10 Things you should know before you move to Barcelona
- Barcelona, SF Life

10 Things You Should Know Before You Move to Barcelona

Actually, this article applies to just about any major city in the world. So, whether you are moving overseas for the first time, or have moved before, never underestimate the pitfall of making assumptions. We moved from San Francisco to Berlin in 2012, then from Berlin to Barcelona in 2018. In both instances, even though we were aware that each city and country has its own regulations and bureaucratic requirements, we still kept falling into the old trap of assuming that if we did it this way in “City X,” it should apply to “City Y.” Therefore, I want to alert you to the following things you should research and/or look out for before moving:

10 Things you should know before you move to Barcelona

Residency Requirements

Since it is too complicated to cover all the different scenarios and their respective requirements, it is best to contact the local embassy or consulate of the country you intend to relocate to or at least check out their webpage. That said, in Barcelona, you will need to obtain the following to become a legal resident:

It is very helpful to use a lawyer to guide you through this process. We have a referral, should you need one, or contact us directly and we will try and answer your question as best we can.

Cost of Living

In general, and compared to other cities such as San Francisco, New York, London, Geneva, etc., Barcelona is quite reasonable, including dining out; buying groceries; riding in taxis or public transit; utilities, such as water, gas, electricity, cable, mobile phone; and so on. Rent prices, for a nice apartment in an average to good neighborhood, run at about 10€ per square meter. Therefore, if you need an apartment about 100 square meters in size, you should expect to pay 1,000€ per month. The price can be much lower if the area is not great or if there is no elevator, etc.

Finding a place to live

The easiest, and probably best, way to find a place is through a property manager. There are many companies, such as www.fotocasa.es, www.yaencontre.com and others too numerous to mention. They pretty much have the majority of the available properties to buy or lease on their sites. Sometimes the same property is on more than one of the sites. The apartment and house descriptions are very complete and, therefore, allow you to do some browsing online before you make appointments. The downside of these sites is their cost. They usually charge either a full month’s rent for their service or one-tenth of the whole year’s cumulative rent. To save you from doing the math, the first option (one month’s rent) is the most economical.

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Setting up power and gas in your home is relatively straightforward. However, phone, cable, internet and mobile service can be challenging. Some companies, such as Movistar and Vodafone require not only the NIE or TIE mentioned above, but will also require a local bank account that was open a minimum of one year earlier. This requirement, as you can imagine, seems absurd since you would have had to open a bank account one year before you moved. Orange, on the other hand, requires a local bank account from where they can withdraw the monthly charges, plus some sort of identification, such as a passport.


Good, high paying jobs are rare. The country, in general, has not recovered from the financial crisis of 2008/9 and unemployment remains stubbornly high. That said, there are many large foreign companies in the area and some of them are growing and need people. Your best bet, if looking for a job, is to research the local companies based on your experience and look at the career tab for openings at those firms.

Another route, which we took, is to work as a consultant if you have the expertise and have already established yourself in your home country. However, expect to commute to where the work is, which is usually in central and northern Europe. Also, an advantage to being a freelance consultant in Spain are the tax breaks. The government collects a tax of 60€ for the first one or two years, as opposed to 300 to 2,000€ for already established freelancers. This tax is used to pay for public medical insurance, public pension, and other related services. The government provides this 2-year initial break to encourage entrepreneurship.

Schools, if you have kids

There are generally three kinds of schools: public schools, which are free and open to all; “concertadas,” which are similar to charter schools and require a modest fee; and private schools. The latter also encompasses all the international schools, such as American, British, German, Italian and others. These schools follow a curriculum similar to that of the country of origin, but must also abide by local jurisdiction requirements, such as learning Catalan. More about this last issue below.

When choosing a school, you should consider the following:

  • Needs and goals for your child, such as a good science and math program, or a language immersion program, and so on. Also, you may consider a school that fits into the program in your country of origin and where your child may end up studying later on in life.
  • Location, which will also dictate where you might want to live. Public schools are, of course readily available in any neighborhood in the city, but the “concertadas” are spread out across the city; and the private schools are primarily in the northwestern part of the city in the districts of Sarriá or Pedralbes or in Esplugues.
  • Cost: public schools are free and “concertadas” charge a reasonable fee, but private schools can run from 5.000€ a to 15,000€ per year.
  • Reputation: you can research a school online, check out their webpage, even visit the facilities, but in the end, it comes down to word-of-mouth and feedback from the students who attend the school and their parents.
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Spanish is, of course, the official language throughout Spain, but Catalonia has the distinction of having a second official language, which is Catalan. You will see it written on many official and commercial signs, as well as hear it on the street or on TV. It is similar to Spanish, but with some French and Italian grammar and vocabulary added to the mix. Therefore, if you already know Spanish, you will get the gist of Catalan.

Catalan is required for some public sector jobs and may be required by some companies and businesses if they feel that their clients will want to speak to a Catalan speaker. If that is the case for your profession, you can always take classes for free. The government of Catalonia offers free courses to encourage learning the language. Additionally, whether your kids go to a public school, a “concertada” school or a private one, they will need to take a minimum of Catalan courses from elementary school all the way thru the local equivalent of high school.

Also, unlike many northern European countries, English is not as prevalent outside of jobs within the tourism sector or at multinational companies. This can be a challenge when going out shopping or dealing with bureaucracy. This situation has been changing and there was even a mayoral candidate this year who wanted to add English as an official language in Catalonia. He did not win the mayoral race, but it was for other reasons.

Social life

People in Barcelona, both the locals as well as other expats, are incredibly friendly and sociable. Making friends here is not difficult at all and, like in most places, will occur at work, by meting your kids’ friends’ parents, at sports events and fitness centers, etc.

Health and Fitness

Finding the right healthcare professional is challenging in the best of circumstances, so finding one in a foreign city can be tough. The best option is to check their reviews online and, if possible, request recommendations from any person you might know. This is an option if you have private insurance and can select your own healthcare professional. However, if you are covered under public medical insurance, a general practitioner will be assigned to you based on where you live.

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The public health insurance has a good reputation, though there are stories of how it can take a long time to get an appointment for a medical specialist or to schedule surgery. That said, Hospital Vall d’Hebron, which is a public hospital, has a superb reputation worldwide; especially regarding cancer research.

Fitness centers are plentiful in Barcelona. They range from large chains, such as CrossFit, DIR, and McFit, to smaller clubs scattered all over the city. The latter are typically smaller and run by the proprietor. They serve locals in their respective neighborhoods. They can be a great source to meet friends and typically offer personal customer service.

Additionally, there are government-run fitness centers complete with swimming pools, workout areas, and scheduled fitness classes. Two good examples are the CEM Joan Miro (www.cejoanmiro.cat) in the L’Eixample district and the Club Natació Atlètic-Barceloneta (www.cnab.cat) in Barceloneta proper.

Transit and Transportation

The transit system, which includes subway lines, buses, trams, and regional trains, is quite efficient, though there are the occasional strikes due to poor working conditions, political views, salary disputes and so on. Still, they cover the metropolitan area quite well, including outlying suburbs and towns. Additionally, taxis are plentiful within the more urban areas and are also relatively reasonable cost-wise.

Driving is also an option, of course, but can be stressful due to excessive traffic at peak hours, lack of on-street parking, expensive pay-parking and the need to either rent or buy a parking spot where you can park your vehicle. Additionally, Spain has very few arrangements with other countries that provide driver license reciprocity. In other words, if you have a driver license from a non-EU country, you will need to apply for a license and start the process from scratch, which includes attending a driving course, passing both written and driving exams, and submitting to a medical check-up.

You will need to research if your country has a reciprocity arrangement with Spain. Off-hand I can inform you that they do not have such an arrangement with Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. among others.

We have tried to provide enough information to get you started, but as you can see, it can be quite daunting. Should you have any questions, please feel free to send us an email at info@citywriteups.com. We will do our best to help you out!

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