Categorized | Money

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

24 Comments For This Post

  1. Brett Says:

    I’m registered at EAE Business School for the term starting in October. Work is a big worry for me, and the lack of it (possibly) makes me extremely hesitant about this move. What kind of work do you do when you freelance? Is there any way to get started?

  2. American expat! Says:

    I’m an instructional designer – I create training courses (instructor lead and web based) for corporations in North America. I have a masters degree in a related field and 12 years of experience, so not sure you could jump right in without studying for 4 to 6 years…

  3. Brett Says:

    How would you say the employment rate in start ups is in Barcelona? What are some jobs that you know of that are held by expats? Basically, would I have any luck finding a job other than bar tending, teaching English, or hotel worker?

  4. American expat! Says:

    Start ups?? There are some, you’ll find them in technology and media. You’d need residency first however, though a few might pay you under the table. But you are American, right? you know how to look for the kind of work you want. I managed to find and land a technical writer position with a tech organization my second week here, with the requirement of native English speaker. However that was in 2008, the economy here today is different. See what you can find on LinkedIn – I found two jobs that way. You might need to just get here and start networking-there are plenty of networking events seemingly every day. Face to face contact here is huge.

  5. TVW Says:

    I am coming with one child and no job but hoping to secure work in three months after arrival.m I am staying for nine months on a student visa and will renew depending on work I find. How much should I bring based on 9 months basic 1 bedroom flat 400-500 Euros for me and my toddler in the cheaper areas of Barcelona, plus childcare 400-500 Euros just for the basics. I am thinking of bringing 9000 Euros to keep afloat while I get a job teaching English. Is this realistic amount to bring?

  6. American expat! Says:

    Hard to say, TVW. I’d say 9K for you alone is plenty, however I don’t know much about childcare here…or much about children in general. I imagine childcare here would be expensive, though that is just a guess.

    As for work, if you are on a student visa, and are TEFL certified (or similar. Or even not if you want to provide private lessons) then finding work teaching English will be no problem.

  7. Mike Gulder Says:

    HI – wife and I are retired and looking to spend 3+ months in Spain, most likely a month in different cities – Valencia, Milan, Barcelona most likely. Believe we could cover out medical with travelers insurance,but is there a better solution? How easy is it to travel from these cities to other parts of Spain for day trips? What is the best way to manage money there – open an account in a local bank? Appreciate the feedback

  8. American expat! Says:

    Well, Milan is in Italy so a day trip there will require a plane ticket….perhaps you meant Madrid?? It’s very easy to get around using the train system for day trips. Don’t bother with a car, it will only be a very expensive hassle.

    As for managing money…a good method is to open a “tourist” account with any large bank. The cost should be around 5 euro a month to keep a tourist account, which will give you an ATM card and online banking options.

    Travelers insurance is best if you stay just 3 months.

  9. Ed Says:

    I’m registered at EAE Business School as well for the term starting in October 2014. Working and the economy in Spain are a big worry. Is there anyway of connecting me with Brett? I want to ask him about his experience

  10. Lisa Says:

    Hi I tried contacting you via your contact form but it won’t go through. It keeps telling me the passcode I entered was wrong. I do have some qs Id like to message you, so please email me if you could. Thank you so much for this blog – what a great resource!

  11. Walter Says:

    You would not know how much spinning I have done to finally find this blog and like Lisa said what a great resource!.
    I was in Barcelona this June (2014) and I said this my place to retire, currently living in Sydney since 2011 and prior in California for 24 years and traveled around the world Europe, UK, Ecuador, Colombia, Habana, and Panama then Fiji, Bali, Hong Kong, Japan I will say Barcelona is my place .
    Planning to move next May, so I have a couple of questions;
    Need a little more info on tourist account?
    You thing that with My wife and myself 4K to 5K euros per month we could have a decent live with no car renting eat paella once a week and set menus? Cheers Walter

  12. American expat! Says:

    4-5k Euros per month you will be living like a King and Queen!
    Tourist account – just go to the bank and open a tourist account! All you need is a passport.

  13. Walter Says:

    Woops Sorry I meant US dollars.
    Worry about medical insurance (67YO) I guess is not easy to take a quick flight home (US) and go thru Medicare, or fly to Italy since Australia has a medical agreement the best option looks like to get travel insurance here in Sydney I can get Medical only for one year for two people $1206 for the whole year, is good to have options!
    I have been looking and calling real state agents and for me it looks great and cheap I can get a 2b-1 bath in and nice area for 1200 euros.
    I will like to know from someone on fee/rates (monthly) for internet, telefono, agua, electricidad, even bike fees or other fee that maight be hidden.

  14. Tiffany Says:

    (Tried to PM you but code isn’t working…)

    Hi there, I just came across this post, and I see that you’re freelancing in instructional design.

    I’m an L&D manager with instructional design and internal communications experience, and I know that freelancing is the only way I can live in Barcelona. Any tips on where to begin on the freelancing front ie job boards, etc? I’m a freelancing virgin…wait…well, you know what I mean :).

    Feel free to email…Thanks so much!

  15. American expat! Says:

    Hi Tiffany,

    I started with the following:

    I don’t use them very much anymore as I have a client base built up, but basically I took on some cheap projects and did an amazing job, and that led to referrals and rehiring for higher rates. It only took about 6 months to get to acceptable rates – seems like a long time but it’s not like I had much of a choice! Anyway, you don’t need to make much to live in Barcelona. (Are you here yet?)

    I also have a website that gets some interest, I use it primarily as a home for my portfolio but it does get some attention from potential clients.

    (I’ve updated the contact widget so it should be working now).

  16. Gerry Says:

    I’m retired. on a pension and Soc. Sec. and thinking of spending 6 months in Barcelona. Medicare and medi-gap only cover first 60 days of emergency care. How much does a private insurance plan cost for a couple at 70-years old ?

  17. Walter Says:

    Hi there,
    I am a little confused about the minimum income require to retire in Spain, reading some blogs, English couples live comfortable with 12k to 15k euros. now Spanish consulate in San Francisco has a minimum income requirement of 32K +- for a couple so my question is what is the minimum requirements for people form the UK? see below one of the requirements for US citizen
    6. Proof of Permanent Retirement income from an official institution (social security or other private source) to
    live in Spain without working. The minimum income required is 25,560 Euros annually plus 6,390 Euros per
    each additional family member. All documentation must be certified translated into Spanish.
    I will like to know more details anybody?

  18. Noha Says:

    I have a job offer at scias hospital de Barcelona, would you please tell me , what do you think about it? And how much does it cost us monthly for is as a couple with a child?
    What do you think about life in Spain?

  19. Syed Ali Rashid Says:

    Hello Ms. Noha,

    I have also received a job offer from SCIAS Hospital De Barcelona. However, they have asked for all visa and travel expenses to be paid by us and will be reimbursed later which put me in doubt of it’s authenticity. Can you please let me know if you have taken any measures to verify this offer and I would appreciate if we could stay in touch through email.


    Dr. Syed Ali Rashid.

  20. Tiffany Says:

    Brilliant advice…thanks! I’m convinced. I’ll be in Barcelona in October.

  21. Ali Rashid Syed Says:

    hi friends I received a job offer letter from cias hospital barcelona on august 25, 2014. I have been offered a salary of 11300 euro/ month +other benefits. First thing I would like to know how to contact the human resources department of this hospital to confirm the job offer.

  22. Tiffany Says:

    Hi, have tried pm but again with no luck. Would you mind emailing me? I’m finally in Barcelona and would love to buy you a coffee and pick your brain in the process! 🙂

  23. MichaelHep Says:

    It looks like Barcelona and Madrid are about the same in terms of costs. I d say my monthly bills are very similar for rent, transportation, and groceries. Do you pay for internet, too? That s one aggravating bill for me, mainly because our service is terrible!

  24. American expat! Says:

    Oh yes, of course everyone pays for internet. It is around 40 a month on average. And like Madrid, pretty terrible.

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