Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cost of Living in Spain

When Scott and I were researching Spain, I looked everywhere for cost of living comparisons between Córdoba, Spain and Portland, Oregon. I found very little information. So I thought that it might be helpful to someone else if I wrote down my observations. It is difficult to quantify some prices as many prices fluctuate depending on the time of day, volume of business, or whether the proprietor feels he can get away with a “tourist” surcharge. I will try to provide an outline as of April 2010.

We are renting a small furnished apartment, approximately 450 sq. ft. in central Córdoba. The apartment is centrally located, just outside the fashionable older sections of the town. For us it is a great location as almost every bus route stops at Plaza Cólon just across the street. Our rent is 570€ a month and includes water. A note on apartments: An unfurnished apartment in Spain may mean that it is completely unfurnished, no kitchen cabinets, appliances… no sink! Beware! Luckily, we found a place that was furnished adequately and even included standard Spanish kitchen necessities (paella pan, deep fat fryer, basic implements and dishes). The apartment is air-conditioned, but does not have heating. This is not uncommon in Andalusía, winters are generally mild, similar to Los Angeles without the smog. If I annualized the electricity bill over the 18 months that we have rented the apartment, electricity is about 90€ a month. I haven´t noticed any drastic rate increases in the past year.

Telephone & Internet
Basic monthly telephone service costs 14€ which includes local calls. Long distance and calls placed to cell phones are an additional charge. Our phone bill generally runs about 30€ a month. Like in the states, there are lots of different cell phone plans. We have a pay-as-you-go service that averages about 12€ monthly. We have a bundled service for cable television and internet which runs about 55€ a month. As in the USA, you can buy packages of bundled services at better rates but most of these require that you sign a long term contract.

Health Insurance
Medical care is socialized in Spain and far cheaper than in the states. My medical insurance costs just under 70€ a month. Scott’s insurance is furnished by the school, so figure a total insurance cost of 140€ a month. (Compare that to the $1,100/month that we paid in the USA.) The insurance pretty much covers everything, except prescriptions. At the end of the year, we receive a bill for any co-pays that we might have incurred. In 2009, this amounted to 18€ for the year. I have been surprised to find that the care that we have received has been as good, and in many times better, than what we have received in the states. I have struggled with a minor medical problem for over 15 years. My PPO doctor in the USA, and then Kaiser, were repeatedly unable to diagnose the problem correctly. Why? Because on these plans it costs the doctor money if he sends you to a specialist, so many doctors won’t do it unless they have no alternative. My Spanish doctor sent me to a specialist, and the condition was correctly diagnosed and treated… after 15 years. Wait times are about the same, if not shorter. Scott broke his arm and had to avail himself of the emergency room care. They were efficient and again, he received excellent care.

Prescription medications are cheaper, however the selection of available medications is limited. There is a master list of medications that you can purchase. If what you want/need isn’t on the list, it is simply not available. Tylenol is among the drugs unavailable in Spain.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that medical care is a hot button in the United States right now. I am only saying that socialized medicine may not always be bad. Of course, I have been told that in Spain, if you have a major medical problem, you want to purchase a premium policy. I expect that these policies are more expensive. I have also been advised that it is wise to know people that work in the hospitals as this improves the quality of your hospital care, should you need it. (I don’t know how much of this statement is Spanish Culture. In Spain, everything is done through personal connections.) And yes, I have heard it mentioned that sometimes doctors will decide not to authorize medical care in cases where the prognosis is poor (I find this completely unacceptable.) However on the whole, the medical care that we have received in Spain has been excellent. Do I think the Spanish system could be duplicated in the United States? Not a chance. We have too many issues that complicate our medical care in America.

Dental insurance is fairly worthless in Spain. The policies that we have reviewed do not really cover anything. From looking at people’s smiles, dental care is largely regarded as unnecessary.

Basic Cost Rule for other necessities of life: groceries, clothes, appliances, etc.
Most items cost in euros about what you would pay in US dollars. Another words, if you would pay $2.00 for it in America, you should expect to pay 2.00€ for it in Spain. The exchange rate over the past 2 years has fluctuated from $1.30 to $1.50 to 1.00€. At the time of this posting, a euro is hovering around $1.35, so I have used this valuation when I quote exact prices.

Fresh daily, except on Sunday, and cheap. A 30” long loaf of French bread costs 38 centimos or 52 cents (USD).

Fresh Produce
Fresh produce is generally higher quality. It seems fresher, but that may just be that I frequent the smaller Fruterías instead of the larger supermarkets. Fresh fruits and vegetables are seasonable. When something is out of season, you are not going to find it for any price. Produce, if imported at all, comes mainly from the Canary Islands and Western Europe. In winter, you won’t see summer fruits imported from the southern hemisphere. When it is out of season, you are out of luck. This was a source of great frustration to me recently as I searched for fresh basil in late March and April. Pricing generally follows the basic rule stated above, but applied to the prices for organic produce in the USA. Although in many cases, you will not be getting organic produce at this price point.

Meat, Pork, Poultry and Fish
For meat, pork, poultry and fish, it is easier to provide a table for price comparisons. Of course, often times you buy what is available. Generally with enough notice, you can order what you need, but sometimes even that does not work. I ordered 5 kg of salmon from Antonio for the Salmon Feast, but when I went to pick it up, he told me that he had been unable to find any salmon, even after going to 3 different distributors. He suggested that I go to the local supermarket. Luckily, the supermarket had it, but it was more expensive. Be prepared to know where (on the animal) the cut of meat is taken from and what it looks like, often you are ordering from a large slab on meat.
Item                            Price (€/kg)        Price ($/lb)
Ground Beef                   5.79 €                 $3.55
Chuck Roast                   7.99 €                 $4.90
Steak (Rib Eye)             12.99 €                $7.97
Chicken (whole)              3.59 €                $2.20
Chicken Breasts              4.49 €                $2.76
Pork Loin                        3.59 €                $2.20
Anchovies/Sardines      2.90 €                $1.78
Filet of Sole                     6.80 €               $4.17
White Fish Filet               5.60 €                $3.44
Shark Filets                     7.20 €                $4.42
Salmon or Tuna               9.20 €                $5.65

Clothes and Small Appliances
The basic rule generally applies to these items with a caveat: many times there isn’t a mid-range quality. With clothing, expect to pay Nordstrom prices for J.C Penny quality. Alternatively, you can dress very cheaply buying clothing from Chinos or the open air markets, but pay attention to what you are buying. This is like going to a huge garage sale, quality is questionable. Small appliances (this applies to anything small and electrical), if you can find it, prices start at what the high-end price would be in the states, but the quality will be similar to low or mid-ranged priced appliances.

Chinos satisfy the low-end market. These, on a very small scale, are the Wal-marts and K-marts of Spain. They are referred to Chinos as they are run exclusively by Chinese merchants and feature a wide eclectic range of cheap Chinese imports. Think Pic-N-Save, now think cheaper. The items found in a Chino are the equivalent of “third” and “fourth” rate quality goods. However, sometimes the Chino is the only place where you can find what you need. Quality is poor and merchandise is not returnable, but then again, it is very cheap.

Large Appliances and Electronics
We haven’t purchased any of these items, but I have made a point to check pricing as I walk by and they seem to follow the rule. Remember that European CD’s and DVD’s will not play on American equipment. However we have not had any difficulty getting small European computer peripherals (mice, flash drives, etc.) to work with our American laptop. Large household appliances are smaller in general as most people simply do not have the space. Washing machines, dryers and dishwashers start at 350€ (on sale), refrigerators are about 700€.

Automobile Expenses
We do not own a car, but from advertisements and talking with locals, this is what I understand. Cars will follow the basic cost rule with the following note: Cars made in Europe: Fiat, Cleo, Volkswagen will be more economical, followed by Japanese and American imports. Expect most cars to have a manual transmission. Auto insurance for the first year on a basic car runs about 300€ annually. I have been told that insurance premiums decrease over time if you are not in any accidents. The price for a liter of gasoline has fluctuated between 1.00€ and 1.40€ a liter or between $5.20 and $7.28 per gallon. Now before anyone has a heart attack, remember that in most European cities, most people do not need to use their cars like we do in America. We have lived in Córdoba for almost two years, and not owning a car has only occasionally been inconvenient.

Restaurants and Movies
Prices, like everywhere else, vary widely. How much to you want to spend? Where do you want to eat? The first rule for a reasonably priced meal is stay out of “tourist land”. An average cena (dinner) out for four to six people (you simply do not go out alone in Spain) will cost between 50€ to 60€. A quick lunch at a taverna will run about 3.50€ to 5€ a person. Tapas (hors d'oeuvres) hover between 6€ to 12€ per ration which will easily feed 2-4 people. A coffee in a nice plaza is 1.20€, a glass of wine 2€, soda 1.35€. Beware of the tourist surcharge, prices are rarely posted and vary with the time of day. If the server feels that he can charge more, he will. The Spanish do not tip.

The admission price for a first run movie is 7€. In the summer, the late night “Cines de Verano” admission price is 3.50€. You bring your dinner, sit under the stars and watch a movie projected onto the side of a building. Quite the Spanish experience.

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