Discover what living in Barcelona is like as an expat! Learn about the culture, cuisine, and community in this bustling Spanish city.

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Maryam Siddiqui

Barcelona is like that fascinating friend who always has something exciting up their sleeve. This vibrant city is not just a feast for the senses; it’s a haven for expats from all corners of the globe. Living in Barcelona means embracing the laid-back lifestyle, where work-life balance isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a way of life.  Every corner tells a story, from the sun-kissed beaches to the shadowy lanes of the Gothic Quarter.

Living in Barcelona

Whether you’re drawn by the allure of Gaudí’s whimsical architecture or the promise of endless sunny days, Barcelona welcomes you with open arms. In this guide, we’ll delve into the ins and outs of living in Barcelona as an expat. From finding your dream apartment in the city’s heart to navigating the bustling streets like a local, we’ve got you covered.

Let’s explore the hidden gems of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, unravel the mysteries of Catalan cuisine, and dive into the rich tapestry of its history and culture.

What is living in Barcelona like?

Living in Barcelona as an expat is like stepping into a lively fiesta that never ends. The city pulsates with energy, from its bustling streets to its sandy beaches. As an expat, you witness history, shake hands with modernity, and move at a leisurely bike ride pace. 

Sure, you’ll grapple with the occasional sluggish lifestyle and the summer heat, but that’s just part of the charm.

The food scene is a gastronomic delight, with tapas bars, and seafood restaurants at every corner. Barcelona’s vibrant art scene offers a constant source of inspiration, while its architecture, including the iconic Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, never fails to awe.

One thing that Barcelona and the whole of Spain are known for is the work-life balance, particularly the siesta. The siesta is not just a break; it offers a chance to rest and recharge, potentially increasing productivity at work.

Neighborhoods in Barcelona

Picking the right neighborhood in Barcelona is akin to choosing any other thing in life, it has to suit your personal needs and preferences. Barcelona boasts excellent destinations that offer different experiences to different people. 

More of a laid-back beach bum? Barceloneta’s sandy shores are calling your name. Gràcia’s quirky boutiques and plazas have got you covered if you’re after that artsy, bohemian vibe.

Since each neighborhood has its unique zest, here are three of the top destinations in Barcelona that you should prioritize.

L’Eixample

L’Eixample is the beating heart of Barcelona, with a picture checkerboard layout sprinkled with architectural eye candy. This neighborhood is where you will find the legendary Sagrada Familia and other hidden gems.

It’s a bit more upscale, with plenty of boutiques, cafes, and restaurants to explore. L’Eixample offers a mix of residential and commercial spaces, making it a great place for expats looking for a lively atmosphere.

Gràcia

Different from the upscale L’Eixample, Gràcia is like an excellent indie movie. It is a charming neighborhood with a bohemian flair. It’s known for its narrow streets, quirky shops, and lively squares.

The area has a strong sense of community, with many local events and festivals throughout the year. It’s a patchwork of plazas where locals chill with their dogs, and every street corner has a story. Gràcia is a great place for expats looking for a more relaxed and artistic atmosphere.

Barceloneta

Do you fancy having a beach for a backyard, Barceloneta is the place for you! It’s a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying fresh seafood at the many beachfront restaurants.

Barceloneta is an old fisherman’s town; therefore, you should expect a rustic charm and fresh seafood. If a laidback lifestyle is anything to go by, Barceloneta is just the place for you. Imagine ending every day with a stroll on the sand and a horizon that stretches forever.

Who lives in Barcelona?

Barcelona is a melting pot of all nationalities and ethnicities. To provide an idea of the city’s diversity, approximately 15% of its population comprises foreigners. This totals about 880,203 people, according to the latest census.

Here, you will meet a diverse range of people who have chosen to live in this city for different reasons. You’ve got your globe-trotting expats, digital nomads typing away in trendy cafés, and artists finding inspiration on every mosaic-covered corner. 

There are students from all over, soaking up the sun and culture, and retirees living their Mediterranean dream.

Then there are the locals who add the real spice to the city and constitute the majority of the population, totaling 5,797,356 individuals. Whether you’re here for the tech scene, the art, the beach, or the tapas, you’ll find your tribe in Barcelona.

Why are expats moving to Barcelona?

Spain’s always been a hot ticket for travelers and those looking to start a new life abroad. But lately, there’s been a bit of a trend shift. More and more folks are choosing to visit, put down roots, and stay for good.

When it comes to picking a new home base, Barcelona is stealing the spotlight for expats. Why, you ask? Well, three big reasons make Barcelona the go-to city for those looking to make Spain their permanent home.

Let’s dive into what makes Barcelona the top pick for the expat crowd.

Cultural richness

As mentioned earlier, Barcelona is bursting with different cultures and riches, providing expats with the unique opportunity to have diverse cultural experiences.

From its stunning architecture, such as the iconic Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, to its vibrant arts scene and lively festivals, Barcelona is a city that celebrates creativity and expression.

Imagine wandering through the Gothic Quarter, where ancient stones whisper tales of the past. The city thrums with festivals celebrating everything from local saints to international cinema, creating a mosaic of experiences. Living in Barcelona means joining a community that values expression, festivity, and a deep sense of history.

Quality of life

Living in Barcelona as an expat is like being on a perpetual vacation. The city’s sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture create a laid-back and enjoyable lifestyle.

Barcelona offers a great work-life balance, with many businesses embracing a relaxed approach to work. The city’s excellent public transportation system makes it easy to get around, and its safe streets give expats peace of mind.

Barcelona is a city that knows how to enjoy life. Whether you’re sipping sangria at a beachfront chiringuito, or taking in the stunning views from Park Güell, there’s always something exciting to do.

Barcelona’s international vibe means you’ll never feel like an outsider. Sure, you might have to navigate some bureaucracy, but that’s a small price to pay for a community that’s as warm as the Spanish sun.

Golden visa prospects

Think of the Golden Visa in Barcelona as your all-access pass to a new life under the Spanish sun. This particular visa is not like other visas; it is not just a path to future citizenship but also doesn’t mandate prior residence in Spain.

With this visa, you’re not just buying the traditional bricks and mortar; you’re investing in siestas, fiestas, and a whole lot of tapas! But wait, there’s more!

Once you obtain this visa, you can travel to any Schengen country. No more queuing for visas or sweating over paperwork. After establishing residency, you can embrace the lively Spanish way of life, indulge in the delectable cuisine, and engage with the diverse culture.

Expat communities and social life in Barcelona

Barcelona’s expat scene is buzzing with energy and camaraderie. This is essentially where newcomers from all corners of the globe connect. As an expat, you can expect lively meetups and language exchanges in cozy restaurants like Batea, Alkimia, and Dos Palillos.

The city’s calendar is jam-packed with festivals and events, like the vibrant La Mercè, where expats mingle with locals, celebrating Catalan culture.

Social networks and expat groups are lifelines, offering support and insider tips to navigate this beautiful city. Whether through sports, hobbies, or volunteering, there’s always an opportunity to join the fun and feel at home.

Barcelona’s social life for expats is about embracing diversity and building relationships that make living abroad an adventure.

Living in Barcelona

Buying a property in Barcelona

Expats can buy property in Barcelona, and it’s pretty straightforward. Whether you’re looking for a cozy apartment in the city’s heart or a house by the beach, Barcelona has much to offer.

Plus, buying property in Barcelona can be a smart investment, given the city’s popularity and steady property market. Do your research, work with a reputable real estate agent, and familiarise yourself with the local regulations.

Overall, buying property in Barcelona as an expat is totally doable and can be a great way to put down roots in this vibrant city. To buy property, you must obtain a Número de Identificación de Extranjero (NIE), an essential tax identification number for the transaction.

While there are many reasons expats choose to move to Spain, property prices are one of the biggest draws. According to data presented by Idealista, the average price of buying property in Barcelona is €2,654/m2.

Here is a rundown of property prices in the popular neighborhoods in Barcelona. 

MunicipalityCost of property
Abrera1,778 €/m2
Alella2,958 €/m2
Barcelona4,317 €/m2
Badalona2,162 €/m2
Caldes d’Estrac2,733 €/m2
Castelldefels3,709 €/m2
El Prat de Llobregat2,720 €/m2
Granollers2,039 €/m2
Sant Vicenç de Montalt2,905 €/m2

Data is from Idealista (as of April 2024).

Renting a flat in Barcelona

Thinking about making Barcelona your home, but buying a place is too much for your wallet? No worries, renting is the way to go! It’s easier on your bank account and saves you from the headache of dealing with all those tricky ownership rules.

Plus, when it comes to finding a flat in Barcelona, there’s something for everyone, no matter how much you want to spend. Remember that your rental’s price tag will swing based on different factors. The location, size, and current condition of the flat will be the key rent determinants.

On average, renting a flat in Barcelona costs €17.8/m2. Here’s the breakdown of rental prices for various types of apartments, both in the city center and more distant areas.

Rental typeCost
1 bedroom in city center€1,232
1 bedroom outside of center€948
3 bedrooms in city center€2,087
3 bedrooms  outside of center€1,565

Data is from Numbeo (as of April 2024).

Is it better to live in Barcelona or Madrid?

Choosing between Barcelona and Madrid is like picking between the beach and the heart of Spanish culture. Barcelona’s got that coastal charm, with its stunning beaches and vibrant arts scene.

You’ll fall in love with the unique blend of Catalan culture and modern city life. Plus, the architecture, especially the work of Gaudí, is breathtaking.

On the other hand, Madrid is like the beating heart of Spain. It’s got that big city buzz, with world-class museums, lively plazas, and unbeatable nightlife.

The food scene in both cities is top-notch, but Madrid’s tapas bars are a must-try. Ultimately, the choice depends on what you’re looking for. Barcelona is more laid-back, while Madrid is lively and bustling. Both have their charms, so you can’t go wrong either way!

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Is living in Barcelona better than living in Valencia?

Are you deciding between Barcelona and Valencia? Well, it all boils down to what you’re after. Barcelona is like the bustling big sibling, offering a vibrant city life with its bustling streets, world-class dining, and a rich cultural scene. It’s also a bit pricier, especially in the city center.

Conversely, Valencia is more laid-back with its relaxed pace, beautiful beaches, and charming old town. It’s generally more affordable and has a strong sense of community.

So, if you’re all about that big-city buzz and don’t mind the higher costs, Barcelona might be your jam. But if you prefer a more relaxed vibe and want to stretch your budget further, Valencia could be the place for you.

What is the cost of living in Barcelona?

The cost of living in Barcelona may vary greatly according to your spending habits, needs, and preferences.

Check out the table for some estimates provided by Numbeo (as of April 2024):

ItemCost
Milk (regular), (1 liter)€1.06
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)€1.50
Rice (white), (1kg)€1.46
Eggs (regular) (12)€2.79
Local Cheese (1kg)€12.57
Chicken Fillets (1kg)€8.20
Beef Round (1kg)€13.49
Apples (1kg)€2.04
Banana (1kg)€1.73
Oranges (1kg)€1.70
Tomato (1kg)€2.37
Potato (1kg)€1.59
Onion (1kg)€1.60
Lettuce (1 head)€1.07
Water (1.5 liter bottle)€0.76
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)€6.00
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)€1.14
Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)€1.60
Monthly Pass (Regular Price)€30
Utilities€200

The cost of living in Barcelona for a family of four is estimated to be around €2,771 without rent. A single person’s estimated monthly costs are about €788.5 without rent. While this is relatively high according to the local standards, from a global perspective, Barcelona is relatively cheap.

For some perspective, this destination is about 46% less expensive compared to New York. Remember that, your monthly expenses will ultimately vary depending on your choices.

Safety living in Barcelona

Barcelona is a cool city with a laid-back vibe, but like any popular spot, it’s got its share of pickpockets, especially in touristy areas. Don’t stress too much, though; violent crimes are pretty rare.

Just keep your wits about you, maybe wear a money belt, and don’t flash your cash or fancy gadgets in crowded places. The city has a strong community feel, and locals are usually super helpful if you need directions or safety tips.

Just be street-smart, especially on the metro or at hotspots like Las Ramblas, and you’ll be fine. According to The Economist’s 2021 Safe Cities Index, Barcelona ranks as the 11th safest city globally.

Healthcare system in Barcelona

Healthcare in Barcelona is pretty top-notch, whether you’re a local or an expat. The city boasts a robust public healthcare system, known as the Sistema Nacional de Salud or SNS.

This system offers quality medical services that are both accessible and affordable. Spain’s universal healthcare system covers most medical needs, including emergencies, hospital stays, and specialist consultations.

As an expat, you can access this system by registering and paying through the Social Security system. Moreover, Barcelona has plenty of private healthcare facilities, offering quicker access to services and English-speaking staff.

While private healthcare comes at a cost, it offers added convenience and flexibility. Overall, Barcelona’s healthcare system ensures that residents and expats receive the care they need, making it a reliable choice for most people.

Living in Barcelona

Work labor in Barcelona

The idea of working in the vibrant city of Barcelona is quite appealing. However, just like in other parts of Spain, the job market in Barcelona has become challenging post-economic downturn.

Securing employment in Barcelona is achievable, but it often demands perseverance and time. The current unemployment rate in Spain is about 11.76%, according to recent data from Trading Economics.

While this number might appear high, the good news is that there are plenty of jobs to go around, especially for highly skilled folks. Barcelona has a thriving tech and innovation scene, with numerous international companies constantly looking to hire new talent.

Labor laws in Spain provide workers with rights and protections, ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. Barcelona has a dynamic scene with much room to grow your career, whether you’re into the traditional 9-to-5 or something more out-of-the-box.

Education in Barcelona

Barcelona is quite the hotspot for international education. You’ve got a variety of international schools, each with its own unique perks. Take the Benjamin Franklin International School, for example. It’s like a little slice of America, offering everything from Nursery to Grade 12 with a mix of American, Spanish, and IB Diploma programs. It’s pretty popular, with students from over 50 countries!

For those looking to go beyond school, Barcelona doesn’t disappoint. There’s the United International Business Schools Of Spain which offers flexible business and management studies at all levels.

Barcelona’s educational institutions provide an extensive selection of programs for students at the bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. levels. The opportunity to study in Barcelona also enriches the academic journey with the city’s vibrant cultural and historical backdrop.

How can a foreigner move to Barcelona?

Our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats is a fantastic resource. It’s a community where you can share experiences, get tips, and maybe even make new friends who can relate to the joys and challenges of expat life.

So, you’re thinking about moving to Spain? That’s awesome! The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out your visa situation. Spain offers a bunch of different visas based on your reasons for moving there.

Just make sure you tick all the boxes for the visa you need. And hey, if you’re new to dealing with Spanish immigration, it might be a good idea to chat with our immigration experts.

They’re super helpful and can guide you through the process, which can sometimes be a bit of a maze.

Is it worth living in Barcelona?

Living in Barcelona as an expat is definitely worth it! The city offers a fantastic quality of life with its beautiful architecture, rich culture, and delicious food.

The weather is also amazing, with plenty of sunshine to enjoy year-round. Barcelona is a very international city, so you’ll find a diverse community of expats and locals.

The city is also very welcoming to foreigners, so you’ll feel right at home. There’s always something to do in Barcelona, whether exploring the city’s many museums and galleries, relaxing on the beach, or sampling the local cuisine.

That said, the bottom line is whether or not Barcelona ticks all your boxes for a dream destination. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that you need to figure out on your own. Overall, Barcelona is a vibrant and exciting city that offers a great lifestyle for expats.

Do you need help moving to Barcelona?

Moving to a new city, especially one as vibrant and bustling as Barcelona, can be quite an adventure! It’s a beautiful place with so much to offer, but let’s be honest: the logistics of moving can get overwhelming.

That’s where our team at Viv Europe comes in. Whenever you are ready, be sure to reach out. We’re here to make your transition as smooth as possible.

We’ve got you covered, from finding the perfect neighborhood to sorting out the nitty-gritty paperwork. While you’re getting settled, why not connect with others who are in the same boat?

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