Beyond ‘Caro’: How to Say ‘Expensive’ in Spanish

If you type ‘expensive’ into your preferred translation app, the words ‘caro’ and ‘costoso’ are sure to pop up.

And, well, those are the two most common ways of saying ‘expensive‘ in Spanish (and you can use them in LITERALLY ANY Spanish-speaking country to boot!)

Perfect, so nothing else to see here, right?

Wrong! Just as in English, there are LOADS of different synonyms of ‘caro‘ (‘expensive‘), so if you wanna sound like a native and/or be able to express EXACTLY what you’re thinking, then it’s well worth learning another couple of words/phrases.


These are the most “common” ways of saying ‘expensive’ in Spanish –

1. caro = expensive

Llegó caro el recibo de la luz. = The latest electricity bill was expensive.

2. costoso = costly / expensive

Nuestro viaje fue más costoso de lo planeado. = Our trip was more costly than we’d planned.

There are also some fun slang phrases, such as ‘cuesta un ojo de la cara’, which is akin to the English phrase ‘it costs an arm and a leg’

Mi auto nuevo costó un ojo de la cara. = My new car cost an arm and a leg.

Oh, and if you’re more visually inclined, here’s an infographic of ALL the different words/phrases ranked by “strength” (i.e., exactly how expensive they imply something is!) –

Infographic ranking all the different words for "expensive" in Spanish

Caro – Expensive

‘Caro’ means ‘expensive’ in Spanish and it’s your definite go-to adjective to describe something that you feel is a wee bit overpriced.

En el supermercado

Andrea – ¿Quieres llevar algo de salmón para la cena?

Sabrina – Ay, no sé…Siento que está muy caro…*

Andrea – Es tu cumpleaños, ¡consiéntete un poco!

At the supermarket

Andrea – Do you wanna bring some salmon for dinner?

Sabrina – Oh, I don’t know … it’s kinda expensive

Andrea – It’s your birthday, pamper yourself a little!

Rupert’s pro tip –it’s expensive‘ normally translates to ‘es caro‘ (with the verb ‘ser‘), but in everyday spoken Spanish you might also hear the phrase ‘está caro‘ (with the verb ‘estar‘).

And what’s the difference?

Well, we normally use ‘SER’ WITH “PERMANENT ” CHARACTERISTICS, so ‘es caro‘ is used to say that something is intrinsically expensive; I’d say this is also the one you should 100% plump for if you’re not sure which to choose!

Está caro‘, on the other hand, is more of a personal, subjective reaction to the fact that something’s expensive!

As such, you’ll often hear it used when the price of something has recently changed (and is now more expensive!) or if the speaker wasn’t expecting the item in question to be as expensive as it is!

Carísimo – Very expensive

Ah, superlatives … if you immerse yourself in the Spanish language as spoken by native speakers, you’ll hear them at every turn!

And, well, you’ll DEFINITELY hear people use ‘carísimo’ when they deem something to be SUPER expensive.

Cartoon illustrating the difference between "caro" and "carísimo"

En el mercado

Polo – ¡Qué caro está el aguacate!

Jesús – ¿Cuál caro? ¡Carísimo!

At the market

Polo – That avocado is so expensive!

Jesús – Expensive? It’s exorbitant!

A very popular Mexican expression is ‘carísimo de París’, which is just a fun way of – jokingly – saying that something is too lavish or over-priced.

For example –

Federico – ¿Qué tal está esa nueva cafetería? ¿La recomiendas?

Fabiola – ¡Uy, está carísima de París! Pero lo vale.

Federico – How’s that new coffee place? Do you recommend it?

Fabiola – Jeez, it cost me a pretty penny! But it was worth it.

Costoso – Costly

If you wanna say ‘costly’, its equivalent in Spanish is ‘costoso’.

Mariano – ¿Ese casco es nuevo?

Víctor – Sí…el motociclismo es un pasatiempo costoso, ¡No me juzgues!

Mariano – Is that a new helmet?

Victor – Yeah … motorcycling is a costly hobby. Don’t judge me!

Prohibitivo – Prohibitively expensive

Yep, you guessed it … ‘prohibitivo‘ is the Spanish equivalent of ‘prohibitive‘.


¿Ya viste el aumento al precio de la gasolina este mes? ¡Está prohibitivo!

Have you seen how much gas prices have increased this month? It’s prohibitive

Rupert’s pro tip – if you want to say that something’s “too expensive”, you can use the phrase ‘es/está demasiado caro‘.

We use ‘es demasiado caro‘ when talking about something intrinsically expensive (like a luxury villa or a super nice car!), while ‘está demasiado caro‘ is used to express your own subjective opinion as to how expensive something is.

So, if you’re REALLY irked and/or surprised by the price of something, plump for ‘está‘ … but in most other situations ‘es demasiado caro‘ is normally the phrase to opt for!

Inasequible – Unaffordable

‘Inasequible’ literally translates as ‘unattainable’, but in the context of money or finance it’s more similar in meaning to ‘unaffordable’.

Hijo – Siento que nunca voy a poder costear un auto. ¡Incluso los financiamientos están inasequibles!

Madre – Ay, mijo, ¿te podemos ayudar en algo?

Padre – Podríamos ayudarte con el enganche…piénsalo.

Son – I feel like I’ll never be able to afford a car. Even with financing, it’s just unaffordable!

Mother – Oh, son, can we help you with something?

Father – We could help you with the down payment … mull it over.

Impagable – Unaffordable

Another way of saying ‘unaffordable’ is ‘impagable’ (literally, ‘unpayable’).

Marco – ¿Ya compraste los boletos para el concierto?

Noelia – ¡Lo intenté pero están impagables! No sé si usar la tarjeta de crédito…

Marco – Did you buy the tickets for the concert?

Noelia – I tried but they’re unbelievably expensive! I don’t know whether to use the credit card …

Oneroso – Costly

‘Oneroso’ is a rather fancy way to say ‘costly’ or ‘expensive’.

Nowadays, few people use this word in everyday speech, but you’ll 100% find it in literature, articles, and other written texts.

Oh, and ‘oneroso’ is also a synonym of ‘burdensome’ or ‘heavy’, so don’t be surprised if you come across it in other contexts too!

Fragmento de un artículo sobre finanzas personales

Contratar un seguro contra daños puede parecer oneroso, pero las cuentas derivadas de robos o siniestros como terremotos e inundaciones pueden resultar mucho más costosas.

A fragment of an article on personal finance

Purchasing home insurance may seem onerous, but bills caused by theft or accidents such as earthquakes and floods can be much more expensive.

Cariñoso (Mexican slang) – Expensive

Many words and phrases in Mexican slang are basically just plays on words.

Such is the case with ‘cariñoso’, which means ‘affectionate’ or ‘loving’ in English, but also shares its first few letters with ‘caro’

En un restaurante

Leticia – Ay, caray…Como que las bebidas aquí están muy cariñosas, ¿no?

Mina – Tranquila, yo te invité así que, ¡la cuenta va por mí!

In a restaurant

Leticia – Jeez … the drinks here are a bit pricey, aren’t they?

Mina – Relax, I invited you so it’s my treat!

Cuesta un ojo de la cara / Sale en un ojo de la cara (colloquial) – It costs an arm and a leg

Whilst something expensive metaphorically ‘costs an arm and a leg’ to English speakers, it costs ‘un ojo de la cara’ to those who speak Spanish.

Either way, you’re gonna be paying with body parts!

¿Ya viste la etiqueta? ¡Cuesta un ojo de la cara!

Have you seen the price tag? It costs an arm and a leg!

You might also hear it phrased as ‘sale en un ojo de la cara’

Damian – ¡Qué lindo suéter! ¿Es nuevo?

Karina – Sí, lo compré el viernes. Me salió en un ojo de la cara

Damian – What a nice sweater! Is it new?

Karina – Yeah, I bought it on Friday. It cost me an arm and a leg

Man saying, "¡Páganos!" while his friend points at his eye

Por las nubes (colloquial) – Sky-high

Finally, when a person says that the price of something is ‘por las nubes’ (or literally ‘through the clouds’ in English), it’s akin to saying that the price is ‘sky-high’.

¿Vas a hornear? Recuerda que el precio del gas está por las nubes ahorita.

Are you going to bake something? Remember that the price of gas is sky-high at the moment.

Before you go …

Now that you know exactly how to say that something’s expensive, well, you should probably also check out our article on all the different ways to ask HOW MUCH SOMETHING COSTS!

I mean, they do kinda go hand in hand 😉

¡Hasta pronto!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

And some cheeky vids ...

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