Spain is one of the top countries in Europe to live in amongst Expats when it comes to finding a country with high standard of living, amazing weather, good food, and endless options and possibilities of entertainment and activities to do in the country. It is also the reason why it has attracted millions of expats to live in the country.
As an expat and being a non-european citizen, I did experience multiple challenges when I moved to Barcelona almost a year ago. Of course, living in another country can be rather difficult because of the language and cultural barriers. However, I do not regret moving to Spain one bit and I am appreciating every minute of being living in this country as it has always been a dream of mine to come to this country to experience the culture and have the privilege of living abroad.
In this article, I want to help other expats who are thinking of making the move to come to Spain either temporarily or permanently. I hope that the information I share below here will provide you with clarity and a more informed decision to plan your big move that may be life changing for you.
If you would like to learn about diferent visas that allow recidency in spain please visit our articles in Visa to Spain
Being around the locals
Spain is quite divided when it comes to culture. Because I lived most of my year in Barcelona, Catalonia I can only really speak of this city and the people here and less of say Madrid. However, I do know that there is a cultural difference when I visited Andalucia several times during my year as a student in Spain.
Barcelona is filled with expats from all around the world and it is very international. It can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes it easier for non-Spanish speakers to come to Barcelona and live here easily and comfortably with very little Spanish. On the other hand, it can give little motivation for someone to take Spanish or even Catalan classes to be able to speak to locals or the Spanish speaking communities. You can very easily procrastinate your Spanish lessons if you are surrounded by English speaking people, giving you less push and motivation to learn fast and hard with a new language.
However, with or without Spanish knoweldge, it is not hard to make friends in the city at all because a lot of the expats here speak English and they are very approachable and receptive when it comes to meeting more friends. What is challenging and I have heard this from friends of mine who have lived here for several years is forming friendships with the locals here in Barcelona. Catalans are more exclusive and that is only because they are more comfortable being in their own circle of friends and reluctant to branch out to meet other new friends. That is not to say they are arrogant. Before coming here I was reading up blogs to get a sense of how the locals are like and a few of the blogs I read mentioned that Catalans are unfriendly nor sociable. For example, they refuse to talk to you in Spanish or English. Some answer you back only in Catalan even though they perfectly understand Spanish. However, none of this happened to me in Barcelona. I didn’t meet too many Catalans, but the few that I met are very down to earth, friendly, and very glad to give you a helping hand when needed.
Catalans are very proud of their identity. You can easily find their flag hung in their terrace. I think if you are coming to Barcelona and want to live here, it is important to also learn a few words or phrases in Catalan because it goes a long way to showing that you have respect and also care for the culture. They will be very pleased and it will make your experience living in Barcelona so much better.
Renting a room or an apartment
Just like any city you live in, you will find scams wherever you go. But, coming to Barcelona I would strongly suggest you to take even more caution when looking at the ads.
There are many ads you can look at. The most popular one is Idealista. After living for many months and having to move two times in the city, I realized that its the tenants that are more stressful with finding options to live in Barcelona than the landlord choosing and scouting for the best tenant to rent. Therefore, it is very common for landlords to take their time to reply to you, sometimes even days. This is because there are a lot of requests they get each day. So it won’t hurt to follow up and show more initiative in setting up a time with them to see the place if they are not replying to you after 1-2 days. And if they still ignore you, don’t get offended by it. Just move on to look for another.
Never pay a deposit without a contract or a hand signed paper by the landlord. And always view the place in person first to check everything is fine before making the rent deposit. If you are concerned by all of the steps, finding a lawyer to assist you is not a bad idea.
I find that it’s far easier to find a shared flat on your own than to find a single flat entirely for yourself on your own. A lot of the flats that rent out to one person are managed by agencies that use to charge a commission not to the landlord but to the tenant. The last has recently changed due to the new housing law in Spain and the agencies are not longer allowed to charge that comission to the tenant but they are forced to charge it to the landlord. These commission fees are normally a full month that the landlord will not get back because this is the fee the agency pockets for assisting in the rent hunt.
Finding a place to rent in Barcelona is going to be another stressful thing on your list next to getting an appointment for residency. Almost all of the messages you sent asking for rent will be ignored or those that reply to you will say that the landlord is sorry to have rented the place to someone else. But, you will find a place so don’t stress.
When I arrived in Barcelona, I stayed in hostels and air b n b and you can too. I would rather spend a bit more time finding a place that is in a safer neighbourhood and with good tenants than hastily putting a rent deposit to the first thing you find because you are worried you cannot find rent.
I had 2 appointments that were cancelled on me on the same day I had gotten an invite by the landlord to see the place. This was because the place was already taken. The fastest cancellation I experienced was 20 minutes after the landlord and I spoke to meet right away. As soon as I got off the phone with her, I got changed and stepped out of the hostel. I only walked 5 steps when I got a phone call from her saying the flat was taken. Quite absurd!
Because of this experience, I anxiously and illogically secured a deposit to the first room I saw, which was in Poblenou. Seeing that Poblenou is a really nice neighbourhood (It is more quiet and safer compared to many neighbourhood districts), I thought I had gotten myself a great deal with the rent and the location. But when I finally moved in, I realized that I had made a mistake. I discovered that there were no locks to the shared washroom, no clean sheets, no blankets, no pillows provided, and there was no lock to my bedroom, as well. The landlord that I had rented was very informal. She didn’t even provide a rent contract. It was a month to month agreement. But I couldn’t leave because I needed my landlord to help me with the padron which is essential to get your residency in Spain.
The padron is a document you get from the government office that proves you are living in a Spanish address. There are two ways you can get it. One is a hardcopy (original) and signed by the landlord ( no photocopies allowed) or the other is to have the landlord go with you to the office where she or he can show his or her ID and the papers proving they are the owner of the address. My landlord did the latter for me. I had to wait until I received the padron from the office with my landlord’s help before I asked to leave the place and get my rent deposit back.
In summary, I recommend that it is important to look for a place that has a contract included because this way if the landlord does not follow what he or she is saying you have the contract to go after him or her. In addition, it is essential that you check before paying the rent deposit that the landlord can help you with the padron. Otherwise, you will waste a month and you will need to find another place that offers help with the padron.
Barcelona is a city full of pickpockets and this was something I learned when I first came here as a tourist back in 2015. Always be on the lookout and make sure that wallet, keys, phone, and valuables are safely stored and away from thieves. Be wary of how you carry your bags in the metro as well, especially with going down the escalator. I once had a man open my bag, while I was going down the escalator and only caught on when i felt my bag was being tugged. The notorious places for pickpockets are in El Borne, Placa Catalunya, Placa Espanya, and El Ravel. But of course, always be careful whichever neighbourhood you go.
When studying in cafe shops, make sure your bags and belongings are right there with you and not placed on the floor under the table or next to you on a chair. I had three classmates who had their bags stolen because they were not careful when studying in the cafe shops.
Also, when walking out at night be careful not to wear flashy jewellery and try not to look or dress like a tourist because you will be an easy target for pickpockets to target you.
Money and budgeting
Barcelona is a relatively expensive city compared to many others in Spain. However, you can still do well with your money if you are careful with where you spend it.
Therefore it is helpful to have a budget before you arrive in Spain and to keep track of your expenses, so you know where to reduce if you go over each month.
I recommend that if you are coming here with a Visa (NIE) that you take advantage of opening an online bank account. There are two: N26 and Revolut.
I have tried using both and I prefer Revolut because it has lower bank fees than N26.
To open either account you must have your passport and your Spanish ID (TIE). Everything is done through the app, so you will need to download the app and register in the app. The process is quick. You will need to take a photo of your passport and your ID and have it uploaded to the app server for validation. After all is confirmed and validated your account will be opened and you can wire money back home to the bank account.
For more information on these two banking services you can go here:
Eating out and Buying Groceries
Eating out in Barcelona can be a mixed bag I have found. There are a lot of tourist traps in the city, so whenever I find a restaurant with good prices and great affordable food, it’s an instant hidden gem in my books. Since Barcelona is very international you should not have any trouble finding a type of cuisine that you fancy or miss back home.
Most places in Barcelona will charge at least 12 euros for a main dish and drinks are an extra 3-6 euros. If you order alcohol it can range from 8-15 euros.
Eating time in Spain is different from at home. In the mornings, most locals will go to the bars or cafes and order cafe con leche with a croissant. Breakfast isn’t the main meal of the day. It’s lunch. I learned since living in Spain that many Spaniard locals love to go for menu del dia (menu of the day) which runs from 12-3pm. I think it’s the best deal and that is why many locals love it. Menu of the day provides two dishes, a drink, and a dessert and the prices can range from 11 euros to 20 euros, depending on the restaurant. Of course, if you go down South you will find more options and much more affordable prices.
If you prefer to shop for groceries and cook at home instead, the two grocery chains I recommend are Mercadona and Lidl. Both are more of the lower budget options and you will find almost anything you need.
Keep in mind that when shopping, almost all stores except the giant chains like El Corte Ingles will open on Sundays.
You will realise right away the pains of dealing with Spanish papers and the long wait times it takes to process documents.
Before making your move to come to live in Spain, it is very important to prepare well ahead and allow enough time for the documents to be done in your home country’s consulate. Unless you have work and already are sponsored by a company to fly to Spain to work/live, most expats including me, came to Spain with a student visa, which grants them the duration of their studies to stay living legally in Spain.
It is important to note to my non-EU friends that even if you have applied for a “NIE” in your home country, you will still need to go through a very lengthy procedure to getting an appointment to process your “TIE”, which is a temporary Spanish ID card proving your temporary residency.
You will find once you arrive in Spain that a lot of things just take a little longer to do, so it is important to have patience and also have a relax mindset like most Spaniards do here.
From my experience, it took me 4 months to complete all of this: registered for my TIE appointment to get my TIE card, had my all in spoken Spanish appointment, and scheduled and waited for another appointment to pick up my TIE card. Unfortunately, the office had incorrectly put the wrong expiry date after a 3.5 months process, so I had to go back another month later to pick up the correct card.
So, in short, have some patience otherwise you will have a frustrating time and go insane having to deal with all the bureaucracy here.
I also wanted to point out that, while you can hire a lawyer to do everything for you such as booking an appointment to help you with the padron (which is getting the official papers from the city hall to proof that you have a place you are living in) It is not necessary to hire a lawyer for everything. One thing you should remember is unless you have some documents from the government offices proving that your documents are being processed, do not leave the country.
For example, currently my friends are in the process of renewing their student visa but they are waiting from the consulate back in their home country to process some paperwork. They have not left Spain because of this as their Visa has expired and it may cause problems if they come back with an expired visa and nothing to show they can continue living legally here.
Living in Barcelona has been a dream of mine for many years and I am very grateful to have experienced this finally. I have met many people since I moved here and now have become my friends. I would recommend to stay resourceful and take advantage of the many free things that you can find online instead of paying for services to help you. If you have done some research and you realise you still need assistance in helping you with the legal matters, for example then you can find a lawyer to assist.
Here are several things that I have used that have helped me a lot to getting invaluable information while living in Barcelona:
Expats in Barcelona Group with over 36,000 members
Barcelona Rentals: find or post rooms, accommodation and housing with over 54,000 members
Lawyer advice (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation nor am I sponsored by this business at all)
https://balcellsgroup.com/ ← price is affordable and reasonable and you can call in to speak to the secretary to ask questions before booking an appointment. Most law firms require you to put a deposit first before they will talk to you.