We have called this section Living Standards and not just Living Costs because looking just at the price of things we would be missing the most important part of the story. There are plenty of places in the world cheaper than Spain and, well, there are also a few of them where people claim to enjoy more happy and fulfilling lives.

But when we look at living costs and quality of life together, there is probably no country where you can get the more of the latter at a better price. Of course, the cost of things is much easier to measure and compare than the quality of life; but there seems to be some universal agreement about the things that make our lives worth living — tasty and varied food, good health care, the feeling of safety, a friendly environment, leisure and cultural options–, and those can be evaluated by surveying expatriates, and very often quantified with concrete metrics (life expectancy, crime rate, public transportation, natural parks, etc).

Cost of Living


Spain has been one of the most affordable countries in Europe for many decades for diverse historical and socioeconomic reasons.. The financial crisis, which struck the country with special virulence, has widened the economic gap with the rest of Europe and other developed nations.

As we explain in other sections, it is in the Real Estate market where the impact of the recession is more blatant: prices have fallen around 50% from their 2008 levels, and in some areas the drops are even more conspicuous. 

The situation of the labor market and the slow recovery have taken also a visible a toll on the costs of products and, especially, services. Hourly rates --and salaries for that matter-- in most professional activities are far from where they were before the crisis and a fraction of what you would expect to pay in the US.

The other major contributor to squeezing the savings of American retirees --health care costs-- are also ridiculously lower than in the US and in most cases with equal or superior quality. As we mention in the health care section, 150 euros a month will easily cover you with all guarantees.



For such a globalized and interconnected world, there are not so many resources to compare the costs of living in different countries. We like to use two of them, Expatistan and Numbeo, especially this last one. There are many rankings and comparisons to be made, both between countries and cities. 

Numbeo, which takes New York as the mark for their 100 index, provides an overall ranking by countries against different measures. For the most comprehensive "Consumer Price Index", Spain gets the 47th position, while the US are at 18th, with indexes of 55 and 75 respectively (again, NY city is 100). Spain is cheaper than other retiree paradises like Belize, Malta, Greece, Panama or Costa Rica; and it can be considered only marginally more expensive than Cyprus (index 54).

Perhaps more interesting than the overall hierarchy --which includes all kinds of expenses-- is the one devoted to food because of its decisive incidence on personal finances and well-being (once we have acknowledged real estate and health care). In the "Groceries" index Spain falls into the 58th position, with an index of 44. US is 11th with a 75index.

This means that your visit to the market will be more affordable in Spain than in  Costa Rica, Panama, Malta,Thailand, Ecuador and, of course, all Western European countries except Portugal. Apart from other structural explanations, Spain happens to be comparatively a very agricultural economy with modern and efficient production and distribution systems that allow for extensive availability of food of the best quality at incredibly reasonable prices.

Rank Country Consumer Prices Rent Consumer Prices + Rent Groceries Index Restaurant Prices Purchasing Power
1 Bermuda 146 105 126 140 151 92
2 Switzerland 122 57 91 123 120 95
3 Iceland 112 47 80 104 120 78
4 Norway 106 40 74 98 117 106
8 Italy 84 21 54 74 76 72
9 Denmark 83 35 60 64 101 98
10 Singapore 82 70 77 72 58 93
11 New Zealand 81 34 58 73 77 90
12 Australia 81 43 62 77 77 102
13 Hong Kong 80 84 82 82 55 81
14 Israel 78 28 54 65 81 94
15 Luxembourg 77 50 64 66 87 97
16 Ireland 77 40 60 62 81 104
17 Sweden 76 27 52 68 78 107
18 United States 75 40 59 76 70 123
22 France 75 25 51 70 73 87
24 Netherlands 72 32 53 56 82 86
25 Austria 71 26 50 66 67 96
26 Uruguay 70 19 46 57 68 33
27 Canada 70 30 51 69 66 108
28 Puerto Rico 70 20 46 67 63 83
29 UK 69 31 51 56 77 97
31 UAE 68 69 68 55 64 117
32 Germany 66 25 46 50 63 125
33 Malta 63 23 44 53 67 68
36 Taiwan 61 15 39 73 28 119
39 Costa Rica 59 19 40 58 45 54
41 Jamaica 60 12 35 56 39 37
42 Panama 57 32 45 57 47 38
44 Greece 56 10 34 45 55 58
45 Belize 56 11 35 49 33 133
47 Spain 55 19 38 45 54 88
48 Cyprus 54 12 34 44 58 96
50 Slovenia 53 14 34 43 43 78
52 Brazil 53 16 35 42 42 42
54 Argentina 53 14 34 44 50 58
55 Dominican Republic 52 13 33 47 42 29
58 Chile 50 15 33 43 44 61
60 Portugal 49 17 34 39 41 63


Quality of Life

"But with middle class..."

One of the most widely known truisms about the Spanish Way of Life and perhaps the one that best defines it is "Work to live, don't live to work". The current economic hardships are forcing a review of this philosophy, not to disregard it but to find the least painful way to adapt it to the new times.

This more relaxed approach to work, success, money and material possessions defines the Spanish tendency --compared to other "developed societies"-- to seize the moment and enjoy more intangible gratifications from life than financial security. The result has an immediate impact on most foreigners visiting the country, as vividly described by Hemingway and other eminent Americans fascinated with the zeal with which Spaniards squeeze life. And that makes of Spain a favorite of world tourists, retirees and expatriates in general.

And, what is more relevant for our case, Spain has managed to keep this philosophy alive while maintaining --especially in the last 30+ years-- very decent living standards as traditionally measured by economic indicators. As people used to characterize it at some point, "Spain is like (insert here your favorite tropical destination) but with a large middle class".

That is what we meant by separating cost of living from living standards and suggesting Quality of Life as the other essential part of the equation. Because, after all, if you are going to retire or just use Spain/Huelva as a refuge from busy life, that is the stuff you care about.

The data

It is all better understood when we analyze the 2017 Expat Insider International Survey. This study is probably the most serious and comprehensive attempt at measuring the quality of live abroad as defined and explained by the very expatriates, not by experts of unknown qualification and dubious commercial agenda. It is not based on retirees opinions, but the granular dicing and slicing helps us find very relevant information.

In its overall ranking of "Top Expat Destinations", Spain ranks 10th out of 65 countries analyzed. The final classification is the result of averaging the marks of each country in five other categories: Personal Finances, Family Life, Work Abroad, Ease of Settling in and, yes, Quality of Life.

In the Work ranking Spain gets a lousy 52th position. Not strange in a country with a staggering 20% unemployment rate and thousands of young people looking for better professional horizons abroad. There are niches that can still be targeted for the creation of new businesses but that is clearly not what you intend to do.

Ease of Settling in, is a more abstract category but so much more applicable to our concerns. It is composed of four other subcategories: Feeling Welcome, Friendliness, Finding Friends and Language. And Spain ranks second overall, only behind Mexico, but ranks first in Feeling Welcome or, as they phrased the question, "feeling at home". So good to know when you are looking for a new home!

And, finally, Quality of Life. No, Spain is not the country with the most. It is the third, behind Portugal and Taiwan. The divisions of this attribute are Leisure Options, Personal Happiness, Travel and Transport and Health, Safety & Well-Being. There are many levels of analysis to be made here, but there is one that especially tells of Spain as a perfect blend between the cultures  that cultivate passion/enjoyment and those thriving on reason/efficiency: for the rank on Personal Happiness Spain is sixth, surrounded "warm" countries like Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal... But when looking at the overall ranking for Quality of Life, after Portugal and Spain, you have to go to the ninth place to find another "warm" country (Costa Rica), and to the 19th to find Malta. This is, Spain, like Portugal, offer  the best environment to develop a "warm", happy existence but keeping the standards of life you would expect in "colder", more "boring" places.

2017 Expat Insider International Survey Results:

Rank General Quality of Life Leisure Options Personal Happiness Travel and Transport Health & Well Being
1 Portugal Spain Mexico Singapore Taiwan
2 Taiwan Portugal Bahrain Hong Kong Austria
3 Spain Mexico Portugal Switzerland Denmark
4 Singapore South Africa Costa Rica Czech Rep.  Sweden

Czech Rep.

Costa Rica Colombia Germany Finland
6 Japan Colombia Spain Taiwan Germany
7 Austria Australia Malta Netherlands Japan
8 Switzerland Malta Philippines Austria Norway
9 Costa Rica New Zealand Vietnam Japan Portugal
10 Germany Ecuador New Zealand South Korea Costa Rica
11 Luxembourg Israel Thailand Hungary Israel
12 Denmark Cyprus Cambodia Spain Spain
13 Canada Greece Cyprus Denmark Canada
14 Sweden Thailand Malaysia Portugal Luxembourg
15 New Zealand Argentina Uganda UAE France
16 Finland Hungary Oman France New Zealand
17 Netherlands USA Argentina Sweden Czech Republic
18 UAE Czech Rep. Luxembourg China Switzerland
19 Malta France Romania Luxembourg Ecuador
20 South Korea Taiwan Czech Rep.  Belgium Colombia

So, well, we ended up quantifying the philosophical concept, but hopefully we made our point. Just in case, we can resort to another neat online resource, HSBC's Expat Survey. In their own words, "one of the largest independent global expat surveys. Commissioned by HSBC Expat and conducted by a third party research company, YouGov, 27,587 expats based in over 100 countries were questioned in 2017"

In their most general index, Spain shows as the 17th best place for expatriates out of 46 (here also the target are not retired expatriates but those who move for purely professional reasons). The survey is composed of three main categories, Economics, Raising Children and Experience, where the two first are self-explanatory and the third is a combination of abstract attributes broadly describing Quality of Life.

Something revealing happens when you begin to eliminate the subcategories that not apply to a retired person or somebody without financial concerns or children to raise: Spain begins to climb positions. After doing our filtering we got Spain to the second place, just behind New Zealand. Using the same parameters, the US shows as 33rd, Italy 30th, Mexico 13th, Thailand 12th, France 9th  and Portugal 3rd. Different methodology, different focus but same result: Nobody beats Spain when it comes to just relaxing and enjoying life.