Moving to Barcelona – A guide to Living and Working in Catalonia’s Capital

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Living and working in Barcelona – a dream of many. For me, this dream came true in 2016. Because since then I live in this fascinating Catalan city. But what should you actually know about the city and life in it before moving to Barcelona?

In this article, I would like to share my experience of living in Barcelona as an expat. What is important to be able to live in Barcelona, and what else should you know? This and more you will learn in the following lines.

How is it like living in Barcelona, Spain?

In contrast to my former life in Germany, everyday life in Barcelona is both more relaxed and more exciting at the same time. A large part of life here takes place outside and in the circle of friends and family. However, it would be best not to forget that work and unpleasant visits to the authorities are also part of everyday life.

Should I move to Barcelona? – The pros and cons of Life in Barcelona

Port Vell in Barcelona
View over Port Vell

Advantages

  • almost always sunny
  • warm temperatures and mild winters
  • Life near the sea
  • Wide range of jobs (compared to other Spanish cities – less compared to many European cities).
  • very international city
  • No major requirements for the move for EU citizens

Disadvantages

  • Big City Life (Noise, bad air quality, etc.) (For some, it’s a advantage)
  • Place with many tourists
  • Many pickpockets in the city
  • Very high renting prices (compared to other Spanish cities)
  • Complicated official procedures necessary for registration
  • relatively small English level (compared to other European cities)

Everyday Life in Barcelona

La Pedrera, Gaudi, Barcelona
La Pedrera in Barcelona

Many expats describe life in Spain as generally more relaxed than in their home country. (If you haven’t read our expat interviews yet, you can learn more about the pros and cons of living abroad in Spain here).

The good weather and the laid-back attitude to life of the Spaniards contribute to the exuberant atmosphere in the country. A glass of vino here, a relaxing walk on the beaches of Barcelona there – you can see what I’m getting at.

However, what you should not forget is that, of course, work and exhausting official procedures are also connected with a move to Barcelona. Because, unless you are already retired, you will most probably need a job to get by in Barcelona.

The climate in Barcelona

temperatures in Barcelona in winter in fahrenheit

For many, the good weather is one of the main reasons for moving to the Catalan capital. Admittedly, having lived in Barcelona myself for several years now, nothing could make me go through another gray winter in Germany.

With its mild short winters and warm summers, Catalonia is just perfect for summer lovers like me. Besides great temperatures, of course, the sunshine plays a big role.

The sun shines all the time – even in winter. That simply puts you in a good mood.

Cost of Living in Barcelona

On average, a single person in Barcelona spends between €950 and €1,500 per month. For a family of four, on the other hand, this adds up to about €1,800 – 3,000. These costs mainly include rent, utilities such as electricity, water, gas, food, and products for daily use, as well as transportation and leisure activities.

Of course, before you decide to live in Catalonia, you should also look into living-in-Barcelona costs. Although living in Spain is generally cheaper than living in central Europe, the UK, or the US, unfortunately, we can’t pin it all down that easily.

Because, although the cost of living in Catalonia is generally cheaper than in many other countries, you should not disregard the fact that income and salaries in Barcelona might also be generally lower than back home.

Rental and real estate prices in Catalonia (just under 13.6 €/m²) are considered to be among the highest in Spain, led of course by prices in the capital Barcelona.

In summary, your exact cost of living in Barcelona will depend primarily on your habits, lifestyle, and choice of housing.

Living as an expat in Barcelona

After more than five years in the city, I can say one thing without a doubt: living as a foreigner in Barcelona is unfortunately not always a walk in the park. In addition to countless exhausting visits to the authorities (we’ll get to that in a moment), there are unfortunately always situations in which emigrants don’t have it quite so easy.

The whole thing starts with learning the language. Or should I rather say languages? Because maybe you already know that there are two official languages spoken in Catalonia: Spanish and Catalan. Unfortunately, since you cannot learn such languages overnight, it usually takes a while before you are accepted as a real local in the social community of the city.

Of course, you always have the possibility to make friends in Barcelona’s expat scene. With several thousand immigrants living in Barcelona, you are certainly not alone.

The disadvantage of this, however, is that Barcelona is often only a short-term home for many. Even though many “will definitely stay in the region for the long term“, some of your newfound friends will probably have moved away again after just a few months.

For this reason, it is definitely worthwhile (even before arrival) to learn at least one of the languages spoken in Barcelona in order to get in touch with locals.

Barcelona’s Language and Culture

As already mentioned in the last paragraph, there are two official languages in Barcelona. While speaking Spanish is theoretically sufficient, I personally recommend learning Catalan as well.

If you have children attending a local school, they will most likely not be able to avoid learning and using both languages at school in the first place.

Even if there is no rush to learn the second language per se, it is a matter of respect for the locals to at least be able to understand the basics of the language. There are even Catalans who refuse to speak Spanish, although this is a very small percentage.

In general, Catalan culture is very important to many Catalans. Therefore, try to learn a bit about Catalan history, the Catalan conflict, and the most important holidays of the region.

Moving to Barcelona

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The famous Sagrada Família

Requirements

As an EU citizen, moving to Barcelona is not that difficult. Because of the regulations that prevail at the EU level, it is made relatively easy to be able to move to Barcelona.

As a UK, US, or Canada citizen, you can enter and stay in Spain without a visa. However, if you want to stay longer than three months in the country, you must apply for a Schengen visa at your local embassy.

Despite all this, however, there are certain requirements to be met in Spain. Besides the regular requirements to emigrate to Spain, there are actually hardly any special features to be able to live in Barcelona.

The most important thing is that you must register with the city’s Residents’ Registration Office no later than three months after arriving in the country.

Required documents and official procedures

In order to live and work legally in Barcelona, you must register properly. This includes registering at the Residents’ Registration Office and applying for social security and NIE number.

The NIE number is the most important document for all immigrants in Spain, virtually your new fingerprint. However, applying for the NIE number in Barcelona can turn into a real odyssey.

Housing in Barcelona

Neighborhoods in Barcelona

If you want to stay in Barcelona, you will, of course, need accommodation. First of all, you should therefore be clear about which neighborhood suits you and your needs best.

While some people want to be right in the middle of the action and choose neighborhoods like Barri Gòtic, El Born, or La Barceloneta, others prefer the quieter areas like Les Corts, Sants, or Badalona.

Once you have decided on a neighborhood or have several to choose from, you can start looking for a flat or room.

Apartment hunting in Barcelona

Looking for an apartment or room in Barcelona can be a bit chaotic. Since the rental properties in the city are usually only allocated at very short notice, I recommend that you start your search for an apartment on-site after your arrival in the city.

You can find offers online (e.g. on Idealista or Badi) or in corresponding Facebook groups. While some sites only offer rental properties, you can also find properties for sale on sites like Idealista.

Whether you want to buy or rent a property, you should never sign a contract before seeing the accommodation yourself. There are, unfortunately, far too many rental scams in Barcelona. In addition, some properties are offered for much more than they are actually worth. So keep your eyes open when looking for an apartment!

If you are not sure whether everything is above board, take a Spanish-speaking person with you to view the property or have a lawyer look over the contract before you sign it.

Working in Barcelona

Park Güell, Antoni Gaudí, Park in Barcelona
The impressive Park Güell

If you are not already retired or coming to Barcelona as a student, you will certainly need a job. In the following part of the article, you will find important information about working and finding a job in Barcelona.

The Daily Work Day in Barcelona

Of course, the working conditions and processes differ depending on the occupational field. However, in my personal experience, everyday working life in Spain is much more relaxed than what I was used to in Germany. (Anyway, these are only my personal experiences. Every job is different, of course).

This already starts with the working hours. Only a few jobs start before 8:30/9 in the morning.

However, you will also spend correspondingly longer at work. The average working day usually includes a long lunch break of one to two hours. During this time, many working Catalans have an extensive lunch menu (“Menú del día”) in one of the many restaurants throughout the city.

The average Spaniard in Barcelona doesn’t leave his or her job until between 5:30 and 6 pm.

Working Requierements in Barcelona

In order to work in Barcelona, you must meet certain requirements. The most important is of course a legal residence permit in the country. As an EU citizen, you have already fulfilled this requirement. As a UK, US, or Canada citizen, you must apply for a Schengen visa.

If you want to work in a job that requires a certain education (e.g., lawyer, nurse, doctor, etc.), you must first have your professional education recognized in Spain before you can practice your profession. To speed up this process, you can start with the bureaucratic matters before you move.

Documents for working

In order to accept a job in Spain, you must also be registered with the social security system and have a so-called NIE number. After three months in the country at the latest, you must also register as a resident in Barcelona’s population register.

It is also advisable to register with the Catalan Health Insurance Fund (CAP) in order to be able to see a doctor free of charge.

Looking for a job in Barcelona

If you don’t come to the city with a job offer, you should be aware that job prospects are rather slim. Spain has a very high unemployment rate, especially for young workers.

However, in some professional fields, there is also a strong search in Barcelona. Especially popular jobs in Barcelona for foreigners are sales jobs, customer service, construction, and language teaching.

You can find job offers mainly online. Websites and apps like Infojobs.net and similar can help. Simply create your profile and apply directly to job postings that match your expectations.

Especially in the beginning, it may be worthwhile to start with a customer center job to apply for your documents and settle in. This way, you won’t spend all your savings as soon as you arrive in the city.

Summary

Life in Catalonia’s capital is certainly not for everyone. However, if it’s right for you, you can have a wonderful time in Barcelona. I myself have felt very much at home in Barcelona for years and have no plans to leave Catalonia soon.

FAQ about life in Barcelona

How many people live in Barcelona?

In the metropolitan area of Barcelona live about 1.66 million people. If we consider the metropolitan region of Barcelona, we can count a full 3.34 million people.

Which is the most popular neighborhood in Barcelona for expats?

Many of the expats in Barcelona live in the Eixample neighborhood. The second most popular neighborhood for internationals is Gràcia.

Living in Barcelona with kids?

Among the expats are also quite some international families. The children can attend either an international school (with a final international high school diploma) or a local Spanish school.

What does live in Barcelona cost?

The average resident in Barcelona spends between €950 and €1,500 per month. The cost of living in Barcelona is based on the type and location of your accommodation as well as your usual activities and contracts.

What languages are spoken in Barcelona?

In Barcelona, the local language Catalan is spoken in addition to the official language Spanish. Catalan is a language in its own right and not a dialect of Spanish.


So, are you interested in moving to Spain? Was this article able to strengthen your decision? Or do you have any specific questions about everyday life in Barcelona? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the AuthorVicki

Hi, we are Vicki & Eduardo, an international travel couple on a mission to help you save money for priceless travel experience. Follow us through the miracles of this world and you will be rewarded with a bunch of practical travel tips.

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