A Wonderful Life in This Surprisingly Affordable European City

When my husband, Kurt, and I step out the door of our 1882 modernista (Catalan art nouveau) building, we enter a grand world of art and green space blessed by a warm, Mediterranean climate and surrounded by incredible landscapes, from beaches to mountains.

I’ll never get tired of mornings in our new home. Almost every day, the sky is blue and the sun is bright. Warming rays strike Roman walls, Gothic streets, modernist buildings. Parents escort their children to school, their conversations melding into a Catalan sing-song. Office workers and tradesmen congregate for cortados (espressos with a dash of warm milk) and croissants at the outside tables of neighborhood cafés; the aromas defy you not to indulge.

Barcelona, Spain’s second city, is, quite simply, a beautiful place. It’s organized, efficient, friendly, and receptive. It’s a city alive with history, art, and culture. It also makes a great base for exploring the rest of Europe. And, as we’ve found out since moving here three years ago, it can be much more affordable than you might expect.

We consider our living expenses to be minimal. Since we own our own apartment, our regularly occurring expenses (minus groceries and entertainment) average about $860 a month.

Back in Texas, we were used to property taxes consuming a huge portion of our monthly paycheck; in Barcelona, property taxes are minuscule, averaging around $66 a month. (We own two apartments here, living in one and renting out the other.) Plus we get a nice discount by having taxes deducted automatically in four quarterly installments. Very civilized.

Most mornings we generally head to the gym, a city-owned facility with an indoor swimming pool, hydro-massage, wet and dry saunas, a well-equipped workout room, and a rooftop pool open from May through September. Fees are $51 a month for adults, reduced to $32 for seniors over 65.

Midday, we may eat at home or drop by one of our many favorite restaurants to take advantage of the daily menú del día, a fixed-price, three-course meal, complete with beverages, starting at around $11. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of tapas at whatever hour, just as filling and equally cheap.

In one similarity with the U.S., health insurance (at $219 a month for the two of us) is the biggest bite; it’s about a quarter of our total expenses. “Big,” however, is a relative term. Our plan has lower premiums than anything you’d find in the U.S., has no deductibles, provides emergency assistance out of the country, and requires only minimal co-pays…and then only for certain procedures. We paid nothing out of pocket for my husband’s emergency surgery for a detached retina in January 2016.

Our plan covers eye exams but not prescription drugs, eyeglasses, or contact lenses. But those areas are well regulated to keep prices affordable. A one-month’s supply of medication that could cost $200 or more in the States is only $27.

Barcelona provides everything Kurt and I were looking for in retirement: climate, culture, infrastructure, public services, cost of living, accessibility. Even though we’ve been residents for going on four years now, the wonder is still palpable. We couldn’t be happier.

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