Last updated on February 24, 2020
Musings, reflections and advice based on my multiple experiences of moving from the UK to beautiful Barcelona…
I’d never been to Barcelona before I moved here. I was 25 years old at the time and it was, in absolutely every sense, a complete whirlwind romance of an experience.
I arrived with a single suitcase and the intention of coming for a year or so, instantly fell in love with the place. I’m certainly not the first person realise how much of a haven Barcelona is for expats.
I made some amazing friends and some of the happiest memories of my life. But I was young and, frankly, had no idea what I was doing.
After two years of living in Barcelona I moved back to the UK to pursue a career opportunity, but eventually came back to Barcelona three years later, having missed it so much.
These parties wouldn’t stop until the police arrived on the following Monday morning, typically because her wide-eyed guests liked to fight.
All in all I’ve now been in Barcelona for a little over five years, on and off, and have lived in five different apartments around the city, ranging from a shared apartment with fellow expats to a room in an apartment owned by a young women who was either a drug dealer or a prostitute. Things happened in that apartment, which was large and sunny with views of La Sagrada Familia, that led me to believe she was probably both. She certainly had a lot of “cousins” popping in at 3am for a 20-minute visit.
I’d go home on a Friday night to find a raging party, strangers vomiting in the bathroom and rummaging through my wardrobe. These parties wouldn’t stop until the police arrived on the following Monday morning, typically because her wide-eyed guests liked to fight and cause hell for everyone in the building. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, but I certainly learned a lot.
Later, of course, I lived in a beautiful rooftop apartment, and now in a spacious place brought to life with my three cats, girlfriend and huge pieces of art painted by the couple who own the property.
Like many expats around the world I learnt the hard way that, as with everything in life, moving to Barcelona is not only a dream come true, but also an extremely challenging experience fraught with problems I had no idea I would ever have to face.
I wish I’d had someone to talk to about my big move, someone who had experienced the unique challenges of moving not only to a new city but also to a new country.
If you’re reading this then I can assume you are dreaming of moving abroad, or more specifically to Barcelona. And though I may not know you personally, I’d like you to think of me as your friend in Barcelona, and to be the guiding hand I wish I’d had when I first arrived here all those years ago.
Part 1 ~ Finding a Home
Let’s face it, it’s hard enough trying to find a place to live in your own country. And it’s even more difficult in a new country, especially if you don’t speak the language or really know how things work.
When I first arrived I stayed in an apartment with some other expats who had been in Barcelona for many years. It was hugely beneficial as not only could I ask them for their advice (in English) but I also had some sort of support system in place when things became challenging.
Mistakes most people make when trying to find a place to live in Barcelona:
#1. They don’t allow themselves enough time to find a place.
I know people who booked themselves into a hotel for two weeks (TWO!) whilst looking for an apartment. Inevitably, these people either don’t manage to find anything at all (things happen slowly in Barcelona and Spain in general) or they end up paying inflated prices for properties which are targeted at “we need a place to live immediately” market.
Solution: I strongly recommend renting a short-term apartment for at least the first month or two that you are in Barcelona. You can do this before you even land in Barcelona, of course, which will make the move infinitely less stressful. I’m talking Airbnb style.
This will give you time to suss out the different neighbourhoods (so you can work out which one you want to live in) and allow you to visit more apartments and speak to more agencies. The more you see, the more you’ll be able to gauge in terms of value for money and quality. Everything is relative, after all.
#2. They try to replicate the home they have/had back home.
I lived in a fairly large modern house back in the UK. It had a garden, a sun-lounge, a nice kitchen and space to park my bikes. But hardly anyone in Barcelona lives in a house, even very rich people. Here it’s all about “pisos” (apartments).
Another thing to consider is that standards are different in Spain. Many places, the majority of places actually, haven’t been updated since the 1970s/80s and can often be quite a shock for people who are used to the comforts and styles of today.
Modern apartments are of course attainable in Barcelona, but they’ll cost quite a lot more on a monthly basis and are often difficult to find. This is why I strongly recommend seeing as many places as possible in and around your budget so that you can get a feel for what’s is good and what is a rip off.
You might be able to afford to live walking distance from the Mediterranean Sea.
Solution: You have to really commit to the idea that you are moving to a new country, a country where things are done differently. It’s very difficult to do, trust me I know, but you really have to force yourself to stop comparing everything to your home country.
Compromise is key – maybe you won’t be able to afford a place with a brand new kitchen and spacious rooftop terrace, but you might be able to afford to live walking distance from the Mediterranean Sea.
#3. They’ve heard life’s “cheaper” in Spain
It’s true, you can live really well in Barcelona for much less than most cities in the UK or US, but it’s important to remember that Barcelona is a hotspot and rent here is significantly more expensive than most other cities in Spain. In fact, according to some reports, Barcelona is actually the most expensive city to live in in Spain, even more so than Madrid which is the country’s capital city.
Solution: Be sure to do plenty of research before even deciding on Barcelona. After all, there are plenty of beautiful cities in Spain that are drastically cheaper.
Also consider that you will make savings across the board – you may not be able to cut your rental outgoings, but eating out is generally much cheaper, public transport is way cheaper (I go everywhere on my bike), and with the sun shining you can really enjoy Barcelona without spending a penny.
Part 2 ~ Making Friends
Making friends can be difficult wherever you are, especially if you’re more of an introvert like me. This is relevant in any city of course, even if it’s your home city, but you notice it more when you’re living in a new and unfamiliar country.
Suddenly you realise your friends are spread out all over the world.
I’ve made some truly fantastic friends, lifelong friends, in Barcelona and it’s broken my heart to see so many of them move back to the US and other parts of the world. I’m still very much in touch with Jason and Naomi, the Californian couple I lived with when I very first arrived in Barcelona, and Heather, another Californian who lived with us in the flat I called “Hotel California”. But only seeing them every few years and watching their lives move on via Facebook photos – they’ve had two children since I last saw them – is heart wrenching.
I’m afraid this is all part and parcel of being an expat – suddenly you realise that your friends are spread out all over the world.
I actually had a similar experience living in London, where I had no language or cultural barriers, so this is definitely not a “Barcelona issue”.
Luckily I do have a close group of friends that have also stuck around in Barcelona and this has made all the difference to me feeling like Barcelona is actually my “home”.
Solution #1: There’s a huge expat community in Barcelona and it’s really not difficult to meet other people in the same shoes as you are. The only thing you have to be mindful of however is that you might just end up surrounded by people from your home country, or at least by English speakers.
It’s much easier to simply “meet people” than it is to actually “make friends”.
Solution #2: As above, “intercambios” (language exchanges) are not only a great way to practise your Spanish with a local but it’s also an excellent way to make friends who are actually from Barcelona, or at least other parts of Spain.
Making Friends with Shared Interests
When you first arrive in a new city you’re happy to connect with anyone you can call a friend. It’s a bit like your first days at school/university, when you end up hanging out with people you share absolutely nothing in common with just because it’s better than being alone. It’s much easier to simply “meet people” than it is to actually “make friends”.
I find myself yearning to connect with people with more specific shared interests.
For me this was all well and good for the first year or so I was in Barcelona, when the shared trials and tribulations of building a life in the city were enough to bind us, but now that I’ve been here a little while and I’m trying to live a relatively “normal” life (as opposed to an “expat life”), I find myself yearning to connect with people with more specific shared interests.
But one of the things I’ve noticed as a long-term expat in Barcelona is that a lot of what currently exists to help expats make friends depends entirely on the simple fact that you have moved to a new country and are desperate for friends.
As I was saying earlier, it’s easy to meet other expats in Barcelona, but most of the communities and technology services are basically designed to simply help you meet other expats – not necessarily good if you’re specifically interested in connecting with other people who have similar interests as you.
You can connect with all sorts of fascinating people who share the exact same interests as you, no matter how quirky they might be.
But once you’ve been living here for a few years and you’ve worked through the initial teething problems, what else do you have in common? For me, it’s been difficult to connect with other musicians, for example, but not just musicians that speak English, I’m talking about musicians with the same taste in music.
Solution: Technology is a wonderful thing. When I first came to Barcelona the concept of a “smartphone” didn’t even exist. But today, with the right app, you can connect with all sorts of fascinating people who share the exact same interests as you, no matter how quirky they might be.
One of my latest finds is the awesome BudUp app, which is completely free to download and use. The basic premise is that it “connects you with new people and lets you to grow your social network”, but more than that, you can be as specific as you want about your interests.
For example, instead of just saying “I’m looking for friends to go hang out at the beach with”, you can say, “I’m looking for friends to play volleyball at the beach with”, or even more specifically, “I’m looking for friends who share my passion for underground disco funk from the years 1972 to 1976”.
I’m really excited about using this app to meet new people to go paddle boarding with and also to share my long-distance cycling trips with!
Part 3 ~ Immersion and Language Barriers
I’m embarrassed to say this, but my Spanish is terrible. I can speak Spanish, of course, but I’m nowhere near the level that I should be considering the amount of time I’ve spent here over the years. It’s a bit of a sore point for me and it’s something that gets me down on a regular basis because it sometimes feels like I’ll never truly integrate.
Like many expats, I live in a bubble…
And just incase you weren’t aware, which I wasn’t when I first arrived (also very embarrassing), the Catalans speak Catalan, which is a completely different language. No really, it’s not just a different version of Spanish, it’s an actual language all of its own.
The problem for me is that, like many expats, I live in a bubble. My friends are from the UK or the USA, and even though my girlfriend is Spanish, she speaks perfect English. Yes I know what you’re thinking: “Why don’t you just set aside some time or certain days of the week when you speak only Spanish to each other?”.
Well I’ll tell why: because we both live very busy lives and when she gets home tired from work and I’m tired from work, the last thing either of us want to do is listen to me spouting out utter nonsense whilst trying to ask her what she’d like to eat for dinner. Likewise, if she has something important to say, she wants to make sure I understand it.
Then there’s my work, of course, which involves me writing (in English) from home (where no one speaks Spanish). The people I work with are based all over the world – USA, UK, Australia, Singapore, – so the common language is always English.
In fact, apart from ordering at a restaurant or going shopping, I rarely speak any Spanish at all. Another issue is that Barcelona is a relatively large and cosmopolitan city, so plenty of people speak excellent English. As a local person I met recently said recently: “It’s funny, I meet a lot of English speakers that live here who don’t speak Spanish.” Exactly! There are so many of us that you can quite easily just find yourself surrounded by English speakers.
Lots of people I know have moved out to more rural parts of Spain, or to less touristy/international cities, just to surround themselves with people who speak nothing but Spanish.
Even when I introduce myself in Spanish and try to converse in Spanish I am often greeted in English, and it’s normally much better than my Spanish.
If you’re moving to Barcelona because you want to learn Spanish then be aware that it might not be as straight forward as you’d first think. Lots of people I know have moved out to more rural parts of Spain, or to less touristy/international cities, just to surround themselves with people who speak nothing but Spanish.
Solution #1: Apart from the obvious fact that the more you study, the better your language skills will be, the main thing I think you need to learn Spanish in Barcelona is a strong motivation. I, for example, don’t really have one. It would be nice to be completely fluent of course and it would really help me feel more integrated, but I don’t really “need” to have perfect Spanish to live the way I do. Especially with my job. It’s sad but true.
I’d suggest getting a job where you have to speak Spanish and no English (which I should imagine is nigh on impossible), or where you are at least required to mix the two languages.
You’ve got to work out what works for you, and make it happen…
But don’t become an English teacher if you want to learn Spanish because, as I discovered, all your friends will be English-speakers and your day-to-day life will be in English. If you do plan to be an English teacher, look for job offers at schools where they also run Spanish courses – they normally offer discounted classes for employees.
I’m afraid it’s a “chicken or the egg” type of scenario, i.e. you need to be pretty fluent already to be able to immerse yourself in the language, or you’ll end up like me, learning just enough to get by and losing the incentive to progress any further.
I know I shouldn’t generalise just because I’ve done a lousy job of learning the language and integrating. I have friends here who work as English teachers and have still managed to become enviably fluent in Spanish, so maybe I’m just trying to justify my lackadaisical attempt.
Maybe you’re just more driven than me and have more of an ability with learning languages, in which case I’m sure you’ll do just fine.
Solution #2: One thing that I did really enjoy when I had more time was doing “intercambios” (language exchanges). There are thousands of people in Barcelona who are desperate to practise their hard-earned English speaking skills. In exchange you can also practise your Spanish and, hopefully, make friends with an actual local! Just imagine the possibilities!
Moving to Barcelona has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done. It’s shaped me as a person and enabled me to become who I wanted to be, to live the life I always dreamed of. But it’s only worked out because I kept trying different ways to make it “my own”.
And that’s the key, I think, to moving to a new city, and especially to a new country: you’ve got to work out what works for you, and make it happen. No one else is going to do it for you, it has to come from you. It’s your life and you are free to shape it and mould it into whatever you want it to be.
Wherever you dream of moving to, whatever you dream of achieving, I wish you all the very best. And I hope you find everything that I have found in my own little Spanish adventure.
UPDATE: In November 2018, I left Barcelona. Find out why in this post.
Please leave me a comment below and let me know about your experiences of moving abroad, and of course please feel free to ask any questions you may have about moving to Barcelona.
Fantastic article – a very real experience. Wish I had this before learning the hard way :)
Gracias Marwa! Yes, me too! haha! :) xx
Great article , Ben
Eventhough moving abroad is not really in our path as we just bought a house. Your article was nevertheless VERY inspiring.
We absolutely do love Barcelona and fly down every year for a few days.
Another birthday trip planned this year. So I very well understand the choice of moving there !
Gracias Sam, really appreciate your comment. Yes, it’s a very special place indeed. Have a great trip and let me know if I can help with anything.
Great great post! I am now wishing that my boyfriend falls in love with this amazing city like I did so we can pack our suitcases one more time and head to a sunnier place. We relocated to London 3 years ago and after 1 year of living in our home country we miss deeply being abroad. Especially in an English speaking country. Your articles come in handy !
Gracias Ade! Glad you enjoyed it – was quite a special post for me. I miss London, also miss living in an English-speaking country… but I guess you can’t have it all. Saludos and happy travels! Ben :)
thank you Ben for sharing your experiences , I have visited Barcelona a couple of times and loved it but having read your comments about learning Spanish and mixing in with locals ( not to mention the costs of renting ) I am seriously reconsidering now so thinking other possible towns/cities to live in Spain .
I already have some Spanish , can make conversation . I really want to get more fluent in Spanish .
I think Barcelona is maybe not the best city for me to live/work in for some time . I need to do more research !
Gracias Brigid. Yes, I think it’s definitely worth at least considering other parts of Spain. Barcelona is an amazing place, but there are many opportunities in Spain. I wish you all the best.
Thanks for this Ben, my goal is to move there long term and at first I was going to use my savings to go to a language school within Barcelona to learn first hand and give me better chances for work, but after reading your article and seeing that you can get by without the language do you think my money would be better saved for accommodation and to look for work straight away?
Gracias Jake! I think it really depends, quite frankly, on how much money you’ve got in the bank.
If your plan is to stay long-term then I would advise you to focus on finding a place to live and work – neither are easy tasks in Barcelona.
Once you’re set up here then you will get into a groove and hopefully be able to work Spanish lessons into to your weekly routine.
I still haven’t managed to get that far!
Take care and keep us updated on your experience moving here.
Loved this Ben! I’m moving to Barcelona in September, and I really can’t wait. Luckily, I have a friend there who will help me along the way. I found your journal post truly inspirational, and really reassuring to read that your decision to move to Barca has brought you so much fulfilment.
Thanks for the read
All the best
Gracias Conor! Really glad my post helped/inspired. Having a friend here will give you a HUGE advantage in terms of settling in.
Best of luck with your move!
Hasta pronto amigo!
Great article! Me and my family are traveling to a bunch of countries in search of a better life and we’ve been in Barcelona for a few days now. Really loving the city so far, though my Spanish is quite rusty and with our limited time here I still had so many lingering questions but you answered almost all of them. So thanks for sharing it helped a lot!
Gracias Turgay, really happy to read your comment and of course it’s my pleasure to help.
Enjoy your travels, and your time here in Barcelona.
Hasta la proxima!
Really interesting article! Me and my boyfriend are planning to move to Barcelona next March( he has family who have also moved out there) My question is realistically how much money do you think I should plan to take with me. We are planning to rent a small 1 bedroom flat just outside of the centre and I’m aiming to pick up work as a nanny fairly soon after moving there. Many thanks :)
Hola Fay! Thanks for commenting!
Sounds like you guys have a lot to be excited about.
It’s impossible for me to say how much you’ll need, but when I came I think I had enough in the bank to last me about 6 months.
A one bed flat will set you back a minimum of about €800 a month anywhere in Barcelona, so I’d at least make sure you have enough to cover that for 3 or 4 months to give you some time to get set up.
Best of luck!
This was such an awesome read! My fiancé and I have been to Barcelona quite a few times and are really ready to make the move. He’s from the UK, and I’m from the US. Neither of us want to settle down in our home countries. I’ve read your journal posts and the comments. Just to pick your brain, we seem to like Eixample and Gracia the best. Would you highly recommend these areas?
We both work remotely and from home, so we’d be looking for a nice 2 bdrm flat to convert the second room to an office. We’re in our early 30’s. We enjoy a lovely evening out, but also somewhere nice and comfortable to call home.
Any advice would be welcomed. Thank you in advance for your time!
Hola Jessica! Thanks for your comment – happy to help!
I love Gracia and also Eixample, though keep in mind that Eixample varies quite a lot from one end to the other. In general, though, I would absolutely recommend either.
Regarding your two-bedroomed flat idea, I would just be careful as many two bed places can be quite small, i.e. the bedrooms are basically the size of one good-sized single room, but split in two. Obviously this isn’t always the case, it’s just something worth considering. I wouldn’t rule out one-bed places, some of which are more open-planned.
I work from home and live in a one bed flat. It actually used to be a three-bed flat but the owners knocked the living room and two of the bedrooms into one huge space, which is ideal as a work space (they are artists and both used the space as an art studio).
Best of luck and please come back and leave us all another comment with an update once you get settled! :)
I’m back! I surely hate to burden you yet again with more questions. As a self-employed renter, did you find it difficult to secure a property in Barcelona? Some of the estate agents have been a bit confusing. I know its subjective to each individual, and we need to make an amazing impression on the owner of the unit. We’ve been met with 5x rent deposits and etc. I won’t lie, it’s been a bit discouraging.
I hope I’m not being too forward or personal. I’d just like to know what your experience was! I’m looking forward to your response!
Nice to hear from you again – no worries!
It’s tough finding a place to stay in Barcelona, regardless of your employment situation. I’ve always got lucky and found places privately – the flat I’m now belongs to some students of a friend of mine, who teaches them English. They were looking for someone to rent the place and my friend put us in touch.
Generally, as you’re a freelancer, I would suggest just trying to avoid agencies, who will generally be quite strict on paper work. Instead, look on sites like Idealista.com and set it to private listings only. If the owner is weary of you not having a full work contract, perhaps offer paying a larger deposit, or even paying 6 months up front.
I also strongly suggest joining all the expat Facebook groups (there are tons), where people share ads for rooms and whole flats in Barcelona all the time.
But in general, just rest assured that it’s not just you – everyone here struggles at some point.
Best of luck! Keep us updated!
Loved it! I’m planning on moving to Barcelona and I found your post inspirational and reassuring. Thanks for the read
Exciting times! When do you think you’ll make the leap? Let me/us know how it goes for you!
[…] had no idea what I was doing with my life, but I’d taken a leap of faith with my move to Barcelona and I was hoping the universe would conspire to help me make sense of it […]
Great post! I am saving it in my bookmarks as I am thinking of moving to Barcelona next month.
I have been hesitant due to my experience last summer, which was good but which also left me wondering whether I would be able to cope with all the cons, namely the job market being a little saturated, the issues related to tourism and learning Catalan:).
I really liked the conclusion about ”making it your own”. I think this is the key idea here.
Anyway, thanks again!
Ps: I loooove cycling too and I was wondering whether you found it difficult to not have your bike stolen?
I had bought one while I was there last summer and had it stolen in two days!
Hola Faggiola, thanks for your comment!
I’ll be completely open and honest – I’ve had three bikes stolen, and I’m extremely careful about looking after my stuff, always using multiple locks and whatnot.
Now I basically always keep my bike either in my apartment or by my side. When using my bike to get around the city, which is most of the time, I now use three heavy locks (and a smaller one to lock the seat to the frame).
And I would never dream of leaving a bike outside overnight.
It’s a big problem here, but then I think it always will be if you live in a big city.
Good luck with your move! Let me know if I/we can help at all!
I have really enjoyed your articles and your openness with describing your experiences. We are planning to move near-ish to the British School at Castelldefels in July with our youngest who will be 16 and various pets. May I ask, would you recommend we find someone who can help with some hand-holding over finding a rental property and things like NIE for instance? It seems a bit insurmountable at the moment, especially as we are still finishing renovations to our house in the UK…
Thank you and I hope you don’t mind me asking, there is such a lot of unreliable stuff to sift through online
Hola Ailsa, thanks for your lovely words.
I probably would recommend finding someone who can help with the transition, if you can afford it, although I wouldn’t honestly know who to recommend.
I think the main thing you need, though, is simply to keep reminding yourself that it’s normal that the beginning stages will be a constant challenge. It was easier for me as I was young, foot loose and fancy free, but it was still (and still is) a struggle at times.
Best of luck with your move to beautiful Barcelona!
Your cats are beautiful.
I want to retire to an area of Spain that has rain and cooler weather, so I thought of Barcelona. My husband is Mexican and we both speak Mexican Spanish. I am planning a trip to Barcelona this December to suss things out. I guess my main question at this point is about the political situation right now. Is it safe for traveling? Do you think two old farts can live decently on about $1800.00 a month? What do we have to show to qualify for residency In terms of cash money? How hard is it to bring my cat if we should decide to move to Spain? Neither of us has any major health issues, so about how much is health insurance for seniors? We are not really interested so much in the hot nightlife as we are in good food, good internet connection, and somewhat problem free living, so we don’t have to live in the heart of the city. Rural is good for us. Any advice you can give me will be so appreciated.
If you speak Spanish then you have a major advantage! I wouldn’t worry about the political situation at all – the Catalans are a peaceful bunch and are only carrying out peaceful protest.
I really can’t answer any of your other questions as I am in a different place in my life, but I’m sure with your Spanish skills is shouldn’t be too difficult to research.
Best of luck with your move/adventure!
Fantastic. Thank you so much! I will move to Barcelona very soon and I’m very excited and scared about it. Your post made me feel peace. I was worried about the piso thing, but renting an apartment for a month or so before I get there seems awesome!!
I cannot thank you enough, honestly. You last words were just what I needed. I wish you the best!
Gracias Danny! I’m happy to have helped! Best of luck with your move and remember to enjoy the experience.
Wow! Awesome article!! I’m a 23 year old senior in college graduating in May and for my graduation present I am going to Barcelona for about 10 days. I want to get as much experience and exposure to the city as I can. I have always been interested in visiting Spain, specifically Barcelona. Recently, I have been strongly thinking about moving to Spain, even if it’s for half a year. But have no clue on where to begin my search and have so many unanswered questions! Where do you recommend for me to begin my search in moving to Spain??? I would very much appreciate it!
Hola Anna! I’m so happy to have helped! I would suggest simply finding a place to stay for a month or so and then going from there. Or maybe you’d like to sign up for some kind of course? That’s a great option as you will have a network in place when you arrive (and they will help you find somewhere to help.
But bottom line, as I say in this post, you just have to take a leap of faith and make it happen yourself.
Definitely thank you. Do you recommend where to look for a place to stay? Somewhere like AirBnB possibly?
Yes, I would recommend Airbnb to start with as there are SO many good short term options – it’s huge here! It’s also a good way to meet people (if you’re sharing with others).
Then long-term you’d want to start checking out the sites I mentioned in this post (above), such as Idealista and Fotocasa.
I think once you have the first place to stay, for a month or so, the rest will sort of fall into place. It’s just about taking the first step.
Hello, Anna, how was your experience in Barcelona? Hablas español?
Nice article….with really nice tips! I’m from the U.S. and have been spending a few weeks in Barcelona each spring and fall for the past couple of years….as I have a pretty good grasp on Spanish, I’ve only been staying in Airbnb rentals with Spaniards, Argentinians and the like- really great for practicing my Spanish!
My goal is to eventually move to Barcelona or somewhere close-by….after, of course, I can figure out the visa situation that me and my fellow Americans are up against :) Just wondering- would you recommend any of the surrounding towns or cities that would be cheaper but have culture and still provide maybe weekly access to Barcelona (1-1.5 hrs max)? I’ve been spending a lot of time in Gracia, El Raval and Poble Sec and am getting a little burnt out on the density/crowded feel. I’d love to have a little more access to nature or a smaller community. How about Tarragona? Thanks in advance and thanks again for the great article!
Hey Matt, thanks for your comment!
I totally feel you – I adore Barcelona but it can be so overwhelming in the summer.
I would absolutely recommend Tarragona. I actually mentioned in my blog post about it that I have often considered moving there myself.
There are a few towns nearby, as well. Another option could be Castelldefels, which is still Barcelona but a bit farther out.
Sitges is lovely too, but also a bit hectic during the summer. The same could be said for the Costa Brava, too.
Mucha Gracias for this amazing article you presented which almost covers everything. I went through many articles to find answers for all my questions but none have covered all the topics as your article did. Most of my doubts were cleared by going through your article
Your article indeed increased my desire to move to Barcelona. I moved from India to the U.S but my ultimate goal is to move to Barcelona before moving back to India. I work for a multinational company that has its operations in Madrid and Valencia but not In Barcelona. If everything works out I can work from Barcelona visiting office in Madrid/Valencia once in couple of weeks.
It would be really helpful if you could below questions:
1. I just started learning Spanish and I not fluent in either speaking/understanding. How hard is life without knowing Spanish.
2. I am a brown skinned person. Will there be racism because I am brown?
3. If I need to look for a new job how hard is it for a non-local to land a job?
4. How friendly/helpful are banks up there to Non-residents in case I needed a loan/financing?
5. Is there any specific area/community where new expats in Barcelona live?
Thank you in advance for taking your time to answer these questions.
Hola Bharath and thank you for your kind words. I’m happy to have been of help to you. I’ll try to answer your remaining questions below.
1. I just started learning Spanish and I not fluent in either speaking/understanding. How hard is life without knowing Spanish.
Ben: The short answer is that many people in Barcelona speak English so it’s not that difficult. My Spanish is about 4/10 and I have no problem. However, it can be a bit tricky finding and apartment and getting set up (NIE, Social Security, Bank, Medical) in general, so I’d suggest trying to go with a Spanish-speaker if possible, or just hiring a translator in the worst case scenario.
2. I am a brown skinned person. Will there be racism because I am brown?
It’s difficult for me, as a white skinned person, to comment on this. My personal view, however, would be that in grand scheme of things Barcelona is probably one of the most open and least racist cities in Europe. That’s not to say it’s perfect though.
3. If I need to look for a new job how hard is it for a non-local to land a job?
It really, really depends. Is it a job that requires perfect Spanish and/or perfect Catalan? If so then you will find it almost impossible. If language is not relevant and it’s based entirely on specific skills, you will stand as good a chance as anyone. In some cases you may even have an advantage by being international.
4. How friendly/helpful are banks up there to Non-residents in case I needed a loan/financing?
Again, I wouldn’t really know. However, from what I can tell they are not that friendly/helpful to the Spanish/Catalans, so I doubt they’d be all that friendly/helpful with non-residents.
5. Is there any specific area/community where new expats in Barcelona live?
In short, no. You’ll find expats living all over Barcelona.
Hope that helps! Good luck!
Great article! Hope I will make a use of it pretty soon! Excited!
Gracias Aga! Good luck with your adventure!
Hello Ben, I really enjoyed your article. Me and my husband live in US and we both love Barcelona and we are considering to go there for 1 year and hopefully make a living there. We have enough money to stay there for several months without having to work, but we would like to find a job at some point. How hard is to find a job to sponsor you or give you papers to work there legally? Thank you!
Thanks so much! Great that you have some cash to keep you going when you get here. I can’t speak from experience as I am European (for now) and never had to worry about this sort of thing, BUT I’d say it’s difficult enough to find a job in Spain even if you are European (or even Spanish) and don’t need to worry about getting a company to sponsor you.
Obviously I don’t know what you guys do for a living, so it’s difficult to say, but unless you’re highly qualified (perhaps a doctor or scientist), it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. Also keep in mind that you will need a high level of Spanish (and in some cases Catalan too) if you’re going to compete with locals for jobs.
All the best with your adventure!
Amazing, thought provoking article and comments. Ben, after reading the excellent account of your experience, I couldn’t help but realise how different the experience would be for a person or couple, say 20yrs or more older than you. I love your obvious gregarious, freespirited, zest for life. My son and his multi-lingual gf moved to BCN just over two and a half years ago, at very difficult times in both their lives. She was to study a Masters in Languages at Barcelona University, with him basically following her there, having found the Art Academy, where he was immediately accepted on application (he has a Fine Art BA from the UK). I believe they stayed in a self contained room on arrival, until they found their own place in Pedrables which, as you will be aware, is generally expensive; however they were fortunate to find a one room studio flat (with balcony) for 500€ plus bills. An equivalent floorspace, two flights above on the front of the building with views over the city and the sea, was recently advertised just under 700€. Anyway, things changed quickly on a personal level for her, but my son, found a passion with the Academy (his third year with a scholarship), while she has worked several jobs using her multi-language skills. Pay is extremely low and the job market is difficult. Following a relationship break-up, my son recently moved closer to the Academy (and the beach), basically living as a student. I believe he will stay on in BCN for years to come, having benefited from his all round experience of his new way of life. Recently, I considered spending a few months there over the next couple of years posing many questions. Whilst I was last there, I was assured if I had Spanish speaking skills, there was a job for me anytime, in a local organic food and health store. Something I would love, despite understanding the low Spanish wage may not comfortably cover accommodation, bills and quality of life. I reckon income from rental here in the UK is essential to make ends meet, affording me the space and privacy that I am accustomed to. I am trying to learn conversational Spanish ready for my next visit; I believe I have found an excellent online tutorial (the tutor lives in Mexico but speaks English with a British accent). Even with my son who is settled for now in BCN, and my position, I know I will need so much help if I do decide to make the change even on a trial basis. I love the city, it’s people, architecture, the mountains, etc plus I am intrigued having read BCN is home to one of the largest populations of over 65 yr olds. For me, there is much consideration, so I wholeheartedly thank you for your time and passionate writing on this subject. Your encouragement shines through. 🌞
If there is one thing I could ask right now, it would be, ‘how will Brexit affect us going forward?’ Although it will be a different scenario if moving forward, Catalunya is no longer a part of the EU.
“Bolas de cristal 🔮 primavera a la mente.”
Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It sounds like a very interesting period for you and your son – hopefully lots to look forward to.
And yes, Brexit is a big worry, for many reasons. Personally I’m just hoping the whole thing will blow over and never happen. Only time will tell.
Please keep me (and all of us here) updated with your Barcelona story!
Great article found just in time! I considering relocating to Spain and your article answered many of my questions.
I have given myself 3-4 months to prepare before making the Commit.
Excellent, I’m happy to have helped! Graicas Tayo – best of luck with your move!
Hi there. It’s probably a long shot me replying now yet this has really helped me. Thanks a lot. I’m planning to move to Barcelona. Not sure when yet it will happen. I will certainly keep you in mind with my future endeavours.
Josh, Brighton – UK
Hola Josh, gracias amigo!
Really happy to help. Be sure to come back and leave us more comments so we can follow your adventures in Barcelona!
Best of luck!
Brilliant insight – particularly for a UK someone in the middle of considering a career opportunity in the city. Likely to end up living there four days a week (flying out Mon AM and back Thurs night weekly)!
Thought the insight on finding an apartment was spot on, together with stuff I’ve already heard about having to register for tax / residency purposes etc. It seems that the bureaucracy is a killer – any further insights on how best to deal with everything required once a flat rental has actually been secured
Gracias Derek, glad it helped! I think if you can secure a flat (and a job) then you’ll be pretty much half way there. The rest is just. Best of luck!
Thanks for the nice and in depth and honest write up.
I moved to barceloneta in 2012 and had a beautiful rental flat waiting for me as I arrived, thanks to Rebecca Holt. I met my landlord and showed my employment contract and two hours later I sat on my balcony.
But wait. I was new to Barcelona. After some time I chickened out and went back to London.
Since then I been to Barcelona four times a year every year and this year I am moving back for good. I will take a perm job but also do some remote work for clients over here. And I shall also be stepping up my photography and writing. A good Scandinavian friend of mine is moving their too, from London!
How exciting! Hope it goes well for you this time around! Sounds like you’ve got lots of things organised already. Hasta pronto amigo!
Thanks Ben! See you around!
Awesome overview. I’m going to be emailing you with questions.
Great, thanks Erzsie!
Why not share your questions here so my answers can benefit others who might have the same questions?
I’ll try my best to help!
Fantastic article. My boyfriend is really eager to move abroad and would jump on a plane. As much as I would love to do that I feel like my normal life in the uk would hold me back from that, I’ve never done anything like that before and I’m just also a bit nervous about starting out initially, like I know this sounds like a bit of a daft question but do you need to save up a significant amount of money to start off comfortably? Also did you find it easy to find a job out there. I would love to here back from you as soon as you can, it would help me massively. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment. I probably wouldn’t advise moving to an entirely new country just because your boyfriend wants to. It should be something you really, really want to do as it’s not an easy task.
Regarding money, I would say it’s entirely up to you. Where would you like to live? How much money will you need for things like rent, bills and food? How many months would you like to give yourself to find a job? What if you don’t find a job in that timeframe?
Personally I wouldn’t consider moving to a new country/city without a job with any less than 3 to 6 months’ worth of money in the bank.
And don’t forget that you will have to pay upfront whether you rent a room or an entire flat. This is typically a month’s rent as a deposit, a month’s rent in advance and, if you’re renting a whole property, a month’s rent (or even two months’) as a fee to the agency.
In short, if you rent a room for €500 a month, you will have to pay €1000 just to move in to the room.
If you rent a flat for, say, €900 a month, and secured it from an agency, you would likely have to pay around €2700 before being able to move in (and it would likely be more with other fees and costs).
So I would think seriously about the practicalities of moving here and make sure your boyfriend is doing the same. It’s not something you can really do successfully on a whim.
Hope that helps! Thanks again for your comment and please leave another to update us on what you end up doing.
thank you for this straightforward and fun look at moving to a place I’ve been dreaming about for years. I can’t wait to get home from work and research more on how to make this happen before next summer. I can’t wait to go on this adventure with my son to show him a whole different view of the world than just america. i can’t wait to leave and never ever come back.
My pleasure – hope the dream becomes a reality for you one day. Saludos!
Hi Ben, Have skimmed through it and will read it more later. Get the drift and appreciate you sharing the insights. Live in Singapore and visited BCN a few months ago for the usual relief. Hope you are still there in early 2019 when I plan to move semi-permanently. Thinking it is a good base for the region and make buy something small. Where are you originally from with that name?
Hola Jeremy – thanks for getting in touch!
Yes, Barcelona is pretty special alright, and Spain in general. Not sure I would agree that it’s the most open place/accepting place in Europe, but it’s definitely not bad.
The news today is that the “far right wins seats in Spanish region for first time since Franco”, with some saying it’s a retaliation against the Catalans quest for independence.
What I would encourage you to do is look at as many cities in Spain as possible. It’s a huge country with a lot of diversity, both culturally and geographically. Also consider that Barcelona is probably most expensive city to buy property in in Spain, so you’ll most likely get more for your buck elsewhere (though it must be said that Barcelona probably has the best climate).
Regarding my name, I’m from Wales in the UK. I’ve recently looked into the origins of “Holbrook” and it seems it came from Sussex in England. It’s pretty rare in the UK, but seems less so in the States. What about you? Where are you from/based?
Thanks again for getting in touch. Hasta la proxima!
Great post! My fiancé and I plane to move to Barcelona in the next few years. We’re in our mid-30s and lead pretty quiet lives but wouldn’t mind going out on the town once in awhile. I like the idea of living just outside the city like in Stiges and Castelldefels and then commuting in for work. Or maybe live in one of the quieter suburbs like Sant Cugat. My main concern is safety from pickpockets and having a balance of nature/quiet with city life. Thanks for your help! PS- have you had experiences with pickpockets or petty theft?
Hola, and thank you for your comment. It sounds like a great plan to me – I love Sitges.
I have had 2 bikes stolen (and many bike parts) and have seen pickpockets on countless occasions. It really is a huge problem and it only seems to be getting worse. If you’re prepared for it and, like me, obsessed with trying to spot them before they get anywhere near you, you’ll be fine. But I know so many people who have had phones, bags, laptops and €1000s stolen.
Don’t know what else to say. It’s a great city, but it’s not perfect. No where is.
Thanks so much! I appreciate the reply. Yes indeed- no where is perfect. But what are some tactics you’d recommend to safeguard against petty theft?
In general I think it’s just a case of being on the defence. If someone approaches you in the street, be mentally aware of where your things are and, more importantly, where their friends are.
Often they work in teams: someone will distract you while their colleague digs into your pockets or bag. This is especially true on the metro… My friend’s aunt was on the metro when it was really busy. There was a couple kissing with great passion right in front of her. As she got off the metro she realised her wallet was gone, along with over a $1,000 of her holiday money (which she was stupid to have on her in the first place).
Another one is “friendly” chaps int he street who want to shake hands and hug you or dance with you. They’re not just being friendly.
Then of course, don’t leave your bag on the beach or alone in a restaurant. I’ve heard of thieves leaning in through windows and taking bags.
If you leave your bike locked up somewhere, use a lock on each wheel, as well as one on the frame and one locking your seat to your frame (although I’ve had my set stolen in the scenario anyway). Even my water bottle was stolen once because I left it on my bike thinking no one would want it.
I could go on, but this is a good start haha! Good luck!