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. 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.
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 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.
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 then the same supermarket, but this time in Romania. I was shocked to look at 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.
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 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 the bread.
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, not imported – are more expensive.
I also did not check out the promotions and discounts – since these can vary, and I didn’t check the cheapest supermakerts in Spain where prices might be lower, evening things around.
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 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 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 really comes as a shocking surprise for me, and makes it a bit cleared why so many Romanians immigrate to Spain.
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.
[2019 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. 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 overall: rent 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.