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The cost of living

In terms of the overall cost of living, Spanish cities compare very favourably with many other cities across the globe.

Mercer's cost-of-living ranking for the world’s major cities places Madrid is positioned at 111, with Barcelona slightly more expensive at 121. For comparison, Hong Kong is 2nd and New York is 9th.

Prices in the cost of living do vary between the different provinces in Spain, however, so it is wise to do some focused research on the cost of living in the region that you will be moving to. In particular, find out how much the IBI (impuesto sobre bienes inmuebles) will be for your area, the property taxes paid to the local council each year. As a rule of thumb, these are much lower than, for example, council tax in the UK or the city and country property taxes in the U.S.


Property prices in Spain, which had soared to record highs, took a tumble following the economic downturn in 2008. Whilst they have been steadily recovering in recent years, property remains relatively cheap in Spain.  Unsurprisingly, city and coastal properties are at a premium, whilst houses and apartments inland in smaller towns and villages can still represent a real bargain.

Buying and rental prices in Madrid both average around 61% lower than in New York, whilst purchasing in Madrid is about 69% cheaper than in London and renting on average just over 53% cheaper than in London.

Food and clothing

Mercadona, one of Spain’s largest supermarket chains, conducted research into the prices of everyday necessities.  The vast majority of food items cost less in Spain than the UK with a few exceptions (including coffee, tea, bananas and fresh fish). This data is backed up by Numbeo, a huge database of user-contributed information about cities and countries worldwide. According to this database, for anyone used to New York prices, the differences are even more favourable. Many everyday items will be at least 50% less expensive in Madrid than the same items in New York.  That said, typical wages are lower in Spain than in many major EU nations. Spain’s average salary ranks 13th in the European Union. So, unless you are moving to Spain assured of a high salary, or have a significant income from either a pension or savings, take this into consideration.

However, eating out is a cost-effective option in Spain and remains relatively cheap. Restaurant prices are over 30% cheaper in Madrid than London and over 40% cheaper in Madrid than New York.


Local transport in Spain is cheaper than in the U.S. or UK, with train fares offering especially good value for money. It’s possible to reduce fares even more, for example by buying a frequent traveller card which will help with AVE (high speed trains) and anyone over 60 can buy an annual Golden Card (tarjeta dorada) for €6, which will cut travel costs by up to 40%.

Running a car

If you are relocating from the U.S., the cost of buying a new vehicle in Spain is fairly similar but fuel prices will come as a shock.  Gasoline prices can be pretty much doubled, costing approximately €1.19 per litre in Madrid. Expats from the UK will be pleased with the slight reduction in fuel costs, being used to paying close to €1.40 per litre.

Other car-related costs include:

  • Road tax – €50-€100 per annum, depending on size of car
  • Vehicle roadworthiness test (Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehiculos) – usually €35, to be carried out every other year on cars over four  years old but with some exceptions to this general rule for vehicles such as motorbikes and anything over 10 years old.
  • Servicing – variable but expect to pay over €150 for a full service in a local garage. Main dealerships will charge more.
  • Also be aware that certain roads in Spain levy a toll, especially for longer journeys.


The following is a guide to approximate costings for utilities in Spain. Bear in mind that prices will vary over time and across regions.

Utility Approx Cost Per Month
Basic utilities (gas, electricity, water and garbage) for an 85 square metre apartment €113 per month
Internet €39
Pre-paid mobile €0.16 per minute

(Source: Numbeo)


Spanish state schooling is free for all EU citizens. They must, however, have first registered for their Empadronamiento (a town hall registration) at the local town hall.

Private schools are widely available across Spain and fees for international schools can range between €4,000 and €10,000 per annum.

A list of schools which are accredited in the United States can be found on the U.S. Embassy in Madrid website.

Sports and leisure

As a rough idea of how much leisure activities will cost you in Spain, a typical monthly fee for a gym or fitness club membership in Madrid will set you back €35, compared with those of €52 in London and €61 in New York. You will find cheaper options in areas outside of the major cities in each of these countries.

If you fancy a night out at the cinema, expect to pay €9 for an adult ticket in Spain’s capital, Madrid, as opposed to the equivalent of €13 in New York or €14 in London.

Legal fees

Legal fees and costs, especially for those buying property or having a will drawn up or amended in Spain, need to be taken into consideration.  A word to the wise: these are often relatively high in Spain.  Get costings for all legal fees you are likely to encounter before committing to your move.

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