The Cost of Living in Jaén
Most Auxiliares de Conversación are originally disappointed when not placed in a bustling capital, but smaller cities definitely have their merits. Among those are reduced cost in living, as Hannah – a Buckeye State native – found out when she moved to Jaén.
Name: Hannah Hawkinberry
City and Comunidad: Jaén, Andalucía
School: I was an auxiliar de conversación for two years at a high school in Bailén (Jaén), which is essentially the gateway to Andalucía from Madrid. You have to pass by this town of about 20,000 to get to almost any capital in Andalucía by car from Madrid.
Your living situation? My first year I lived in Linares where the cost of living was slightly cheaper. My second year though I was in Jaén capital where rent was a bit more expensive. Both years I shared a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment and lived with one Spanish roommate.
How did you find your flat? I highly recommend milanuncios.com for the apartment search. I used it to find my apartments both years. I always found it to have significantly more options than other similar sites. I selected the piso compartido option and my desired city to get all the results, narrowed it down to 5-10 that I liked and began to call the numbers listed to schedule a time to see them. This can take anywhere from 4-7 days depending on how picky you are and if you’re choosing to live in a small town or the capital. Make sure to ask questions about what you consider to be the most important features of the apartment before going for a visit (i.e.- What type of heating/cooling does the apartment have? Does it have an oven? How many people are currently living there and where are they from? etc.)
Rent: In Linares I paid 120€ a month and in Jaén, 190€ a month. I’d say that is indicative of the range you should expect to pay for rent in a shared apartment anywhere in Jaén province, with the average, most common rate being 150€.
What did you spend on utilities? On average, I paid about 80€ a month, and a little more if you include Internet as well (about 15-20€), but of course that was sharing with just one other person. If you have more roommates that number goes down significantly.
You cell phone company and plan? I had Orange’s Ballena pay as you go plan. It was one of the best values out there that I know of for a smartphone. A little less than 15€a month for 1 GB of data, 1 cent a minute calling and 1000 free text messages. I used my phone continuously for Internet related things and I never got close to using my one full GB of data, even when I didn’t have reliable wifi in my apartment the first year.
What do you pay for internet? To have a landline and wifi in our apartment through Movistar we paid about 35€ a month total. Divide that by two and I was only paying 17.50€ a month for everything.
What did you spend on groceries? Well I am a person that tends to eat-in a lot but doesn’t often eat meat or large portions. I managed to spend about 100€ a month on groceries. I imagine that people with bigger appetites might spend more, but if you buy cheap at stores like Día or Mercadona you shouldn’t pay much more.
Did you have any other sources of income? Both school years I taught at a private academy for a total of about 3 to 5 hours a week. The first academy was not generous (read: pretty much ripped me off) and only paid me 10€ an hour to teach 7 students at a time. My second year I was paid generously and earned about 30€ an hour teaching 10 to 12 students. I also taught some private classes on the side, charging 10€ for a purely conversational class with one student that requires no prep and up to 15€ for pre-prepared tutoring classes. Once I also taught a group of students from my high school, preparing them for their B1 Trinity exams. For these groups I charged 10€ for the first student and 6€ for every additional one (so a group of 3 would cost the group 22€, about 7€ per student).
Were you able to save any money? This is the big question isn’t it? It’s hard to say because I did have a good amount saved before I started the program and that helped me get started in Spain and pay for my flights to and from the U.S. I spent a couple thousand of that before I got my first paycheck from the Junta de Andalucía. However, even traveling every other weekend my entire first year, with all the side jobs I had I was actually able to save a couple thousand EUROS by the time I finished. So at the very least I would say I broke even in this program, but I may have even managed to save a little, especially by traveling less my second year.
Your favorite tapas bar? It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but I’d say any of the tapas bars in the tascas area (especially los Amigos), bar Dean and el Pósito were my favorites and they all had similar pricing. I usually ordered a tinto con limón, which is usually 2€, and because it’s Jaén, the tapa comes free with it (at most bars in Jaén, you don’t get to choose the tapa, but in Linares you always do). I highly recommend the tostas (cheesy caramelized goodness on crunchy bread) at Dean and Los Amigos if you’re looking for a little extra food. Those usually cost about 8 to 9€ and they are huge, big enough to split between 2 to 4 people depending on how hungry you are.
Your breakfast and coffee bars suggestions: There are a couple different cafeterías on the road leading up to the cathedral that I recommend for breakfast or an afternoon coffee. Some, like La Colombiana (also refered to as La Antigua) has a great view of the cathedral and is perfect for people watching as everyone strolls up and down this central street. There you can get a big, quality tostada with olive oil, tomato puree, salt and maybe some Spanish jamón or salmorejo if you’re feeling adventurous for about 2€ and your usual café con leche is 1.50€ (I’d say a café con leche in Jaén usually goes for 1.20€ but you pay for quality and location at this place). Café Jaén is also a great new place for an afternoon coffee and has a hip, vintage style to it that is rare among Jaén establishments. I like their spiked coffees such as the jamaicana with espresso, milk and coffee liqueur for just 2.50€.
Nightlife in Jaén: Previously, the hip, basement bar Bodegón was THE place to go after tapas for a late night litro de cerveza to share or a cheap rebujito, but after it’s closing for structural reasons this past Spring the jiennenses have been forced to try other places. Nowadays, most people will venture over to Friends Bar for a 2€ tercio or a 5€ copa. Bar Dean is not only popular for its tapas, but also turns into a late night botellón spot because of how tiny it is inside and it’s well priced drinks (similar to Friends). A late late night disco option is Mambo, which has a 5€ cover (unless you directly flaunt your foreign nationality in front of security 😉 and copas for 7€.
How did you get around? One of the best things about Jaén: you can walk literally everywhere within 30 minutes, while still having a good variety of bars, parks and shops to make sure things don’t get too boring. If you do feel the need to take the bus, there is a great network in town and it only costs 1€ a trip or 0.60€ cents if you sign up for a student discount card.
What you loved about living in Jaén? Jaén was small enough to be able to run into people you know on an afternoon walk and make it to all parts of the city walking but also big enough to have some variety in shopping and bar hopping. Jaén also has some beautiful green spaces such as Parque Victoria, Parque Seminario and the Bulevar to relax and enjoy the nice weather (which is sunny the vast majority of the year, even in winter).
And your dislikes? The city could have some more cultural variety as far as international restaurants and festivals go. I did miss that a lot from living in the U.S. Jaén is also not ideally communicated for travel abroad. Although there is talk of installing a high-speed train from Madrid to Jaén in upcoming years, right now there is only a media distancia train that takes around 4 hours to get to Madrid and no direct routes (you have to catch a connection in Córdoba) to get to Málaga. Buses are available to both cities but they are only slightly cheaper and take just as long. The Granada airport is not directly connected to Jaén by bus and has few international flights, making it a not so convenient choice for international travel.
How easy was it to travel around Spain and Europe from Jaén? The bad news, as I stated above, is that Jaén is not well connected to an international airport; although, it does have the advantage of being nearly equidistant from Málaga and Madrid, making choosing the cheapest flight from either of those airports an option. The good news is that Jaén is well connected by bus to all of Spain and especially within Andalucía. You can get to Córdoba and Granada in a little over an hour, and Málaga and Sevilla in about 3 hours. Train connections aren’t ideal and the buses tend to be cheaper and more frequent. I would say your best way to get around Spain in general is through Blablacar. It is always the cheapest and fastest option and oftentimes you can find cars that are going directly to the airports, train or bus stations or that will even pick you up or drop you off near your house. As long as you’re comfortable sharing a car and make sure you are comfortable with the driver’s profile, it’s a great option!
Your guilty pleasure purchases: Fortunately, everything in Jaén is so cheap that there aren’t many things you feel guilty about buying. There is a Corte Inglés in town that has a decent selection of international ingredients in their supermarket. So, if you’re craving sushi or peanut butter or Thai seasoning you can have your fix, and although it’s expensive, the satisfaction you get later is worth the extra cost. My sweet tooth always leads me to the clean and modern cafetería Monthelado, where you can order from any number of decadent cakes, ice creams, coffees and milkshakes ranging from 2 to 5€.
What are the top attractions in Jaén? Obviously the Cathedral de Jaén is a must see on the inside and out, but make sure you really take your time (find the stairs to the second level for great views!) and get your money’s worth because at 5€ per person it’s not a cheap visit. I always recommend a hike up to the Castillo de Santa Catalina, which is a long, steep walk, but is more than worth it for the jaw dropping views of the city and the countryside. Finally, the newly renovated baños arabes and the connecting cultural museum located in the Palacio Villardompardo in the casco antiguo are a unique (not to mention completely FREE) way to spend an afternoon immersed in jiennense history both old and new (and don’t forget to go to the top floor for more outstanding views of the cathedral and castle!).
Something you wish someone had told you before moving to Spain: My biggest piece of advice is to bring with you a boatload of patience. In Spain things take longer, time is not of the essence, the little things you have to get done (especially anything through the government) will be more challenging, and normal Spanish customs may initially be frustrating and difficult. Most Andalusians thoroughly take advantage of the laid back lifestyle and you can enjoy it too if you remind yourself to go with the flow and breathe a little when things get rough.
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