Cost of living in Spain

Cost of living in Spain – how much do you need?

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What is the cost of living in Spain? Spain's living costs are relatively low compared to other western European countries, making the cost of living in Spain for expats relatively affordable.

The cost of living in Spain is much lower than other western European countries, making it a relatively affordable country to visit or live in for expats. Together with its pleasant climate, cosmopolitan lifestyle and charming architecture, Spain is a favourite location for expats, particularly British expats retiring to Spain.

Although Spain suffered turmoil after the financial crash of 2008, the economy started showing signs of recovery in 2015 and the standard of living in Spain is levelling out in accordance with salaries. Minimum wage and average salaries in Spain, however, remain low compared to other European countries, however, are relative to the low cost of living in Spain.

While the popularity of Madrid and Barcelona are turning them into more expensive cities, there are an abundance of opportunities to experience a high life quality with an affordable cost of living in Spain for expats. As alternatives to the top two, expats can find a lower cost of living in Spain by contemplating Valencia, Seville, Granada, Malaga and many other affordable places to live in Spain.

Work out your estimated cost of living in Spain with this guide:

Standard of living in Spain

Cost and standard of living in Spain

Historically, Spain has been the choice destinations for expats, especially British expats who have influenced a variety of English-language services today. The strategic location on the sultry Mediterranean, laid-back culture and Spain's cheap living costs also have an appeal that is difficult to resist.

Spain's performance varies on the OECD's better life index, which measures the standards of living. Although the country ranks above average for work-life balance, housing, health status, social connections and personal security, residents are less satisfied with the standard of living in Spain than the global average, relating to income, employment, education and environmental quality.

The principle reason is because salaries are notoriously low in relation to inflation. Since Spain switched to the euro, the cost of living has risen dramatically but salaries have remained low. The average disposable income per household in Spain is EUR 20,150 a year, below the global average of EUR 26,500.

The highest Spanish city to feature in Mercer's quality of living survey is Barcelona in 39th place, tied with London, although the cost of living in Barcelona ranks 110th, similar to cities such as Santiago, Chile or Cleveland, US. However, this does not mean you will experience a lower standard of life in Spain, where residents have access to free Spanish healthcare and social security benefits in Spain.

Cost of living in Madrid

The cost of living in Madrid is far more reasonable than many capital cities in the world, ranked 105th in 2016 on Mercer's cost of living survey, similar to Detroit, US and Hanoi, Vietnam. 

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:

  • 49 percent less expensive than New York
  • 42 percent less expensive than London
  • 42 percent less expensive than Hong Kong
  • 39 percent less expensive than Singapore
  • 35 percent less expensive than Tokyo
  • 35 percent less expensive than Los Angeles
  • 19 percent less expensive than Munich
  • 12 percent less expensive than Brussels
  • 6 percent less expensive than Rio de Janeiro.

Cost of living in Barcelona 

While Mercer ranks the standard of living in Barcelona equal to London, the cost of living in Barcelona is considerably less than other main cities.

Below is a comparison of Barcelona's cost of living:

  • 42 percent less expensive than London
  • 49 percent less expensive than New York
  • 19 percent less expensive than Munich
  • 39 percent less expensive than Singapore
  • 12 percent less expensive than Brussels
  • 42 percent less expensive than Hong Kong
  • 35 percent less expensive than Tokyo
  • 6 percent less expensive than Rio de Janeiro
  • 35 percent less expensive than Los Angeles

Cost of living in Valencia 

Valencia is Spain's third largest city with a population of around 1.5 million people (although much larger counting surrounding areas), with a historical centre and beachfront areas. The cost of living in Valencia is typically cheaper than Madrid or Barcelona:

  • 56 percent less expensive than New York
  • 50 percent less expensive than London
  • 50 percent less expensive than Hong Kong
  • 44 percent less expensive than Los Angeles 
  • 44 percent less expensive than Tokyo
  • 44 percent less expensive than Singapore
  • 31 percent less expensive than Munich
  • 24 percent less expensive than Brussels
  • 18 percent less expensive than Rio de Janeiro

Cost of living in Seville 

Seville is Spain's fourth largest city with a population of around 700,000 and an affordable cost of living:

  • 58 percent less expensive than New York
  • 52 percent less expensive than London
  • 52 percent less expensive than Hong Kong
  • 47 percent less expensive than Tokyo
  • 46 percent less expensive than Los Angeles
  • 46 percent less expensive than Singapore
  • 34 percent less expensive than Munich
  • 28 percent less expensive than Brussels
  • 22 percent less expensive than Rio de Janeiro
Cost of living in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville

Cost of housing in Spain

The collapse of the Spanish housing market that led to the 2008 banking crisis is now beginning to pay dividends for expats looking to rent or buy property in Spain. House prices fell for seven consecutive years in Spain before levelling out in 2015 and today are starting to show signs of ‘recovery’.

However, there are significant differences in the cost of property throughout Spain. Properties in Madrid, Barcelona and most other coastal resorts are comparatively higher than a similar property in rural areas and less popular cities. However, property prices in Spain are still substantially lower than the pre-2007 housing boom.

If you’re looking to rent property in Spain, expect to pay an average of some EUR 11 per square metre a month in Madrid and EUR 12 to rent in Barcelona, although the area of the city greatly affects rent prices. In Sevilla, Valencia and other coastal cities, rent prices range between EUR 6–9 per square metre, while smaller towns average around EUR 4 per square meter.

If buying Spanish property, the average property price per square metre in Spain is around EUR 2,000. The average cost of a four-bedroom apartment can range between EUR 150,000 and EUR 500,000 depending on hthe size of the rooms.

Depending on where you live in Madrid the average house prices range from around EUR 85,500 for a one-bedroom apartment to EUR 310,000 for five bedrooms, although central properties are more. With a flood of foreigners settling in Barcelona, house prices in the Catalonian stronghold are increasing, average around EUR EUR 98,800–EUR 325,000, although this varies depending on where you live in Barcelona.

Expats living near the Spanish coast should expect to pay slightly higher prices than other cities in Spain, although there are some exceptions. While high-end properties in Malaga average around EUR 760,000, average house prices at the low-end of the scale are some EUR 96,000.

In the city centre of Valencia prices average EUR 278,000, while in the countryside, just 25 miles from the city centre, three-bedroom properties can be found for EUR 100,000.

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 EUR 1m.

Cost of utilities and communications in Spain 

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 EUR 60–80 per month in summer, depending on air-conditioning, but can jump to more than EUR 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. Read how to reduce energy costs in Spain.

Many stoves and water heating systems run off gas in Spain averaging around EUR 35–40 a month. If you live in an apartment building, you will also have to pay around EUR 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 include packages with internet, telephone, TV and mobile. A basic package will start at EUR 20–50 a month for a 12-month contract. Read more about getting a phone, internet and TV in Spain, plus how to connect to mobile networks in Spain. If calling a Spanish number, read how much it costs to call 800, 900 and 118 numbers in Spain.

Cost of public transport in Spain 

There are extensive Spanish public transport services in most cities, which include buses, metros and taxis at affordable prices. They also have an efficient high-speed train network (AVE) which is second only to Japan. Read more in our guide to trains, metro and buses in Spain.

Single fares on a bus are between EUR 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 for around EUR 35.

Over 60s are entitled to a tarjeta dorada (golden card) which costs EUR 6 for the year but gives you 25– 40 percent 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. For example, a 10km taxi ride in Barcelona costs around EUR 13.50 whereas the same distance in the lesser visited port of La Coruna costs EUR 15.20. 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.

Spain living cost

Cost of food in Spain 

The general 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. The average food bill for two people in Spain is around EUR 350 a month, depending on luxury items.

Eating out needn’t be too expensive either. You can find nice restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona serving the traditional foods in Spain for decent prices. Expect to pay around EUR 10–15 per head in an inexpensive restaurant and around EUR 40 a head in something more upmarket. The exception is American fast food chains which at EUR 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.

Cost of education in Spain

State schools in Spain are paid by taxpayers. Providing you are registered as a Spanish resident with your local town hall, foreigners can also 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 EUR 700–800 a year.

There is also plenty of variety of international schools in Spain, with fees starting from EUR 4,000–8,000 per year and upward. 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 Spain a good location for university students. The average tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree range from EUR 680–1,300 a year. If you prefer to attend a private university, tuition fees are substantially higher, starting from EUR 5,500 to EUR 18,000. On top of your tuition fees you should also budget around EUR 900 per year for books and course materials. Read more in our guide to Spanish universities.

You can also learn Spanish in Spain for around EUR 150–400 per course, depending on the intensity and level.

Cost of healthcare in Spain 

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 EUR 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.

Cost of childcare in Spain

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 EUR 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 EUR 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 EUR 120 a week. If you only work part-time, a nanny can be a cost-effective solution, with costs averaging EUR 9–15 an hour.

Cost of living in Spain for expats

Cost of taxation in Spain 

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 EUR 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 EUR 1,000 a year from rental income, have capital gains tax of more than EUR 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. Spain also applies inheritance taxes.

In 2017, the thresholds on personal income tax in Spain are: 

  • Up to EUR 12,450: 19 percent
  • EUR 12,450–20,200: 24 percent
  • EUR 20,200–35,200: 30 percent
  • EUR 35,200–60,000: 37 percent
  • More than EUR 60,000: 45 percent

Cost of social security and pensions in Spain 

Expats that work in Spain and earn a minimum of EUR 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 EUR 9,173 a year (2016 rates) pay social security as part of their tax liabilities. The minimum threshold of EUR 265 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. 

Find more detailed information in guides to social security and benefits in Spain, Spanish pensions and taxes for self-employed.

Read more:

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