Is childcare affordable in Spain? Hint: 96% enrolment rate
childcare for all?
Questions about affordability of childcare invariably come up whenever there is a discussion revolving around cost-of-living comparisons between different countries.
How expensive is childcare in Spain? It’s a question that invariably comes up whenever there is a discussion revolving around cost-of-living comparisons between different countries. And it’s known to be a topic of special attention for Americans visiting Spain or contemplating a move to Europe.
A recent article on MarketWatch.com offers some clues as to the reasons for this heightened interest. Citing the conclusions of a new report by the Bank of America Institute, the article noted that rising childcare costs in the US were making families with kids pull back their spending.
“Nationally, families spent an average of more than $700 a month on childcare in September,” wrote MarketWatch. “Some cities have seen average childcare expenses rise at a faster rate than the national average,” it added. “Tampa, Fla., had the fastest growth in childcare expenses in September; the pace was 12% faster than the national level. Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas and Seattle followed.”
So, how does this compare to Spain?
By the numbers
The percentage of 3-5 year-old children in early childhood and primary education in Spain is one of the highest among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and its partner nations.
According to OECD data, Spain has close to full enrolment in early childhood education at 96% of 3 to 5-year-olds. To put it in context compared to some other European countries, this is higher than in Sweden (95%), Germany and the Netherlands (both at 93%) and Portugal (90%). It’s the same number as in Denmark (96%), but two percentage points lower than in Belgium (98%).
Based on the data compiled by Statista.com, there were approximately 1.6 million children enrolled in public preschools in Spain during in 2022/2023. That total was almost twice the number of children enrolled in private preschool establishments.
Two stages of preschool
Overall, Spain is known for its high-quality child care services and their affordability, but costs can vary depending on various factors such as the region, type of care, and the age of the child.
The latter is particularly important, since daycare services – and related expenses — fall into two main age groups and two stages of preschool education: 0 to 3, and 3 to 6.
For babies and tots aged from around three months to three years old there are nursery schools, or guarderías, and those could be either public of private. This early phase is the one where expenses tend to be higher, since, unlike the second stage, it is not free.
State-run nurseries are subsidized by the government and are considered to be low-cost, but the fees depend greatly on the parents’ income. Based on the income factor, as well as the region, the expenses in public nurseries can range anywhere from as little as €40 to €400 a month at the high end. Private nurseries, however, are more expensive, starting from €400 and running up to at least twice that amount.
The second phase of preschool (segundo ciclo) that covers children aged 3 to 6 is highly popular in Spain. A significant majority of parents are sending their children to what is known as escuela infantil (kindergarten or “infant school”). Public kindergartens are run by the Ministry of Education and local authority. Private preschools are also available.
Experts point out that when assessing affordability of childcare in Spain it’s important to remember that this second stage of preschool education – ages 3 to 6 — is completely free if you choose the public option. A typical infant school day runs from 9 am to 4:30 pm, with a two-hour lunch break around midday. They can have lunch at school, or, if it’s convenient for parents, they can go home to eat.
Of course, if parents choose to send their children to a private kindergarten there will be a monthly fee to pay. But even the cost of the private option is relatively reasonable at roughly €500 per month per child, with certain variations based on regions and the range of services.
In one example of cost-of-living comparisons with other countries, Welcome-Estates.com, a real estate company with extensive experience in Spain, calculates that “On average, childcare in Spain is 68.9% less expensive than in the UK.”