Effective ways to know your cost of life in Spain

June 22, 2023

You may have questions about the cost of living in Spain and in the Costa del Sol, but not (many) after reading these tips and comparisons.

Yuor cost of life in Spain
Picture by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels

Talking about cost of life in Spain can be complicated, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I’m glad to share with you. To start, the cost of living in Spain is relatively low compared to most other Western European countries, even in Madrid and Barcelona, the two most expensive cities to live in Spain. And what about the Costa del Sol? Though not among the most expensive in Spain, the cities in the Costa happen to be among the most expensive in Andalucía, because of the amazing quality of life they offer and the number of foreigners they attract.

Cost of life in numbers

But how expensive is it compared to where you live? Telling if something is expensive or not depends on one’s reference of costs, which varies from one person to the next. So instead of putting a definitive adjective, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves by pointing you towards a great, free, easy, no-spamming tool available on-line: Numbeo.

Numbeo is a site that collects information about the cost of life from several people in different cities, aggregates those numbers and shows average prices for several categories, like restaurants, markets, transportation, utilities, leisura, childcare, clothing, rent and even salaries. This last one is particularly useful, because with that information alone you can check if your budget will allow you to live a comfortable life in Spain.

cost of life Costa del Sol
Top part of Numbeo’s page about the cost of living in Benalmádena, Spain.

But it goes beyond: you can compare the city you live in now (or a near, bigger one, if your city doesn’t have enough data on numbeo) to the city or cities you are considering moving to. Below, I compared the cost of life in my lovely Benalmádena to the city I lived before, Houston, in Texas, USA:

Cost of living Spain vs USA
Top part of Numbeo’s page comparing the cost of life of Houston and Benalmádena. It is not only about restaurants; this is just the top of the page.

Numbeo also compares quality of life, crime, pollution and much more. Below, Málaga vs Houston:

Numbeo’s quality of life comparison page between Malaga and Houston.

Good, right? But other than what can be measured in numbers, such as cost of life, I’d take Numbeo’s advice with a pinch of salt. You see, saying that the pollution level in Houston is moderate is just… not. This and other parameters are based on satisfaction rather than data, so it can be misleading, as people are used to what their city offers. But for prices I find Numbeo unbeatable, and I personally used it a lot while choosing where to live.

Supermarket prices in Spain

If you are considering moving to Spain, I think you should know these two supermarket chains: Mercadona and Carrefour. They are everywhere and probably will be where you’ll be shopping once you arrive in Spain. Of course, Spain has many more chains than that, such as the also popular Lidl, but let’s talk about those two big guys.

Mercadona is probably the most popular. It is endeared by locals and is cheaper than Carrefour for the products they both sell. Their markets are great, but their on-line version is disappointing. Mercadona’s institutional page is beautiful, but the shopping part is not. You can check a picture of one of their shopping pages below, which you’d need to register to see:

Just sad that such a great market chain didn’t invest on their on-line shop. Looking for prices here would be too boring.

Numbeo gives a good idea of prices, but if you want to be more specific, you can check for your own favorite products on Carrefour, that has a proper on-line shop. There you can browse through to make your own price comparison.

On top of that, you can check which beloved products you will not find in Spain. I miss Better than Bouillon from the USA; Amazon Spain has it, but it is so expensive! I also miss guavas and passion fruits from Brazil and a lot of candies from Estonia – Pilveke in particular… Yes, it is an undisputable reality of moving, the fact that you leave behind things – and people, and places – you like. Though there is a chance Mercadona will have what you don’t find in Carrefour (Hubby buys black bread from there, and I think he wouldn’t like Spain as much as he does without black bread).

On that matter, there are several international shops in the Costa del Sol, as there are many foreigners in the area. We go to the Brazilian shop Emporio Brasil (for açaí) in Fuengirola and to the Eastern European shop Коровай – Korovai (for smoked cheese) in Benalmádena, for instance; there are plenty more shops of other nationalities spread around the Costa 😉. Dutch people will enjoy knowing about the Attent Holandes, in both Fuengirola and Torremolinos; Finish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish people, check Casa Nordica in Fuengirola.

Housing prices in Spain

Back to the cost of life in Spain, let’s talk about the item that has the biggest impact on most people’s budget: housing. Whether you plan to rent or to buy, this is going to be a relevant cost to take in consideration.

The good thing about housing is that you can have a very clear notion of what you can get before moving by checking Idealista.com website. Now you probably already knew that Idealista is the site for housing, both for rent and buy – even more if you already read the posts on the house hunting section – but let me add something you may have not realized yet: they also have price reports over time, so you can see if the housing prices are going up or more up on your desired destination anywhere in Spain, for both rent and purchase.

You can access the informe de precios (price reports) from a link on the bottom of Idealista’s homepage. I add a link here to make it easier to find, but, unfortunately, the reports page is in Spanish only.

As you can see above, the price to buy a house in Torremolinos has gone up 17.7% in the previous year, and the price to rent has raised 21.2% at the same time. Yep, inflation is climbing up & Spain’s Costa del Sol is popular. The climbing prices were one of the reasons why I wanted to buy as soon as possible when I arrived as I feared I would not be able to afford something similar later.

Cost of living in Spain vs USA

Spain is not expensive at all compared to the USA. I found the prices in Spain so low it was almost unbelievable while I lived in the USA. Now I’m used to Spanish prices and find the USA absurdly expensive. Our supermarket bills were cut in half when we arrived, and that is including better quality cheese. Phone and internet are also a lot cheaper, as well as rent would be, if we were renting. Power and particularly gas are more expensive, though. Restaurants are much, much, much more affordable in Spain, and you just tip if you want. And I will (almost) not mention our currently inexistent healthcare bills.

On the other hand, taxes are a lot higher in Spain. It is hard to tell how much because autonomos (self-employed people, such as me and Hubby) pay more taxes than employees, and there is also a system of progressive taxes that charges more the more you earn.

On top of that, each community (subdivisions of Spain, a bit like the states in the USA) charges different amounts of taxes. Its always high, though. By the way, if you are planning to sell a house in the USA, do that before you become tax-liable in Spain, or else you have to pay taxes here for the capital gains of the sale there. Notice that if you sell in March and become a resident in June, you pay taxes for that whole year, house sale included, in Spain. Or so I understood – talk to a gestor to know for sure.

Cost of living in Spain vs Brazil

Spain is quite expensive compared to Brazil, due to the low value of the Brazilian currency, real. Also, in Brazil we tend to pay for private everything-the-government-offers-for-free: there is free of charge healthcare (SUS), but we pay a private one because it is better; there is free education, but we put the kids on private schools for better education. In Spain I use what the government offers – but taxes are even higher than in Brazil.

Cost of living in Spain vs Estonia

It is currently a bit cheaper to live in Spain than in Estonia. I believe that during covid years inflation grew a lot everywhere, but even more so in Estonia; when I lived there, Estonia was more affordable. The last time I was in Tallinn (July 2022) the price rise was noticeable. The taxes are also higher in Spain than in Estonia, where – let me say it – everything bureaucracy related is so easy! Oh, if we could have a country with Estonian efficiency, Spanish beaches, landscapes and weather, USA salaries and Brazilian fruits, it would be perfect.

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