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Cross-border shopping: what do people in France go to Germany to buy?

Along the 451-kilometre French-German border, many French people drive to Germany on the lookout for deals

Many French people cross the German border for price deals on specific things, such as cosmetics or household items Pic: Shutterstock / Pixavril / Ally Lee

It is common for people living on the French-German border to hop over to buy items - or do their entire grocery shop - due to the potential cost savings and shorter travelling distances. These people are often known as ‘transfrontaliers’.

Popular towns include Saarbrücken, Kehl, Breisach, Neuenburg am Rhein, and Berg - all of which are located just a few kilometres from the border.

But which products are most likely to entice people across, even if shoppers do the rest of their shopping in French supermarkets? And are the savings really worthwhile? We take a look.

Daily products more or less the same

A major reason that many French people go to Germany for food shopping is because Germany has become particularly well-known for its discount stores. 

This especially applies to the famous brand Lidl, but other discount groups include Penny, and Tedi. The latter is famous for its €1 products policy, and recently opened its first French store in Evreux (Normandy) in April 2022.

At the time, in a test between the two countries, French newspaper 20 Minutes compared several products from a Tedi in Strasbourg (Haut-Rhin, France); and one in Kehl, the German border town.

Coffee, eggs, toothpaste and rice cost less in France; but pasta, Emmental cheese, Nutella and tomatoes cost more.

Cheaper in France

  • Coffee: €3.67 in France, versus €4.59 in Germany
  • Eggs: €2.79 vs €3.29 
  • Toothpaste: €1.19 vs €2.95 
  • Rice: €1.95 vs €1.99 

Cheaper in Germany

  • Pasta: €0.99 in France, vs €0.79 in Germany
  • Emmental cheese: €3.27 vs €1.59 
  • Nutella: €4.40 vs €3.99
  • Tomatoes: €3.49 vs €2.19

Really worth it?

All in all, 20 Minutes found the equivalent German shopping trolley to be less than €5 cheaper (€27.97 compared to €32.65 in France). In some cases, these savings would be cancelled out by inflation and the fuel cost of the drive across the border.

However, the test did show that it may be more worthwhile to shop in Germany for dairy products such as yoghurt or cheese, or cheaper meat and wine. Yet, some people in France believe that the quality is significantly lower in Germany when compared to similar products in France.

Germany may also offer other types of deals. For instance, a small percentage of people in France may prefer to buy yoghurts individually, if they are only sold in multipacks in France.

Some transfrontaliers may also consider it worthwhile to drive to Germany for its wider range of certain products, such as Milka chocolates or Haribo sweets. 

Non-food and vegan products are a bargain

Some non-food items are significantly less expensive in Germany in comparison to France, including household items, cosmetics, and nappies.

Toilet paper is another product that is typically much less expensive in Germany than in France; 20 Minutes reported packs at €6.19 in France compared to €3.45 for their equivalent in Germany.

However, the major price difference reported is for cosmetic products, mainly due to the origin and components of the items. For example, nearly every product sold is made in Germany or Switzerland, which cuts prices. Brands include Weleda, Balea, and Dr. Hauschka.

To test this theory, in May, reporters from newspaper FranceInfo followed French shopper Alain Bohn to Germany. Mr Bohn typically makes one trip every two months. He fills his shopping trolley with food, household, and cosmetic products.

He also visits Rossmann, a German chemist chain. During the test, he was seen buying €0.50 toothpaste, €0.75 shampoo, and nappies at €10.99 (in comparison to French nappy prices that range from €12 to €15 per pack).

All in all, Mr Bohn spent €161 for an average shopping trolley, which worked out at €50 less than the equivalent French trolley, the report stated. The difference mainly came from household cleaning and hygiene items. 

In this way, Mr Bohn saves €500 a year on average, FranceInfo said. 

Vegans may also benefit from crossing the border, as many supermarkets in Germany have a wider selection of vegan products. Actu Strasbourg followed a French shopper looking for vegan bargains.

“I would say there is a difference of around €1 for plant-based steaks for instance,” the shopper said.

Cigarettes are also cheaper…

Cigarettes are still considerably cheaper in Germany.

In the first quarter of 2023, a pack of cigarettes cost an estimated €8 on average, according to Statista. This is around €2.5 less than the average French price. 

Some products may cost up to 50% less. 

For example, one 20-pack box of Winston Red cost €55 in Germany, versus €103 in France; and one 120g box of Winston rolling tobacco cost €48 in Germany and €70.50 in France, reported Luxembourg newspaper Les Frontaliers in January 2022.

The margin is expected to lower over the years, however, as Germany has already announced the price of cigarettes will gradually increase between now and 2026.

Petrol and alcohol not popular

Last are petrol and alcohol, but these typically do not tempt people across the border, as prices are usually similar - or even more expensive - in Germany.

When it comes to petrol, Euro 95 and diesel were reported to be just three and five cents cheaper per litre, respectively, in Germany. GPL was even three cents higher in Germany, show figures compiled on October 30 by stock market expert website Cargopedia

Some alcohol is even considerably more expensive in Germany. 

A one-litre bottle of Johnny Walker was reported to cost €28.54 in Germany, compared to €21.41 in France; while one Moët and Chandon champagne bottle was found to be €4 less expensive in France (€32.59 vs €36.89).

Related articles:

Cross-border shopping: what do people in France head to Italy to buy?
Why are essential items so expensive in France?

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