What’s it like living in Barcelona? If you’ve considered moving abroad then this post might be for you. There is a lot of good information on expat websites such as EXPATIA but these sites are also geared towards those who want to move abroad and continue living their own lifestyle which, some argue, might defeat the purpose of moving in the first place.
In this post I’ll address moving costs, housing, taxes, health insurance, culture, food, entertainment, travel, transportation, internet, phone calls, retirement, and visa stuff.
My Impression Of Living In Barcelona
I’ve only been here 1 month so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. I’m also living away from the touristy areas, more among the locals and away from some of the excitement.
I live in a neighborhood called La Sagrera close to Sant Andrew. It’s mostly locals, so fairly quiet. Tons of parks around here and small fruit stands.
Most neighborhoods have benches and chairs which are bolted to the ground, they face the buildings. I think it’s a way to encourage people to leave their homes and socialize and it seems to work quite well. And these seats are fairly commonly occupied – it’s nice to see.
There are a lot people with dogs, a lot. Half are off-leash. Not an insane amount of poop on the sidewalks but a noticeable amount. Some pet owners spray a little water wherever their dogs pee… interesting, must be the corrosion against the buildings, I’m guessing.
People are friendly, incredibly friendly. Everyone assured me that plenty of people speak English in Barcelona. So far only 1 local person has been able to communicate in English and he was the front desk dude at my gym. English speakers don’t seem to be here, in this part of town.
Most people are fit – not gym fit, just a healthy physique. I have seen very few people who are grossly out of shape. This seems to be the kind of population where you better check a TSH if someone is obese.
So many old couples walking hand in hand in public during the daytime. It’s super cute. Not sure why they aren’t divorced… must be the water. The elderly, I’m talking 80’s and 90’s, are fairly fit as well, dress really well and just stroll around.
Barcelona seems like the kind of place you go to relax. I haven’t seen any traditional single family homes like we’re used to in the US. Even the homes they call detached are attached to the home next to it, it’s kinda funny actually.
Everyone seems to get around by using their feet. They have their little grocery hauler bags and they have their baguettes in hand. The public transportation is ridiculously good.
Condo living isn’t for everyone but here everyone lives in a condo. My walls are paper-thin though I have no complaints so far, nobody seems excessively loud. It’s rare to see a flat without a patio. People appear to mostly come home to eat/sleep and spend a good amount of time out of the house.
Unless you are planning on living far outside of the city, you will likely live in a condo. Most of the flats I’ve seen are small except for the occasional penthouse where the price reflects the size.
It’s summer and I have seen 1 moving truck and the rest of the moves seem to take place in the boot of smaller cars. Downsizing in Barcelona is the way to go. The pictures of the flats for sale don’t seem to be excessively furnished, so I would guess they are more minimalists here in Barcelona.
A word for those who might stay here temporarily first before deciding whether they want to settle down long-term. Everything will cost you a little more. This is logical. You won’t know how to navigate the system well so you’ll pay a little more than you need to.
I am paying $1,700/month in rent for a furnished unit. The number of comments I get about how expensive that is for Barcelona is astounding.
“Dude, you can rent a place for $800/month!”
Agreed. Rent isn’t expensive and if I had a long-term visa, if I was able to speak Spanish, if I had a NIE (explained below), and knew where I wanted to settle down, then it would quite inexpensive, no doubt.
I should also mention the Spanish NIE number. This is like an SSN back home. If you don’t have this then there are a few things (such as utilities, bank accounts, rent lease) that you won’t be able to establish. Hence you’ll pay more to get around this.
Airlines & Shipping
I had a 1-way ticket on Iberia which was an amazing airline and it cost me $500. Most international airlines don’t have the most forgiving baggage policies so be sure to account for that if you’re taking a lot with you.
Shipping your stuff overseas isn’t cheap. $6,000 seems to be the median price that I’ve found for a 2×2 home.
Housing In Barcelona
Buildings here are for the most part old. We’re talking brick. These aren’t homes build with wood frames since earthquakes aren’t a big issue here. Few have massive floor-to-ceiling windows, though most have tall ceilings at the very least.
As I mentioned, it’s a city filled only with flats. The homes which they call “stand alone homes” are more like townhomes. You can find condo’s on the top floor with huge patios and amazing views (so I’ve seen online).
Bathrooms are tiny. Showers are tinier.
Kitchens are minimal – I haven’t seen anything like in the States here.
Buying A Home In Barcelona
You can get a beat up condo for as little as €50,000. Nicer ones start at around €80,000.
Around €150,000 gets you either a nice 2×1 (2 bed, 1 bath) or a fancier studio.
€250,000 gets you a place in much more desirable parts of town, usually the touristy areas.
€300-500k is for the highly renovated, spacious, light-filled units which are usually penthouses. I’ve seen a few for €1 million but somehow they never look impressive, so there must be something I’m missing with those. They are possibly in very desirable areas or maybe in gated building? Not sure.
Yes, you can buy a house/condo here as an American. In some countries you can’t. They will gladly take your money and give you the deed to the house. AirBnb is illegal for short-term rentals (okay for longer term ones) though you are allowed to run your own short-term rental out of most condo’s, based on my research.
You can get a mortgage which works very similar to a US mortgage if you can demonstrate means to pay for it and after you have established some sort of residency here. I’ll get to residency in the visa section.
This is a good place to mention that if you close on a house worth at least €500,000 then you can get a long-term visa. This is the commonly referred to “golden visa” or “lucrative visa”.
Renting A Home In Barcelona
You can rent an unfurnished studios for €500/month with a 1-year lease.
€700/month and it’ll either be furnished or in a better part of town.
€1,000/month and you get a 2×2.
If you are willing to spend €1,300/month (=$1,560) then you can get a gorgeous, renovated, bright 2×2 in a nice part of town.
Utilities are on you, of course. Electricity ain’t cheap and neither is water. Seems like it’ll be around €150-250/month for electricity/gas/water/trash. Though I didn’t think people paid for trash here but I’ll let you figure that out.
You can read about my experience of finding a place to live in Barcelona.
taxes In Spain
The tax code is far simpler in pretty much any country outside of the US. By no means are taxes low – most advanced societies will tax the shit out of you but you get a lot of benefits and stability in return.
Passive Income Taxes
If you are a Spanish resident then your income from passive income is taxed as follows:
€0-6,000/year – taxed at 20%
€6,001-50,000/year – taxed at 22%
€50,001+ – taxed at 24%
It doesn’t matter where you earn this income or what the sources is. If you are a resident of Spain or spend more than 183 days here a year, then you must pay taxes to Spain.
Passive income could be sale of appreciated assets, dividend yields, savings yields from a bank account, etc.
Earned Income Taxes When Living In BARCELONA
Below are the tax breakdowns based on gross earnings. There is a national and regional system, similar to the US. You’ll pay the same to each entity.
There is an allowance which you can deduct for yourself, for being married, and for children. These allowances apparently only apply to residents – if you’re a non-resident the tax system gets a bit more complicated. Below are some rough numbers for earned income taxation (includes national+regional):
€0-12,500 – 20%
€12,500-20,500 – 25%
€20,500-35,500 – 30%
€35,500-60,000 – 35%
€60,000+ – 45%
There is a wealth tax as well. If your holdings are close to €1 million then you will pay an extra tax on a sliding scale of somewhere in the 0.5%-2.5% range.
You are required to pay into social security (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social) if you live here. By paying into SS you also get access to the nation-wide free healthcare system.
For those who might be in Spain temporarily or might travel to other destinations as well then I would recommend a company called World Nomads where you can get fairly inexpensive health insurance that covers most emergencies. There are many others like it – be sure to read the fine print.
Public Health Insurance (free)
With a SSN you can apply for the healthcare card (Tarjata Sanitaria Individual). This card allows you free outpatient and inpatient care. You’ll have to pay a copay (60%) of drug cost but from what I have researched, prescription drugs are incredibly inexpensive in Spain.
Dental care is on you. You can purchase private plans ranging in the €20/month range or just pay out of pocket. Dental care is also quite inexpensive if you choose to pay out of pocket.
Private Health Insurance
Do you need private health insurance?
Think of public health insurance as having an HMO in the USA. Paying a little extra a month for private health insurance means you get to go to providers of your choice, often bilingual providers, and you don’t have to wait as long for appointments.
The good news is that private health insurance is incredibly cheap. For €20-70/month you can cover 2 people. Of course, the details matter, so read the fine print of each plan to know what’s covered and what’s not. However, private health insurance is tightly regulated so you won’t encounter too many shenanigans.
I am going to be talking only about Barcelona and only about the non-touristy part of Barcelona. As of this writing, I haven’t been to any other part of Spain.
My best summary of the Barcelona culture would be that people move slower, seem calmer, less stressed, and they are communal. This became particular obvious when the Barcelona terror attack occurred in a very packed area. People carried on as usual, quite calm and quite collected.
Old couples go for strolls many times throughout the day. You see a lot of middle aged individuals taking their 110 yo grannies out for walks.
Seems that my neighbors leave the house around 8-9am and return for lunch for about 2 hours. They finally return home around 7-8pm. I rarely see anyone working on weekends.
Most facilities and even grocery stores are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Last Sunday I only found 1 tiny convenience store to stock my empty fridge.
I’ve met only a few tourists so far but it seems that the topic of night-life and weed eventually finds its way into the conversation.
The bars here serve some cocktails but it appears that most individuals drink beer. I haven’t seen anything but your typical bottled pilsner. The microbrewery scene is non-existent in the neighborhoods I’ve visited. Beer is dirt cheap – €1.50 for a glass.
People will gather all times of the day and especially in the evenings at the many tiny bars found on nearly every block. There, they mostly have a few beers and I rarely witness anyone getting shitfaced.
Smoking is popular here, lots of it and my bouldering cohort take regular smoking breaks right outside of the gym.
I haven’t gone to a single restaurant so far, only looked at the menu online to see if it’d interest me. Now, I’m vegan so my choices are limited. However, even though everyone seems to be in fairly good shape here, the food in restaurants is mostly steak, bread, and fried stuff.
The only restaurants which sport fancier options are closer to the tourist areas. There you can find organic groceries and healthier options.
There are a few grocery chains here and shopping at them is very similar to shopping at 7/11 for groceries – except there is a larger selection. There are a LOT of canned stuff here. At the same time, there is a ton of fresh produce – interesting combo.
There are a few supermarkets which have much higher quality foods and better selection of healthier foods. Bonpreu is such a chain and I try to limit my shopping there.
You can find a fruit stand every few blocks. The selection is really good and the prices are quite fair. Impossible to find “organic” produce but the quality here seems good. None of that wax coating found in the states.
Cured meats is big here. I don’t see people consuming large amount of it but it’s very popular.
I haven’t seen couples with a lot of kids, maybe because Barcelona is mostly made up of apartments and not an ideal place to raise kids. That said, on weekends the parks are a very popular destination where people go to hand out and the kids play.
Sitting around at cafe’s and having espresso and beer seems to be a popular way of socializing. There are a few billiard (snooker) clubs and a few gyms where people gather to swim, rock climb, and play tennis.
Weekend excursions are common. Quite a few locals take surfing and hiking trips over the weekend which is probably why the city is so quiet on weekends. Those who stay behind can be found strolling along the larger boulevards.
The walkability here is insanely good, blowing Portland out of the water. Streets are designed around pedestrians. Large highways that go through the city are separated by large, yet attractive, sound barriers. Getting around by bicycle and on foot is super easy.
There are a few free public parking spaces around but otherwise people find creative parking locations with their cars. Motorcycles and scooters are parked on the curb.
As I mentioned, public transport is highly utilized and plentiful. There are local buses, buses between cities, metro, trains, etc. There are high-speed trains as well which are a bit more costly and connect cities with fewer stops.
There are very inexpensive:
- car sharing services
- bicycle sharing services
- motorcycle sharing services/rentals
- moped sharing services
There is no Uber here and as far as I can tell, there is no similar service as uber Uber except for traditional taxis.
Ride-sharing is very popular here however. You basically list that you are going in a particular direction and how much you will charge to take someone along with you. It is a huge network.
To drive here you must get an International Driving Permit (IDP) which you can get from the AAA for $20. It is easy to get and translates your driver’s license to multiple languages. If you choose to live here, you will need an official driver’s license and would have to take a Spanish driving course and pass the Spanish language test.
Easy and cheap.
There are 3 main cellular mobile providers:
You can purchase a prepaid pass (prepago) much cheaper than you can get in the States. This can be either for data or a combination of data/voice. For the rest of the world outside of the US think of prepaid as the norm. For the most part not only are the prices better but it’s an incredibly reliable and honest service.
There is public, free WiFi at parks and a few other destinations in the city. Most cafes will also have WiFi, just ask for the password.
You can buy a SIM card for €8 which will give you 2 gigs of data. That’s quite a lot and the majority of Barcelona has LTE, so it’s quite fast. Prices will vary so shop around. And if you don’t know Spanish or Catalan it’s a ton of fun navigating the Vodafone app. It only took me 4.5 hours and with a dictionary and Google Translate I figured out how to top up my %!@^&# prepago.
Note that for most prepaid services there is a 4-week limit. If you don’t use it all up in those 4 weeks then it expires.
If you have people you still want to call or text in the States then the easiest thing would be to get a Google Voice Number. This will cost you $10 for the lifetime of this phone number. With it you can send and receive texts and make free phone calls to other US numbers.
I’ve used a Google number as my main number for over 7 years now. I forward all other phone numbers (my work, my business #) to this main number.
I have called my mom by simply using my internet connection (VoIP) which isn’t data intensive at all. I open my Google Hangouts App and dial her number and that’s it. I’ve also received calls from others and my phone will ring like any other phone you might have.
To make international calls you can connect your Skype account to your Google Voice Number and make international calls. I believe that’s free or there might be a small fee.
As of this writing (2017) you can stay in Spain for up to 90 days without a visa. Technically, you get a visa but it’s issued to you upon landing in Spain as long as you have a US passport. After this 90-day period you will need to leave the entire Schengen area (not just Spain) for 90 days before being able to return.
You can get the following longer term visas:
- retirement visa
- work visa
- self-employment visa
- family reunion visa
- student visa (age <35)
As I’ve researched all the different visas out there for Spain, I’ve also realized what a pain in the ass the application process can be. If you know Spanish it might not be too bad but there are probably 7-10 packets of applications to complete. The list of things you need to support your documents is deep.
Which is why I recommend just hiring a company or an immigration lawyer to do this all for you. The NIE itself can be a huge pain in the ass. I found this company which helps you with the NIE process. They certainly must have connections for the rest of the visa process as well.
It’s tough to get enough details on the retirement visa requirements. But it’s generally reserved for a person who receives a pension in the States. If you are military or have a SPIA then I guess it would work. Otherwise you’d have to be past age 60 to start receiving traditional pensions in the US.
I couldn’t find any age restrictions which is neat.
I recently wrote about living abroad during retirement.
You aren’t allowed to work in order to satisfy the income requirement for this particular visa. Your income must be from a pension or similar retirement income. I can think of a few ways around this if there truly is no age restriction.
This non-lucrative visa is termed so because it is a non-working just like the retirement visa above. You need to either show that you have enough monthly income coming in of around €2,130 or you need to show that you have €25,500 in a checking/savings account for 12 months in order to live off of.
As with all other long-term visas, you must have health insurance through a company that covers you in Spain or just get Spanish health insurance. For example, my US health insurance covers all emergencies no matter what country I’m in.
Self-Employment Work Visa
This “entrepreneur” visa is a type of work visa. It allows you to carry out independent work where you’re allowed to earn an income but without taking jobs away from locals.
In my example, I can keep earning money online by marketing to US patients. I am earning the money in the US and spending it here – what’s not to love about this from the viewpoint of the Spanish government? I’m bringing money into the country & locals aren’t competing for jobs with me.
Visa for Training, Research, Development and Innovation
I had to fish this one out of the depths of the visa archives on the consulate website. However, if you can get a hospital, medical school, or university to sponsor you to be a lecturer for them (paid or unpaid) or be part of a research project in spain then you have the option to apply for this visa.
I am certain I could get a medical school to sponsor me to be in Spain and give guest lectures to students. However, be weary because chances are that you won’t have permission to work. Just because you can work from your laptop and nobody will be the wiser – doesn’t mean it’s allowed.