What’s Cheaper in Spain

Starting a new life in another country requires time and money. (But having a wedding means people give you presents, so that helps.) We have to acquire—in one way or another—all the necessities: appliances, kitchen equipment, linens, and on and on. Things can add up. And quickly.

A lot of things seem to be more expensive in Spain: makeup, toiletries, electronics, cell phone rates, books, cars. It can seem overwhelming when you’re trying to furnish a new apartment!

Luckily, not everything is expensive in Spain, especially if you can find some cheap flights! Here’s what I’ve found to be cheaper

  • Fruits and vegetables, but you have to know where to buy them. (Hint: It’s not Carrefour.)
  • Alcohol, but wine in particular. I can find one of my favorites, Elias Mora, for around €6.
  • Olive oil. I don’t get it, because we make olive oil here (in California, for example), but it’s not cheap. I’ll be honest and admit that my favorite olive oil is Carrefour-brand Arbequina.

  • Traveling to other countries, which—duh!—is due to shorter distances, but still. It’s cheaper!
  • Climate control. Okay, this is a cop out, because the reason it’s cheaper is because of a lack of a) heating in the south, or b) air conditioning in the northern regions. I have heard there are apartments in Madrid with some air conditioning, though. My environmentalist friend Kristin would remind me of all the good this is doing for the environment, however, and thus I try not to complain.
  • Eating out, but only if we’re talking about tapas-style eating out. There aren’t nearly as many chain restaurants or fast-food restaurants in Spain. (Thank goodness!) Thus, you can’t go grab Chipotle for $8 any time you want. But going out for tapas is cheap, fun, and filling. The idea of tapas is getting big in the US, but I honestly don’t think it’ll ever work out. There’s no culture of tapas, and the idea of going from place to place for dinner, which we eat way too early anyway, won’t likely catch on here anytime soon.
  • University tuition, but keep in mind it’s actually paid for by your taxes (85% of it, according to Público.es). So, you may only spend between 535 and 1,280 per academic year, according to Master’s Portal. (Mario came up with this one, and he wants to clarify that the trade-off may have to do with Spanish universities not exactly being world renowned.)

In the end, I realized the one thing that’s chaper in Spain is food. Good food, that is. Thank goodness. I love food!

What do you find cheaper (and/or better quality) in Spain? What do you find more expensive?

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15 comments

  1. Might jut be me, but based on my experience, I found that I paid more for clothing in Spain. I would pay 20 euro for a shirt that I could have gotten for 20$ in the states (both shirts being of the same quality, of course–not a fair comparison otherwise). Maybe I just didn’t know where to shop, though. I’m much more well-versed in where to find a deal in the states :P

  2. Hi Kaley.

    It´s interesting to compare prices between countries, isn´t it? I started doing this on my blog recently as I live in southern Spain but I´m from the UK originally – and lots of people have commented with their surprise at prices paid here.

    I agree with you that books, cars, electronics and mobile phone rates are expensive here, whilst alcohol, olive oil, fruit & veg and eating out are generally cheaper.

    There is certainly no lack of climate control in these parts though. We need not only heating (once the sun goes down in the evening) during the winter months, but even more importantly, air conditioning over the very hot summer months – and it´s been very hot this summer. Added to that, the price of electricity has been shooting up these past few months – making “climate control” distinctly expensive.

    I´m not sure what you mean when you say that “travelling to other countries” is cheaper, as generally we find that, for example, the cost of flights from Spain to say Australia or the USA are much more expensive generally than flying directly there from the UK. I think this is because there is more demand for flights from the UK to Australia and the USA.

    Petrol is cheaper here than in the UK, but more expensive than in the US – so I guess it´s cheaper/more expensive to drive anywhere, depending on where you´re from!

    Congratulations on your marriage :)

  3. lol this may be a little more intimate, but waxing is SOO much cheaper than in the states I can get a bikini and leg wax for like 20 euro or eyebrows for 4… finding it for $50 in the states would be on the cheap side

  4. I think rent is much cheaper, but that’s comparing it to California (I have no idea what it’s like in Indiana). San Francisco is probably the closest California equivalent of Barcelona, and my friends living there easily pay double what I do.

    Clothing is more expensive, but better quality and more stylish in general.

    And one weird thing that I found to be much pricier was towels and linens. I struggled to find a towel for under €20! Thank goodness for rebajas.

  5. It is really hard to compare because things are just not the same. But I made some of the same observations as a visitor a few years ago. If you have a place to stay and you eat some meals “at home” – like if you rent an apartment for the week with a kitchen cost of travel in Spain drops significantly. For 30 euros I had my groceries for most meals for a week, ate out snacks and some lunches/tapas. In comparison, one meal in a restaurant could have wiped out the same 30 euros. So visitors should try to rent or stay with a friend, etc.

    As for other things, it’s about shopping around. I still think the U.S. we have so much variety and eating out here in the Midwest where I live is CHEAP! But decent wine and good foods in a grocery store are not so easy to come by for a good price in my neck of the woods. Usually in Spain you get what you pay for. If a soccer jersey seems expensive, it’s usually really well made, same with boots, accessories and anything like that. Produce and meats I bought in the grocery in Spain were far superior that what I get in my neighborhood at home. I am still thinking about the bacon and cheese and fresh fruits. I keep telling people here, “You haven’t really had bacon until you have tried even the run of the mill bacon in a grocery store in Spain. Those people know pork products!” We ate really well!!

  6. I’d go nuts without air conditioning, I don’t care how rarely I’ll allegedly need it, I want it there for that one day during the year when it decides to go north of 80F (yes, anything above 80 requires A/C, I hate hot weather).

    No American-style fast food is fine as long as you’ve got something that fills in for it, e.g. shwarma or kebab shops or tapas or tacos or street food vendors of some type open until the wee hours, etc. Just so long as I can go get something decent, cheap, and quick at 2 in the morning, I’m happy. It doesn’t have to be a particular type of food (American, Spanish, Indian, whatever) just so long as it’s good, fast, cheap, and available at all hours of the day and night. If you’ve got that, then you’ve got fast food.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  7. I think your list is totally accurate although, I do have A/C in Madrid. We try to use it conservatively, but in July and August, it makes your life so much more comfortable.

    Also, I have to insist that you put down your Carrefour olive oil. This is a big, big pecado. Please pick up a bottle of Carbonell or even better, Carbonell fuerte. Really, I insist! :)

    1. I seriously prefer this to it. I bought botique olive oil, and this stuff is better. Frutier, stronger, more intense flavor, etc.

      I’ve had Carbonell, all the big brands, special olive oil that Mario’s friends bring up from Andalucía … and I still don’t like them as much.

  8. I don’t live in Spain but can I drop my French two cents?

    This list of what’s cheaper is similar to ours in France. Although, Carrefour is the cheapy market here! Funny, huh?
    Cellphone rates are ridiculous! I still haven’t re-activated my phone because I’m not ready to start paying those rates again! At least we don’t have to pay for incoming calls! I hope you guys don’t have to!

    Thank Goodness wine is cheaper, other wise I’d be up “merde’s creek”!!

  9. Agree about AC, don’t have it but just about died this August in Barcelona. Will have it next year. Many flats in Barcelona do not have heating or AC. You have to get space heaters or install it all yourself. This is strange because it is cold enough here for central heating and hot enough (humid) for AC for a few months every year.

    I’d say clothes are cheaper in the US, but maybe that’s because I am from Oregon where we don’t pay sales tax. Wine soooooo much cheaper in Spain. Lushes rejoice!

  10. I’m shocked that those things that you listed are more expensive. Everything in France was a lot cheaper than here in Canada (although the cost of living in Canada is incredibly high) but the point is that I thought Spain would have a lower cost of living than France…you may just have to pop over to your northern neighbour to check out their awesome prices!

  11. clothes USED to be cheaper than in most European countries but now THANKS to the Euro you can find higher prices in general. Still, pretty cheaper in comparison

  12. The wine alone is a reason to choose Spain over Brazil! Did you know I met my Brazilian in Barcelona. I dream of the day where we can all live like expats there. Good luck with your apartment! I feel your pain over the differences, minus the wine. Wine here is $$$$

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