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 and nice people.

But is Romania really one of the cheapest countries in Europe?

In my previous article here on Romania Experience, I have shared with you our average monthly expenses in 2014 and the numbers are indeed pretty low by Western or US standards at around $1,400 per month for a family of three.

But then Kemi from Next Bite of Life commented on an article saying that our costs are similar to her monthly living costs in Spain.

I know they are also similar to what she used to pay in Malta when she lived there for a year and I have friends who said that they also spend a similar amount of money 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 a lot of expenses.

But again, that was not enough for me, so I have decided to do some investigations on my own. 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.

So I went for Spain, a branch of the particular supermarket in Malaga, and the same store in Romania. I was shocked to find the prices.

Here are some direct price comparisons based on identical products. Where I wasn’t able to find the same product, I always looked for the cheapest option.

And I can confirm that the Romanian prices are indeed what you should expect to see when you go shopping (the price on left are the prices in Spain):

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 still saw that not all food is more expensive in Romania: most of the fresh products here like fruit and vegetables are cheaper and the same goes for bread.

However, I did not check out the promotions and discounts – since these can vary, and I didn’t check the cheapest supermakerts in Spain.

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 are so.

And I really can’t explain how come this is even possible: the average wage in Romania is a mere 391 Euros, while in Spain we’re talking about 1734 Euros.

Are food prices really that high 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 (2.22 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 (4 Euros). Finally, you can get a decent meal at a decent restaurant for 30 lei (6.70 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’s true that Spain is going through some tough times now, with the country still affected by the recession and the unemployment rates really high, but Romania hasn’t been great either.

16 COMMENTS

  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 🙂 Well… not now maybe when I am on a strict diet, but normally I would 🙂 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??? 🙂 . 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 🙂

  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 🙂

  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;-)
    http://www.movehub.com/blog/living-costs-world-map?fb_ref=Default&fb_source=message
    ~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.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here