Cheaper to rent in Barcelona and commute to London…

(NB: this was very hastily written, so I hope the logic flows – I just wanted to get it out…)

I think many people thought I was joking when I boldly declared it would be cheaper for me to rent a two bed flat in Barcelona and commute to London every day than get a one bed flat here. Turns out I was – I could in fact get a three bed flat.

I thought at least it would require some poetic licence or awkwardness or dodgy sums, but no. The only assumption I’m making here is my working a four-day week in London, with a day at home (i.e. in Barcelona). Here’s how it pans out:

So, zoopla informs me the average asking price for a one-bed flat in West Hampstead (chosen because I know and like the area, and seems not a stretch to suggest that a young professional may afford to live there) is £1,505:






For the purposes of bringing it to life, here’s a couple around that mark.

Throw in council tax (say £75) and a zone 1-2 travelcard for me to get to my job in the City (£116.80), and we get a total of £1,697. To make it a level playing field, let’s convert to euros at today’s exchange rate, and I’ve got 1,979€ a month to play with.

For Barcelona, I’ve looked in the Les Corts district because I used to live there, and being a fairly upmarket residential district, it’s a very decent and fair comparison to West Hampstead. There was no shortage of flats available, but I liked the look of this one here:

For those who don’t speak Spanish, it’s a three bedroom flat, with three balconies, a stone’s throw away from the metro, in a nice, safe area. This sets me back 680€ a month, and there’s no council tax in Spain. (There are of course cheaper flats. I’m trying to compare apples with apples – even in spite of the three bedrooms)

So, the commute… A cursory glance at Ryanair in November throws up returns from Barcelona to Stansted nearly every day for 34€ (seriously, check it).










It’s 6€ to and from Barcelona’s el Prat airport (and I can walk to the airport train in 5 minutes from that flat) and then £14 return to Liverpool Street with Terravision (so 23€ in total on transfers each day).

I can then walk to my desk by 9:30am, with time for a Pret coffee and bacon and cheese croissant en route.

So, to recap, we now have fixed commuting costs of 57€/day, 4 days a week, for 4 weeks a month, which gives us 912€. Add on our rent of 680€/month, and Barcelona’s total comes to 1,592€.

This still leaves me with 387€ free compared to my London life, with which to enjoy fine bottles of 5€ Rioja on one of my three balconies. Sigh.

74 thoughts on “Cheaper to rent in Barcelona and commute to London…

  1. Cost is cheaper, but commute time would be a killer. Not to mention being completely unable to have much of a social life as you’d have to leave London early to catch your return flight and the late Spanish nights out would clash with having to be up at 4am to be at the airport in time to catch your flight the next morning. Never mind notorious plane delays etc.

  2. It does mean spending 4 hours a day with Ryanair though. I don’t know about you, but i think that would cause a massive drop in my quality of life!

  3. Or alternatively, why not rent a 3 bedroomed house in a cheaper part of London than NW6? For example, you could have one in Mitcham for about £1200 pcm. There might be a bit of extra commuting costs, but it’s still going to be cheaper than being in Barcelona.

  4. Obviously it’s not actually a practical living suggestion, but as a mathematical exercise and illustration of the cost of living in London, I think this is brilliant.

    • Sure it may be cheaper further out of London but it is not just that really and after all for now it is a purely hypothetical exercise.
      The upside would have to be the downtime at home relaxing in a lovely sunny Barcelona flat in the sun.

  5. The travel would be hard, yeah…but then you’d have three days a week hanging out in warm weather in a beautiful city where people place real value on their lives outside work. I think I’d go for it.

  6. People, I don’t think anyone is thinking of actually doing it. It is a way to highlight the utter absurdity of London property and rental prices. The prices aren’t just absurd – they are cruel. London rental costs are impoverishing many Londoners who have to be in the capital for work. Good humorous post on a not-so-humorous topic.

    • There are a lot of people in London (I know a couple) who live in France and get the train in. It’s not in any way unimaginable. Well, maybe it is…if you’re unimaginative.

  7. I also have a friend who flies for a well known airline who lives in Mayerhofen but flies out of Heathrow. It’s also a very common way to live in the merchant navy.

  8. I do not know life in London, but Barcelona is wonderful as is the region. I recommend polishing the Spanish, find a job in Barcelona and screw London. I would be there but I am not an EU citizen. Norman

  9. I am trying to make some calculations on the insanity that working and living in London now appears to be the case…If I take a yearly salary of £60,000 which I guess is the norm in the City, then after Tax at the different levels, National Insurance at 12.5%, and some Company Pension scheme, the actual yearly take home salary is not far of £30,000..if that person is renting the two bedroom flat in Hampstead which comes out at £24,216 pa, plus council tax of £2,500, he therefore pays £26,716 for living in Hampstead. This individual who earns a gross salary of £60,000 is therefore left with disposable yearly income of £3,284,which comes out at about £273.00 pcm….or £68.41 per week…Can anybody actually live on that amount..?..He or she would maybe be better chucking it all in, and going down the job centre, and getting the same weekly amount for signing in…Who are the idiots that are paying these vast sums in rent and rates..?

    • Take home from a 60k salary would be £41,736 without pension contributions. Even with a large (say 10%) salary sacrifice to the company pension scheme you’d still have a take home of £38,283. Still not a huge amount of spare cash with 24k of rent but probably just about manageable.

      • You forgot council tax, so rent and rates must still be about £26,500 ..?…Take that away from £38,283 and you still have just over £12,000 pa to live on, pay tube fares, and maybe go out…certainly does not leave much over for holidays, and saving for a mortgage..still think living and working in London sucks….

      • The gist of my comment is why the heck do people continue to come and live in London…? Apart from overpriced Hampstead, most migrants, and low paid workers live in grotty, but still overpriced accomodation, often in no go areas, where you would not want to walk around after dark…and to make it worse, they share, often 6 people to some tiny flat..common situation is ‘hot bunking’, where beds are vacated when different residents come back from their most of inner London, apart from the rich enclaves of Chelsea Kensington..and Hampstead..people are living much the same as they did in Dickens time…the only difference is the min wage is now £6,50 per hour, instead of 1/- an hour in 1850….

    • “can anybody actually live on that amount?” Actually yes, plenty of people live on far less! Don’t be such a snob! For example, I get £35 – £40 a week to cover everything after rent and bills eat most of my small monthly paycheck. People on job seekers actually get more like £50, but if you quit your job for no reason you wouldn’t likely qualify for job seekers anyway and housing benefits to help you with rent and bills would be an entirely seperate matter. There are doubtless plenty of people who exist on less money than I get from my job too.

      • Who are you to tell me my life is ‘bleak’ just because I can’t afford many DVDs?! When you can’t afford mass luxuries, you appreciate the ones you get a lot more. If I wondered around feeling sorry for myself like that all the time I’d never be happy!

      • …not to mention that if you go to cash exchange shops you can often get several DVD’s for under £10 so I could actually afford to buy them every now and then if I wanted.

  10. As a Scot living in Barcelona, I loved this. It’s true, as a tenant you don’t pay any council tax here – the landlord pays it. Another financial advantage here is that public transport is so cheap, and actually reliable. No pesky leaves on the line etc. Downside is the salaries in Spain are absymal, and forget any notion of a company pension or other benefits we take for granted in the UK.

  11. I think it’s an excellent idea, why not ? Barcelona is a wonderful city ,full of culture and history, not to mention the climate and the not to expensive tapas bars throughout the city. Go for it, you are not missing anything in London, it has always been a rip off city, and will continue to be as long as punters will keep on paying the prices. Good luck!

  12. There are now many people doing this, not just in Barcelona but across Spain. Lots of them do the “work from home” idea for three weeks a month and then go back for a week, once a month. This works really well. Living here in Barcelona, there is LOTS to be said for this approach. It is not just the weather, (although it is the 25th October 2013, 24 degrees and PURE blue sky as I look out the window) but the whole lifestyle. Thoroughly recommend it.

    Even the tax is not too big a problem. The caveat is that not everyone can benefit from this but there is an allowance for people living here who are employed by a company in another country, whereby the first 60,000€ is tax free!!!

  13. You may not get a company pension, however, as opposed to having a few quid that you can enjoy in your retirement, you do get to have a lifetime of good weather, nice living all the time you are working.

    Moved to Madrid 3 years ago, probably less secure, but much happier.

  14. With frequent flyer miles on top, I believe it would be a lot cheaper to live on a moving airplane than in London. What is it about this city that makes it a more expensive place to be in than a vessel that uses more energy to move than every other form of earthbound transportation combined?

  15. Interesting calculation, thanks! For those asking how people afford to live in London at the insane property prices we have – they share flats. If you’re single, you can get a 2-bed with a friend. A quick look on Zoopla shows a bunch at around 2k. Council tax also doesn’t go up proportionally. If you can find more than one person you’re willing to share with, it gets even “cheaper”. If you are in a relationship with two incomes then obviously you can get a one-bed, maybe even a more expensive but larger one.

    I’m not saying that it’s all OK, of course. London is insanely expensive. But there are workarounds. And in a large anonymous city, especially if you’ve moved there from outside, there are some advantages to having flatmates just from a loneliness-busting perspective.

  16. Yeah London can be a bit sucky when it comes to Rent etc…

    I guess I was lucky – found a 1 bedroom apartment for £920/month. With council tax, comes to about £1000, and I live in SE17, which is close enough for me to bike most places in the city centre within 30 minutes.

    it is expensive, but I guess the upside is the number of events, the meetups, connections etc that you can build up. I’m currently sitting in the southbank centre listening to live Jazz music for free. Earlier, I got a great wrap at the small food market behind southbank centre.

    I do think about moving to another country – especially with winter coming around, but I guess that you just have to make the most of it while you’re here. I’ve started to go to a martial arts class, and look out for things happening on timeout (I love cheap deals).

    London is alright, but I do think of my mum who lives next to the ocean in a two bedroom house in New Zealand, and pays about two thirds as much as I do for my one bedroom apartment. It all comes back to what you want in life. You always have to make sacrifices.

    • Landlords benefit of course. No one else is pocketing the rent. And the government passes off rising property prices as “growth”. What a joke.
      Workers wages aren’t rising because this is CAPITALISM. Wages never want up to meet people’a needs when more profit could be made instead. The business logic goes; why pay people more when there are plenty of unemployed clamouring for work who will do the job for less? Mass unemployment = race to bottom in wages, and finite housing supply creates market weighted in property owners favour. The proles are screwed.

      • This answers the question of who’s winning, but the question I can’t for the life of me answer is why don’t the losers just move (and stop being losers)? Pretty much everyone on this thread agrees that London is crazy unaffordable for people who aren’t super-rich. So just get a house and a job elsewhere! There are many other cities. They aren’t the capital, but they have almost all of the advantages. Look how the BBC relocated several departments. Easy. Cheaper for businesses. Cheaper for individuals. Get your life back.

        I go to London quite often. It isn’t *that* great. And it’s pretty easy to get to if you need to visit occasionally, I don’t know, to go to the Harry Potter Tour or something.

        Surely that’s how a free market is supposed to work. But what does London have a monopoly on? Apart from the unpleasant banking sector. So the rich can afford to stay, but once all the bar staff and cleaners and burger-flippers have left it won’t be so fun…surely rents would even out a bit.

        I know it’s an old thread, but a BBC news article pointed here, and I’ve been wondering this for a while.

    • Not sure if you lot living in London are aware that a massive storm is approaching the country from the Atlantic…guess tonight even living in some grotty Bed Sitter or run down Council Estate with broken lifts. drug dealers, area boys running around beating up anybody they do not like, graffiti, overweight unmarried mothers blocking passage ways with their prams…you will at least be safe from falling trees, roof’s crashing in, power cuts, flooding…maybe I will try to check into some North London Estate tonight….

  17. While commuting daily is not realistic, if you only have a 4 day workweek, it should be possible to commute for that, and use cheap hotels, or couch surf for 3 nights a week, though I have no idea how much even cheap hotels in London are these days…

  18. i just thought as I do not speak London Rasta, nobody will take me in tonight…will just have to ride out the storm on my own….

  19. As a comparison for transport costs, a few years ago I flew 23,000 miles from London to Singapore and 4 Australian cities and home again for less money than the cost of my annual zones 1-5 travel card (where I worked out that I cover about 6,000 miles a year). I live out in zone 6 now where it’s actually possible to buy a place.

    London property prices are being driven by foreign investors looking for somewhere safe to dump their money. In London you can basically charge whatever you like to renters, so there is a constant increase in prices for landlords to keep up with each other. So renters are ultimately pouring vast sums of money into foreign economies and not into the UK. There are also people who have lived in London for decades in what is now probably a £2million house, but they are cash poor and the actual cost of selling the house could well make them worse off than they currently are, unless they move a long way out of London. It’s ridiculous.

      • Here is a prime example of the acceleration in foreign investors. Can someone please explain to me why people in Malaysia are buying up flats in Croydon?

        “Thus at the start of September, Berkeley Homes launched Saffron Square, Croydon, in Kuala Lumpur off plan; it is not due for completion until 2016. Knight Frank is currently in Hong Kong selling flats in Canning Town, a development called Hallsville Quarter. Hamptons International is selling the Aberfeldy Village development in Poplar, due for completion in autumn 2015, at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.”

      • This is all part of the insanity that dictates the UK economy…From Chinese/French companies now owning and controlling our energy generation system, major foreign investors owning over 60% of UK listed FTSE Companies, to Cameron/Johnson opening the floodgates to millions of Middle Class Chinese to settle in London…to Malay people now buying up Croydon…it is the last gasp of a dysfunctional country..that is Trillion Pounds in debt, with a creaking NHS on the point of collapse, social welfare spending still going stratospheric,, an apparent shortage of 300,000 affordable houses, and the housing associations being close to bankrupt…and many old people not knowing whether to stay warm and go hungry, or keep fed and go cold….and yet with all this social distress Cameron has to get on his moral high horse and give away £12 billion a year in foreign largess..if you read Alice Through The Looking Glass, you will see a reflection of the topsy turvey country that is now the UK…or shortly just Scotland wants to opt out of this madness…

  20. I was working on a project for the DWP a while ago and their union rep lived in Malaga and commuted to London. Although, he stayed in London during the week (four days) and spent three days a week in Malaga. And I’ll say it again – he was the union rep.

    • If I was you, would be better to get a job local to where you are, rather than being ripped off by some greedy landlord..

  21. I worked something like this out when moving to northwestern Italy in 2007. I have 1600 square feet in a 1600s building for €800 rent/month. The commute time is longer as I am an hour or so from each airport. But I don’t need to be in an office everyday.

    The somewhat off part here though Jack is that it will be €38 round trip. In November yes; not in July or August though.

    But I agree the greater point here is to illustrate what a rip off London is.

  22. Just thought I’d point out that since not every month has exactly 4 weeks, it’s actually more accurate to do €57/day times 4 days a week, times 52 weeks and divide by 12 months which actually comes to €988, plus rent = €1668. Still cheaper than to rent in London so the point still stands but thought I’d mention it.

  23. I live in Malta and used to fly to UK Sunday night and back again on Friday morning. Your timings are ok but very dependent on clearing customs in UK in a timely fashion, which you probably would in November but probably not in May through September.

  24. If you only fly back and forth once a week and get some really cheap hotel room for the three nights a week (or, even better, the co-usage of a flat of a co-worker who doesn’t mind on weekdays but wants the flat for himself on weekends) this might be really feasible, and not too time-consuming either.

  25. There’s a few things that should be put into context. First, Spain is in the midst of a deep housing market crisis which has caused real state and rental prices to plummet. Not so long ago, a flat like the one in Les Corts wouldn’t be found for less than 1000€. Whenever the crisis is finally over (it should end at some point!) rental prices are sure to rise, particularly considering that tax and utility bills are seeing sharp increases.

    About the weather, there’s no discussion that it’s much better in Barcelona. But it’s becoming warmer with every passing year. This October in particular has been exceptional with record highs. If this goes on, London should also see some substantial improvement in weather at some point. Just saying.

    Salaries were already low before the crisis, particularly for highly qualified 20-somethings with little experience. They’re even lower now. If you’re considering keeping your job in London and telework from Barcelona, keep in mind that after the first year or so you must start paying taxes in Spain under the rather awful Autonómos regime with its annoying bureaucracy and inflexible high taxes. Or you could choose not to declare your earnings, in which case you’d become a parasite of the Spanish system, using our hospitals, roads, public transportation, etc. without contributing to them. Better options would be to join a start-up or even start one of your own, or just get a regular job if you’re willing to sacrifice your salary.

    Some of you mention tapas bars. I hate to break it to you, but tapas aren’t local food. They’re typical of many parts of Spain, but not of any of the Eastern territories (Catalonia, Valencia, Balearics). If you associate eating out in Barcelona with tapas, then you obviously haven’t passed past the eateries-for-tourists stage. It doesn’t matter if virtually every restaurant in the Born area has tapas in its menu. There’s also many burgers and japanese and whatnot, yet they don’t become local just for by virtue of there being many of them. Torrades, cuina de mercat, calçotades, escalivades i esqueixades, arrossos, these are truly local.

  26. Hi there, my name is Masha Kuzmenko, I am a producer on a new show called ‘Going Underground’ on RT TV, based in London. We would like to feature your findings on our show. It would be great to have you say a few words on it via Skype. Please get in touch with me on

  27. I can get from Gracia to El Prat for the price of one journey on my T-10, about 0.98€!
    The Gatwick or Heathrow equivalent fares are astronomical in comparison!

  28. This is actually happening in other parts of the world. I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city. Thousands of people commute from other states (Penang, Ipoh, Malacca, Seremban) every day via flight and self-drive. That’s practically 6-8 hours on commute time everyday, 5 days a week! But they wont have it any other way as they need the luxury of a big home to sleep in. Property prices are simply just ridiculous now; so a little sacrifice gets you the best of both worlds

  29. Its what we do, Although not in Spain but France, Also we only commute every two weeks back to the UK so its not as bad.

    I love London, Born and Bred British but if you want a decent quality of life then you need to start thinking outside of the box.

    The commute is great time to spend reflecting, reading or cut off from technology which is a relief when I spend so much time online.

    The price is about the same but I live in a warmer country with more room than the Queen and get to enjoy many benefits that two countries offer compared to living in one.

  30. I currently live near Brussels and commute on a weekly basis, leaving home at 5.30am local time, in the office for 9.30am, then back on Friday leaving at 1.30pm and home in time for a few beers at my local pub. During the week I stop in a hotel in London.

    Total costs around £300 per week, 3 weeks out of 4, but not doing this for financial reasons

    PS Sam, I think we’re related through our great grandfather – contact me for details if your interested in family history

  31. Maybe you can go to live in Girona, the airport is near the city. And it’s so beautiful Girona…. and cheaper than Barcelona

  32. Hi guys,

    Very interesting article and comments!

    I’m actually thinking of relocating myself and Barcelona would definitely be on top of my list. I’m originally French but have lived and worked (yeah, some French people do work!) in London for almost 6 years now. While I’ve really enjoyed meeting great people with such varied backgrounds and histories and making a number of amazing experiences, I now find myself almost constantly questioning the point of staying here. And it isn’t only a matter of money.

    Yes, London is outrageously expensive but I consider myself to be financially ok. I have a decent job and rent a 1-bed flat for around £1,300 a month in SW London, so I guess I’m some sort of average young professional. But I feel my life expectancy shortens every morning as I’m squeezed on the train, the tube, the queue at Pret when I’m buying lunch or can’t even get a seat back on the train when I’m leaving the office at 7 pm… I probably sound like I’m 60 but I’m in my early thirties in case some of you wonder.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that there comes a time in life when you have to ask yourself if a few extra hundreds a month are worth ruining your health or whether you might be better off leading a slightly more relaxed lifestyle and enjoying going for tapas or to the beach after work, even if this would in most cases imply a serious salary sacrifice!

    I’d be interested to hear about more people who relocated to Barcelona after living in London for a while or managed to negotiate working from home in Barcelona for a company based in London. We live in a globalised world after all and office space is expensive too in London so I guess quite a few companies wouldn’t mind saving a few quid!


  33. I live and work in Barcelona and having lived in London for six years I can definitely say I’m a lot happier here. We have sunshine, the sea, mountains, great people, diverse nightlife, and a much higher quality of life than in the UK. Oh, and most Catalans speak English to a good level. So it begs the question; why bother with thieving old London when you can have it this good elsewhere?

  34. Pingback: Five alternative ways to commute in London – Now. Here. This. – Time Out London

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