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Cross-border shopping: what do people in France head to Italy to buy?

Many people who live in the south drive to Ventimiglia to save money on various items - but things are changing

Ventimiglia is the closest accessible town in Italy where people from the French Riviera usually go on weekends for grocery-shopping Pic: Sergii Figurnyi / Vitalii Karas / Théophile Larcher / Shutterstock

We review certain products which prompt people living on the French Riviera to drive to Italy to buy  - and how much of a saving they make.

Many people in this region hop over the border to buy items – or their entire grocery shop – thanks to the potentially cheaper cost and the short travel distances.

There are certain stand-out products which draw people even if they do the rest of their shopping in French supermarkets.

Ventimiglia is the first town situated on the Italian side of the Riviera, just a few kilometres from the border. However, sometimes travellers go further inland.

Cigarettes draw people to Italy from France

Cigarettes cost less in Italy than in France – as well as in other countries bordering the nation – representing a bargain to French smokers.

A packet of cigarettes in Italy costs €6 on average. In France this average is closer to €10.50 according to figures from Numbeo.

For frequent smokers this €4 plus saving obviously adds up over the course of a year.

Italian tobacconists in Ventimiglia often highlight the price difference between the two countries, placing placards in front of their shops with percentile differences. 

The price of three different cigarette brands in France and Italy shown in a tobacco shop window in Ventimiglia, Italy. Credit: Théophile Larcher.

The French government is set to change its rules on the amount of cigarettes French people can buy in bordering countries and bring home.

This follows an order from the Conseil d’Etat which ordered Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to align with European regulation laws on the matter last September.  

Ms Borne must either increase the cap to 800 within six months, or not set a cap at all. 

Read more: Travellers within EU could soon bring more cigarettes into France

Is alcohol cheaper in France or Italy? 

Alcohol is another product with a significant price difference. 

Alcohol brands are essentially always cheaper in Ventimiglia than in France, with the margins between the two sometimes being huge.

However it is important to note that sometimes the bottle / container sizes are different.

Below is a list of five brands and their prices in Carrefour in France against the always cheaper prices found in Ventimiglia:

A 0.7 litre bottle of Jagermeister, a German liquor, is sold at €20.99 (France) compared to €13.80 (Italy). 

Whisky Label 5 costs €38.45 (France) compared to €28.40 (Italy), Jack Daniels’ 1.5 litre-bottle is €47.29 in France but €42.90 in Italy.

A 1.5 litre bottle of Ricard – a Côte d’Azur staple – is sold at €29.69 in France but €24.90 across the border.

The highest margin seen was on a peach-flavoured Keglevich, a type of vodka, which is sold for €94 in Carrefour’s online French shop - the brand only selling two varieties there.

It costs just €8.40 in Ventimiglia, where many additional flavours can also be found.

In this instance, however, the higher cost in France includes an alcohol tax and international delivery fees, as the brand does not appear to be available on French shelves but only online.

Petrol

The recent inflation has effectively removed any advantage of driving from neighbouring French towns such as Menton or Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to Italy to fill up. 

Current Italian petrol prices are generally higher than those in France following a sharp rise of 40% in March 2022. While SP 95 costs €1.89/litre in France, it is estimated to be €2 per litre in Italy.
Read more: SEE: How France’s car fuel prices compare with others in Europe

Other than for autogas (GPL), which is €0.96 per litre in France but €0.69 per litre in Italy, every other fuel is more expensive when travelling across the border.
Before this, however, it was often the case that drivers would take a short trip to Italy to fill up their cars.

What about grocery shopping?

Many shoppers will also hop the border for their weekly grocery shopping, as well as the products listed above. 

However, it does not always necessarily represent good value for many when doing so, especially considering that filling your vehicle up with fuel will cost more on the other side of the border.

Lidl has more or less the same policy in France and Italy, with the German supermarket giant offering similar prices in stores across Europe as well as regular weekly discounts on products – these weekly discounts do change however depending on which country you are in.

While a one kilo jar of Nutella costs €6.99 with no discount offer in Lidl Italy, it was offered at €4.99 for a slightly smaller 945g in a weekly discount offer at Lidl France last week. While product prices may vary between countries, they remain insignificant on many of them. 

Grocery-shopping in Italy for economic reasons is really only a good bargain in discount brands, according to a report from Nice-Matin last July which compared prices in five shopping brands in both France and Italy.

The greatest price difference was measured around 27% when buying more or less the same 11 products in Catering, a low-cost supermarket in Ventimiglia, and Intermarché in France. 

The final price was €19.28 in Catering and €26.49 in Intermarché. 

However Conad, another shop in Italian town Latte, and Carrefour have almost similar cart prices (€23.65 in Conad and €23.48 in Carrefour).

While flour is more expensive in Conad (€1.29 instead of €0.85 in Carrefour), pasta, apples and tomatoes were all cheaper in Italy.

People living along the Riviera sometimes do their grocery shopping in Ventimiglia for the quality of products no matter the price difference. 

While Ventimiglia is known for its miscellaneous market stalls and – often fake – gloves and purses, its farmers’ market stalls feature products grown in Italy; many fruits, vegetables, cheeses and olive oils, with these products often being of higher quality than their French counterparts.

Related articles 

French people travel to Italy to buy medicines amid shortages
French train station built by Mussolini looks to a brighter future

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