Living in Barcelona
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A comprehensive guide about living well in Barcelona
Living in Barcelona is incredibly popular, particularly among younger expats. This is mostly due to the mild climate, the rich culture, and the exceptional architecture dominating life in Barcelona. Read our Barcelona guide and learn about neighborhoods, housing, healthcare, and more.
Life in Barcelona
Living in Barcelona is an increasingly popular option for expats. A high quality of life, exceptional architecture, some of which was designed by Antoni Gaudí, and the fast-paced life are among the factors that make living in Barcelona such a special experience. Living in Catalonia’s capital also means experiencing the locals’ pride in their language and history firsthand.
Pick a Barrio That Fits Your Needs
Expats who plan on living in Barcelona can choose between one of the city’s ten districts to settle down in. A local councilor is responsible for running the districts which each have a say when it comes to making decisions about the city’s infrastructure, for instance. Some districts were independent municipalities before they were integrated into Barcelona in the late 19th and early 20th century. The ten districts of the city of Barcelona are:
- Ciutat Vella
- Les Corts
- Sarrià-Sant Gervasi
- Nou Barris
- Sant Andreu
- Sant Martí
Are you thinking about living in Barcelona’s most trendy and upscale district? Then Eixample is the place to go. The tree-lined streets and avenues boast a big selection of high-class restaurants, shops, and bars. The Plaça Catalunya separates the more affluent Eixample from the Barrí Gòtic in the Ciutat Vella district. Expats living in Eixample can choose between two main areas: Esquerra and Dreta (left and right). The former is the more residential area of the two and offers both parks and a good night life, while the latter is very well connected to public transportation and has great shopping opportunities.
The Golden Square (Quadrat d’Or) is the place which is most popular among tourists. This should not come as a surprise, as the most famous buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí are located in this area. In fact, Quadrat d’Or is often perceived as a treasure trove of modernista architecture.
The Gothic Quarter
If living in the historic center is more up your alley, why don’t you settle in the Barri Gòtic? This neighborhood constitutes the oldest part of the city of Barcelona. It is famous for its narrow alleys and cobbled streets. The area around La Seu (Barcelona’s Cathedral) is particularly impressive. The streets surrounding it were built around 10 BC, providing its historic flair. Various historic buildings, bridges, and museum complete the picture. Expats who are curious about the city’s historic past should feel right at home living in Barcelona’s gothic quarter.
Ciutat Vella: El Born and Barceloneta
Expats living in El Born have settled among up-and-coming fashion designers and artists. The area boasts nothing but innovation. The district is separated from the Barri Gòtic only by the Via Laietana, a long street running from Eixample all the way to the sea. If you are looking for one of the trendiest areas in this neighborhood, you need to make your way to Passeig del Born which used to be the main square of Barcelona.
The beautiful waterfront neighborhood district of Barceloneta was brought back to life in 1992 for the Olympic Games. Today the Platja Barceloneta is popular for its palm trees and the adjacent Parc de la Ciutadella. Life in Barcelona’s beach neighborhood Barceloneta is concentrated around its two ports. Port Olimpic is known for its restaurants and bars, for the beautiful marina, and the nightlife. Port Vell, on the other hand, is the city’s old port and the place where luxurious yachts and sailing boats dock.
Housing and Healthcare in Barcelona
The Housing Search in Barcelona
Expats who think about living in Barcelona or another city in Spain should make sure to secure housing before their move. Short-term rentals are often quite difficult to come by, especially considering that Barcelona is not just popular among expats but also among the many Erasmus students who move to the city each year to study.
You have the option of renting directly through a private owner. Private owners (particulares) usually refrain from using an estate agent to rent out their property. That way, you can save the agency fee and the bureaucratic hassle. However, negotiations can prove quite nerve-wracking, particularly for expats who are not fluent in Spanish, or Catalan, for that matter, yet.
Another factor working against renting through a particular is that the majority of the real estate market in Barcelona is controlled by real estate agencies. This may work in your favor as you can refer to different agencies and let them search for a place that fits your needs. On the other hand, of course, you should be prepared to pay the agency fee which usually amounts to one month’s rent plus tax.
What Will Your Home Look Like?
In a city like Barcelona, where lots of people are eager to find a place to live, apartments are the preferred type of accommodation. If you don’t mind living outside of the city, however, houses and even small chalets are a viable option as well. Apartments are either for rent (alquiler) or available for purchase (ventas). Most apartments are rented unfurnished (sin amueblar), although in rare cases you might be able to find a furnished apartment (amueblado) as well.
Different types of accommodation are available:
- Estudios are small one-room apartments which are ideal for singles.
- Apartamientos usually come with one or two bedrooms, as well as a kitchen, bathroom, and a living room.
- Pisos, on the other hand, take up the entire floor, with two or three bedrooms, and are often the first choice of expat families.
Healthcare in Barcelona
Spain’s public healthcare system has an excellent reputation, with high-quality care readily available. Every legal resident (empadronat) is eligible to receive public healthcare throughout his or her stay in Barcelona. Simply present your Targeta Sanitària Individual (Individual Health Card — TSI) when you visit a doctor or hospital. In order to qualify for a TSI, you need to have a social security number or fall under a social security agreement between Spain and your country of origin. Register at the Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social(INSS) before heading to your local primary-healthcare center (centre d’atenció primària — CAP) to hand in the necessary documents and obtain your card.
Public and Private Care: In Search of Quality and Reliability
As soon as you have secured your TSI, you should receive the details about your general practitioner (metge de capçalera) at your local CAP. Your doctor should be the first person to contact for any health-related questions or issues. If necessary he or she can refer you to a specialist. Appointments can be either made in person or online.
For medical attention outside of the usual opening hours from December through to March, expats can visit a continual attention center (Centre d’Atenció Continua — CAC) — a regular CAP but with different hours. These centers are open Saturdays and on holidays. However, not all CACs are open at the same time and you need to consult your CAP to see which CAC is responsible for your area. In case of an emergency, you are better off calling the European emergency number 112. Dialing numbers specific to Spain is also an option.
For many expats living in Barcelona, private healthcare may be the preferred option. The advantage is that you have immediate access to medical specialists, a wider choice of medical care providers, and shorter waiting times. The following are some options for private healthcare coverage:
Education and Architecture in Barcelona
A Spanish Education: Public, Private, or a Mix of the Two?
Although Spain’s public education system has a great reputation, academic standards might vary between cities, neighborhoods, and even schools. On the upside, education is free for all children who are legal residents in Barcelona. For kids between the ages of six and sixteen, schooling is obligatory. However, many also attend kindergarten and preschool from the age of three onwards.
Schools in Barcelona are grouped into three stages, designated by their student’s age: the colegio (primary school), the instituto (secondary school), and the bacchillerato. There are three different types of colegio, namely público (public), concertado (semi-private), and privado (private). It is not compulsory for children to attend the bacchillerato. However, here students receive a degree which allows them to pursue higher education.
International Schools in Barcelona
Would you prefer a more global environment for your child where different cultural backgrounds are taken into consideration? If this is the case then Barcelona is the perfect spot for you and your family. The city boasts a wide selection of international schools. Please remember that international education comes at a price and that the tuition of the school of your choice should be considered when planning your budget.
Most international schools in and around Barcelona are country-specific schools, catering to the American, British, French, or German expat community, for instance. An example for this is the Benjamin Franklin International School, the Kensington School, or the Instituto Italiano Statale. However, the offering of international schools doesn’t end here and you should see for yourself which school and which style of educational you prefer. It should be noted, that most international schools in Barcelona are offering parts of their curriculum in Spanish or Catalan.
Barcelona’s architecture is significantly characterized by the designs of Antoni Gaudí. Few other artists represent the character of modernism like Gaudí, and buildings and sculptures of his style can be found all over the city of Barcelona. What’s characteristic for his work is the adaption of natural forms, his metal sculptures, as well as colorful ceramic mosaics and bright colors.
Apart from Park Güell and Casa Batlló, the Sagrada Familia is the most famous example of Gaudí’s architectural designs. Located in the Eixample disctrict, the construction of this church began in 1882 and is still under way and is expected to only be finished in 2026. However, Antoni Gaudí is responsible for most of the look of the Sagrada Familia and his designs are the main reason this church has become so popular among visitors and locals alike. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that the whole reconstruction is financed by donations and entry fees alone.