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An Expat's Guide to Living in Barcelona

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My name is Sydney Paduveris and I am an expat in España. I just finished college this past summer and knew that I immediately wanted to start traveling. So I looked into my options and decided to move to Barcelona as an au pair. 

I am 22 years old and from California in the USA. I have been living in Barcelona, Spain for 3 months. I love it here so much, it’s truly amazing. I feel as if I’ve met more people in the past 3 months than I did my entire time at college.

Even with all of these amazing experiences, there are plenty of things I wish I knew before I moved to Barcelona. While I'm so happy I chose to become an au pair in Barcelona, becoming an au pair in Paris or an au pair in Amsterdam are also popular choices.

If you're dreaming of living in Barcelona like I did, here's what you're going to want to know about this stunning Spanish city before you make the move.

Short on time? Here’s the cheat sheet:

💭Barcelona is an incredibly fun city ideal for those are that tend to get bored easy and need a home base to match their interests. 

🏠The best neighborhoods for expats are Gràcia, El Born, Eixample,  and Barcelona-Sants.

🛏️Start off by booking somewhere well-located and easy to get around, like this modern 1 Bedroom Apartment in Gràcia.

💰Cost of living is affordable compared to the rest of the world but within Spain, it’s one of the most expensive places to live. Earn travel rewards on all expenses with a Capital One Venture Card.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly. Just know while many locals do speak Spanish, the official language here is Catalan. 

🛂Most non-European foreigners who live here are either English teachers, au pairs, or on the new digital nomad visa

☂️There are plenty of tourist traps and not so safe areas but…

🏖️With so many things to do, a stunning beach in the city, and great day trips nearby, the trade off has been well worth it for me!

Why I Chose Barcelona

That seems to be the question I get the most from people. Well, I was supposed to study abroad here back in 2020, but we all know that the world had different plans. While moving to Barcelona didn't work out the way I originally planned, my desire to move here didn't lessen any, so I had to find a new route to move to this excellent city.

I have always wanted to learn Spanish and get to Europe in general. While I considered moving to Madrid, I had only heard great things about Barcelona, especially since it is a very international city with the beach, city, and mountains all combined into one.

I figured it would be a great pick for me as a first move outside of the States. And I can indeed say it has been a great choice!

Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona

Since I am an au pair, I live about 40 minutes outside of the city by train. It is not bad at all and I honestly prefer living in a place surrounded by nature, rather than in the city center. 

However, in actual Barcelona, there are a handful of neighborhoods that my friends and other expats I have met tend to flock to.

By the way, you'll notice the places I recommend you rent to get a feel for each neighborhood are on Vrbo, not Airbnb. Personally, I like Vrbo because you're able to cashback on each stay that you can then use on your next trip. Whereas with Airbnb, there are no rewards for users. But if you still prefer that platform, most rentals are on both Airbnb and Vrbo.


The view of a intricately designed stone building on a famous street in Barcelona
Be sure to spend some time walking on Passeig de Gracia

Gràcia and El Born are my two favorite neighborhoods in Barcelona and definitely where I would want to live if I lived in the city center. Both of these neighborhoods are so adorable and also great for young adults, as they predominantly have younger populations.

Known for having cute pedestrian lanes filled with trendy shops and great restaurants, living in Gràcia means you'll live comfortably.

Although in the city center, Gràcia is quieter than the rest of Barcelona and has more of a small town feel which is great for day-to-day life instead of moving to Las Ramblas and dealing with endless throngs of tourists.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Gràcia is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: New Apartment Close to Parque Güell: This apartment sits in the northern half of Gràcia on a safe street, a few blocks from the busy sections of Barcelona.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: 1 Bedroom Apartment: Ideal for a couple or solo expat, this modern apartment has plenty of urban charm and a cute balcony to enjoy your morning coffee.
  • Luxury Stay: Spacious & Bright Apartment: This large apartment is stunningly decorated with Spanish tile and nice design and is a quick walk from La Sagrada Familia.

El Born

A corner cafe with tables set up on the pedestrian street in a bright and beautiful street in Barcelona.
A sunny day in El Born, what could become your new neighborhood

Like Gràcia, El Born is one of my favorite areas of Barcelona. This neighborhood is much smaller but is super jammed packed with trendy bars, restaurants, and boutiques. The architecture here is stunning and the nightlife scene here is buzzing.

Plus, if you're moving to Barcelona to spend your days on the beach, living in El Born means it's just a 10-minute walk away.

The cost of living here might be a little higher due its central location and rise in popularity in the neighborhood.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in El Born is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Mid-Term Apartment 12: This recently renovated apartment has a unique interior with old stone walls and a fantastic outdoor dining and hangout space.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Superior Deluxe Apartment: In the same building as the budget stay recommendation, this apartment is similar, just a bit bigger and with more natural light.
  • Luxury Stay: Dali Deluxe Apartment: Another newly renovated option, this apartment is ideal for families since it has room to sleep 8.


A picture taken from a helicopter of a residential neighborhood in Barcelona
An overhead view of Sants, a more residential neighborhood

When I say Barcelona-Sants, I'm referring to the area around Barcelona-Sants train station. You're a little outside the hustle and bustle of the city center but with the biggest train station here, you'll have plenty of public transportation options to get wherever you want to go in Barcelona and the rest of Spain (or France).

In general, Sants is known as being a great place for families to live since it offers a bit of a calmer daily life.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Barcelona-Sants is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: 4 Bedroom High-Rise: Enjoy great views of Barcelona from this 8th floor apartment with Fiber Optic wi-fi, ideal for digital nomads.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Casa Cosi: You will love its sunny balcony with views of Montjuic in this cozy apartment in Sants.
  • Luxury Stay: Sants Estacio: Get more space in this large and bright apartment, just a quick walk away from Barcelona-Sants train station and Eixample.


A view out of a window of a residential street in Eixample, one of the best neighborhoods to live in Barcelona.
Imagine seeing a view like this outside your window everyday if you live in Eixample

Want to be in the absolute heart of Barcelona? If so, you'll love living in Eixample. This neighborhood is big, busy, and has everything you could possibly be looking for, even a few of the city's most popular attractions.

Since this neighborhood is so big though, your lifestyle could change from end to end. In general though, living here is great for those that want to cut out public transport and walk as much as possible, have delicious cuisine at every corner, and never have to worry about running out of bars, restaurants, and shops to try.

Plus, since this area is newer than the rest of Barcelona, it's laid out in a perfect grid, meaning if you have trouble getting lost, you shouldn't have to worry too much about that in Eixample.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Eixample is a good choice for you.

Worst Neighborhoods to Live in Barcelona

When looking for places to live in Barcelona, be sure to steer clear of:

  • El Raval
  • The Gothic Quarter

The apartments there are very cute and cheap but the area itself has a bad reputation at night. Nothing violent happens here but it is known for petty crimes. Most of my friends that stayed around here were told not to leave at night if they did not want their things stolen.

Personally, I don't think the cheap prices are worth the added safety issue. Enjoy visiting during the day but be vigilant with your belongings and instead choose a different neighborhood to call home.

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The Need to Speak Spanish

This is a tricky concern because the primary language in Barcelona is actually Catalan. When coming to Barcelona, I thought Catalan was only a dialect of Spanish but I've come to find out it is its own language.

If you sign up for a language learning app like Mondly, you can practice both Spanish and Catalan.

Living in Barcelona is not the best place to learn Spanish due to this reason and also because of the huge international population here. Whenever I go into restaurants and try speaking Spanish, people speak to me in English almost instantly. It is nice knowing you can get by without knowing Spanish, but if you do want to learn you have to try a little harder.

While learning Spanish was an initial goal of mine when deciding to move to Spain, choosing to live in Barcelona has made that goal a lot tougher to achieve.

Although, I definitely think that living in a town outside of Barcelona where most people do not speak English has helped me the most. Additionally, enrolling at language schools to learn Spanish is a great option. 

The more you can do to take yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself in situations where English will not be the common language is the best you can do for yourself to learn a foreign language. By making small, daily choices that have forced me to practice has really helped me learn Spanish more than had I just stuck around the expat areas of the city.

Social Scene Barcelona

The view of Barcelona taken from the sky over Barcelona Port on a blue sky day
With a city this big and diverse, there's always something to do

In my experience so far, it has been very easy to make friends and meet people in Barcelona. This is because Barcelona has a huge international and expat community, so it is very easy to meet people like you. However, I have not made any Spanish friends yet, only expats, unfortunately! But I am hoping that will change soon. 

The best ways to meet people in Barcelona are as follows:

  • Meetup events
  • Facebook groups. 

On Meetup you can find any event you're interested in, from hiking, to language exchanges, to cooking, art, yoga, Meetup has everything. It is nerve-racking going alone, but it’s important to remember that everyone there is looking to make friends, too. 

As mentioned, Facebook groups are also a great option. Nearly every big city around the world, Barcelona included, has a Facebook group for expats in the given area. There are also sometimes women only groups that I've found to be hugely supportive.

Luckily for us living in Barcelona, you can also search for groups with whatever you're interested in. Many people post stating they just moved to the city and want to make friends. This is how I have met the most people, as I comment on people’s pictures and then we message about meeting up. It’s been a really great way to make friends!


Barcelona is known for having a vibrant nightlife. People tend to get to clubs around 1-2 am & then stay out until 5 or 6 am. It makes for a very late but very fun night!

The most popular nightclubs I have heard of are:

Just be careful when going out, as many people get their phones stolen when out.

Best Things to Do in Barcelona

The sun coming up over the horizon at Barceloneta Beach on a clear sky day
If you're an early bird, sunrise at Barceloneta Beach is hard to beat

Now that you've decided to move to Barcelona, you'll soon realize that this city offers no shortage of fantastic things to do to keep you busy. Whether you're working online, teaching English in Spain, or working as an au pair like me, you're still going to want a life outside of work.

Lucky for you, that's easy to have in Barcelona! These are my top things to do in Barcelona that make this beautiful city even more lovely.

Hang Out at Barceloneta Beach

Head to Barceloneta Beach and join a volleyball, spikeball, picnic, or a skate Meetup. Even just walking along the coast is always so relaxing.

Barcelona is one of the few European cities that has a really great sandy beach right at it. Most coastal cities in Europe offer rocky or pebbly beaches or require you to take a bus, train, or drive to get to the best ones. Living in Barcelona means having a great beach just outside your door though.

There are also two outdoor gyms along Barceloneta, so if you are into exercising definitely check them out. Here you can work out in front of the ocean and I mean, what better gym could you ask for?

Visit La Sagrada Familia

Now I know that this is the top of every tourist list possible about Barcelona but it's there for good reason! It's something you've got to see at least once but if you end up moving here, you'll probably visit far more often each time friends or family come to visit.

Viewing the inside of this magical unfinished piece by Gaudí is breathtaking. It is quite pricey at about €26, but it is so worth it.

If you want good photo ops of the outside of La Sagrada Familia, go to the park across from it and snap some shots there.

Pro Trip: After visiting La Sagrada Familia, head to the terrace at the top of Sercotel Hotel Rosellon. You have to make a reservation, I typically make one a couple of days in advance but it is breathtaking up there.

Stroll Through the Gothic Quarter

Although I don't recommend living in this neighborhood, definitely check this beautiful area out. The architecture is so gorgeous. Try to steer clear of this area during night time though, as it’s known for petty crime.

My favorite area here is Plaç Real, it’s a great area to grab a coffee and admire the square.

Visiting all the Gaudí houses like Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. Gaudi's work is remarkable, so stopping by his buildings is a must see while here.

A Few Other Notable Things to Do in Barcelona

  • Park Guel: Another piece by Gaudí, this area is stunning and a must see while in Barcelona.
  • Ciutadella Park: This park is gorgeous and is a great spot for a picnic with some friends.
  • Bunkers Del Carmel: The Bunkers have a beautiful view of Barcelona. This would be a great spot to have a picnic with friends and watch the sunset.  
  • La Boqueria: This place is flooded with tourists, so be sure to visit early in the day. It has loads of vendors selling anything from meat to fruit. It’s a must see for sure.
  • Gaze at the outside of the Old Cathedral. The inside of the Old Cathedral was not nearly as amazing as the outside, I would save your money and just gaze at the outside.
  • Eat some Churros with Chocolate. This is a common dish here, so is a must try!

What I Wish Before Moving to Barcelona

A street view of a hilly street with brightly colored buildings in Barcelona
While the city center is relatively flat, Barcelona gets hilly on the outskirts
  1. Most grocery stores are closed on Sundays. This was weird to me as I normally get all my grocery shopping done on Sundays. It does take some getting used to, but I love the idea of letting people have the day off. Most European countries are like this though.
  2. I also wish I knew about tourist traps. Avoid eating or drinking within 5 blocks of a tourist attraction (wise travel tips from the king of travel, Nomadic Matt). The tourist traps will try to lure you in with their aesthetic designs, but they overcharge and don’t provide food as good as you could get somewhere else. 
  3. Buy a train/bus pass that is either monthly or works for quite a few months. Many people actually just buy tickets when they need to, but it costs way more this way. It’s for sure worth the investment to buy inclusive tickets.
  4. Always have a death grip on your phone. I know so many people who have had their phones stolen at bars, clubs, or even on the street. Especially in touristy bars like Opium, train stations, & walking around areas like El Raval. So if you must have your phone out, keep a death grip on it.
  5. On the first Sunday of every month, most museums don’t charge you! So if you have museums on your list (aside from the super popular ones), try to save them for the first Sunday of every month to save money. 
  6. It is a lot more difficult to make friends with locals. I went into moving abroad thinking most of my friends would be Spanish or Catalan, but to be honest I have not met very many of them. In thinking about it it makes total sense, as they already have their own friends here, so would not need to meet others as much. Most of my friends are expats which I love because they are from all over! But if you want to meet locals as well, you have to make more of an effort. Language exchanges are a great starting point for this.

Spain Visa Process

An upclose picture of the detail mosaic by Guadi
A little peak at Guadi's work here in Barcelona

One of the biggest things for me that all blog posts I read neglected to tell me is that the visa process is very frustrating. For me I am not here with a program, so I had to do everything myself.

For example, I am an au pair living in Barcelona on a student visa, which requires me to study ~20 hours a week. Once arriving in Spain, you are supposed to make an appointment to begin your TIE (residency card) process within the first month. This is only if you are staying longer than 6 months and live outside of the EU. I assumed the process would be very easy, but it came with quite a bit of challenges. 

Here are the steps you'll need to follow if you want to follow in my footsteps and get a student visa to live in Spain. Another option for remote workers is to get a digital nomad visa.

Step 1. Get an Empadrimiento

For starters, before you make a TIE appointment, you need an empadrimiento, which is essentially a document signed by your landlord indicating you have a place to stay for the entirety of your visa. As an au pair, it was easy for me to obtain this, as I live with my host family.

However, many of my friends have had landlords that would not sign their papers. So, before choosing a place to live, make sure to ask your landlord if they will sign your empadrimiento.

Step 2. Make an Appointment

Secondly, to begin your TIE process you need an appointment.

The problem is there are zero appointments available, no matter how many times you check. This is because lawyers buy out the appointments to make money off of people. It does depend on the province you are in though. But if there are no appointments available, I would recommend checking everyday bright and early, and very late at night for appointment openings.

Additionally, it is said you have to get your TIE card within the first month, but if the process is delayed because of lack of appointments, you can prologue the process and get it done any time before the date on your visa expires.

If you still don’t have any luck, you can do what I did and pay a lawyer for an appointment. It is technically frowned upon, but this is the only way many expats can get an appointment. The lawyers do not help with paperwork or anything, but they do get you an appointment almost immediately. If you find a lawyer, don’t pay more than €30. Many will try to charge you more, but €30 is all it should cost.

At the appointment, you should be able to secure your TIE to finish up the visa process allowing you to continue living the dream in Barcelona!

Are You Moving to Barcelona?

Moving to Barcelona has been the best decision I have ever made. Barcelona city life means you'll never run out of things to do, people to meet, places to go, food to try, and a fun night out.

I hope you enjoyed this piece and found it helpful! And hey, if you end up moving to Barcelona, reach out!

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