Interested in knowing about the pros and cons of living in Madrid?

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

I’m originally from the US, but I’ve been here in Madrid for over a decade and I can tell you a lot about life in Spain… The good and the bad.

Of course, living anywhere has its pros and cons.

And in the beginning, living abroad can be quite exciting. I was pretty much giddy with emotion my first two or three years here.

Now I’m more conscious of the cons.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the pros.

Not by a long shot.

Pros and Cons of Living in Madrid

Let’s hit it.

For every pro, I’ve tried to find a “complementary” con – so in the end the choice about whether or not to move (or stay) here is yours.

Fair and balanced, just like Fox News.

(Also, just like Fox News, I’ve got a whole media empire here, including a podcast called Spain to Go in which this very blog post is recorded as episode 13. You can listen here, or just read on…)

Before we start: just in case you’re wondering, I think Madrid is awesome, and I love Spain.

And just to show both sides of the issue, I have an article about 4 things I hate about Spain.

(If you can’t bear to hear anything negative about Spain, ever, you should probably have your head examined before leaving me an angry comment. It’s cool. I’ll still be here when you’re done.)

pros and cons of living in madrid
Palacio Real, right in the center of Madrid, Spain.

So without further ado…

Pro: Madrid’s excellent public transport

Madrid’s system of public transport is allegedly among the best in the world – and they’re constantly pouring tons of money into improving it.

The Metro we know today is about twice the size as it was when I arrived.

New neighborhoods outside the city are now connected, and nearly every summer a whole line is closed for remodelling.

The buses are pretty good too. And the suburban trains.

And even though there’s a whole public outcry every time the monthly pass goes up 40 cents, the prices are still really good compared to other “world cities”.

Also, unlike London, everything here is pretty close together. Up there, 45 minutes seems like “right around the corner”. Here you can be relaxing in a small mountain town in less than that.

On the other hand…

Con: awful work schedules

This has changed a bit with the pandemic and the work-from-home situation a lot of people have been in, but it might be going back to “normal” fairly soon.

If you’re teaching English – and a lot of younger expats are – you might be hoofing it around the city from 7:30 AM to 9:30 PM, with a few dead hours at midday.

Depending on where you live and where you work, you might be able to get home for a siesta.

But either way, you’ll be spending a LOT of time on that wonderful public transport.

People who work in offices get a bad deal too: they’re faced with the cultura de presentismo – a work culture that values holding down the desk till late in the evening, whether or not you’re actually getting anything done.

The Spanish envy those countries in the north of Europe where 5 PM means your drop what you’re doing, shut down the laptop and go home. Here you might have to futz around pretending to get things done for a few more hours, because the boss will think you’re lazy for going home on time.

But hey – it’s exactly those people up in Scandinavia who spend all their money and vacation days coming to Spain… And we get to live here full-time.

Moving on…

Madrid Pro: the lower cost of living

Madrid is cheap.

Relative to some places, at least.

What you’d spend to rent a room full of rats and tuberculosis in London’s Zone 7 will get you a sweet penthouse with a huge terrace in one of Madrid’s nicest areas.

Friends from New York will shock you with how much they paid to live with bedbugs and junkies in Brooklyn, back in the day – here you just can’t compare the prices.

Food is also pretty cheap – and going out with friends won’t cost much either, if you avoid the gastrobars and the more expensive discos.

all the pros and cons of living in madrid, spain
Equestrian statue of Felipe III here in Plaza Mayor, Madrid. Photo by Daniel Welsch.

Cost of living varies a lot from barrio to barrio – for something less costly check out Usera or come up to my neighborhood in the north, called Tetuán.

Living somewhere hipper or more central like La Latina or Malasaña, logically, will cost you more. If I had an unlimited budget for housing these days, I’d live around Cuzco – which is expensive, but hardly “London expensive”.

But before you get too excited about the low cost of living, you must take into account…

Madrid Con: terrible Spanish salaries

Yep.

Spanish salaries suck.

And it’s little comfort knowing your rent is nowhere near Brooklyn prices if your salary is 800€ a month.

Back in the day – in the pre-crisis years – people would complain about being mileuristas.

A mileurista was someone who held down a decent, respectable job, but was frustrated when their salary never got much higher than 1000€.

When the shit hit the fan, however, and unemployment went to 26%, being a mileurista became many people’s highest aspiration.

Because suddenly, even the architects and engineers were either fleeing the country or earning 800€ a month – and happy to have it.

Don’t get me wrong: there are still certain lucky people who earn salaries in the low 4 figures a month… But they’re few and far between.

(Thanks, austerity.)

On a more positive note…

Pro: Madrid’s world-famous nightlife

I personally know next to nothing about nightlife.

But from what I’ve heard, Madrid’s nightlife is one of the world’s best.

I can tell you that if you know where to go, the party never really stops. After dinner on Friday night you could potentially go to a bar, a club, a chillout, an after, etc all the way through till Sunday night.

(I assume some people do this, possibly with the help of controlled substances. Either way, I don’t know any of them personally.)

In any case, Madrid is one of those cities that’s busier at 3AM than at 10 AM – Gran Via is a huge traffic jam in the middle of the night, then a ghost town until late in the morning.

Early in the day on weekends, public transport is almost entirely heavy partiers on their way home after 8 hours of debauchery.

Maybe someone should do a guest post about Madrid’s nightlife for me. Hit me up here if you want to.

And on the other hand…

Con: the noise, noise, noise, noise

This depends quite a bit on your street and on your barrio, but in most places, Madrid is noisy.

I consider my place to be pretty quiet compared to others.

But still, during the day I’ve almost always got some sort of construction or road works happening right outside my window.

And at night, I’ve got the garbage trucks at 1 AM, and the disco that closes at six, with all the kids coming out and breaking stuff on the surrounding streets.

It makes sleep a bit difficult when the windows are open in summer. (An extra con could be that Spanish air conditioning is a joke… but I guess that’s another article.)

If you live on one of the main streets, you’d better hope for double windows and really good A/C – because otherwise you’re going to be dealing with noise 24/7.

(Have I mentioned that Spanish people shout a lot? Well, yeah. Apparently “shut your goddamn mouth” isn’t a part of most Spaniards’ parenting strategy. The kids are loud. And when those kids become adults they’re still pretty loud.)

Moving on…

Pro: Madrid’s great Spanish and international food

I like Spanish food a lot.

The typical things involve few ingredients, and are simple and high quality – nothing as elaborate as French or Italian cuisine.

Just wholesome, good cooking like Grandma used to make.

Some of the classics you should try here in Madrid are tortilla de patatas, a good paella, and maybe some meat or some cochinillo. Have some pork ear if you’re feeling adventurous.

spanish food is great
Go to Casa Toni on Calle Cruz, 14 and thank me later. Pork ear, squid rings and chorizo with Ishita the Globetrotting Cupcake.

I personally like squid ring sandwiches with ali-oli, but apparently there’s a lot of other (better) fish out there too – Madrid’s wholesale fish market is one of the busiest in the world.

On the other hand, you’ve got the gastrobars, which are kind of disappointing. And plenty of food from all over the world, which is hit or miss. (I love a few of the Chinese places around Plaza España, some of the Peruvian food and sushi… but once again, I’m no expert. And the places are changing all the time.)

Then again…

Con: the meal schedules

When I first arrived my flatmate Javi was frustrated to no end with my meal schedule – he’d come home from work at 6 PM and see me digging into a plate of pasta.

He’d say “What is this? Lunch, dinner? This is no time to be eating pasta!”

On the flip side, if your metabolism is used to substantial breakfasts, lunch at 12 or dinner at 6, you’re going to spend a lot of time hungry and frustrated.

First off, Spanish breakfast is usually tiny. Like, a piece of toast and some coffee tiny. Or a cup of tea and one cookie tiny. After that, people usually tide themselves over with a second breakfast at 11 or so. Lunch is at 2 and dinner at 9 or 10.

These days, more and more restaurants have a kitchen that’s open all afternoon and evening – maybe 12 to 12.

But even in the most touristy areas, there are still plenty of places you’ll find shuttered all through what you consider to be “dinner time”.

Better get used to it.

(Intermittent fasting for the win!)

Moving on…

Pro: the social life in Madrid

My favorite part of living in Madrid is that there are people from all over.

My social life involves people from literally dozens of countries, and there’s always something going on.

The expat community is huge and constantly renewing itself.

living in madrid is awesmoe
My weekly boxing and fitness group, with people from several countries. Let me know if you want to join.

And if you want you can also try hanging with the locals.

In any case, there’s always time to go to the bar, or to have a 3-hour lunch, or to spend a couple of weeks stuffing yourself with sweets and celebrating the never-ending holiday season.

Expat Thanksgiving, in fact, is one of my favorite moments of the year: imagine Thanksgiving at home, but with 10 times more wine and people who are much more fun than your family.

(You make the turkey, I’ll buy the booze. Call me.)

And finally…

Con: you might never go home

This last one is either a pro or a con, depending on how you think about it.

If you have some big life plan that requires you to become a Wall Street banker or an actress in LA, well then good for you.

But Madrid’s probably not the place for that.

A lot of people move here for 6 months or a year, end their contract or stay out their visa, and then go home.

And a lot of others find love, or just get hooked on the lifestyle, and end up spending their free time fighting the bureaucracy to be able to stay a few more years.

I’m part of the second group. Really, I was only supposed to be in Spain for 8 days. That was 2004 – and here I am. First it was love, then the lifestyle. Now I can’t get away.

Was it worth it?

Totally.

Would I recommend it to others as a life plan?

No.

So I guess you need to handle Madrid with care.

Despite the negatives, it’s still a pretty awesome place to live. And a lot of people never manage to make it home.

Other pros and cons of living in Madrid…

I can’t really think of any other pros or cons.

Can you?

Spanish bureaucracy sucks, for example, but I assume it’s not much worse than in other places.

Customer service isn’t great – but that’s probably down to the terrible salaries people are earning.

The political situation is fucking ridiculous, but who am I to talk? I’ve got an orange-skinned reality TV star for a president.

Personally, I’d love to find another place I love more than Madrid.

A place with high salaries, low taxes, awesome weather and an amazing social life?

I’ll pack my bags and be there tomorrow!

But so far (despite visiting many of the major cities of Europe) I don’t have one.

So here I am, and life is good.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. What do you think? What are the pros and cons of living in Madrid? Hit me up with your ideas, right here in the comments. Thanks!

P.P.S. Want some info about making a living as an English teacher? I’ve got it, right here.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Daniel, you make me want to go and live in Madrid and to boot, I have a young and very beautiful friend from Roquetas de Mar in Almeria who moved to Madrid about two years ago and loves it

  2. I enjoyed reading your post . I live in London and have the chance of moving to Madrid so this was helpful . What you mention about rat infested places at five star hotel prices is so true of London. The housing is Victorian, old , decadent, the council collects the rubbish once every two weeks and still we pay extortionate prices to live . we earn more but spent way more on just basic living which leaves very little for social Life . It takes forever to get from A to B and no one seems to mingle that much. I guess you can’t have it all. As you suggest the main thing in life is to live it not chance constantly after opportunities as we all do in London for little purpose . Maybe status .

  3. Great article, Daniel. Can’t say I’m surprised by any of it. I’ve been in love with Madrid since I was 17 and I’m now… well, let’s just say there have been quite a few stops over there in between. Always wanted to make it my home, but I was never able to hack the legal bit. Hope to get over in a couple of years when Social Security kicks in. Still young in every other way, though. 🙂

  4. Cómo madrileño coincido en casi todo salvo en lo del ruido. El ruido es nuestra marca de identidad, marca España ya sabes.. Quien quiere bares tranquilos, donde se pueda conversar, donde no necesites gritar para hacerte oír. Es que acaso somos noruegos. ¿Qué será lo siguiente? ¿Pedir que los camareros de las terrazas te atiendan a la primera?

    Te cuento, andábamos mi pareja y yo de vacaciones por un país que ahora no viene al caso, bonito, naturaleza espectacular, gente agradable, pero entrar en sus bares o restaurantes era como hacerlo en un sepelio, se oía el vuelo de las moscas. Cuando descubrimos un bar donde el tono era mucho más elevado que la media, lo primero que pensamos fue “parece España, por fin un bar como dios manda” …

    Contestando a tu pregunta como pro pondría un intangible y son sus espectaculares atardeceres. En su contra la suciedad que a veces y no tan a veces, inunda sus calles

    Saludos
    Julio

  5. I have with almost everything you said, but I’d just like to say some things.
    Metro is good, although is quite smelly in some places (I lived in Lavapiés) and definitely too narrow! It was quite normal to go home like a ‘sardina’, like we say (I guess you know the idiom). Modern lines are wider, luckily.
    I was lucky to live in a quiet street, so I can’t really complain about the noise (except for some drunk people late at summer night where you have to leave the window open), but a friend of mine lived in calle Huertas and he just couldn’t handle it.
    And I would say something about the architecture, I guess that you americans would be impressed ’cause it’s pretty nice all over Spain, although I prefer the architecture from Barcelona, more ancient places in the center (even some roman) and of course Modernism.
    And I also don’t like eating that late, but in my case I had classes until 2pm, so it was impossible to have lunch before 2.30pm.

  6. CON: The service you get in a lot of establishments in Madrid. From the way some waiters act I am often under the impression they think they are doing me a favour when bringing me the coffee I am paying for.
    PRO: There are places where people are genuinely nice and you get good service (minus the formality you would get in other countries, which I do not care much about)

  7. I’ve been hearing so much about the food in Madrid! I really can’t wait for summer to come. It seems that I’ll have to extend my stay over there, I’m in love with it already and haven’t even arrived. Great post!

    1. The weather is way better in Madrid! I have lived in both places and Singapore can’t beat Madrid for the weather. Singapore is too hot sometimes, and the weather is always the same. Those who grew up with seasons miss them a lot in Singapore.

      And the social life is very different! You socialize mostly with expats in Singapore, very difficult to mix with the locals. So you end up living in a bubble. But in Madrid I met amazing Spanish people that became my friends for life, even though I lived there for only 2 years.

      If my boyfriend would speak Spanish, I would have already convinced him to move back to Spain 😀

  8. Great article. Ive been to Madrid cpl times and love it. Planning to take leave of abscence for 2 months to see if i can make a home there in future. Im a nurse but getting licence transferred and learning spanish is overwhelming. So in meantime, Im searching for decent 1 bedroom for a 2 month let. November and December 2018 . But its holiday time and finding an apt even at 1000$ month is hard! I am alone and don’t want to be far from tapas and some fun.( But not all night partying) Like Latina. Any suggestions on barrios? For a 55 yr old nurse? Not too loud but walking distance to food and some expat meetups? Life is short, its a dream to live at least a year overseas. If I can pull it off and take a year sabbatical I will do it. Im a cancer survivor and where there’s a will theres a way.
    Appreciate any thoughts on long and Short places to rent.
    Thanks

    1. Hey Chiffon, you could try for a barrio like Ibiza on the other side of parque Retiro. Or maybe Delicias / Legazpi. Both central but not too focused on night life. Good luck!

      1. Dear Danial,

        where your recommend more for a family living of ( 7 people ) Madrid or Barcelona ? plan to open my own restaurant unique burgers

        thanks and regards,

        RS.

    2. Hi Chiffon
      I have an flat in Alcorcón and currently considering flat share options if your interested
      Good links to the underground
      Regards
      Emma

      1. Hi Emma,

        Do you still have flat share option available or someone else that you can recommend. I live in Chicago but going to move to Madrid.

  9. Hello Daniel, I am a US federal govt retiree. Would 4,000-4,500 euros a month allow my wife and I more less comfortably in the Atocha/Lavapies area (one bedroom apt)?

    Thank you very much.

    Luis

  10. Hi! Love this. I’m moving to Madrid for school in 33 days, and trying to prepare for that. Having lived there, is there anything you can think of that is difficult to find there, but an American might need or want. For example, I’ve heard that peanut butter and sinus medicine can be difficult to find. But advil and other medication are relatively easy and cheap to get.
    Random things, I know, but I’m trying to figure out what is worth packing and what I could easily leave at home and just buy there! Having lived there now, what things would you pack if you were in my shoes and about to move?? Thanks!!!

    1. Hey Melissa, yeah, Peanut Butter’s not too widely available. I’m not sure about sinus meds. I mostly remember missing peanut butter and decent burritos – at this point, we’ve got the burritos in Madrid. Have fun! And thanks for commenting 🙂

    2. You can find peanut butter in the larger supermarkets (Carrefour and Mercadonna). Failing that you can go to the “American Store” or Taste of America” where you will find an assorted of U.S. junk foods. There is also amazon.es or amazon.co.uk

      Describe your symptoms at the pharmacy and they will most likely have something to cure what ails you.

      I wouldn’t bother packing foods and medicines to be honest. You will probably find an equivalent for 99% of things here.

      Pro tip: If you want a Turkey for Thanksgiving you go to the butcher and tell them what size of bird you want and they will buy it and bring it to their shop for you. It’s uncommon to see PAVO in the shops.

      If anyone knows where to get honey-baked ham, lemme know!

      1. Yeah, I’ve been able to get turkey from my “pollería” in the market. Just tell them a couple days in advance and they can get you a bird, usually in the 6 or 7 kilo range. Thanks for commenting, Jason!

  11. Hey Daniel,
    Thank you for this post. I am on the fence between returning to South America or giving Spain a try in January.
    I’m thinking of taking an English Teaching job in Madrid. The salary is 1000 euros a month, but working hours are only 15 per week. I also teach online making around 1000 usd a month, but am hoping to be able to put away that money for future travel. I know there’s a lot of cost of living websites out there, but since you’re an expert I was hoping for just a few quick answers… Would 1000 a month cut it for a single person to live off? I like going out to bars and to eat, but don’t have super expensive taste. What is the average cost for a studio or bachelor? (I’d prefer to live alone to not annoy my roommates with my lessons). How much should I have saved to get set up in the first month? Thanks so much!

  12. Hello Daniel,

    Thanks so much for informative and jovial article about living in Madrid. I’m in Canada and currently evaluating a job offer which will require relocation to Madrid. I have 2 school age kids. Any comments about the school system and choices in Madrid? Part of the reason I’m evaluating the offer is to give kids the experience of living in a different culture and just broaden their horizons.

    Thanks
    Zeeshan Mughal

  13. Hey, Daniel, I enjoy your insight, great to know. So many of us are probably dreaming of moving there, of course me included! I am in the social services/ health field, wondering how that pans out there. I visited Madrid and Barcelona and would love to live there. I am fluent in Spanish and just enjoy that European flavor in Spain. Thanks for sparking some more positive feelings hear your thoughts. Maybe I will be daring and go for a few months before I go for good. Did you have to become a citizen and drop USA status?

    1. Hey Ed, no, as far as I can tell it’s pretty hard to get rid of your US citizenship. There are millions of Americans living abroad, no problem. Have fun!

  14. Hi Daniel,

    I really enjoyed your article. I’m a student who studied in Madrid in the past and loved it. My degree is in Spanish and a Health Sciences related major. I want to move back to Madrid, but I’m just not really sure how to go about it…I love teaching and kids, and I speak Spanish pretty fluently, with a strong Madrileño accent. I guess I’m just not sure where to start and when to start doing research/applying for visas/looking for an apartment…6 months before, a year before, etc. Last time everything was done for me as a student.
    The night life in Madrid does rock, but it can rip holes in your pocket book if you’re not careful 😉

  15. Hello Chiffon,

    Great day.

    Thank you for the insights. I’m Ryan from Manila, Philippines. I received a Job Offer with a Work Visa sponsorship from a Consulting Company in Madrid. The offer was 30K Euro annually. Anyway, I haven’t accepted the offer because I’m thinking if that would be enough for me to live in Madrid.

    I would like to consider the cost of living like rent, food, daily needs and the taxes. I hope I can get an advice from you.

    Thank you.

    Regards,
    Rye

  16. Great article and photos! I’m spending 3 days & 2 nights in Mardir in mid-October after I do a 6-country tour of Russia and the Baltic States. I’ve booked the Golden Circle tour and a Northern Lights minibus tour. Keeping my fingers crossed I will be able to see the lights again. Saw them in Yellowknife, Canada five years ago. Amazing.

  17. Good article, i currently live in Madrid, in almendrales Usera next to parque pradolongo, very noisy especially the weekend where its invaded by hundreds of bolivianos, but hey the barrio is cheap and close to centro, linea tres, many autobuses and cercanias ( train ) i’m Irish, wifes Spanish but not a madrilena, agree with a lot of your pros and cons, funny the one about Madrilenos eating dinner at like 8 – 9pm i’ll add one to your lidt, summer, august, madrid is deserted haha everybody leaves and rdturns to their ‘ pueblos ‘ maily fiestas en verrano

  18. Wow nice article, i want to be there tomorrow, i can´t sleep thinking why Chorizo name? are you love the chorizos? if it yes which chorizo at Spain variety taste better?

    Pilar

  19. Great post, the only thing I cannot be in agreement with is Italian cuisine being more ellaborated than Spanish. Tha is propaganda (I give you the French)

  20. Hey mate, I am sorry about your orange reality TV star president also btw. Helpful article, can you point me in the direction of recommended language assistance programs?

    Thank you

  21. Hi Daniel, I’m currently looking at few countries in the Europe to move to, and your article was helpful. Do you suggest that finding a job with good pay to live a reasonable life is hard to come by? How much do you think would suffice for a monthly salary? I’m on my own and could live with a room mate, don’t have extravagant expenditure, just the casual. Appreciate your help here.

  22. Awesome blog. But you should seriously consider changing the “give me more chorizo” part. In 90% of the Spanish-speaking world that can also be interpreted as “give me more dick” not that there is anything wrong about such a desire but maybe is not the intention you wanted to put out there. Cheers!

  23. I would like to understand Madrid from a 55+ yr old divorced African American woman perspective.

    How much of my retirement would I spent to live, eat and get around? I don’t plan to work. I want to retire some place nice. Has COVID -19 hit Madrid hard?

    How much does it cost to fight the government there to stay? I would hate to leave after I am settled.

    Are African American minorities treated well in Madrid? Can you find a minority and ask them to comment on their journey in Madrid?

    Thank you,

    Florida Executive considering retiring in Madrid

  24. Dear Daniel,

    Thanks for posting some pros and cons on living in Spain.

    I have been thinking about what Spain is like to live in, in particular Madrid.

    Australia is a very clean country, maybe only second to Singapore.

    You are correct about some London houses and dwellings. The city has been my home for the last decade or so. I’m grateful to live in a brand new house, relatively quiet area with parks close by, good neighbours, good transport and much cleaner than in some other areas.

    I plan to visit Madrid, stay for a few weeks and see how the locals live. I have subscribed to your website.

    Can you tell me what areas in Madrid with best neighbourhoods; cleanest, quietest, close to transports and good supermarkets?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Best wishes,

    Skara

    1. Hey Skara, Madrid’s got a lot of good neighborhoods. If I was living there now, I’d probably choose Chamberí or Cuzco. But you should come check it out for yourself… Have fun!

  25. Madrid is also, at least in the Centre, much cleaner than London or NYC. It’s also more elegant and impressive in terms of the architecture and street layout. And not plastered in advertising like London and NYC. The people are friendlier and more relaxed, it’s a lot cheaper, the weather is much better….no contest. Madrid wins.

  26. Hi there,I enjoyed the tongue and cheek of your article. I am looking for a neighborhood to rent or buy something. It should be not loud or dirty, up and coming or middle of the road as prices go. Alternatively it could be somewhat toward the outskirts but with easy 20 minute access to the center.
    I have seen something online in Calle embajadores, any opinion on that area.?
    Looking forward to your insights
    Thank you
    Best regards
    Shawdi

    1. Hey Shawdi, there’s only a small part of Embajadores neighborhood that’s a bit rough. The rest is pretty nice! I lived close to there in 2008 or so. In any case, see it before you rent.

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