One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to live abroad, especially in your 20s or 30s. I don’t want to repeat the cliche line about discovering yourself through travel. What I will say is that living alone in another country will significantly shape your understanding of the world.
In the fall of 2015, I packed my giant suitcase and moved to Madrid. After I studied abroad in Spain 3 years prior, all I could think about was returning to the country. I fell in love with the culture and the leisurely lifestyle. There was one obstacle that stood in my way: money.
Despite having a near-empty bank account, I wanted to see the world and was determined to make it work. With a little savvy and discipline, I moved to Madrid and lived on less than $600/month for almost a year. I want to show you that long-term travel is attainable even on a tight budget.
Becoming an English Teacher
Teaching English is one of the easiest ways to move abroad. There will always be a demand for English teachers. English is the language of business and the ‘default’ language of the world. Countries need to have a population that is proficient in English to compete in the global economy. That’s why countries like South Korea offer English teachers amazing perks, such as accommodation, transportation assistance, and a very generous salary.
I found out about a Spanish government program that places 3,000 Americans in Spanish schools every year. It’s called the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program, or Auxiliares de Conversación. In a nutshell, if you’re a college grad and a native English speaker without a criminal record, you can qualify for this program.
Spain’s program isn’t nearly as lucrative as South Korea’s, but the low cost of living makes up for it. The application for the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program opens every January and closes in April. If you’re interested, apply on the day it opens so you have a higher chance of being placed at your top location.
My Monthly Budget
My monthly salary was exactly 1000 euros. That may seem small, but it’s enough to live comfortably in Spain. Luckily, my school paid me on time every month, but some teachers at other schools were paid as much as two months late. It’s important to be aware that the Spanish government is notorious for being disorganized. Even getting your TIE (foreigner card) could be a headache. Regardless, many English teachers renew for 3 or more years because living Spain is so addicting.
Rent (including utility bills and internet): 360 euros
Before moving to Madrid, I researched its neighborhood. Then, I went on Piso Compartido and Easy Piso to search for apartments that would be available when I arrived. At the time, you could rent a room in a piso, or a flat, for 200-400 euros typically. Things are different now. During my visit to Madrid in the summer of 2018, I learned that apartment prices had skyrocketed.
Cell phone plan: 25 euros
Spain has many low-cost cell phone carriers. Movistar, Yoigo, Orange, Vodafone are among the most popular. I bought a SIM card from a small company called Tuenti and enrolled in their pay as you go plan for $25/month.
Groceries: 80 euros
Groceries are ridiculously cheap in Spain. That’s because the country produces most of its food. You can buy a gallon of water for 30 euro cents! A carton of milk costs as little as 50 euro cents. A bag of premade paella will be around 3-4 euros. I cooked my own food 90 percent of the time and paid 20 euros per week for all the groceries I needed.
Leisure/Entertainment: 60 euros
The great thing about Madrid that there lots of bars where you can grab a caňa, a glass of beer, for 1-2 euros. Eating out is affordable too, and there is a long list of activities you can do for free.
Total Expenses: 525 euros = $582.75 (based on 2016 exchange rates)
Money left over: 475 euros = $527.25
With the remaining money, I traveled around Spain and Europe. I used a rideshare service called Bla Bla Car to save money on transportation in Spain. Case in point: I went from Barcelona to Madrid (one-way) for 25 euros. Taking Renfe, the national train system, would cost 80-200 euros depending on when you book it.
I hope you’ve seen that moving abroad is possible even if you’re broke. Don’t let money be the reason you put off what could be one of the greatest experiences of your life.
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