November 16, 2023
Wondering if you would be better off working in the UK or Europe? You’re not alone. In 2021, nearly 100,000 people moved from the UK to countries throughout the EU. While the UK was once known for its high wages, which were much higher than salaries that could be found in many EU countries, Brexit has brought this to an end.
A weaker UK economy has led to a perfect storm with stagnant wage growth and a sharp increase in the cost of living. This means that UK wages don’t stand up to EU averages like they used to. Some employers used Brexit as an opportunity to relocate, and now some employees are thinking about following in their footsteps.
Before you decide where you could be better off working in a European country, you first need to consider the variables that make up these averages. The EU is made up of lots of different country states with vastly different economies. Just like in the UK, wages between cities and towns can also vary wildly. Wages will also vary between industries and sectors.
The local taxation policy will also have a significant impact on your take-home pay. For example, while wages in Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland might be quite high, these countries also pay a higher tax rate.
Sweden has a statutory income tax rate of 52.2% while Finnish workers pay 31.1%. Compare this to the UK where the lowest tax bracket is 20% and the highest earners pay up to 45% tax on income over £125,140.
These are just some of the factors you will need to consider when making comparisons between the UK and European countries. You should also take into the account any employee benefits on offer with certain companies.
It’s difficult to say with certainty if wages are higher in Europe or the UK as there are so many variables to consider. This includes things like the differences between the individual countries and the variable rates for different industries. Local restrictions, such as restrictions on banker bonuses in the UK, will also make direct comparisons more difficult for certain sectors. The minimum wage in each region will also be different, which can skew the averages.
The average salary in the UK in 2020 was £38,600. To get more granular, we can also look at the average salary across age groups. According to the ONS, the average salary for different age groups in the UK is as follows:
|Age Range||Average Annual Salary|
As you can see, many workers will hit their stride in their careers around the age of 40. This is when they have the highest earning potential. After this age, salaries begin to fall, usually because workers are less likely to continue chasing promotions and may even switch to part-time hours.
The biggest jump appears to be when workers enter their 20s. This could be the result of completing education, so we’re seeing a comparison of workers doing casual work at the age of 18-21 and then when they graduate or leave education, they see a significant boost in their earnings.
It’s difficult to compare salaries across the whole of Europe, as different countries can pay wildly different rates for the same role. However, it is estimated that in 2021, the average full-time salary in the EU was around €33,500. This is around £29,000.
From this simple statistic, you’d be forgiven for thinking that salaries are lower in the EU and you are therefore better off in the UK. However, we need to look at individual countries to see which nations offer the best remuneration packages.
Next, we’ll look at monthly salaries across a number of European countries so you can see which locations offer the best opportunities. We have looked at the monthly gross salary and net salary, so you can see how taxation impacts your take-home pay.
Ireland is a popular destination for job hunters. With an average monthly gross salary of €3,819, you could then enjoy a take-home salary of €2,923. The average cost of living in Ireland can vary significantly depending on the location and lifestyle.
Generally, cities like Dublin tend to be more expensive, with higher rents and prices for goods and services. On average, a single person can expect to spend around €800 to €1,200 per month on rent, with food, transportation, and other expenses adding to the overall cost.
It’s important to research specific regions and factors to get a more accurate understanding of the cost of living in Ireland.
Just across the channel, French workers earn an average of €3,275 per month, which gives them an average take-home salary of €2,355, so you’ll lose almost 30% of your earnings to tax every month.
Salaries in France will vary wildly, with locations like Paris commanding the highest remuneration packages. Marseille and Toulouse offer similarly high salaries, while locations like Bordeaux and Lille offer the lowest salaries. France offers a high standard of living with excellent healthcare and education systems, which are supported by relatively higher taxes.
The average cost of living in France varies depending on the region and one’s lifestyle. Major cities like Paris tend to be more expensive, with higher rents and living costs. On average, a single person can expect to spend around €800 to €1,200 per month on rent, and daily expenses like food, transportation, and dining out. However, living costs can be lower in smaller towns and rural areas.
The economy in Germany is generally thought to be very similar to France, but salaries are actually much higher. The average gross monthly salary in Germany is €4,168 while take-home pay is €2,831 which gives us a taxation rate of around 32%. These higher taxes help to pay towards excellent public services and transportation, which can help to improve the standard of living for residents.
Major cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt tend to have higher living costs, including rents and daily expenses. On average, a single person may spend approximately €800 to €1,200 per month on rent, with additional expenses for food, transportation, and leisure activities.
Salaries in Spain aren’t as high as elsewhere in Europe, but this is made up for by the warmer climate and the low cost of living. The average monthly gross salary in Spain is around €2,406 which will give you a take-home income of €1,868. This will go a lot further than in places like France and Germany.
The hot summers and mild winters on offer in certain parts of Spain will also drive down the cost of living, as you won’t be paying for heating like you would with a UK winter. On average, a single person might spend around €700 to €1,200 per month on rent, with additional expenses for groceries, transportation, and leisure activities. Smaller towns and rural areas often offer a more affordable cost of living.
Spain is known for its pleasant climate, cultural richness, and relatively lower healthcare costs. While the cost of living can be reasonable, it’s important to consider regional differences and individual preferences when budgeting in Spain.
This small and densely populated region is known for its strong economy with international links. With so many of the population speaking fluent English, it’s also far easier to integrate. The average monthly gross salary in the Netherlands is €3,823 which gives you a take-home salary of €2,834 after tax.
While this is a healthy salary, comparable to Germany’s, bear in mind that the cost of living in some Dutch towns can be quite expensive. Places like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague will offer the most work opportunities, but they are also quite expensive places to live. You will also need to factor in things like health insurance, as there is no National Health Service comparable to what we have in the UK.
Italy is another destination where workers are willing to sacrifice higher earnings for the culture, food and warmer weather. Forget everything you think you know about the Italians having a laid-back approach to work; expect long hours and high expectations.
The average monthly gross salary in Italy is around €2,749 and this will leave you with just €1,740 after tax. This is a high tax rate of 36%, but bear in mind that the cost of living in Italy is very low. The average cost of living in Italy varies depending on the region and lifestyle. Major cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence tend to be more expensive, especially when it comes to housing and dining out.
The average cost of living is around €1,600 per month, so you might not have as much disposable income as you might in other EU countries.
Many Polish workers come to the UK looking for higher wages, so it makes sense that their average salary would be lower. Before you dismiss this, bear in mind that tax is also lower, and the cost of living is lower. So while you might not have the same earning potential as in other EU countries, you could still end up with more spending power.
The average monthly gross salary in Poland is currently €1,370 which gives you a take-home pay of €1,010 per month. This might not sound like much, but remember that the cost of living could be as low as €500 per month, which will ensure you have plenty of disposable income.
Like Spain and Italy, Portugal also offers a less robust economy and therefore there are much lower wages. However, the cost of living is also very low, and the warmer climate will make this trade worth it for many people.
The average monthly gross salary in Portugal is just €1,517, which will be taxed at a rate of 28.5%. It is said that you can live off around €850 per month, so you’ll still have a reasonable amount of disposable income at the end of the month. Portugal also has a very generous pension system, so you’ll be well taken care of in your retirement if you settle in Portugal long-term.
Switzerland is known for high earning potential, and this can be seen in the average monthly gross salary of €6,920. This will leave you with a take-home salary of around €5,655. Before you get too excited, bear in mind that the cost of living in Switzerland is also very high.
A single person’s estimated monthly costs are around €1,590 without rent. And rent is around 65% higher than it is in the UK. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre could be around €1,722. So, while you might be able to command a higher salary, you are likely to see more of this going towards your basic living expenses.
Like Germany, Austria is also known for high wages, high cost of living and a high standard of living. The small Alpine country has an average gross monthly salary of €3,700 which will provide a take-home pay of €2,433. Austria has a progressive taxation system, with the lowest rate being 30% on income between €19,135 and €32,075.
According to one guide, the average cost of living for a single person in Austria is around €1,584. This will leave you with a healthy amount of disposable income. Austria boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world, which could be linked to healthy earning opportunities coupled with an affordable cost of living. The region is also very picturesque and many towns and cities are very close to areas of natural beauty.
Like its neighbour, the Netherlands, Belgium offers an excellent standard of living and healthy wages. The average monthly gross salary in Belgium is around €3,758 which will leave you with a take-home salary of around €2,425. Consider that the average cost of living per month for a single person in Belgium is around €1,565, leaving you with a healthy amount of disposable income at the end of each month.
Belgium is known for its excellent infrastructure and public services, and the healthcare system is partially free. Belgian residents are covered for most basic conditions and then can supplement their coverage with health insurance.
Salaries in Norway are very high, but so are taxes and the cost of living. The average monthly gross salary in Norway is an impressive €5,095 while take-home pay is around €3,721 per month. The cost of living for a single person in Norway is thought to be around €1,078 per month without rent. The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will be around €961.
Your choice of where you live will have the biggest impact on your cost of living, but you can still expect things like utilities and food prices to be higher no matter where you are. Norway also has longer and colder winters than the UK, so home utility bills will be higher than they would in the UK.
Like Norway, the Danish enjoy high salaries with high taxation. This taxation leads to excellent public services, which means an excellent standard of living. The average monthly gross salary in Denmark is around €6,173 while take-home pay will be around €3,900.
Depending on where you live, your living costs could be moderate to high. The average cost of living in Denmark for a single person will be around €1,054 per month without rent. An apartment in the city will set you back around €1,033 per month, while an apartment in the suburbs will be around €760. Those in Denmark will typically enjoy a very high standard of living thanks to the excellent public services and sense of community spirit that comes from higher taxation in a socialist democratic state.
Like the rest of the Nordic countries, Finnish residents also enjoy high salaries and a good standard of living. The average monthly gross salary in Finland is around €3,653 while the net salary is around €2,509. The cost of living in Finland is around €903 without rent, and a 1 bedroom apartment in a major city could cost between €600 and €1000. This will leave most people with a good level of disposable income every month.
Finland is said to be third in the world for standard of living, meaning that the high salaries and high taxation lead to positive benefits for residents. Choosing to live in Finland rather than the UK, you will find much more emphasis on outdoor living, with many Finish families leaving the cities in the summer to stay in log cabins in the vast wilderness.
Just like the rest of the Nordic states, Sweden also offers healthy salaries. The average monthly gross salary in Sweden is currently around €4,188 which will leave you with a take-home salary of around €2,974.
The cost of living in Sweden is moderately high, with most single people spending around €837 without rent. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a city like Stockholm will be around €1,322. This will leave some disposable income every month for you to enjoy the wide range of cultural and outdoor pursuits Sweden has to offer. Sweden is known for its high standard of living, which comes from high taxation and excellent public services. According to the Quality of Life Index, Sweden is at the top of the list of places to live in the world.
When considering salaries, averages are difficult because the majority will look at the mean salary. The mean is what you get when you add up all of the salaries and then divide them by the number of salaries included in your calculations. This can be heavily skewed by very large salaries earned by a small percentage of the population.
For example, in the UK, the top 0.1% of earners are bringing in over £500,000 per year. To put this in other terms, more than 50,000 people account for 6% of all earnings, which is 60 times greater than their population share. This means that the average salary is skewed higher as a result of those earning very high salaries.
When considering if you would be better off in the UK or the EU, it’s better to consider the average salaries for your industry and for your specific role. You can then use this information to determine where you would be better off, by simply looking at the cost of living in different locations.
Average salaries throughout Europe will vary wildly, but there is usually a trade-off. If the salary is lower, it usually follows that the cost of living will also be very low. Your own personal preferences will also impact how much disposable income you have left at the end of each month.
The short answer is that some countries in the UK have higher average salaries than the UK, but there are far more factors to consider than just average salaries when thinking about a big move.Back to Blog