Archive | February, 2013

The cost of living in Barcelona question – answered!

Posted on 09 February 2013 by American expat!

About once a month in the winter and once a week during the 3 other seasons, I receive a question regarding the cost of living in Barcelona, usually in the form of: “What do you think is the minimum someone needs to earn per month to live comfortably in Barcelona?”

Sometimes there is more to it, such as: “What are the initial costs? How much money should you set aside in order to make the move?”

And then I receive more specific variations, such as: “How much would you estimate a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment somewhere close to the metro and not anywhere touristy would cost?”

And finally, I occasionally receive the very specific: “What does it cost to house a family of four in an area with good schools within an easy commuting distance?”

These all sound like reasonable questions, and I could fairly easily answer them – if they were regarding any city in California. Things are more consistent there, whether good or bad: There is no question that you need a car. People generally live in houses, with yards that need tending, or at least in condos with HOAs. Salaries are high and so is the middle class standard of living. Most people live in the suburbs and work in business parks. People spend a lot of money on entertainment in its various forms.

But it all varies here, and it is hard to answer those questions from other Americans because regardless of what your initial expectations are, your standards, your tolerance level and your lifestyle are all going to change here. (If not, you are probably not going to stay long.) And I will venture to say that if you currently have an extremely high standard of living, none of this will apply to you, but then again, you aren’t going to be asking these questions in the first place, you’ll just pay whatever it takes to create the lifestyle you want.

The answer to the first question actually (regarding living comfortably) has a standard answer here in BCN, which I’ll get to in a second. For Americans, to even define “live comfortably” is totally subjective.  Does that mean a room in a shared apartment? Does that room need a window? Or do you need your own place? Does that place need to be larger than a studio? Do you require an elevator in the building or are you fine hauling your stuff up 5 flights of stairs? Are you expecting things like a dishwasher and a clothes dryer?  So the general consensus here in BCN is that one needs to earn 1000 Euros per month to live comfortably. That usually means sharing a place with others, as most people do, though you can find tiny studio apartments, or slightly bigger places on the outskirts of the city for 500 a month or so. Most places come furnished, in fact it is unusual to rent a place that is not.

Which brings me to the second question: how much $ to set aside? Well, you’ll need at least three months deposit if you will be renting your own place, and one or two to move into a room (usually just one is enough). But after that, it all depends on what you will be doing here. Do you have work already? Then don’t sweat setting aside a bunch of money, you won’t have a ton of expenses- more on that in a minute. Do you have expenses back home that you will need to cover each month (as I did)? Do you plan to travel? Do you need to find work? Then I suggest setting aside 4-5000 Euro to keep you afloat while you set something up.

The third question is likely the easiest. Though it depends on the area. A two bedroom, 1 bath apartment close to a metro and outside of the city center will run you between 800-2000 a month. More expensive as you head up toward Sant Gervasi/Sarriá and in areas like Gracia and Le Cort. Cheaper if you head up the other side of BCN, like el Clot, la Sagrera, el Guinardo. Cheap as you get closer to Montjuic (you’ll be in its shadow), and moderate near Sants or the beaches around Poble Nou . Just keep in mind that second bedroom may be closet sized.

For the last question, I only know of one school, because only one friend of mine has a child. Her son goes to an American school in San Cugat, which is an expensive place to live, but she takes him to and from school on the train. She lives in Sant Gervasi area in a flat with three or four bedrooms and pays maybe 1600 a month? It’s a big place though, and it is the only flat I’ve seen with a working dishwasher!

Edit: The American school he goes to is a private school, but teaches classes 33% in Catalan, 33% in Spanish and 33% in English. I understand that all schools here by law must instruct a minimum of 33% of the classes in Catalan, and public schools are required to teach between 50% and 70% in Catalan.

If you were happy to hear that one can live comfortably on only 1000 a month here, you might be shocked to know that this is what many people live on per month, in fact, it is kind of a goal that is aspired to for non-professional workers. That generally includes English teachers. Professional work (i.e. one that requires a special degree, training or experience) will be about double that, maybe a little bit more. (I know, right? This is why I freelance for North American companies.)

But don’t freak out and say forget it – You’ll have fewer expenses. You won’t need a car, thus no insurance, gas, parking and repair costs. You won’t pay to be entertained as much, you’ll just go meet friends for a cheap drink or coffee and walk around. Many people live without Cable or even TV. Utilities can be expensive, but people here are vigilant about turning off lights and wearing sweaters indoors. If you can change your thinking and lower your standard of living as far as material things go, it will be made up for ten fold in cultural exposure and a rich and active social life.

In closing, here is a tool that allows you to compare the cost of living in Barcelona to other cities. Beware that the numbers are based on median values that have been entered by strangers, and won’t necessarily reflect your standard of living or even area of town where you will live, but it is a handy resource nonetheless:

Cost of Living Calculator

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The average work day in Spain

Posted on 03 February 2013 by American expat!

The average work day in Spain is negotiating its way between tradition–when no air conditioning existed, the country was poor, and business was 99% local–and the present day, which sees multinational corporations making Spain their home and the technology industry pulling the old corporate culture into the global economy. This means people work long hours, but it doesn’t resemble any North American “arrive early, skip lunch, stay late” kind of definition of working long hours.

Let me explain.

A typical working day starts later her, as people get out of bed late. I am aware that there are cafes that are open by 7 am, maybe earlier, though I’ve never been out at that hour to witness this, because of where Spain sits on the edge of a timezone, at 7am the sun is barely up.

Most people head off to the office around 9:30 or 10:00, which means they are dressed and making their way there by foot, bicycle, scooter, metro, train or less often, by car. This typically includes a stop on the way for a short coffee, maybe even with some brandy in it if the night was particularly rough. Then it’s time for some real productivity, before a breakfast break around 11. If the job is a blue collar job, and thus begins a bit earlier, the employee will stop at 10:oo or so for their breakfast, which may or may not include a beer…because its helpful to be relaxed while working with tools and heavy machinery.

Lunchtime is siesta time

14:00 (2pm) is siesta time. In the cities, this means lunch, because a journey home for a real siesta would take far too long. But it is still called siesta and it lasts anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours. Most workers head off to a restaurant with coworkers or friends for a big meal, as lunch in any local restaurant is a three course affair, (sometimes four) called a menu del dia, and includes beer or wine and a coffee at the end of the three courses. So naturally you’d need at least a couple of hours to be served and then ingest all those courses.

8pm is still considered “afternoon”

After lunch it is back to the office to work straight through (although supplemented by several smoke and coffee breaks) until between six and eight, when they call it quits. Although it is not unusual to see offices with people still in them at 9pm. This naturally pushes dinner to much later than what we in the US might be used to, thus, extending the length of the day. In fact, up until about 9pm is considered “afternoon”.

Life happens after work

Most office workers hurry home after work to have an actual siesta before they run, hit the gym, bike or rollerskate along the ramblas – open spaces usually between main streets running both directions in the centers of town, with trees, benches, bike paths and lots of space. Or folks will exercise and then take a siesta and get ready for their evening, which is more often than not spent with other people – in bars, cafes, for a paseo through town, maybe dinner, sometimes out until very late (3:00 or 4:00am), but just out – to meet with friends and be with others. Then it’s finally to bed whatever time they collapse into it (though it is most certainly well after midnight). Then they do it all over again the next day. The norm seems to be to catch up on sleep by snoozing most of every Sunday, waking only to have a big meal with the extended family.

Summer Hours in Spain

In August, if a business does not actually close for the entire month, then they at least go on “summer hours”. This, and the closing of business, is to deal with the heat. August heat can become unbearable in the cities, and while offices have air conditioning now, this is a left over relic from earlier days when it did not exist – or the company just couldn’t afford it. Work during summer hours begins earlier, loosely around 8:00 am  and ends at 15:00 (3pm). The rest of the long afternoon is spent at the beach, park, or going to and from said relaxing places where a siesta is almost certainly involved.

It is usually one of the biggest adjustments when spending any amount of time in Spain, and it can take years to acclimate to the drawn out working hours and long nights. But one thing is certain if you want to adjust into the Spanish timetable – you must master the siesta.

siesta at work

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