What’s It Like Living in Barcelona as an Expat?

An Apartment Building in Barcelona - Living in Barcelona as an Expat

I spent four years living in Barcelona as an expat and loved it!  But there are certainly some challenges involved with moving to Barcelona that can cause issues.  However, Barcelona is a fabulous city and any of these problems were worth overcoming to enjoy life in Barcelona.

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Here are five reasons why I loved living in Barcelona, and five things that make Barcelona life slightly less enjoyable, so you are prepared to become an ex-pat in Barcelona!

Living in Barcelona – The Good Stuff

Barcelona is Amazing

The first huge advantage of living in Barcelona is that you will be living in Barcelona!  Barcelona is my favourite city in Europe and all the reasons that there are to visit Barcelona can easily be applied to why you should live here.

It is a city which really does have everything – beautiful beaches, fabulous food, incredible architecture and buzzing nightlife.  The weather is excellent, with a Mediterranean climate that is sunny and warm almost all year round.

Sunrise in Barcelona at the Gothic Cathedral
Sunrise in Beautiful Barcelona at the Gothic Cathedral

A Great Location

Barcelona is known as the city between the mountain and the sea, and you also have access to excellent hiking just outside the city centre, as well as being just a couple of hours drive from the French border and the Pyrenees for skiing and snow sports in the winter.

The Spanish train network also means that you can travel all around Spain in just a few hours, spending a weekend in Madrid, Valencia, Seville or Granada whenever you fancy – or heading north to France just as easily.

Barcelona is well-connected with an international airport, so you can fly home to visit family without any trouble – which also pleases the guests who will no doubt queue up to get an invitation to stay with you!

The Expat Community

There are a lot of foreigners living in Barcelona from all over the world, and so it is easy to meet other ex-pats and join international groups here, whether that is for business networking or pleasure.

You can join LinkedIn groups for networking and business contacts, or Facebook groups such as the American Society of Barcelona (not just for Americans), and Meet-Up groups to meet other people with similar interests.  I met some of my best friends in Barcelona through a Meet-Up social, and others through a foodie website called Eat With, bonding over a shared love of food.

The Food

Speaking of food, a major part of my life in Barcelona was eating my way through the incredible restaurants here.  50 restaurants in Catalonia have been awarded one or more prestigious Michelin Stars, so you can enjoy high-end experiences alongside traditional fare and tasty tapas.

While there are plenty of tourist traps to avoid, the longer you spend living in Barcelona, the more local restaurants you will discover, from tapas and vermouth in cosy bodegas, to countryside farm-to-table meals in wineries a short train ride away.

Casteller Human Towers - Common at Festivals in Catalonia and Barcelona
Casteller Human Towers – Common at Festivals in Catalonia and Barcelona

The Culture

Barcelona is an interesting blend of Spanish and Catalan cultures.  The high level of immigration from other parts of Spain and Latin America means that Barcelona is a melting pot of cultures, and Catalans are fiercely proud of their heritage, language and culture, which was banned during Franco’s Dictatorship until his death in 1975.

I loved meeting people from all across the world, in particular South America – which finally inspired me to pack up my backpack and head off across the world to Bolivia – and there are restaurants, bars and festivals all dedicated to Latin American culture in Barcelona, as well as traditional Catalan events and activities too.

One of my favourite parts of Catalan culture is the Castellers – human towers where groups come together to stand on each other’s shoulders, several levels high, in a demonstration of community strength and variety.

Casteller team members vary in size and weight from stocky men at the bottom levels, to a small child who clambers up to the top of the tower.  They are a spectacular sight to behold and an important part of many of the festivals in the city.  You’ll also find traditional Sardana dancing, Catalan music and literature to enjoy.

The Downsides to Life in Barcelona

The Bureaucracy

I hate paperwork with a passion, and it seems that Barcelona loves it!  So many complex forms and hoops to jump through in order to do anything official here, it is a major pain.  However, I’ve heard from other expats in Barcelona that it isn’t as bad as Naples in Italy for example.

Perhaps living in any country that isn’t your own is always unnecessarily complex, but it certainly is frustrating!

Open Sign in the Three Main Languages of Barcelona: Catalan Spanish and English
Open Sign in the Three Main Languages of Barcelona: Catalan Spanish and English

The Language Barrier

If you want to move to Spain to improve your Spanish, you may find Barcelona is not the best place to do that.  Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region in Spain, and Catalan is the primary language here.  While everyone can speak Spanish, Catalan dominates, so it will make your life a lot easier if you can speak Catalan.

That said, I know people who lived here for several years and didn’t speak a word of Spanish or Catalan, so you can survive here without learning the language.  But, of course, you will get a lot more out of your experience if you can communicate with the local people here as well as other expats.

Spanish is a start, but if you spend several years here, try to learn at least some Catalan.  The local government offers free beginner Catalan classes to get you started.

Rental Prices

The cost of living in Barcelona has skyrocketed in recent years.  The city’s popularity with tourists and the difficulty of expanding the city beyond the boundaries of mountains and sea means that living space is at a premium.

It is now difficult to find a decent flat for a decent price, although COVID may have made things slightly easier due to less demand from tourists.

Over-Tourism

Speaking of tourists, one of the things that irritate people living in Barcelona is the people who visit!  Particularly in the summer months, the city fills with tourists and it becomes impossible to leave your front door without falling over groups of people milling around.

Trying to get to work on time and having to run a gauntlet of slow-walking tourists is extremely irritating, especially in the peak summer months.  It has also led to some of the more traditional shops in Barcelona closing, being replaced by tacky souvenir shops and fast food takeaways to feed the hungry hordes.

Fridge Magnets for Sale in Barcelona
Fridge Magnets for Sale in Barcelona

Summer & Sunday Shut-Downs

The solution to the summer overload of tourists is to do what the locals do and get out of town in August!  Many of the local restaurants, shops and bars close down during August as residents leave the city to the tourists.

That causes another issue in that nothing will ever get done during August as everyone is on holiday!  Good luck trying to arrange work on your apartment or any kind of official paperwork – it just won’t happen.

That also happens to a lesser extent every Sunday, when almost all the supermarkets and shops close.  I’d got used to doing my shopping on a Sunday in England, but it was a rude awakening to find I could only get basics from the local corner shop which seemingly never closes.

That means that Saturdays and weekday evenings are always busy as everyone tries to do their chores and grocery shopping when they can.

 

All that said, while there were some parts of living in Barcelona that drove me up the wall, nothing could erase my love for the city.  I still adored my time in Barcelona, and hope to be able to move back soon – if I can find a good place to live!