We are often asked about our Spain cost of living compared to the USA. You know, the cost of daily life, to just live and do what you want to do. This was a question that came to us in our post – What Do You Want To Know or Have Us Show?
Before moving to Spain, we thought that the cost of living in Europe was going to be expensive. Of course we had our doubts that we would be able to live on the budget we set for our family of 4. We made it happen and with the right choices you can too. From 2012 to 2020!
We have been asked, “How can you possibly live in Europe for less than the USA?”, as Western Europe has the reputation of “being expensive”. Do you think you could live off of less and save money if you tried? Do you think it is just too difficult or just not possible? What is the cost of living in Spain vs USA? Anything is possible if you simplify your life!
This is a tricky as we can only answer what we have spent on things in the towns/areas we have lived in. In the past we shared a post with you called The Cost of Everyday Things for Spain and we hope that helps. We mainly covered the cost of living in Spain with basic groceries and personal care items. That was a big hit, but people wanted to know how it compared to our living in the USA, so we will try to give you a little more info.
Do keep in mind we are living in Spain and not on vacation, so it is pretty normal daily spends and not too much eating out. Yes, we do take vacations and road trips, just like we took vacations when living in the USA. We will share with you the cost of living in Spain compared to the USA for our everyday lives in the 2 countries, including all of our side adventures.
Our Cost of Living in Spain vs USA – We can only share what we know!
Of course we have said it before and we will say it again, we can only share our actual costs and experiences. This isn’t meant to represent the entire country, as everything changes based on your location (city, country, seaside, mountains etc.). Plus each individual and family has different spending habits and comfort levels. Of course, as with any budget, sometimes we were slightly over and sometimes slightly under. Slightly under rarely, if ever occurred in the USA. If anything, there was always something with the house or cars that would cost a bit extra for the month.
First I will show you a side by side visual of the average costs, as close as we can get to “like” categories. Then I will take a deeper dive into the USA cost of living from 2012 followed by the Spain cost of living, as of 2014 with updates from 2020 .
Comparison of USA and Spain Cost of Living –
Our monthly spend for 2014 (Spain)
I did my best to group like things together, so it would be as close to an apples-to-apples comparison for you. Of course we had all of the toys and electronics in the USA and had a life full of “things”, so it isn’t exactly and equal comparison. It is however what our life cost us in the USA and what our life costs us in Spain. We are living a rich life in Spain, spending just over 1/3 of what we spent in the USA.
How much do you spend a month? Do you know? Do you keep track?
You may be surprised. Just simplify your life, downsize, declutter and it all becomes easy!
Our USA Cost of Living (Apex, North Carolina)
$8,659 per month (average, usually more) as of 2012
We lived in Apex, North Carolina a suburb of Raleigh, which is inland and about 2 1/2 hours from the beach. We had a beautiful 4500+ square foot home on about 1/5 of an acre. It had 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms a 2 car garage and a big fenced back yard. Our master bedroom suite was almost 900 square feet alone. That is about the size of the first floor of our current apartment in Spain (kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, living room and dining room).
It was big!
While it was nice owning a spacious grand home, it did come at a cost. Not only monetary costs, but the cost of our precious time. The time to keep it clean and maintained, to take care of the yard and service water heaters, air conditioners, appliances etc. This took up plenty of time every weekend and many weeknights too.
The minimum the home would cost us in a given month was about $2450. This would include our mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and utilities (electric, water, gas, garbage, recycle)
More about our home and our transition:
- Selling your home vs renting out, while living abroad?
- How did we adjust to downsizing from a 4500+ sq foot home to a 3 bed apartment?
Each of the utilities was paid to the appropriate company (electric, water, gas, garbage, recycle). On average this would cost from $300 – $400 per month depending on the season.
USA Sports / Activities – After school Care and Summer Camp
We didn’t have too much time for extracurricular activities. If we did, it was basketball in the winter or swim lessons in the summer. It may have cost us a $300 – $400 per year on average. We did however own many of the video gaming consoles, games, DVDs and plenty of toys for kids and adults.
Most of our time and costs instead, went to after school care from 3-6 pm and summer camp (7 am-6 pm or a portion of that depending on our schedules for the day), while we were both at work. This alone would cost about $8200 per year for the 2 kids.
- Medical – Alan and I both worked and we were offered subsidized Medical Insurance through our employers. This is one benefit of working for a large corporation, as they cover much of the monthly fees for their employees as a “benefit”. The employee then only has to pay a portion towards the monthly payment. This obviously varies per employer and health plan. For us it was an average of about $450 a month out of our pockets for full medical, dental and optical insurance. We did have a co-pay of $25 for standard visit and a higher fee for specialists within a network.
- Auto – We owned 2 cars and 1 motorcycle. The annual insurance for the cars was $1150 and the motorcycle was $1020. So, about $2200 a year for all three items.
- Vehicle – As I stated above we owned 2 cars (the bank owned them, as we were making payments) and 1 motorcycle. The motorcycle was owned outright and our car payments for 2 cars averaged about $1150 per month.
- Fuel – We didn’t live near work or school, so we spent at least 60 – 90 minutes in the car a day for each car/person. Our average cost for fuel was about $700 per month, for all of the vehicles.
Food is food, but in the USA we ate out at least once a week as a family. I would say Alan and I would each eat out for lunch a few times a week as well. Remember my post on how to save money by cutting back on eating out? This really adds up! A rough estimate of groceries and eating out is about $900 – $1200 per month, depending on how often we would eat out. Often times, we had a busy schedule and would pick up the kids, zip through the drive through somewhere and then off to an event or activity. Groceries and supplies would average about $600 – $700 a month. We would also waste loads of food and throw quite a bit out at the end of the week, because it went bad.
- Internet – We signed up for a package combo via our cable provider. We had a bundle of internet, home phone and basic cable TV for $165 per month.
- Mobile Phones – We each had a mobile smart phone with data service. This would cost us about $160 a month for the 2 phones.
- We often took 2-3 big vacations per year and then several long weekends or weekend breaks as well. The big vacations often involved flights to the Western United States to visit family or somewhere in the Caribbean. The price shown for travel was the annual average broken down on a per month basis.
Our Spain Cost of Living (Almuñécar, Spain)
$3,469 per month (average) $3078 + $391 for car
I will show the price in € Euros and the $ using the exchange rate of 1.36 as of June 2014.
This is about 10% higher than when we moved to Spain in August 2012. So, while the cost of an item in Spain remained the same in Euros over time, due to the exchange rate it became more expensive. (Example: Aug 2012 €10 =$12.80 while June 2014 €10 = $13.65)
We live in Almuñécar, Spain. A seaside town of about 30k and not really a suburb of any larger city. We are about 45 minutes East of Malaga and about 45 minutes South of Granada. The town itself is a very walker-friendly town and a car isn’t really needed, unless you want to go explore off the beaten path or take loads of road trips, like us.
As you know, we really found a good deal on a furnished 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment with sea view in Almuñécar, Spain. I think it is just shy of 1400 square feet. This was a holiday rental, we reached out to the owner and asked if he would be interested in a long-term rental for 1 year (turned into 22 months). He said yes! We were jumping for joy. We have been paying €550 ($748) per month including our utilities (water and electric). How’s that for the cost of living in Spain vs USA!
Update July 2020 – our rent has only gone up two times in eight years and is now €625 per month. This was raised because the price of electricity went up and that is included in our monthly rent. Including utilities isn’t the norm, we just lucked out. The exchange rate is lower so it still averages to about the same amount in $. (Example: Aug 2012 €10 =$12.80 while July 2020 €10 = $11.85)
Part of our luck in negotiating, and finding a rental, is the timing of our arrival. We arrived at the end of Summer in early September. This is just after the high season and it is much easier to negotiate after high season is over. If we arrived in Spring or June, it isn’t likely we would have been able to find such a good deal. Many places are likely to sit empty from October through May, and in some cases from September through June. Either way, you need to plan around these things if you can, so you too can get a good deal.
- Moving Abroad? How To Select The Country, Town & Make The Move
(We have many apartment, villa and condo rental sites listed at the bottom of this article. We also have included how we found our apartment in Almuñécar, Spain)
- Water and Electricity (included in our rent, very rare) Our landlord has informed us that we average about €60 ($81) per month for these utilities. Keep in mind that most stove tops and ovens are electric, of course your lights and electronics use the juice too. We don’t have an air conditioner, so we use fans in the summer or just let the sea breeze cool us down.
- Butane gas – The cost of this depends on how much hot water you use. For us one tank lasts about 3 weeks and the cost is about €18 ($24) per month. We also use a bottle of butane for our gas grill, but that is very little cost as it doesn’t use much. Many places don’t offer a gas grill and you need to use good old-fashioned charcoal. Also in the winter, there is an estufa (portable heater), which uses the butane gas as well to heat the home.
Spain Sports / Activities and After School Care
Lars has been on the school fùtbol team and the cost of that is €10 ($14) per month from September – May. It is automatically drafted from our Spanish bank account.
Anya attended flamenco classes for about 5 months. It was €20 ($28) per month and we paid cash directly to the teacher.
After school care
Free! We don’t need it because we are home with our kids! We don’t own any gaming consoles, but we do each have a laptop and occasionally will watch movies or play games on them. The TV isn’t used a great deal either. The kids don’t really own many “things” or toys. Lars has a skateboard and Anya has a deck of Uno cards. The kids just play outside with their friends as the weather is usually gorgeous. Of course if there is that cold, rainy winter day, we are tucked inside watching movies.
Spain Health Insurance
- Medical – We have written a post about Medical insurance in Spain in great detail. For our family of 4 we have a direct debit each quarter of €42 ($57) from our Spanish bank account. This is basic preventative care medical along with dental. For full coverage with hospitalization and similar to what we had in the US, it is about €130 ($176) per month for our family of 4.
Update July 2020 – For our family of 4 we have a direct debit each quarter of €380 ($433) from our Spanish bank account. There are options to pay monthly or annually and the fewer payments you choose there is more of a discount. We opted to pay 4 times a year. We are also autonomo (self employed in Spain) and receive free healthcare from the national system. We have opted to continue to pay for the private insurance, as it is so inexpensive and includes some travel insurance as well. This is just in case we need a back up or are no longer self employed.
- Auto – We owned one brand new car while living in Spain. We paid for the car insurance annually and it was about €532 ($723) for the year. This was paid via our credit card and ordered online.
We were insured through Linea Directa, Request a quote todayUpdate July 2020 – We are currently insured via Zurich and the price is €540 ($616) for a year.
- Vehicle – We purchased a brand new car when we arrived in Spain. We looked around at used cars and they were so banged up, we didn’t know if they had been in accidents or if it was just scrapes. Used cars hold their value and are quite expensive if they are less than 2 years old. We decided for slightly more, we could have a brand new car and then resell it prior to the 2 year mark, to get some of our money back.
- We looked at it as an investment and peace of mind for all of the travel we had planned to do.The car was €18000 ($24k) and we sold it for €11000 ($15k). If we had the time to sell it privately, we could have sold it for €2000 – €3000 ($3-4k) more, but the dealer bought it from us on the spot and it was done! So it cost us €7000 for 2 years of owning a car. (about $9500, so just $4750 per year or $391 per month). It sounds shocking, but go back and look at what we were spending in the USA!
- Update July 2020 – We purchased a similar slightly used car when we returned to Spain in 2015 for €12,000 ($14k) and still have that same car in 2020.
Of course if we had owned the car longer, the price per year would have gone down slightly. For us, having the car available for all of our little road trips and our big 6 Week European Summer road trip was a no brainer. We needed a reliable car, short and sweet. Of course, you can easily purchase a used car for a few hundred Euros, but that means you are maintaining it and who knows what would have happened on a 4500 km road trip.
- Fuel – On average we spent about €100 ($136) a month on fuel. When we took a road trip it would go up to €200 – €300 ($272 – $408) depending on where we went and for how long. We took a trip about every 6 – 8 weeks. Update July 2020 – the fuel price for standard diesel is about 1.04 per liter and in 2014 was about 1.35 per liter. So now we usually fill up about once a month and it is just about €60
On average we spent about €600 ($815) a month for food as a family of 4. Do keep in mind that a majority of our food was purchased at the grocery store or the local market. We rarely eat meals out and rarely drink alcohol. On average we may go out to eat 2-3 times a month for a meal and possibly 2 -3 times a month for an ice cream treat as well.
Of course Lars likes to sample a few new foods along the way too. When we do eat out, it may be at an Asian restaurant for €6 a person or to grab a couple of pizzas for €6 each. Wine is very inexpensive in Spain and tasty too! At the supermarket you can pick up a decent bottle for about €3.
Update July 2020 – this hasn’t changed much at all for our groceries or eating out. We go out for the once in a while tapas or a family meal. This total does include all toiletries and items we purchase at the grocery store, not only food.
- Internet – We signed up for our internet via Movistar and it was €42 ($57) per month. This too was a direct debit from out Spanish bank account.
- Mobile Phones – When we arrived in Almuñécar we needed to purchase mobile phones and of course we wanted smartphones. At that time, there were no pay as you go smartphones available. So we needed to sign up for a 2-year contract and did so with Vodafone. Each phone was €48 ($65) per month and was a direct debit from our Spanish bank account. As luck would have it, the pay as you go phones became available a few months after our arrival. We were already locked into the contract and I am certain it would have been cheaper to take the pay as you go route. We really only telephoned each other, it was more the mobile data that we used. This was a costly lesson, but we are thrilled that we had good service with Vodafone.
Update July 2020 – When we returned from Asia in 2015 we decided not to do a contract with Vodafone again. We already had unlocked phones, so we just purchased a sim card each from Orange for about €15 and then opted for the no contract monthly plan of €15 per phone. This provides us with 2G of data each and plenty of phone minutes. In all after taxes are added we average about €35 in total for both phones, This is so much cheaper than the 2 year contract with Vodafone, which ran us closer to €100 a month in total. The kids each us pay as you go with digimobile. Lars opts for the €5 a month plan and Anya opts for €10 a month for more data.
- We have not been without travel while living in Spain, so we treated our travel budget very similarly to how we worked it in the USA. On the books we planned some travel every 6 weeks or so and it needed to fit within out budget. Many times, we didn’t have a destination in mind. We just went where we found a great deal.
No Schengen Visa Needed For Wagoners Abroad In 2013!
As of October 2020, we now have a Cost of Living in Spain eBook!
How to budget & estimate the cost of living in Spain! Without a doubt, this is one of the most popular topics for us and we have so much information to offer you. We’ve created an eBook covering all of the details you need to budget and estimate the cost to live in Spain. Read more about estimating the cost of living in Spain.
Some other articles that may be of help to you.
Alan has written a very thorough e-book, Live in Spain, which walks you, step by step, through the entire process of the non lucrative visa requirements and the Spain retirement visa requirements. It is full of tips and tools to help you and a matrix with spells out the special things for each Spanish consulate in the USA. It also provides you with a checklist to make sure all of the organization and timing of documents in on target. We have helped hundreds of families, couples and singles successfully move to Spain! Updated: As of September 2019
We also have a book to help you prepare for your move and getting settled once you arrive! Getting Settled In Spain
- How to move to Spain
- How Much Did It Cost To Live In Spain For 1 Year?
- How to estimate the cost of living.
- Preparing For Your Move Abroad
I hope this helps as a guide for you. Your cost of living in your home country and/or in Spain will obviously vary based on your choices. Take the information we have shared with you and make your adjustments to your lifestyle and see where you are. You need to know exactly what you are spending now, to even possibly estimate what it would take to live in a different location. It doesn’t have to be another country, this would be true for a new city or state as well.
Please share your thoughts with us and let us know if you have any questions.
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