The pros and cons of expatriate life in Barcelona

Expat in Barcelona. Living in Barcelona Barcelona

A popular location for expats of all kinds. Barcelona is often quoted as one the most desirable towns in Europe to live. We have collected some pros and cons of the city from the perspective of an expat.

Pros: The beach

You may be going to Barcelona for professional reasons, but the fact that it is one of the few large cities in the world which is located next to a beautiful sandy beach is absolutely a plus. The city enjoys lovely hot summers and has many cloudless days as well, making Barcelona a fantastic place to relax when you leave the office. Of course this beach culture does attract lots of tourists during the summer, which can be an annoyance in case you stay for a longer period of time. However, to other people, this contributes to the city’s undoubted energy and reputation as one of the most vibrant and animated cities in Europe.

Cons: The language

Catalan, as with many minority languages, is both a wonderful curiosity and a daily obstacle at the same time. While a basic knowledge of Spanish (called Castilian) will help you translate signposts and basic written instructions. Catalonia is extremely proud to be culturally different from the rest of Spain and expats would do well to consider this. Use the opportunity the government offers to non-catalan speaking residents. Ask for free catalan lessons and to dive even more into the culture of Catalonia. Because of Barcelona’s popularity for tourists, a lot of inhabitants are skilled at speaking English, sometimes better than Spanish.

Pros: Low cost of living

The website Numbeo shows a cost of living comparison of cities in Europe based on user-contributed data. Zürich is listed on top with an index of 145 (compared to New York as the benchmark at 100): Barcelona has a rating of “only” 68 and is one of the lowest ranked large European cities. This makes it an affordable place to live: groceries, eating out and travel are all reasonable – however, the flip side is that economic opportunities are less. International assignees working for the large corporates are not affected by this, but younger expats and students often have a difficult time to find work.

Cons: Bureaucracy

The most heard expat complaint about the city is the (sometimes) complicate bureaucracy. The classic example is the task of applying for your NIE (número de identidad de extranjero) – which is an identification number for people from abroad. You will need the NIE for almost anything official that you do and it is a must have to live in Spain. A lot of expats mention long time-intense process before having their carefully prepared forms to get their NIE. It is advised to book an appointment online as early as possible in the morning, to be prepared meticulously and, if possible, take a Spanish-speaking person with you. And then photocopy your NIE and make sure to commit the number to memory. It’s that important.

Pros: Gaudi

While culture is everywhere in this fabulous city, it is maybe best exemplified by Antoni Gaudi. The influence of this extraordinary architect is all over the city, but there are three examples which no tourist can afford to miss (so, being an expat, you have no excuse whatsever). Be thrilled at the ornate textures, shapes, and colors of the Casa Batillo, take a walk through the unparalleled Park Guell, and look up in awe at the twin spires of the Sagrada Familia. The latter is not finished (completion date estimated 2026) but you will not find a more glorious construction site.


It’s Spain, but at the same time, it is not. Enjoy Barcelona and its Mediterranean climate, the highly cost of living and its cultural heritage. Be patient and prepare your emigration realy well. The eccentric architecture, colourful culture and high rate of work-life-balance are worthwhile. It all combines to make Barcelona a destination for expats – just keep your paperwork straight and spend your time enjoying this fantastic city. And don’t forget to watch a FC Barcelona football game at least once.

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