Spain: a short guide for foreigners versión en Español

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Economy and Cost of Living

The currency in Spain is the euro, a currency unit shared by 15 European Union member states (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Slovenia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as Spain). At the time of writing this text, the exchange rate versus the US dollar is 1.57, i.e., every euro is worth 1.57 US dollars.

Spain’s per capita income is 32,066 US dollars (according to the International Monetary Fund’s April 2008 estimation), although when adjusted in purchasing power terms this becomes 30,000 dollars. The Basque Country is the Autonomous Community with Spain’s highest per capita income, at 30,599 euros, according to data published by the National Statistics Institute (INE) in January 2008. Next come Madrid (29,965), Navarra (29,483), Cataluña (27,445),  Aragón (25,361), the Balearic Islands (25,238), and La Rioja (24,717). Extremadura y Andalucía, also according to INE figures, are the two Autonomous Communities with the lowest income, at 16,080 and 18,298, respectively.

The average budget of a resident in Spain would be in the region of 1,500 to 1,550 euros. Accommodation would account for 850 euros, food 350 euros, urban transport 45 to 50 euros, medical insurance 100 euros, tuition materials 50 euros, and miscellaneous expenses 150 euros.  If you need to cut down your budget, the way to do so is basically to share a flat with other students. On the other hand, you can expect to spend more if you stay at a student hall of residence.

This expense list does not include tuition fees. In Spain, public universities receive funding from the corresponding Autonomous governments. Their registration fees are therefore quite affordable. Full registration for an academic year would cost between 650 and 1,500 euros — very economical when compared with private institutions, which start at 9,000 euros a year. As for summer academic activities, a 5-day programme would cost around 110 to 140 euros.

In Spain the cost of living varies considerably depending on which city you live in. Spanish cities where you will spend more on shopping are Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Pamplona. Madrid has the highest retail prices, but it is also where you can get the best bargains if you shop around. According to Spain’s Association of Spanish Consumers and Users (OCU), residents in Madrid can save up to 1,575 euros a year (36% of the total cost) thanks to the wide choice available. The cheapest cities for shopping are Lugo, Orense, Zamora, Leon, and Cuenca.

By Autonomous Communities, La Rioja and Castilla y León are the cheapest, followed by Andalucía, Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha, Aragón, Valencia and Asturias. By contrast, the Canary Islands, Madrid, Navarra and the Basque Country have the highest retail prices.

To give you a rough idea of the cost of living in Spain, we have compiled a list of the estimated prices of selected commonly used items. These are as follows:

- Loaf of bread: €0.95
- Milk (1 litre): €1
- Virgin olive oil: €4
- Eggs (1 dozen): €1.90
- Potatoes (1 kilo): €0.70
- Tomatoes (1 kilo): €2.40
- Can of Coca Cola: €0.50  (in supermarket)
- Bottle of shampoo: €3
- Sweater, trousers or skirt/dress: €60
- Broadband connection: €25-40  per month
- Postage stamp – domestic: €0.31
- Postage stamp – other European countries: €0.60
- Entrance to the Prado Museum (free on Sundays): €6
- Entrance to the Alhambra: €10
- Barcelona-Madrid AVE train ticket (Return fare) (659 Km): €165
- Metro/bus 10-trip pass: €6.70-7.50
- Daily newspaper: €1
- Music CD: €25
- Cup of Coffee: €1,20
- Breakfast (coffee and churros): €3
- Hamburger (Big Mac): €3
- Lunch/ dinner at medium restaurant: €30-40
- Unleaded 95 octane petrol (1 litre): €1.21
- Monthly rent (private apartment): €600-1000, depending on the province. Shared accommodation: €250-450.
- Hotel room (3 Star):€70
- Cinema ticket: €7

Further information: (Spanish online consumer magazine)

Consumers and Users Association

Official Website of the National Statistics Institute - INE (official data and figures on Spain

Language and Culture

Spain’s tremendous cultural diversity is reflected in the variety of languages spoken in the country. Indeed, the linguistic and cultural plurality of Spain is a reality that is explicitly acknowledged in the Constitution. The official language is Castilian, or Spanish, as it is commonly known outside Spain. However, in many Autonomous Communities this official language coexists with a second local language: Euskera in the Basque Country, Catalan in Cataluña with its spoken variations in Valencia (Valencian) and Mallorca (Mallorquin), and Galician in Galicia. Still, Spanish is spoken by virtually everybody who has grown up in Spain.

Spanish, as well as Galician and Catalan (including Valencian and Mallorquin) are Romance languages, which derive from Latin and therefore show many similarities in grammar. Euskera, on the other hand, is a highly unique case. The origin of this language has not been clearly established, and its phonetic and semantic characteristics have nothing in common with any Latin-based language. Euskera, only spoken in some regions of northern Spain and the southwest of France, is indeed so unique that it is not even considered an Indo-European language. All of Spain’s regional languages were marginalised for centuries, and their use was sometimes even banned or persecuted by central governments intent on imposing Castilian as a single language. The slow demise of these local languages reached a turning point three decades ago with the advent of the State of Autonomies. The new Autonomous governments then started implementing linguistic policies aimed at recovering the use of these vernacular languages in the public and the private sphere.

Foreign students wishing to register for a summer course in an Autonomous Community with two official languages must make sure to confirm the specific language in which the lectures will be given. It is not uncommon for a course to be delivered in the second official language specific to that region, making it extremely difficult — or even impossible —  to follow by students who only speak Spanish, forcing them to give up the course for which they have already paid a registration fee.

Further information:

 Instituto Cervantes Website

 Instituto Cervantes Spanish Language Virtual Classroom– Online Spanish Courses

Learning Spanish

According to the ‘Atlas of the Spanish Language around the World”, published by Fundación Telefónica, the number of Spanish speakers throughout the globe by far exceeds 400 million, i.e., 5% of the total population on our planet. This makes it the third most widely spoken language in the world (only surpassed by Chinese and English), and it also takes the third place in terms of geographical coverage (after English and Russian). Furthermore, it has become one of the major languages in the business and finance world. Given such a scenario, it is hardly surprising that the number of people interested in learning Spanish has grown dramatically.

Spain, as the cradle of the language, is the preferred destination among most Spanish language students, who benefit from a wide choice of specialised schools and institutions in our major cities. To assist foreign citizens interested in following Spanish language and culture studies, Spain’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports has an extensive database where one can find almost all the related programmes available both in Spain and abroad. This tool allows you to filter your search by course type, by date, by institution, and by area and/or city.

Of course, it is also possible to acquire the rudiments of Spanish language through a comprehensive free Internet course developed by a team of experts at Instituto Cervantes, the official government body in charge of promoting the dissemination of the Spanish language throughout the world.

The state-run  official language schools scattered throughout the country offer specially designed Spanish language courses for both beginners and more advanced students. It is also worth noting that most universities offer Spanish teaching programmes for foreigners. Some of them, including a number of universities in Cataluña, Galicia and the Basque Country, offer courses on their local official languages. Demand for such courses reaches a peak during the summer months. The Ministry of Education’s universities portal has a comprehensive list of all the Spanish universities, both  public and private or church-run, including all the necessary contact details.

Available courses of Spanish Language and other Languages of Spain for foreign students:

Spanish Language Courses at Universidad de La Rioja

Courses of Spanish for Foreigners – Centro de Estudios Hispánicos Universidad de Nebrija

Alcalingua – Spanish Language and Culture Courses at Universidad de Alcalá de Henares

Spanish Language and Culture Course – Universidad de Navarra

Spanish Language and Culture Courses for foreign students – Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo

Centre of Studies for Foreign Students – Universidad Pablo de Olavide

Spanish language and culture courses for foreign students – Universidad de Barcelona

Catalan language courses for foreign students – Universidad de Barcelona

Spanish Language and Culture Courses for foreign students – Universidad de Burgos

Spanish Language and Culture for Foreign Students – Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca

International Spanish Language Courses – Universidad de Salamanca

 Universidad de Deusto International Summer School – Spanish Language and Culture

Spanish Language and Culture Course – Department of Modern Languages, Universidad de Granada

Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Alicante

Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students– Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Spanish Language and Culture Programs – Universidad Pontificia de Comillas

Courses of Spanish as a Foreign Language in Jaca – Universidad de Zaragoza

Courses of Spanish as a Foreign Language in Zaragoza – Universidad de Zaragoza

Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Valladolid

Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Cantabria

 Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Oviedo

Galician Language Courses; Centro de Linguas– Universidad de Vigo

International Spanish and Galician Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Santiago

Spanish Language Courses for Foreign Students – Universidad de Málaga

Where to Stay

Finding accommodation in Spain can be quite a challenge. There are few places available and rent prices are high. There are however, a number of student residences — which may or may not be associated to the educational institutions — that are well worth considering if you are planning to live and study in Spain. Other options include staying at a student hall (generally run by a university), sharing a rented flat, or staying with a family. Accommodation will account for at least 300 euros out of a student’s monthly budget, not including meals. In cities like Madrid, Barcelona or San Sebastian, this rises to a minimum of 350 euros.

For all these options, the Fundación Carolina website offers an accommodation finder which you may find quite useful. Also, at we have the most comprehensive directory/finder of Student Halls and Student Accommodation in Spain.

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