The Cost of Living in Bilbao
After a stint studying abroad in Granada, Jenny finished her degree and caught the first plane back to Spain for a year of teaching English in lush and rainy Basque Country.
City and Comunidad: Bilbao, Bizkaia, País Vasco
School are/were you placed at? a high school
Your living situation: I lived in a three-bedroom, one bathroom apartment in the trendy Indauxtu neighborhood of Bilbao, with a guy from Argentina and a girl from the Canary Islands.
How did you find your flat? I actually found my flat online through alkila.net before moving to Bilbao (breaking the cardinal rule of NOT agreeing to a flat before you see it). But I had piso-hunted on several occasions when studying abroad in Granada, and had a good idea of what I was looking for. During the summer I was scanning through a lot of housing posts in Bilbao, and so many of the flats were run-down, too expensive, or too far removed. When I saw this one, remodeled, in the city center for a great price, advertising to NON-SMOKERS, I impulsively jumped. (But it was on the honor system. I didn’t wire any money or sign a contract—that would have been beyond stupid.) In the end, it was a good flat—not great, but fine. I don’t think I would have found anything better in person, honestly, so I’m glad I took it. However, when I move to Barcelona in September I will almost certainly be employing the tide-and-true “stay in a hostel while you piso hunt” method.
Rent: €280 a month (which is on the low-end for Bilbao)
What did you spend on average on utilities? My piso was all electric. I spent about 25 euros/month on electricity and 10/month on water. The place got a lot of light and had low-consumption lightbulbs, so I’m sure that cut costs a bit.
Your cell phone company and plan: I used the Orange Tarifa Ardilla plan, and got 100 mb/internet a week. Calls were 1 cent/min. I spent about 10 euros/month for the plan, but I rarely ever called people and mostly used wifi. In the future I think I’ll switch to Yoigo or TuentiMovil, just because they’re both a slightly better deal, and I could use a bit more internet data.
Internet: Our internet was shared and came with cable and a landline. I’m not sure of the company (I wasn’t in charge of it!) but I dished over 10 euros a month without complaint.
What did you spend on groceries? I spent between €90 and 100 a month on groceries. That’s buying a ton of produce and not many meat or cheese products. Less money spent on food = more money to travel!
Did you have any other sources of income? I taught around 9 hours of private lessons a week, both in homes and at an English academy. I usually charged €20 an hour for private lessons, and my academy paid me €15 an hour. Most of the time it felt like I was robbing them, because my students were really great and it hardly seemed like work. This coming year, however, I hope to do fewer private lessons and gain some income from my blog and freelance writing.
Were you able to save any money? I was! After several big trips, I still ended the year about 4,000 USD on top. Granted, I paid for both my flights with airline miles, and didn’t do a whole lot of extra shopping while I was there. But I hit up England, Scotland, France, Amsterdam, Morocco, Germany, Poland, and parts of Spain, so I’d say saving anything at all is impressive!
What was your favorite pintxos bar and what did you usually order there? Basque Country is widely considered the culinary capital of Spain, so what I’m about to say may come as shocking: I didn’t spend all my time eating there. I certainly enjoyed a fair bit of wine, but feasting on pintxos is not like feasting on free tapas in Granada. Pintxos cost around 2 euros a pop, and since they’re bite-sized, that adds up quickly—to really get full, you could eat a menú del día for cheaper. Of course, whenever I did have pintxos, I was instantly in heaven.
When friends and I went out to eat, we would normally try to hit a new bar every time. It’s more fun that way! But I’d say in terms of ambiance, I loved the bar Brass; for a classic Basque feel, the famous Café Iruña; and for some damn good pintxos, try El Globo. For the highest concentration of great pintxo bars, head to Plaza Nueva in Casco Viejo (the old part of the city).
As for drinks: redwineredwineredwine. Or occasionally txakolí, which is Basque sparkling white wine. A copa de vino usually costs between 1.20 and 1.80, depending on the quality; a pintxo costs between 1.60 and 2.20 euros.
Your favorite coffee hangout? This changed throughout the year, but I’d have to say Kurrusku. It was a panadería and cafetería in one. I loved it because a) it was full of bread, my favorite food, and b) it was a really warm and inviting place, which I can’t say about a lot of the stand-up Spanish bars littered with napkins (there’s a time and a place for those, too). My American girlfriends and I went to Kurrusku because they had soy milk options, and one is lactose intolerant. It became our go-to Sunday afternoon date, and we got to know several wacky locals who would frequent the place. (One asked me every time, without fail, Sprechen Sie Deutsch? So confusing.)
Nightlife in Bilbao: Most of the discotecas are outside the city center, so you have to take the metro to get to them. But my favorite place in the city center (I’m lazy!) was Kafe Antzokia. It’s a small discotecta that plays sort of eclectic music (not always your Top 10 chart, blessedly), and had a fun crowd. They charge cover on popular nights, but no more than 5 or 10 euros and a drink is included. I’m in for a rude awakening with Barcelona cover charges.
How did you get around? One of my favorite things about Bilbao is how walkable it is. It feels like a relatively big city, but you can get almost anywhere on foot in thirty minutes. I’d normally walk to work (if it wasn’t raining), or take Bilbobus, the city’s bus network. With a Barik card (a discount card that costs €3 upfront), one trip cost 69 cents. Bilbao’s metro is fantastic—the cleanest metro I’ve ever seen—and was great for escaping the city to smaller suburbs along the coast and port. Depending on the distance, a ride with a Barik card cost between .89 and 2 euros.
Best things about living in Bilbao? Bilbao, and all of Basque Country, is absolutely beautiful. Bilbao is nestled into the mountains, and bordered by the Atlantic. This means that there is an endless supply of free or nearly free excursions, from hiking to beach trips to exploring the coastal cities. For my five favorite things about Bilbao, check out this post.
And dislikes? The drawback of Bilbao, and most of the north, is its rainy climate. I’m from California and couldn’t hack it. I actually found that it really wore on my mood, and it was hard to keep a positive outlook after 27 consecutive days of rain in November. (I still shudder to think of it.) For my five least favorite things about Bilbao—the rain being #1, surprise surprise—check out this post.
How easy was it to travel around Spain and Europe from Bilbao? Although Bilbao isn’t a major city, it has an international airport with some pretty decent flights. I was able to fly from San Francisco to Bilbao with only one layover. Although the nearest Ryanair airport is an hour away, Bilbao had some pretty good flight deals with Vueling, Iberia, Germanwings, and a few destinations with Easyjet. The ease of the Bilbao airport makes it all worth it —a bus there costs 1.20 euros, takes 20 minutes, and the lines at the airport are nonexistent. Security doesn’t even make you take out your liquids!
Your guilty pleasure purchase: In a place as rainy as Bilbao, it’s shocking how much I bought frozen yogurt. I think any time the sun was out, I had to treat myself. My favorite place was called “La Casa del Yogur” in Casco Viejo, where they homemake all their milk, yogurt, and froyo.
Don’t miss: The Guggenheim museum is what draws all the tourists. It put Bilbao on the map in the late 90s, and to this day remains the biggest attraction.
Something you wish someone had told you before moving to Spain? Don’t compare it to your study abroad. Working abroad is completely different than studying, and you shouldn’t hold one city up to the expectations of another. They’re both exciting and new in their own way!
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