NSW and Queensland last winter and I noticed Internet was very expensive, more than in Canada. I also noticed a lot of Australians were complaining about the price and aging network, there were many news about that in the paper. I brought my own laptop and connected to many Wifi networks, most pretty slow.

      So maybe it’s different in WA?

      I can’t speak for cellphones, I didn’t use any in OZ 🙂

      • Hi,

        Ya even I did nt knew that internet was slow n expensive in eastern states of Australia coz here in Western part of Australia we r njoying the best prices and speed compared to any developed country….

        Ya even I have heard that Australians dnt appreciate what they have in terms of technology nd other public amenities… they always hve some thing to complain about.. 🙂


        Have a nice time

  13. Peter Riches on

    Just caught up with this discussion. I live in France (one of the cheapest areas) and am gong to Nova Scotia in September, having been there two years ago;

    Both from my experience then and looking up prices at Sobeys, I can tell you that food is 5-10% more expensive in Canada than France. The comparison web-site used in the article is ridiculously inaccurate, eg a 1.5 litre bottle of water 50 cents equivalent in France, not 1 dollar.Remember too that you have to add tax and tips for restaurants in Canada – it’s all included in Europe.

    The current strength of the Canadian dollar is the main reason for prices being higher in Canada.

    • Thank you for your input!

      Except for cheese and wine (and other specialty food), I’ve always found Canada much cheaper than France when it comes to food, even after tax and tips. I’m originally from Nantes but it’s far from being the most expensive city in Canada, and I’m comparing prices with Ottawa, which is not that expensive for a big Canadian city.

  14. If I were to write such a post, it would be entitled “One thing that is cheaper in Ireland than in France” and it would have been petrol, although not by much!

    I am surprised by some of the results given by the site: restaurant prices are lower in Canada??? I found life in Canada quite expensive, or I should say more expensive than I expected (I thought it would be a lot cheaper than Ireland). However, as you say, there are many factors entering the equation and my 1st stop was Toronto’s city centre… I started to manage my money a lot better after a week or so. I am also always surprised by the differences in cigarette prices, so much cheaper in Ottawa than in Toronto and in Wakefield than in Ottawa… I’m so used to fixed prices.

    • Prices do change a lot here, gas prices change daily for instance. We used to drive to Quebec to fill up because it was cheaper, now Quebec is adjusting the provincial tax again so it’s cheaper in Ottawa. Crazy.

      Downtown Toronto can get pricey… In Ottawa, we usually spend between $20 et $30 for a meal out for two persons, taxes and tip including, which I find reasonable.

  15. Including wine??
    It is reasonable even if it doesn’t include wine for a restaurant I guess.
    Here, the problem is that you can rarely find an affordable light lunch. The last place I worked in was selling paninis for €7! and that’s in a town and with just regular ingredients (read: disgusting packaged ham!).

    • No, not including wine… I don’t drink so I didn’t even think of that! Wine and alcohol in general is expensive.

      Lunch meals in Ottawa can be pricey too because there is a huge demand with all the gov’ workers. But I know a few places where you can get a delicious sandwich for $3!

  16. Hi

    I read your blog and pretty much sure that you will be able to give me guidance for my decision.

    I’m from india and plan to come to franc for further study. I want to know that what is the minimum wages and job opportunity for English speaking student.

    Really Appreciate your words. ☺

  17. I’ve been in Australia for 5 years and can say that most things in Canada is more expensive than Australia

    • Really? I’m surprised, I found Australia much, much more expensive than Canada when I last visited in 2010. Especially produce and food in general.

Leave A Reply