In August I moved to Barcelona, accepting a part-time teaching job with Meddeas (that’s how I live here legally!). That means 20 hours a week, 850 euros a month.
Which equates to about 950 USD (while the euro is still this low), meaning in the U.S. I’d be below the poverty line.
Many people ask me if it’s actually doable to work part time, earn essentially 10 euros an hour, and afford to live in Barcelona. The answer is a resounding YES—in fact, most Spaniards just entering the work force make less than 850 euros a month working full-time. But I see why it’s hard to believe that one can live, and live well, on that kind of money. Many of my friends are paying twice my monthly salary just for rent in San Francisco or New York. When we think of major global cities, we automatically think expensive: Tokyo, London, Los Angeles or Paris help cement that image. But the truth is, Barcelona, while certainly more expensive than most other places in Spain, is actually incredibly affordable for Western standards.
Obviously people’s lifestyle choices drastically change the cost of living in Barcelona. But I’m here to tell you that it is possible to survive on a part-time English teacher’s salary. You won’t be living the luxurious life; you may even have to limit your traveling, which is not what everyone wants to hear. (The swing side is that Barcelona is so great, you may want to STOP traveling and stay put.) But at the end of the day, you can comfortably call Barcelona home for about the same amount of money you’d spend living in a shoebox in cities of equal caliber.
The Cost of Living in Barcelona
*Please keep in mind this is based on what I spend. If you are a total tight-wad or a caviar/jewelry aficionado, your numbers might be different.
Barcelona ranks among the top three most expensive cities for rent in Spain, along with Madrid and San Sebastian. This will be the largest chunk of your salary, no surprises there. What still shocks me, however, is how low rent is across Spain in general. I pay 350 euros a month, everything included, to live in a nice shared flat in the heart of the central district, five minutes walking from Las Ramblas (not that that’s a favorite destination of mine.) For a more detailed look at my flat, click here for the tour. Also check out my tips for the Spanish housing hunt.
Rent is higher in the city center and gets lower as you go out—am I shocking anyone with this news? The most pijo, or posh, districts in Barcelona [read: you MIGHT NOT be able to afford these on a part-time teaching salary] are El Born, Barri Gotic, and St. Gervasi. Some zones of L’Eixample can also get expensive, such as right near the high-end Passeig de Gracia.
More affordable districts that I’d recommend include El Raval (where I live–right in the city center, but more of a tough-kid-with-a-rough-past-entering-rehab feel, which I love); most of L’Eixample; hippy and off-beat Gracia; the old fishermen’s neighborhood of Barceloneta; Sants; Poble Sec; and Sant Antoni.
Average: 250–450 euros
My total: 350 euros
Some flats, like mine, are rented out with all utilities, or gastos, included in the price. Awesome! If you’re not so lucky, I’d say utilities would range from 30 to 60 euros a month per person in a shared flat (based on my past experiences in Bilbao and Granada). Keep in mind that electricity is much more expensive in Spain than in the States. Obviously, if you share a flat with more people, your utility costs will be lower; if you’re only sharing with one other person, expect to pay more.
In older buildings in the city center, it’s rare to find a flat with central heating. This is the bane of my existence in Spain, since winters are actually cold here, despite popular stereotypes of year-long Spanish sunshine. The good news is, I’ve found Barcelona’s winter to be really bearable, and that means A LOT coming from me—my lips turn blue whenever the mercury dips below 65. (Not exaggerating.)
Average: 30–60 euros
My total: 0 euros (included in rent)
I bought TuentiMovil’s ridiculously cheap plan because I use my phone mainly for internet and Whatsapp, not calls. I pay 7 euros a month for 1 GB of data and 50 minutes of free calls using wifi. I’ve found it to meet my needs, but honestly I don’t highly recommend Tuenti because they’re based entirely online, with no physical storefronts, so if you have problems with them it’s a bit hard to sort out. But Orange and Vodaphone have similarly cheap plans for prepaid SIM cards.
I rarely pay more than 7 Euros a month because, like I said, I don’t call much (Spain’s social life revolves around Whatsapp, plus my house has a landline I use for calls to the doctor, work, etc.)
Average: 10-20 euros
My total: ~10 euros
Here is where I won the lottery. I found a flat I liked just a 10 minute walk from my work, so I hardly ever take public transportation on the day-to-day. My flat is so central that I walk almost everywhere, and when I need to go farther, I take a Bicing, Barcelona’s bike-share program for residents (47 euros for an annual membership).
Occasionally I’ll take the metro when I want to head up to the neighborhood of Gracia, but honestly I like walking and sometimes in the center it’s actually more hassle than it’s worth to take the metro—you can arrive more easily on foot or bike.
This category is where the cost of living in Barcelona would see the most variation on a case by case basis. Monthly metro passes can add up, and if you live beyond the city limits in a different metro zone, prices climb still higher. I buy a T-10 pass, good for 10 rides on the metro, trains, or buses, which costs 10 euros. It usually lasts me a month or even more.
A single-trip ticket costs 2.15 E. TOTAL RIP-OFF.
T/10 card, for ten rides in Zone 1 (Barcelona City), costs 9.95 E. Great deal if you use the metro somewhat infrequently.
T50/30 card, for 50 trips in 30 days, costs 42.50 E.
T70/30 card, for 70 trips in 30 days, costs 59.50 E.
T-Mes, for unlimited travel in 30 days, costs 52.75 E.
For a complete listing of metro prices in English, click here.
Average: Depends on how much you’re racing around.
My total: 10 Euros.
In general, groceries are so much cheaper in Spain than in the U.S. Produce is cheaper than candy or McDonald’s—imagine that! It’s possible to cook healthily and not break the bank, which is hard to say about the US.
Again, this category will vary depending on what you eat. I’m mostly a vegetarian at home, so I’m not buying huge quantities of meat. I’d say I eat a normal amount of food–if you’re a guy, definitely add some euros to this total. I still can’t comprehend how you guys manage to cram so much in.
Groceries Quick List (keep in mind 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds)
1 loaf bread: 80 cents
Pasta: 70 cents/500 grams (1 pound)
Rice: 60 cents/kilo
Dried lentils: 1.50 euros/kilo
Garbanzos: 50 cents/jar
Box of digestive cookies (the most ubiquitous item in the grocery stores): 1.5 euros
Apples: 1.20 euros/kilo
Bananas: 1 euro/kilo
Tomatoes: 1.10 euros/kilo
Lettuce: 1 euro
Potatoes: 50 cents/kilo
Carrots: 70 cents/kilo
Strawberries: 2 euros/kilo
Oranges: 1 euro/kilo
Milk: 65 cents/liter
Eggs: 1.35 euros/dozen
Chicken breasts: 4.50—6 euros/kilo
Chorizo: 2 euros/link
Spanish cheese: ~7–16 euros/kilo, obviously depending on the kind
Wedge of brie: 1 euro (Hooray for France being just across the border.)
Wine: Drinkable wine as low as 1 euro/bottle; Good wine as low as 2 euros; boxed wine for cooking or desperation, 70 cents
Liter beer: 1 euro
Can beer: 40 cents
Hard liquor: depends, but generally cheaper than the U.S.
Average: Depends. Can you survive off bread and bread alone? Do you only eat organic? Is cooking your greatest passion and you’re willing to spend 40 euros/kilo on pine nuts?
My total: 80 euros/month
Essential Things You Don’t Want to Spend Money on but Have To
Things will pop up and eat your money. Visa/NIE paperwork and fees. Catalan textbooks. Haircuts. Extra phone charges. Pharmacy purchases. Shampoo. Some of this depends on personal choice—you can cut your hair at a super trendy barber, or at the 4-euro hole in the wall down the street—but other things are a pretty set price. How much can you really spend on toothpaste?
Average: Depends how much you cut your hair….?
My total: Varies by month, but maybe 30 E.
My overall (general) total for ESSENTIALS in Barcelona: 480 Euros.
So that’s DEFINITELY on the conservative side of estimates. But as you can see, you can live in Barcelona on 850 euros a month, covering all the essentials, and still have wiggle room in case you miscalculated, all of your friends have birthdays in the same month, or you have to take the metro to and from work every day. That’s just a little over half of my monthly salary, so I could move some things around and still support an entirely carnivorous diet if I needed.
But obviously I spend way more than this. Let’s get to the fun stuff that makes life actually worth living:
Clubs here can add up. Some have lists you can get on for free before a certain time, but otherwise, cover will cost between 10 and 20 euros. I’m not much of a club person, so that’s a built-in way to keep social costs down.
That doesn’t mean I’m not fun, though. [I promise! :D] I love grabbing drinks at bars, going out for meals, meeting friends in the middle of the day for coffee, or seeing the occasional movie. I don’t usually go to museums, but I can be convinced. There are lots of free events in Barcelona as well.
An espresso is about 1.20 euros; a coffee with milk is around 1.50. A caña (small beer) or mediana (bottle of beer) of San Miguel or Estrella here at a regular bar (not a rooftop terrace, say) will cost you between 1–2 euros. A glass of wine between 1.80–3. Cocktails will run you between 3.50 for a mojito at some great-priced places, to 6 or 7 euros at more typically-priced bars.
My social budget: ~100 euros/month (includes eating out)
An amazing perk about living in Barcelona is it’s so diverse and varied. You can buy Chanel or Louis Vuitton on Passeig de Gracia; you can also shop second-hand at the exploding number of boutiques in El Raval and Gracia. Take advantage of the rebajas, or major sales, in virtually every store in the city twice a year, in winter and summer.
My shopping budget: Depends how much I need new underwear. I’m not much of a shopper; I’d rather spend those bills on travel.
There’s no two ways about it: Barcelona is expensive to dine out, compared to almost everywhere else in Spain. The incredible tapas tradition in many areas of the country, where you’re served a free small plate of food with each drink, is noticeably and lamentably lacking in Barcelona.
But, on the plus side–and this is a major plus, considering I found nothing but Spanish Spanish Spanish food in past cities I’ve lived in—Barcelona has the most variation. You better believe I’ll pay a little more to have the option of Mexican, Vietnamese, Vegan, and Phillipino—all on my street.
There are also some fantastic lunch deals, with prices dipping as low as 8.50 euros for a set menu of starter, main course, dessert, bread and drink. Can’t beat that!
I decided to forgo a gym this year, because, um, I prefer to spend my money on sushi buffets. Plus I’m constantly sick from teaching babies all day long, so I wouldn’t take too much advantage of a membership anyway. But you can join the fully equipped public city gyms for around 42 euros a month; the private ones get more expensive.
Gym budget: 0 euros. But I do run up Montjuïc like, once a month.
Ohhhhh so little left over to travel. Ryanair can help with that, as can staying with friends who are living in other countries around Europe.
Here’s the part where you teach extra private English lessons on the side, or make some money freelance writing. Because travel is probably a major reason you’ve come to Europe in the first place!
Travel budget: 50–300 a month; more during vacation time, less during horrible vacationless months.
The Bottom Line
All things included, and taking into account heavy vs. light travel months [though I’m traveling less these days], I spend an average of about 750 euros a month. That doesn’t leave much for savings, and seeing as I’ll have to buy a plane ticket home at some point, I’ll probably break even this year. That’s OK. I’m young, healthy (knock on wood) and my only dependent children are the ones I teach at daycare.
I make 850 euros a month (about 950 USD at the time of writing—HOLY *#%! the euro has dropped so much.) That wage in the U.S. would put me far below the poverty line, yet here, thanks to a low cost of living in Barcelona, I’m able to live in the city center, do things around the city that I enjoy (eatdrinkshop), and travel a fair bit. Most people teach private lessons on the side to support more travel (or tapas/wine) but the point is, you can easily live in Barcelona on a very minimum salary.
Many workers just starting out here make between 700 and 900 euros a month full time. It’s an absolute privilege to make that much working just 20 hours a week, and it’s certainly a livable wage for a single person. You won’t be able to live as extravagantly in Barcelona as you would in other parts of Spain, but hey—it’s Barcelona. Even living in a closet and eating lentils for every meal would be worth it to call this city home.
P.S. Check out my Bilbao Budget Breakdown to see how I supported myself on 700 euros/month last year!