Spain is a very appealing destination for many Americans. Not only for the warm climate and Mediterranean lifestyle, but also because it has one of the lowest living costs in Western Europe. What is more, there is a very high demand for English teachers. Spain is ranked one of the lowest on the English Proficiency Index in Western Europe, not so good for Spain but good news for native English speakers! If you decide to teach you will have more than enough work. The demand for English teachers far outweighs the supply and the cost of living here is cheap.
The cost of living in Spain vs USA
When deciding whether or not to come and live in Spain, like most of us I used google to see how living in Spain would compare to living in the USA. I discovered a lot of websites with weirdly arbitrary statistics but not many personal accounts. For instance did you know if you lived in Spain instead of the United States you would be 34.3% less likely to be obese but you would see 75.1% less coastline. Interesting as these facts are, I didn’t find them that applicable to my situation and therefore not that helpful. I wanted more practical answers. For instance, how much will groceries cost? Will I need to buy a car? and will I be able to have some spare cash for fun on the weekend? Now that I have been living here for a year (and planning on staying for many more!) I think I have I have a pretty good idea of the cost of living in Spain vs USA.
Below I have broken it down into four main parts:
The cost of transport
In most of the USA you really do need to be able to drive in order to live. In states like Texas, California or Denver if you don’t have a car you are stuck. You need to drive to work, drive to the supermarket or drive downtown if you want to eat out. As we know driving is not cheap. You need to pay for a license, car insurance, a vehicle, vehicle maintenance, gas money etc. etc. However, in Spain driving is more of a choice rather than a necessity. The cities are designed for pedestrians and the majority of citizens either use public transport or cycle.
The cities in Spain are old (designed well before the invention of cars). The roads are narrow and bars and stores line every corner. Cities are divided into small barrios (districts), each with their distinct style and local fiestas (street parties) and you can enjoy a very happy lifestyle within the walking distance of your neighbourhood.
If you decide to live in a city like Barcelona or Valencia you can practically walk anywhere. What’s more, the architecture is so beautiful that ambling down the streets is a pleasant experience, compared to walking in US cities, like Houston, where the traffic is loud, and the walk from A to B ends in blisters.
If walking is not your thing, don’t worry, the public transport in Spain is super cheap.
In Barcelona you can get a T10 metro card for €10.20 ($11.43) this gives you 10 journeys to use within a month. That’s $1.14 per journey! When you compare that to a single journey on the NYC subway costing $2.75 that’s not bad! What is great is this applies to buses/ metros/ train and even cable cars!
And if getting from A to B requires two modes of transport it is still considered one journey. The prices are more or less similar in the rest of the main cities. And if you are coming here to study and work there is also a student discount.
Another great thing about the metro in Barcelona is that zone 1 expands way beyond the city limits and even includes coastal towns where the beaches are quieter and less populated, so you can take day breaks away from the city to explore the surrounding nature all for the cost of $2.28.
Many cities in Spain offer bike services for residents, you can check out this map to find out their locations. In Barcelona there is a city wide bike service for residents that costs 35 euros ($39) a year, in order to use this service you must be able to prove that you are a resident and have a NIE.
We are starting to see more rental mopeds and rental electric scooters in the cities in Spain. These are great fun and often offer great introductory discount rates.
TRAVELING THE COUNTRY
Train fares can be cheap If you book in advance but expensive if you book last minute. Many people are using car shares to travel around. A very common app is blablacar. The driver will charge a small fee, usually a share of the gas + a little extra. This is not only economical and better for the environment but it is also a fun way to meet new people, if you are the type who likes spontaneous encounters.
European flights are infinitely cheaper than US internal flights. There are many budget airlines like ryanair, wizzair and vueling competing so costs stay low. For instance writing this now if I look on skycanner to book a vacation for June I can book a round trip from Spain to Italy for $34 and Spain to the UK for $41!
The cost of rent
Rental prices vary throughout Spain. Barcelona and Madrid are the most expensive cities to rent in, but even so they are very cheap compared to NYC or Washington DC. Rent in NYC is 211% higher than in BCN. You’ll find a room in a central location of one of the main cities for €300 – €500 per month, bills included. In the USA rent is 87% higher than in Spain. The most popular way people advertise flats and rooms is through Badi.
The cost of groceries
You will find that supermarket prices in Spain and the USA are relatively similar, but still the cost of groceries in the USA are 55% higher than Spain. What Spain has plenty of, which the USA doesn’t, are the small independent bakeries and fruit and veg stalls. In America you can find places like these in some of the bigger cities or at weekend farmer markets. However, in Spain these independent stores are everywhere from the most populated city to the most rural village. Furthermore, In America these independent stores are not only rare, they are also expensive. Even if we wanted to support our local businesses most of us can only afford to buy from supermarkets.
Whereas, In Spain these independent stores are much cheaper than the supermarkets. At my local I managed to leave with two full heavy bags of fresh produce for $12! What’s more, fruits and vegetables that are considered gourmet in the USA such as artichokes and doughnut peaches are locally grown here and when in season are very cheap.
The cost of leisure
Well firstly there is no tipping culture here in Spain, this is both good and bad, on one hand it is easier on your wallet, on the other hand there is no real incentive to provide a good service. Waiters are usually very laid back, to put it nicely.
The Drink prices are also far cheaper. In Spain a mid range bottle of wine will cost $5.50 whereas in America it will cost $12. A drink in a bar will cost around $1.50 – $3.30.
A meal out for two in a fancy restaurant will usually cost you $30 – $60 wine included, which is far less than the typical American restaurant, but the real secret to cheap dining in Spain is the ‘menu del dia’ (menu of the day). I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best restaurants that offer these. Typically a ‘menu del dia’ will cost between $10 – $13 and include a first course (soup or salad) a main course ( meat or fish or a vegetarian option) and a soft drink or alcoholic beverage (beer or wine) & a dessert or coffee (my go to is the crema catalana always).
In the States lunchtime is usually a panicked rush to cram a bagel in your face and run back to your desk. However, in Spain lunch is a time to enjoy good food and good company in a leisurely way, only once you are full and well satisfied do you leave, not to your desk but to your bed to have a little siesta (nap) before continuing work. The mediterranean culture is very much about enjoying yourself.
In conclusion, after comparing the cost of living in Spain vs USA in terms of travel, housing and leisure Spain is significantly cheaper.