QUALITY OF LIFE
COST vs STANDARD
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
THE LONG RECESSION
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|
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.
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|
|4||Singapore||South Africa||Costa Rica||Czech Rep.||Sweden|
|9||Costa Rica||New Zealand||Vietnam||Japan||Portugal|
|10||Germany||Ecuador||New Zealand||South Korea||Costa Rica|
|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.