One of the biggest worries when moving to a new country is how far your money will go. Will you need to find a part-time job? Will you be able to travel? Those are some questions I asked myself when considering the cost of living in Spain.

The Cost of Living in Spain Compared to Other Countries: Main Expenses

One year after graduating from Fontbonne University, I made the decision to leave the US and fulfill my dream of living abroad. I spent the next three years in Japan before making my way over to Spain. Although the initial knowledge of earning a lower wage than what I was earning in Asia was a bit of a bummer (keep in mind the Meddeas grant is quite good compared to what beginner teachers in Spain make), I didn’t realize how much cheaper things would be in Spain. When comparing the cost of living in Spain vs USA or even Japan, you realize the first is much lower. Even in Cataluña, which is not the cheapest place to live in Spain as things tend to be more expensive than in other Spanish regions, the grant has been plenty for living comfortably and being able to go out enjoy myself.

Cost of living in Spain

On a trip to Madrid (Parque del Retiro)

How Much Does it Cost to Live in Spain? Looking Prices Over

The three main things I will be speaking about to describe the cost of living in Spain are housing, travel, and food.  I’m teaching in a school in Lleida, a medium size city in Cataluña with 140,000 inhabitants. Thus, prices here refer to life in a smaller city, in an independent living situation.

Housing Information for Expats in Spain

how expensive is Spain

Budgeting my expenses

Housing is an important thing to consider because this will be your home for the next year. I was lucky enough to make friends with people who had also just arrived in our city. After two weeks searching, we managed to find a wonderful place and even managed to haggle the price down an additional €50. My three flatmates and I each pay €175 with approximately €30 for utilities. Of course, keep in mind that this is in a smaller city. A small or medium size could be considered the best cities to live in Spain in terms of expenses.

In a larger city, expect to pay twice or even three times more for a shared flat. If you’re living on your own in a similarly sized city, you could expect to be paying €300+ for a one person flat. Although I had previously been living on my own in Japan and loved the privacy, I would highly recommend sharing a flat. Otherwise, you will be spending a half of your grant on housing alone.

Some numbers to show the cost of living in Spain when talking about housing:

Internet – €10*

Utilities – €30*

Rent – €175 a month*

*per person (4 people total)

(Approximately 20% of the Meddeas grant)

Travel: How Expensive is Spain?

There are many means of travel within Spain. Public transport can vary greatly between cities. I typically use the bus to move between work and school a few times a week and the price is standard across bus usage in the city.

cost of living in Spain vs USA

Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany

On the weekends I tend to travel. So I’m always looking for the most convenient and efficient way to go. Low-cost travel in Spain is possible. If you shop early enough you can usually find a deal on high-speed trains. However, this isn’t always the best method of travel as it’s expensive and the lines aren’t always well connected. For example, when I wanted to go to Valencia I would first have to travel to Barcelona then take the train to Valencia. This is where Blablacar is a better option.

Blablacar is a ride-sharing service for people traveling between cities. You share a car with multiple people and pricing is affordable. You should consider the price and time spent in commute between Blablacar and the high-speed train. For me, I save around €25 taking a Blablacar to Barcelona and only take 45 minutes longer. But, for a trip to Madrid, I would save €50 but at the expense of spending 3 extra hours in commute. In the latter case, spending a bit more is worth it for me to have extra time in the city.

Some numbers to show how much it costs me to travel from and inside Lleida:

Bus fare – €2 a trip (€24 for monthly pass)

High-Speed Train to Barcelona- ~€37 – €43

High-Speed Train to Madrid ~€73 – €100

Blablacar to Barcelona – €11

Blablacar to Madrid – €28

Food: Prices According to the Standard of Living in Spain

average income in Spain

Walking around Mercadona, a supermarket in Spain

I lucked out that both breakfast and lunch are provided at my school at no cost (don’t you expect this to happen in your school, it is an exceptional situation). Dinner is also something that I worry little about since my three flatmates and I cook together. If you’re looking to save money then making a floor fund is the method I recommend. Every week my flatmates and I put around €10-20 into the fund for groceries. These €40-80 go a long way at the grocery store towards buying food for the week. Since we cook together, we are able to make large batches of food that will last us at least a couple of meals.

I’ve found the cost of groceries in Spain to be more affordable than those in the US and Japan. However, some items like meat tend to cost more than back home. It also helps that, since the portion sizes are smaller, here we generally don’t need to buy as much.

Some examples of things we frequently buy, which clearly reflect the cost of living in Spain, include:

Oranges/Bananas – €1 / kilogram

Coca-Cola – €0.76 / 2 liter bottle

Bottle of Wine – €1.50 – €7 (average around €2.50)

Milk – €0.80 / liter

Yogurt – €1.20 (pack of 6)

Ground Coffee – €4.76 / kilogram (2 pack = 250 grams = €1.20)

Freshly Baked Baguette – €1.73 / kilogram (3 Baguettes = 1 kilogram)

Eggs – €1.35 / dozen

When it comes to food, the worst thing you can do is continue to eat like back home. The most cost-effective way is to live like a local. You’ll save a lot of money in the long run. My roommates and I decided to have a Mexican food night once. Hunting down the ingredients necessary for some traditional Mexican meals, led to a lot of headaches and spending more than we had hoped. Although it’s nice to have a taste of home, it is far too much work and not economical when the ingredients are not readily available.

The Cost of Going out with Friends: Drink and Tapas

expats in Spain

Out with friends for tapas and drinks

Of course, I can’t leave out my favorite part of living in Spain: going out with friends for drink and tapas. The price of beer is cheaper here than back home in the US and, with no tipping necessary, we can go out a few times a week without breaking the bank.

Beer – €1-€1.50

Tapas – €1-€3

These are just some examples to show the cost of living in Spain when it comes to basic necessities. The rest will vary from person to person. Some of you may be fans of shopping, I personally am not. But I seem to find that clothes are cheaper or similar priced as back home. In terms of buying electronics, they tend to be more expensive in Spain. Other than that, it’s all about budgeting and prioritizing your expenses.

Some things will be consistent, like housing expenses (be wary of heating costs in the wintertime!) and groceries, if you typically buy the same things a week. Others will vary greatly, such as going out to eat or traveling to another country. Bear in mind that, when talking about the cost of living in Europe, there are huge differences between countries.

Money Saving Tips Regarding the Cost of Living in Spain

  1. Share a flat with others your age. It’s a great way to save money and be sociable.
  2. Make a floor fund with flatmates so buy larger quantities of groceries (potatoes, tomatoes, bread).
  3. Eat like the locals. Don’t eat like back home.
  4. Start out conservatively the first few months. See what can be cut and what you can afford to do.
  5. Use Blablacar. If you make frequent trips to certain cities, ask the driver or fellow riders if they are part of a Whatsapp/Facebook group of people that travel between your city and that city. You could be saving money by contacting drivers directly.

Definitely, keep track the first few months and see where you can cut costs. The first two months or so will be an adventure in learning how to live and what to buy. Thus, shop around with some friends who have more experience living in your region and you’ll have lots of advice for living affordably.  All in all the Meddeas grant is enough to cover housing, travel, and still have extra to go out and do things.

The Cost of Living in Big Cities in Spain is Higher: Madrid, by Nicole G.

I expected to find the cost of living in Spain around the same as at home. However, it’s been surprisingly affordable considering that Madrid, where I’m placed, is supposedly the most expensive city in Spain. It turns out that Bristol is the 16th most expensive city in the whole of Europe and probably with good reason. Let’s compare some prices.

best place to live in Spain

On a visit to Granada (La Alhambra in the background)

Rent in the UK Compared to Spain

In Bristol, I paid £450 (€502.77) a month including bills for a double bedroom Monday to Friday in a three-bedroom house. The landlord would return at the weekend, at which point I needed to vacate and return to my parents’ house. Therefore, I also needed to pay £16 (€18) a week for travel there and back. We had a cleaner visit once every 2 weeks included with the rent.

In Madrid, I pay €424 a month for a single bedroom in a 7 bedroom apartment. It’s all inclusive of bills and the apartment is set out in a university housing style with no shared living room. However, the room is quite large and I have a sofa, a TV, a large fridge, and all furnishings (also bedding) included in the price. We have a cleaner who comes once a week and even changes my bed sheets, so I think this is definitely a good value for money.

Public Transport in Madrid

The public transport system in Bristol is okay, but it’s certainly not up to Madrid standards. As a result, if I found myself running late for something and I needed to get there urgently, I had to shell out for Uber’s a few times a month which definitely bumped up what I would pay for transport. Aside from that, I paid £48 (€55) a month for a bus pass.

In comparison, in Madrid, I buy the tarjeta de transporte público and top this up once a month for €20. The card lasts for 30 days for unlimited trips on the metro and on the buses. The public transport runs frequently and on time here (and runs until 2 am!), so I haven’t needed to take any taxis yet. Madrid definitely beats Bristol here with a massive €100 a month saving.

Cost of Food in Madrid

expats living in Spain

A view of la Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Food is probably where I’ve seen the least difference in expense between the UK and Spain, but that’s not to say I don’t still save considerably. In Bristol, there are big supermarkets all over the city. However, in Madrid, you need to travel out of the city to find the bigger markets. When I first moved to Madrid, I assumed that this meant the food was going to be more expensive, (fellow Brits think Co-op or Spa prices!) but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

In Madrid, bread costs me approximately €0.83 compared to around 85p (€0.95) in the UK. A liter of Soy Milk costs me around £1.70 (2.02€), compared to around 1.60€ in Madrid. In total, I spent around 15€ a week on groceries in Madrid compared to about £20 (€23) a week in Bristol. My favorite saving, however, has got to be on a bottle of red wine. A cheap bottle of wine in the UK costs around £5 (€7), whereas I can find an equally good bottle of wine for around 2€ in Spain.

In a bar in Madrid, a glass of wine costs anywhere from €1-€3. The more touristic the bar, the more expensive the wine, but it’s always generally quite cheap compared to what I’m used to. Also, when you order a drink in Spain you get tapas for free, which saves some money compared to the snacks you end up buying in the UK.

To sum up, everything in Spain just seems cheaper than it was in the UK. I’m earning a little less than I would have been in the UK, but my money goes a lot further and I don’t find living in Spain any more expensive. In short, living in Madrid has been cheaper for me than living at home in the UK. On the Meddeas grant, I can live comfortably and travel, which is something I likely not be able to do at home on the same wage. ¡Viva España!

2017/18 Posted by Carlos G. and Nicole G.

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