- Focus on exploring Madrid rather than traveling farther afield. There are many cheap and free things to do around the city.
- If you're keen to eat out often, focus on lunchtime menús del día which include a drink, first and second course, and a dessert for a low price.
- Students under 26 are entitled to a cheap monthly transportation pass (abono) good for travel on bus, rail, and metro around the community of Madrid.
- Because Spanish culture focuses on enjoying life at a slow pace, do not expect to be rushed out of restaurants or cafes after you finish your food and/or drink. Even in Madrid, you can spend time savoring a coffee for hours on an outdoor terrace while catching up with friends.
- Applying for scholarships can help to defray the costs related to studying abroad in Madrid.
Spain remains one of the greatest study abroad destinations, and its capital, Madrid, offers a blend of many of the aspects that make the country so popular. With its rich culture, history, and unique energy, the city consistently draws international students from around the world. Of course, for those students, dreaming of studying abroad in Madrid is easy, but paying for it is another issue.
The cost of living in Madrid may not be as high as in some of Europe’s other major cities, but it can still be daunting. During the six months I studied in Madrid as a junior in college, I found new temptations for spending my money compared to being back on campus, such as Spanish pastries and trips to neighboring countries. Beyond learning Las Sevillanas and perfecting my vosotros conjugations, I had to pick up ways to better manage my money. Fortunately, with some savvy, study abroad in Madrid on a budget is very doable. Below are tips and resources that should make the undertaking more feasible.
Apply for scholarships
Budget-savvy students know: you don’t necessarily have to come up with the cost of studying abroad in Madrid by yourself.
There are grants and scholarships to be had for overseas studies in countries around the globe, Spain included. That said, finding such funding requires work on your part. Not only will you have to do your research, but you’ll also need to be prepared to complete applications. However, if you are willing to put in that extra effort, you may ultimately be rewarded.
(Pro-tip: Go Overseas offers scholarships for studying abroad throughout the year. You can always find the most recent scholarships being offered on the scholarships page.)
Be a savvy commuter
When you get to Madrid, you’ll quickly realize how well-connected the city is by public transit. Riding public transportation can add up quickly, though, so you’ll likely want to look into the abono.
The monthly Madrid transit pass works on buses and the metro, and it is especially cheap if you’re under 26. The youth pass costs €20 per month for unlimited rides in any zone, while the cheapest option, which only serves zone A1, costs about €55 if you’re 26 or older. This makes it a major perk for almost every student studying abroad in Madrid. Either way, you’ll need to evaluate your likely monthly usage to determine whether or not you’ll save money with the pass.
If you do qualify for the youth pass, I’d strongly recommend it; I enjoyed the freedom of being able to switch from bus to metro, especially as strikes are not uncommon. Sometimes, I’d even ride the bus with no destination in mind to check out new parts of the city. With the abono, it feels like you’re on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
Explore Madrid by foot
As useful as an abono can be, the pass is not necessarily an absolute must for the temporary Madrileño. In fact, the determined budget traveler can all but eliminate public transportation from the cost of living in Madrid.
Madrid is surprisingly walkable, and you’ll find that you can get between many destinations on foot about as conveniently as you can via metro or bus. That said, I can tell you from experience to be sure you have comfortable shoes, or you’ll live to regret your choices.
Savor local flavors, but eat out wisely
When in Madrid, don’t miss out on the chance to try the delicious food. You won’t have to break the bank. The menú del día often offers the best value because it allows you to enjoy multiple courses for a set price. Generally priced at around 10 euros, this daily deal includes a drink (alcoholic or not), first and main courses, and a dessert. Most restaurants have them and it's a great option to have a quality meal and also leave full and happy.
When you’re not looking for the full dining out experience, you can opt for bars that serve drinks with free tapas. You’ll get to eat, drink, and be merry at a reasonable cost. Additionally, another great option I always enjoyed was buying food at a market and having a makeshift picnic in a park or plaza.
Enjoy cafés and conversation
If you want to catch up with friends, activities like going out for drinks or dinner or catching a movie can quickly get expensive and blow your student budget.
Fortunately, Madrid has cafés everywhere, and you can take your time enjoying a chat over a café con leche or another relatively inexpensive treat. Spaniards are used to customers savoring the experience, so waiters won’t chase you out the minute you’ve finished your drink, nor will they pressure you to buy more. Just make sure you remember to pay before you go; I almost forgot on multiple occasions because we sat so long that I assumed we’d already settled up.
Take advantage of cheap and free activities
Madrid is generally affordable, as a capital cities go, but there are still a good amount of cheap and free things to do which makes it easier to study abroad here. Madrid is full of beautiful buildings, plazas, and parks, so you can wander, people watch, or spend time with friends without spending a cent. If you can resist buying, browsing outdoor markets like El Rastro is fun, as well.
Below are some ideas for cheap and free things to do while studying abroad in Spain's capital city.
- Public parks in this city can make you feel like you're miles away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Pack a picnic and hang out with friends in nature.
- Madrid is full of museums and while the majority charge an entrance fee, there are days and times where they are free to the public.
- Chain restaurants like 100 Montaditos (pronounced Cien Montaditos) and La Sureña have super cheap drinks and food for budget-conscious students who still want to have a night out.
Focus your exploration on Madrid
While the allure of other parts of Spain and Europe can be potent, make sure you take advantage of your time in budget-friendly Madrid itself. Weekend trips quickly get expensive, so staying in your temporary home city is a good option.
No matter how long you study abroad in Madrid, there will always be new places to explore. Making it your mission to really get to know the city will add layers to your cultural experience and also be better for your bank account.
Related: Can’t resist the chance to explore Spain? Here are the best day and weekend trips while you study abroad in Madrid.
Madrid makes studying on a budget easy
When I first arrived in Madrid, I was awed by the number of countries within easy reach. In short order, I became very familiar with Europe’s budget airlines and crossed a number of cities off my travel bucket list. However, my airfare, accommodations, food, and tourist activities added up, reminding me that I needed to be more budget-conscious. Fortunately, cutting down on my travel turned out to be a good thing; it gave me the chance to strengthen my bond with my host family, interact with locals, and deepen my knowledge of my then-adopted hometown.
It’s understandable to have concerns about the cost of studying abroad in Madrid (or anywhere, really), but fortunately Spain’s capital is a city full of affordable activities and events. You shouldn’t have to miss out on a life-changing experience when budgeting is so doable.