The budget you need to live in Barcelona as a student

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It's no secret that tuition in Europe is less expensive than in the US. In some countries such as Germany, university education is nearly free. While this is very attractive to students in America, knowing how much is the life cost abroad can bring insecurity and second guesses regarding studying in Europe.

While I've already talked about the benefits of studying abroad and why students should consider it, this time I will talk more about how much money do you need to live as a student in Barcelona.

Spain's cost of life is relatively cheaper than other destinations such as England. Compared to Puerto Rico, a US territory, I found it was cheaper to live in Barcelona. Although rent could be more expensive, groceries, transportation, and utilities are cheaper. To this, I add the quality of life, the mobility, and the free or cheap recreational activities the city offers. All things considered, you can live better in Barcelona with the same or less money than in Puerto Rico.

The monthly budget you need to live in Barcelona will ultimately depend on your lifestyle, but for me it was an average of 700 euros/month or 930 euros/month including out-of-Spain travel. Here's a sample breakout of the monthly expenses:

Breakout of monthly expenses


Option A - Living at the university dorms:

Category
Price/Budget
Essentials

Rent (utilities, internet, and weekly cleaning included)
390
Groceries & toiletries (cooking all meals everyday + snacks)
85-100
Transportation (Zone 2, to travel between the UAB and the city center)
65
Mobile phone
15
Laundry
20
Miscellaneous expenses (i.e. Medicines, cleaning products)
50
Non-essentials

Clothes
40
Entertainment (museum tickets, cinema tickets, eating out)
50
Travel
250

💡 Notes about the non-essentials 💡

Clothing: I decided to set a monthly expense for clothing because I didn't know if I had to invest a lot in Fall and Winter wardrobe. Turns out I barely used this budget so I would instead transfer it to the miscellaneous or travel category.

Entertainment: Since I always cooked my main meals and museums are mostly free on Sundays, I would usually spend a lot less and also transfer the rest to the travel category.

Travel:
I would not travel every month. Instead, I would save this money for some months and then make a well-planned trip. I've written about how I did low-cost trips to England, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and Austria so a 250-euro allowance was more than enough.

Option B - Living in Barcelona city


Category
Price/Budget
Essentials
Rent of a room at a shared apartment*
270
Utilities
40-50
Transportation (Zone 2, to travel between the UAB and the city center)
65
Mobile phone
15
Miscellaneous expenses (i.e. Medicines, vitamins, cleaning products)
50
Non-essentials
Clothes
40
Entertainment (museum tickets, cinema tickets, eating out)
50
Travel
250

Breaking the categories down


Groceries 🍊🍗🍛🍞

I loved how cheap it was to buy quality products. I would go grocery shopping monthly to Al Campo and then make the biweekly purchases such as milk at smaller places like Condis. Other places with good prices are Mercadona and Carrefour, but Al Campo by far is the cheapest. I would buy fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, rice, beans, pasta, bread, eggs, milk, juice and snacks. Literally everything that I needed at half of what it would cost me in Puerto Rico. To give you an idea, a bag of sandwich bread would cost me 0.85 centimes versus 2.49 USD in Puerto Rico.

Rent & utilities 🏠💡💧

During my stay, I lived both at the university dorms and in the city. My monthly budget for rent and utilities was set at 390 euros (the dorm's rent) so when I moved to the city I had to find a place where I would not spend more than that. I found a shared apartment at 270 euros plus expenses. I was lucky to pay this amount because usually rooms at shared apartments can be quite expensive. I saw prices as ridiculous as 450 euros for a room in an apartment with two other housemates. It's not worth it. Try using agencies such as Habitatge Jove, that help students find places at better prices. With an estimate of 390 euros for rent, you should be alright but always do research first.

Transportation 🚌🚇🚈

Depending on where you live and where you study, you will need a Zone 1 or Zone 2 ticket. UAB is in Zone 2 if you live in Barcelona city. Likewise, if you live at the university, the city center is in Zone 2. If you will make almost daily travel, it is better to buy a monthly or quarterly Zone 2 ticket (at around 75 euros/month). On the other hand, if you will travel between the two zones around 2 times a week, it might be more cost-effective to buy the 10-trip Zone 2 card (at around 20 euros) and buy a separate 1 Zone ticket for moving withing one zone (such as the city center). Either way, estimate around 75 euros monthly and later find what best suits you. If you live and study within the same zone, it will be cheaper.

Mobile phone plans 📱

Plans are a lot cheaper in Spain (compared to the US). Depending on where you want to call, you can find plans starting at 10 euros. With Orange I paid 15 euros a month for a plan that included 3 GB of data and 30 minutes of calls in Spain (which I rarely used). To call my family back in America, I would use Skype's 2.99 USD plan, its free version or Whatsapp. With so many apps and alternatives, you don't have to spend a fortune on mobile phones. Also, as of the time I'm writing this post, there are no costs of roaming within the European Union (with some exceptions) so you can travel around and use your phone as if you were in Spain.

Entertainment & traveling ✈🏰⚽🎤🎉💃

If you will be living in a foreign country and continent, chances are that you want to enjoy your time there. It is useful to make a list of the places you want to go and set a monthly allowance for traveling. Also, I suggest that you make a separate budget for in-city entertainment such as eating out, going to the cinema, or night club. That way, you don't end up spending all your allowance on clubbing and end up falling short on travel money. For the best airfare deals, I would usually use Google Flights. Check out my guide on how to travel on a budget and you will be set to go.

Clothes - make smart purchases 👕👗👖👟👙

I am not a fashion expert but I am very practical. I would rather spend money on traveling than on buying new blouses every month. Instead, I would have classic pieces in neutral colors that I could combine and wear constantly. For Winter, I had one heavy coat in black and two other coats for less cold temperatures (one in a caramel tone and the other in navy blue). Jeans will do find in Winter but if you travel to colder countries such as Germany, you might need thermal leggings. For cheap deals in fashion clothing go to Primark. Decathlon is also great for thermal clothing and sportswear.


Earning extra money during your stay 💰✌😎

In Spain, student visas for Americans usually allow you to work some hours and earn money. I did an internship during my master's degree, and as a non-planned income, it was very convenient. Make sure to check if you can legally work under your visa terms as permits may change depending on your country of origin.

Free spreadsheet - Monthly Budget Planner



I have created a spreadsheet where you can calculate the budget you will need to live abroad as a student. It includes:

  • An overall budget sheet for one-time expenses and yearly budget 
  • 12 sheets, one per month
  • Estimated versus real expenses calculation
  • Month-to-month cumulative balance calculation to know if you have an excess or are carrying a debt
Hope it helps! If you have any questions, leave me a comment below, tweet me at krystel_k or contact me here.
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Disclaimer: This article is based on my experience living in Barcelona from 2016 to 2017 and should not be used in substitution of legal or financial advice. Prices stated here are offered as a guide. Actual/recent prices may vary.

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