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Employment in Barcelona

Catalonia’s Economy: Standing the Tests of Time

Without a doubt, expats in Barcelona benefit from the city’s convenient location right by the Mediterranean Sea. Barcelona has in fact been a major hub for business and trade for centuries. Thus, expats planning on working in Barcelona’s trading and manufacturing industries may have found just the right place. Aside from the city’s traditional sectors, tourism and culture are also on the rise. After all, Barcelona is considered a major center for art, architecture, and design.

Barcelona’s economy is vital to the country as it is the capital of Catalonia which in turn contributes significantly to Spain’s income generating roughly a fifth of Spain’s GDP (2014). The highly diverse structure of its economy and the weight of its industrial base have turned the city into a culturally and industrially vibrant center, even in times of economic hardship.

The Job Hunt: What’s Your Safest Bet?

While you are working in Barcelona, you will quickly realize that the tertiary sector plays an important role in Barcelona’s economy, primarily because it provides the most jobs. Nevertheless, the manufacturing industry and various other fields also contribute significantly to Barcelona’s economy.

The ICT Sector

The ICT sector is considered one of the major contributors to Barcelona’s economy. The sector combines IT and telecommunication with audiovisual systems which make up new ICT applications. The ICT sector is highly productive. With over 2,150 companies and 210 research institutes, Catalonia and particularly Barcelona make up a major ICT hub. Working in the ICT sector gives you a particular advantage as you benefit from social, commercial, institutional, and educational programs in Barcelona.


Although the biotechnology sector is still developing in Barcelona, it has grown significantly over the past decade. The pharmaceutical and chemical industries in Catalonia are closely tied to this sector. Barcelona’s biotechnology has been expanding: between 2008 and 2014 the number of biotech companies in Catalonia increased by between 15% and 30%. In 2014 Catalonia hosted almost 19% of the total biotech companies in Spain.

Expats, who are curious about the biotechnology sector, have made the right choice by working in Barcelona. After all, Catalonia is an important location in terms of pharmaceutical development. About 50% of pharmaceutical labs, 60% of the production, and 66% of all companies doing business in this field are located in Catalonia. You will also find Spain’s main pharmaceutical companies there: Almirall Prodesfarma, Esteve, Ferrer Internacional, and Uriach.


Catalonia is among the leading agriculture clusters of Europe. Out of Catalonia’s total surface area, 88% is rural with one third of this area being farmland. The economic crisis took its toll on the agricultural sector too with a comparatively low employment rate, namely in the low 60s, for those between 20 and 64 years old. According to the last census in 2013 the number of people employed in the agricultural sector reached an all-time low that year compared to the decade preceding it.

Cross-Border Flights and an International Work Force

The city’s infrastructure is another aspect adding to its popularity. For instance, Barcelona El Prat International Airport connects Catalonia to all major cities within Europe receiving around 55 million passengers a year. It also handles flights to many international destinations, such as Singapore, Tel Aviv, or New York. Moreover, Barcelona offers excellent connections with trains covering various domestic routes.

Barcelona boasts a multicultural workforce, with just under 17% of the population (up from just 3% in 2000) hailing from a country other than Spain. On top of this, the abundance of private and public educational institutions in Barcelona produces a very well-educated work force.

Expat Business Life in Barcelona

Taking That First Step: The Job Hunt

Finding work in Barcelona is not so easy for expats. Not only are many employers looking for foreign employees who are fluent in Spanish, most of them also expect at least basic proficiency in Catalan. Even though the job search may take some effort on your part, it is definitely possible to find work in Barcelona. Your chances increase if you have already secured your NIE, your personal identity number. This is not easy to do without an employment contract, mind you.

Browse online job databases and the job sections of expat websites. , for instance, offers an online job section for Barcelona and other destinations within Spain. Websites like Jobsin Barcelona advertise in English, making the job search that little bit less stressful. If you are fluent in Spanish, you can also look through local newspapers for vacancies. La Vanguardia and El País have very extensive job sections and are probably the most popular newspapers in Barcelona.

For expats on the job hunt, the Barcelona Metropolitan magazine can be of great help as well. The monthly magazine is published in English and has a job section in the back with positions particularly well suited for expats. Copies are available at most language schools, as well as Café de la Opera on La Rambla 74 and the Hibernan English Bookshop in Gràcia.

Tax Regulations for Expats

The tax regulations for expats depend mostly on their country of origin and type of employment. These details determine whether you have to pay taxes in Spain and how exactly you are required to pay them. US citizens, for instance, should contact the Internal Revenue Service in the United States for more information or refer to the Income Tax Convention with Spain.

Spain has signed double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAA) with many different countries. For expats it is important to figure out if they fall under one of those agreements and, if so, which country’s taxes they are supposed to pay. Check the UN Database to see what regulations, if any, apply to you. Are you from a non-EU country and your country of origin has not signed a DTAA with Spain? In that case, you are required to pay your taxes in Spain.

At the end of the day, taxation can be quite difficult to figure out, no matter if you fall under a DTAA or not. Thus, you should always refer to the Spanish tax authorities for more information. It is also recommended to turn to a tax advisor or an attorney who is experienced in working with expats. For more details on this subject, check out our guide on working in Spain.

Business — It’s All about Personal Ties

While doing business in Barcelona, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, business relationships are formed between people and not the companies they work for. Thus, once you have established a trusting business relationship, it will prevail even when you change companies. Your business partners will want to make sure that they can trust you before doing business with you.

Hierarchy and rank are important when it comes to Spanish business deals. While any decision is made at the top, you should be sure to deal with people of your own rank. It is possible that you will not get to meet the person who ultimately makes the decision. Try to always provide your presentations and materials both in English and Spanish to avoid misunderstandings. It is customary to interrupt people during meetings and often several people speak at once. Only when you and your business partners reach an understanding during one of those meetings is it time to draw up a contract.

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