Is Romania REALLY One of the Cheapest Countries in Europe?

Romania is and probably will always be considered one of the cheapest countries in Europe when it comes to the cost of living and it certainly is one of the poorest countries in the European Union – at least when it comes to the average wages.

This is one of the reasons that makes Romania a popular choice for digital nomads, people who want to retire here on a budget or people looking to start a new adventure in a cheap country that still has a lot to offer in terms of spectacular views, great food, nice people and safety.

In other words, living in Romania is cheap if you are having a solid source of income from another country, be it a pension or personal savings.

Is Romania Cheap of Expensive?

Supermarket prices in Romania vs Europe

In a previous article here on Romania Experience, I have shared with you our average monthly expenses and the numbers are indeed pretty low by Western or US standards at under 1,300 Euros per month for a family of three.

But then Kemkem from Next Bite of Life made a comment on the article saying that our costs are similar to her family’s monthly living costs in Spain…

She also lived in Malta for a year and made a cost of living article about that, coming up close to our monthly amount as well, and I have friends who said that they also spend a similar amount of money living in Portugal…

At first, I didn’t really believe it was possible: after all, Romania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe and our salaries here are the second lowest in the European Union.

I was sure that all the other people didn’t keep their notes right and they missed writing down many of the expenses, so their actual costs were a lot higher.

Or maybe we were doing something wrong as a family, spending recklessly on things we don’t need and being overcharged everywhere. I knew this wasn’t a case, since I consider myself pretty frugal, but you can never know.

Actually, you can, if you start to dig deeper and do some investigations on your own. And that’s exactly what I did, covering some of the largest expected expenses in one’s monthly budget. I decided to find out how expensive (or cheap) Romania really is!

Since the food costs are usually the biggest for any family (after rent/mortgage), I have decided to check out two identical hypermakerts and compare prices. I don’t want to share their name, so you’ll have to trust me that the numbers are correct and we are indeed talking about the same chain.

So I went for Spain, a branch of the particular supermarket in Malaga, and then the same supermarket, but this time in Romania. I was shocked to see the prices!

Here are some direct price comparisons based on identical products. Where I wasn’t able to find the same identical products, I always looked for the cheapest options available in both cases.

I am listing the prices below in Lei (the Romanian currency) with the price on the left being what’s in Spain, and the one on the right being the amount you have to pay, today, for the same product in the same supermarket in Romania. I’ve also calculated the differences to make everything easier to follow:

Pork chops, boneless: 18.89 Leu/KG vs. 25.90 leu/kg (7.01 RON/kilo more in Romania or 1.56 Euros)
Regular pork meat: 17.54 leu/kg vs 23.35 lei/kg (5.81 lei/kg more in Romania, or 1.29 Euros)
Whole chicken: 9.80 lei/kg vs. 9.99 lei/kg (0.19 lei/kg more in Romania, or 0.04 Euro)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 14.62 lei/liter vs 24.99 lei/liter (10.37 lei/liter more in Romania, or 2.31 Euros)
Smoked salmon, 100 grams: 10.12 lei vs 12.50 lei (2.83 lei more in Romania, or 0.63 Euros)
Milk, 1 liter: 2.52 lei vs. 2.89 lei (0.37 more in Romania, or 0.08 Euros)
Bottled water, 5 liter: 2.25 lei vs 4.50 lei (double in Romania!)

And the examples can go on and on and on. After checking out the prices and picking up my jaw from the floor, I did see that fortunately, not all these products are more expensive in Romania: most of the fresh products like fruits and vegetables (especially the locally grown ones) are cheaper or at least around the same, while bread is much cheaper also.

So not every single food item costs more in Romania, but I find it strange that many of these products – which are also basically locally grown and not imported – are more expensive. This is definitely a Romanian paradox, one that I found to be true over and over again during my travels and research.

Either way, one thing is clear: Romania is clearly not the cheapest country in Europe and despite the fact that we have our really cheap items, not all of them are so and you shouldn’t consider, by default, that everything is less expensive (like I did).

And I really can’t explain how come this is even possible: the average wage in Romania in 2020 is a mere 625 Euros, while in Spain we’re talking about 1800 Euros!

Is everything really that expensive in Romania?

The prices I have found above are just half of the problem. Although many Romanians prefer to cook at home, you might want to eat out a lot and in this case things change a bit.

For example, a Big Mac in Romania is 10 lei (2.10 Euros) and in Spain you have to pay almost double. One pizza is about 8 Euros in Spain (35 Lei), while in Romania you can find a good one for as low as 18 lei (3.8 Euros). Finally, you can get a decent meal at a decent restaurant for 30 lei (6.50 Euros), while in Spain you’d start from 10 Euros. And so on…

However, I still find it disturbing that there are still a lot of products that are cheaper in Spain than in Romania. It really comes as a shocking surprise for me, and makes it a bit cleared why so many Romanians immigrate to Spain… or elsewhere.

[2020 update] Back in May 2018, we spent an entire month in Valencia, Spain. We did find out that indeed the supermarket prices remain similar to those in Romania, even though we didn’t really compare apples to apples, since we bought everything from supermarkets that we don’t have here in Romania.

Just as this article proved back when it was published, there are some products that cost more in Spain than they do over here, but overall I think that at the end of the month, the amounts you’d spend for buying food at home would be pretty much the same in both countries…

However, this doesn’t make Spain cheaper than Romania, overall: rental prices are a lot higher than in Romania, public transportation is also way more expensive, while eating out costs more as well.

Most likely other things are more expensive as well (like, maybe, utilities and entertainment) so all in all Spain is not cheaper than Romania, but the actual monthly budget wouldn’t be a lot more different in a country compared to the other.

While this might not come as a huge surprise to many, it really was a big one for me: I was 100% sure that everything’s cheaper in Romania and that it wouldn’t be possible to live somewhere else, in Western Europe, having a similar budget. But now I am starting to believe that it’s actually doable, especially if you have a bit more than the bare minimum…

What I mean is that you can still live on 1,000 Euros per month in Romania – and live a decent life for sure. It’s more difficult to live a similarly decent life in Western Europe if you’re on this budget.

But for 1,500 Euros per month, if you’re thrifty and frugal, you will most likely make ends meet even in the countries that you might consider more expensive: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Hungary or Italy…

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24 thoughts on “Is Romania REALLY One of the Cheapest Countries in Europe?”

  1. Hi Calin: Making up for lost time, eh? I beat KemKem–yippee! You can see I have NO life!!!
    It is interesting, the disparity between food prices of your country and Spain. Is the VAT different? One thing about the USA is they DON’T tax food. I would think most countries should follow suit, IMHO.
    I keep my food fare simple. If it’s not in a can or microwaveable it’s not happening;-) Oatmeal for breakfast; muffin and vegetables (frozen) for lunch; and baked potatoes, vegetables (frozen), muffin w/cheese and a very thin slice of beef, cottage cheese, apple sauce and 2 cookies for dinner. On the weekends, I splurge a little and have cake and yogurt for breakfast; same lunch as weekday, and rice or pasta with beef, frozen vegetables, muffin, yogurt and Danish sweet roll for dinner. As a single guy, I budget about $80 (USD) per week for groceries. But that also includes cat food, and some misc. items. I live out on the Pacific coast, and I have limited choices. Also, the prices are higher out here. It’s a little more spendy living in a very small town.
    Off-topic: What do you think about this radical Islam movement and what happened in Paris? Your country, it seems, likes to keep a low profile and not make any waves, as it were. Bravo! So, you are not really worried about jihadists in your country?
    Hopefully you’ll get to the bottom of the food cost disparity, and you won’t have to keep picking your jaw up from the floor;-) Good one from you!!!
    ~Teil (USA)

    • Hello Teil! I too believe that every country should follow the US and not Tax food, or at least most food. In Romania, the VAT is 24%, while in Spain I read that it’s up to 20%. There are requests and talks about reducing the VAT of basic foods (they started with pastries & bread where the VAT is 8%).

      I really like the fact that you keep it simple with your meals and it seems that you have a pretty healthy choice – as a single guy, I think I’d eat all the crap in the world πŸ™‚ Well… not now maybe when I am on a strict diet, but normally I would πŸ™‚ I also realized that some things are more expensive in a smaller town!

      Regarding what happened in Paris, I am with most of the world here, shocked and outraged. My personal belief is that education is what these people lack. A lack of education makes people easier to control and manipulate – and it will take time before we get there but I am also sure that most of the muslims are against this type of behavior too.

      I haven’t really followed Romania’s reactions, I know that the President and Prime minister visited the France embassy and made statement against the radicals, but I don’t think there’s much else they could’ve done. Regarding the terrorists in our country, there was a joke a few years back that said something like this: “A terrorist has no reason to target Romania. The Romanians do a good job at destroying the country themselves” :))

      • Hi Calin: That last part cracked me up! I agree about education and I think the Muslim community around the world needs to make it a priority to teach their young that Isis, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. are NOT true Muslims, and they must disavow any association with them. They need to negate the radical’s use of the internet in recruiting jihadists to their terrible “cause.” Flood the internet with the positive aspects of being a Muslim, and make it understood that the radicals are NOT the true believers. (Okay–sermon of the day is over;-)
        Kemkem: I have no life, so anything I can do to make me think I am #1 makes my day;-) (Better than being #2;-) ~Teil

  2. Hah hah! I didn’t even realize that Teil and l were in competition :-). It is shocking, the price difference . We are constantly shocked at how low the prices are compared to Malta and Houston. When you think about the huge disparity between average salaries, it makes even less sense. Needless to say, we are loving it, especially the seafood, which is less than half. Does this make you want to be a digital nomad this way??? A holiday in Spain??? πŸ™‚ . Thanks for the shout out..

    • Haha, it sure brings back my dreams of going abroad and checking out life for a while and I already started to check out extra options. The fact that I am a bit worried about flying and traveling with a 2 years old are two things that complicate things a bit, but a visit to Spain? I’d like if I said I wasn’t checking some prices and options out πŸ™‚

  3. I won’t edit the above comment which makes little sense, now that I have re-read it. That’s what happens when you try to think and write with a 2-years old in your lap, doing other things :)) And you should also expect to see a new message in your inbox soon πŸ™‚

  4. The difference in pork prices between Spain and Romania was a shocker. Is Romania a big producer of olive oil? I know the EU has a flood of olive oil which they practically have to give away, so I am a bit surprised it’s that expensive in Romania. Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the EU. We also have to remember that the Leu tends to weaken against the Euro, although recent events might have changed that (thanks, Switzerland!). I know you will groan when I say this, but many rural Romanians still grow their own corn and potatoes, get delicious eggs from their free range hens, keep a cow for milk and are fattening a pig which will become slanina, sausages and much more. Did I mention vin domestic? So I suspect they would be shocked by the prices you “city slickers” are paying in Bucharest. You should forget that city life and move full-time to your rural house. Keep a pig, some chickens, some goats, use their manure in your vegetable garden. Romania is blessed with some of the most fertile soil in the world, or at least it was… You can still do that Internet business out there, can’t you? On my many visits to Romania, I would always ask a local, “Where can I get some cheese/wine/potatoes/eggs?” The local would usually say, “Oh, go to so-and-so, but don’t pay any more than X000 lei!” I guess they didn’t want their neighbors to get too rich off me. For me, it was always difficult to take Romanian prices seriously. Everything cost “a few” thousand Lei which was ridiculously cheap in Euros (yes, that was way back before they chopped off a lot of zeros).

    • Indeed, Stuart, you have some great points here! Romania produces no olive oil and it makes sense to have it more expensive, since it’s imported. I used what I am eating, though, to make the comparison, and it appears that it might be cheaper in Spain.

      It is also true that most people in Romania have some extra help with the food from relatives living in the rural areas and they get more or less for free, greatly reducing the costs. I also believe that people in Spain might have some tricks up their sleeves, too, but an expat might have some trouble taking advantage of these offers.

      Regarding the zeroes they have cut… I still always find myself adding the zeroes back to the new lei, in my mind, to understand the sums we’re talking about – especially when talking about large sums. Tell me something is 13,450 lei and it might take me some time to realize how much that really is :))

  5. Calin: I came across this. I thought it might be interesting comparing “costly countries.”
    Below are the 15 countries with the highest costs of living, according to Numbeo’s data. The living costs in each country are measured against a base of 100, which represents New York City’s cost of living. For instance, the data show that living in Switzerland is just over 26% more expensive than living in New York City.
    1. Switzerland – 126.03
    2. Norway – 118.59
    3. Venezuela – 111.01
    4. Iceland – 102.14
    5. Denmark – 100.60
    6. Australia – 99.32
    7. New Zealand – 93.71
    8. Singapore – 93.61
    9. Kuwait – 92.97
    10. United Kingdom – 92.19
    11. Ireland – 92.09
    12. Luxembourg – 91.78
    13. Finland – 89.68
    14. France – 88.37
    15. Belgium – 87.22

    For more maps on the cost of living around the world, check out Movehub’s full infographic. This is the link, I think;-)
    ~Teil (USA)

    • I spend a lot of time on Numbeo, but their numbers are a bit off in some cases. I know I have checked prices in Romania and they weren’t very accurate, but not completely off either. However, in lack of something else, they are good for guidance.

    • Interesting comparison. I’m surprised Germany or Japan doesn’t make it on the expensive list. When I clicked on the MoveHub link, I saw the list of “cheapest” countries to live in. There at the sixth cheapest was Moldova, a mainly Romanian-speaking country. I know it’s not your (C.) area of expertise, but what potential does Moldova have as a retirement or cheap-living destination?

      • Moldova is known as a cheap country, indeed, but I unfortunately don’t know much about it. They are basically divided in two: pro-Russians and pro-Europe, with the latter winning the latest elections in the country. However, since they are not in the European Union, it would probably be a bit more difficult to retire there. Sorry I don’t know more.

  6. I think this means we have been on the right track. Mostly eating at home with fresh cheap products purchased from the supermarket. My good fortune is having someone who loves to cook and is thrifty. When l think of how much l used to spend in Los Angeles prior to meeting him compared to now, the difference is staggering. I didn’t cook and ate out at least two meals a day. My weekly restaurant bill exceeded 250 dollars per week, and l was single! :-). So much wasted money!

    • I think that anywhere in the world (except for maybe SE Asia, based on what I heard), eating out will kill your budget. As somebody who did taste Fede’s food, I can say that it beats all restaurants out there, so it’s a win-win situation for sure πŸ™‚

  7. Hi C. The Romanian,

    This is Damian. Do you remember me? I posted on another blog about cheap countries, and you were on there. I really liked your posts, by the way.

    I was very interested in a finding a place that is cheap around the world to live, as I plan on living nomadic lifestyle. I was banking on Taiwan, but never made it. Because of the virus, I really can’t go anywhere now, even though I have the money to do so.

    I hear that Argentina has become very cheap in recent years. I will be checking into that.

    I’d like to go to Argentina, Taiwan, India, Turkey, or somewhere cheap in Eastern Europe.

    You’re right about eating out in restaurants: Southeast Asia is about it. Perhaps street food in Taiwan? Probably pretty cheap? Street food is cheap in Ukraine, India, and Turkey all would be pretty cheap, I would think. But eating out in restaurants is pretty much expensive everywhere these days, save a few places here and there around the world.

    A real pleasure to see you again.

    Take good care.

    • Thank you for the new comment, Damian. I hope that this will be over sooner rather than later and that you’ll be able to resume your travels. I remember being in Turkey several years ago and I considered the food to be pretty expensive. Sure, we were on holiday (so in a resort-type of town). Things might be different in less touristy places. The good thing with Turkey right now is that due to inflation, the $ is very, very strong – or at least that is what I heard.

  8. I don’t think comparing a French supermarket in Bucharest and Malaga is the same thing. Here in Braşov the French supermarket near us is a sort of luxury experience and has premium prices to match. We only go there for convenience; we normally shop in the market, which is often 50% cheaper! In Spain, where I lived for 15 years, the French supermarkets are just normal places to shop for food and are in fierce competition with locally-owned grocery chains.

    • When I made this comparison, I wanted to compare apples to apples. I see that there are Lidl stores now in Spain, and I will try to make a similar comparison if possible.

      However, Carrefour has all sorts of prices – from higher-end ones to local brands which are cheaper. And that is what I have compared – the local brands, whose price is comparable, in Romania, with those in Lidl and other discount shops (see milk, eggs, flour, sugar, meat and other foods).

  9. A little January 2023 update. I’ve just arrived in Timisoara a few days ago, and I’m finding prices basically the same as in Valencia, Spain where I arrived from. Hostels, food (local food), etc.

    Some things are actually *more* expensive, like coffee, cheese, wine, and more – all local varieties at supermarkets. What’s more, apparently trains are quite cheap, but buses can be even more expensive than Spain.

    Frankly, I didn’t expect it at all (much like the author was in disbelief when they told him the same), and mostly because of this, I need to be leaving fairly soon. I didn’t see this coming at all.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Jay! I will use your confirmation in the article when I will update it (as the prices for both countries are now a bit off).

      I am surprised to see that buses are now more expenses than in Spain as I remember a trip to be 1.5 Euros, while in Romania it is 3 lei (around 0.6 Euros).

      I am sorry this didn’t work well for you, but it proves, once again, that it is REALLY important to visit the country you want to move to before making the more permanent commitment.


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