The cost of living is relatively low in Spain compared to other western European countries, meaning expats can enjoy a high quality of life without breaking the bank.
The cost of living in Spain: an overview
Spain is a very popular destination for expats, especially those moving from Britain. Its location on the sultry Mediterranean, laid-back culture and cheap living costs have an appeal that is difficult to resist for those moving to sunnier climes.
Although Spain suffered turmoil after the financial crash, the economy started showing signs of recovery in 2015 and the standard of living is now balancing out in accordance with salaries, though minimum wage and average salaries remain low compared to some other European countries.
- Cost and standard of living in Spain
- Cost of housing in Spain
- Cost of utilities and communications in Spain
- Cost of public transport in Spain
- Cost of food in Spain
- Cost of education in Spain
- Cost of healthcare in Spain
- Cost of childcare in Spain
- Cost of taxation in Spain
- Cost of social security and pensions in Spain
Spain’s performance on the OECD’s better life index – which measures standards of living – is mixed.
Although the country ranks above average for work-life balance, housing, health, community and safety, it ranks poorly for income, employment, education and environmental quality.
The principle reason is because salaries are notoriously low in relation to inflation. The average disposable income per household in Spain is just €20,339 a year, well below the global average of €26,877.
The highest Spanish city in Mercer’s quality of living survey is Barcelona in 43rd place, below London but ahead of New York. Madrid, meanwhile, ranks 49th.
The cost of living in Madrid is far more reasonable than many capital cities.
The Spanish capital is ranked 64th in 2018 on Mercer’s cost of living survey, meaning it’s considerably cheaper to live in than London but more expensive than Berlin.
Below is a comparison of Madrid’s cost of living to other main cities, taking into account the costs of food, housing, clothes, transportation, entertainment and personal care.
- 42% less expensive than New York
- 39% less expensive than London
- 33% less expensive than Los Angeles
- 14% less expensive than Munich
- 4% less expensive than Brussels
While Mercer ranks the standard of living in Barcelona equal to London, the cost of living in Barcelona ranks 79th in its charts, meaning it’s much cheaper than many other major cities.
- 43% less expensive than New York
- 40% less expensive than London
- 33% less expensive than Los Angeles
- 15% less expensive than Munich
- 5% less expensive than Brussels
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city with a total population of around 1.5 million people. It boasts a historical centre and beachfront areas.
The cost of living in Valencia is typically cheaper than Madrid or Barcelona:
- 48% less expensive than New York
- 46% less expensive than London
- 40% less expensive than Los Angeles
- 23% less expensive than Munich
- 14% less expensive than Brussels
Seville is Spain’s fourth largest city with a population of around 700,000. Despite being one of Spain’s most beautiful places, Seville boasts a highly affordable cost of living:
- 55% less expensive than New York
- 53% less expensive than London
- 48% less expensive than Los Angeles
- 33% less expensive than Munich
- 25% less expensive than Brussels
There are significant differences in the cost of property throughout Spain. Properties in Madrid, Barcelona and most other coastal resorts are comparatively more expensive than rural areas and less popular cities.
If you’re looking to rent property in Spain, you should expect to pay an average of some €11-17 per square metre a month in Madrid and €15-20 in Barcelona, although which area of the city you choose greatly affects the price you’ll pay.
In Sevilla, Valencia and other coastal cities, rents are somewhat cheaper.
If you’re buying Spanish property, the average property price per square metre in Barcelona is around €4,500-6,000 (€225,000-300,000 for a 50 square metre apartment), while in Madrid you might pay €4,300-5,400 (€220,000-250,000). Larger family homes in more exclusive areas of both cities can cost as much as €600,000-700,000.
Expats living near the Spanish coast should expect to pay slightly higher prices than other cities in Spain, although there are some exceptions.
The cheapest areas to live in Spain are Estremadura, Aragon, Navarre and Castile-La Mancha. The most expensive places to live in Spain are the Balearic Islands – Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca – where average luxury house prices top €1m.
Some Spanish utilities are reasonably priced compared with EU countries, however, the cost of electricity and natural gas in Spain is among the highest in the EU.
Average electricity bills range between €60–80 per month in summer, depending on air-conditioning, but can jump to more than €100 in winter with heating systems. However, the mild climate often keeps electricity costs in check, although in some regions temperatures can fall below zero in winter. For more information read our guide on how to reduce energy costs in Spain.
Many stoves and water heating systems run off gas in Spain averaging around €35–40 a month. If you live in an apartment building, you will also have to pay around €20 a month for maintenance costs, but these fees can vary greatly from one building to another.
The cost of broadband is comparable to other countries in western Europe and typically comes in packages with telephone, TV and mobile.
A basic package will start at €20–50 a month for a 12-month contract. You can read more about getting a phone, internet and TV in Spain in our guide on mobile networks in Spain.
There are extensive public transport services in most cities, which include buses, metros and taxis at affordable prices. Spain also has an efficient high-speed train network. You can find out more in our guide to trains, metro and buses in Spain.
Single fares on a bus are between €1–2 depending on the distance you are travelling. If you are planning to commute to work, you can invest in a monthly travel pass to access buses and the metro at a discounted cost.
Over 60s are entitled to a tarjeta dorada (golden card) which costs €6 for the year and gives you 25– 40% discounts on fares depending on the time of day and type of transport.
The cost of taxi fares change dramatically from one city to the next, and the popular cities are not always more expensive.
Before catching a taxi in Spain, you can find out the cost of your journey beforehand by using an online taxi fare calculator or via services such as Uber or Cabify, which have limited services in some cities.
The supermarkets in Spain offer excellent value for money. Staple foods such as milk, bread and eggs are all under a euro and the choice of cheap wines, beers and cheese are unbelievably low.
Eating out needn’t be too expensive either. You can find nice restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona serving traditional food for decent prices. Expect to pay around €10–15 per head in an inexpensive restaurant and around €40 a head in something more upmarket.
The exception is American fast food chains which at €8 for a McDonald’s value meal is expensive compared to local options. It’s also a custom in some Spanish regions to offer free or low-priced tapas with your drink. If you know which Spanish bars to go to, you can eat while you drink for next to nothing.
State schools in Spain are paid by taxpayers. Providing you are registered as a Spanish resident with your local town hall, foreigners can send their children to a Spanish school with no tuition fees, except for books and small donations.
Lessons are conducted in Spanish, and in Barcelona and Valencia some classes are conducted in the local dialect. Read more in our guides to education in Spain and choosing a school in Spain.
If you prefer to send your children to a bilingual or private school in Spain, fees vary widely depending on the city and reputation of the school. Some schools, however, are partially subsidised and cost around €700–800 a year.
There are also plenty of international schools in Spain, with fees starting from €4,000–8,000 per year. International schools follow the same curriculum model in the US, UK, France and several other countries.
If you’re looking to study in Spain, the affordable cost of living makes the country a good location for university students. The average tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree range from €680–1,300 a year.
If you prefer to attend a private university, tuition fees are substantially higher, ranging from €5,500-18,000. Read more in our guide to Spanish universities.
You can also learn Spanish for around €150–400 per course, depending on the intensity and level you choose.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks the healthcare system in Spain as the 7th best in the world. It is also second in the world for cost-effectiveness, which is calculated in relation to cost and average life expectancy.
If you are registered as a resident and have a Spanish social security number, you will be entitled to access certain Spanish healthcare services free of charge. For some treatments you will have to pay a contribution, so check this with the region you live in as the healthcare systems differ from one region to the next.
If you want to ensure you are fully covered for a wide range of medical treatments or zero payment, you will need to consider private health insurance in Spain. Basic packages start around €30–50 a month for young people between 20 and 30. The cost goes up with age, and most private companies won’t insure anybody over a certain age if deemed too risky.
The compulsory school age in Spain is six years old, so working parents with young children may need to arrange childcare in Spain with nurseries, pre-schools or independent childminders.
State-sponsored pre-schools are free of charge and accommodate children from the ages of three to five years old. The alternative is a state nursery which typically costs around €250 a month including meals. To take advantage of the state system you have to be registered as a resident with a social security number.
Private nurseries and daycare centres are naturally more expensive. The typical cost in a daycare centre in Madrid, for example, is around €450–500 per month.
For children up to the age of three, you can also consider hiring a nanny or au pair. The latter requires lodging and food together with a minimum salary of €120 a week. If you only work part-time, a nanny can be a cost-effective solution, with costs averaging €9–15 an hour.
Expats that live in Spain for more than 183 days are liable to pay Spanish taxes.
The minimum threshold for filing a tax return in Spain is €22,000 a year on your worldwide income. If you earn less than this you do not need to submit a tax return unless: you are self-employed in Spain, earn more than €1,000 a year from rental income, have capital gains tax of more than €1,600 or it is your first time submitting a tax return on personal income. Read more in our detailed guide to taxes in Spain.
In 2018, the thresholds on personal income tax in Spain are:
- Up to €12,450: 19%
- €12,450–20,200: 24%
- €20,200–35,200: 30%
- €35,200–60,000: 37%
- More than €60,000: 45%
Expats that work in Spain and earn a minimum of €421 per month are liable to pay social security and pension payments in Spain. The fees are taken directly from your salary by the company and cover you for unemployment, maternity leave and retirement.
Self-employed expats that earn more than €9,173 a year pay social security as part of their tax liabilities. The minimum threshold covers you for retirement, but does not cover you for loss of income or unemployment should your business fail. If you want a better pension when you retire, you can pay more social security.
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