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An Expat's Guide to Living in Barcelona

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Sydney Paduveris
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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 abroad 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 three months than I did my entire time at college but 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.

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 Coronavirus 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.

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!

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 & 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 are.

a female expat in barcelona posing on the cobblestone streets
I can't get enough of these streets- and I bet once you're here, you'll quickly agree

Best Places to Live in Barcelona

The most common neighborhoods for expats to live in are:

  • Gràcia
  • El Born
  • Barcelona-Sants
  • Eixample

Personally, I would choose to live in either Gràcia or El Born. These two areas are so adorable and also great for young adults, as they predominately have younger populations. 

Worst Places 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 trick 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 it’s own language.

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 trying to speak 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.

a woman taking a sip in front of the La Sagrada Família Basilica
The famous La Sagrada Família Basilica

Social Scene Barcelona

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 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:

  • Meet Up events
  • Facebook groups. 

On Meet Up you can find any event your interested in, from hiking, to language exchanges, to cooking, art, yoga, Meet Up 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 in Barcelona, you can also search for groups with whatever your 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 being a nightlife city.

People tend to get to clubs around 1-2 am & then stay out until 5 or 6 am. It makes for a very late night!

The most popular nightclubs I have heard of are:

  • BlingBling
  • Razzmattazz
  • Sala Apollo
  • Sutton

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

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Best Things To do Barcelona 

Now that you've decided to move to Barcelona, you'll soon realize that there's no shortage of fantastic things to do in the city to keep you busy. Whether you're working online, teaching English, 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 do in Barcelona!

Barceloneta Beach

Head to Barceloneta Beach and join a volleyball, spikeball, picnic, or skate Meet Up. Or even just walk along the coast, it is always so relaxing. 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?

La Sagrada Familia

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 Ayre Hotel. You have to make a reservation, I typically make one a couple of days in advance, but it is breathtaking up there.

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 woman posing in front of a white wall that has red and white flowers hanging from it
Don't be shy and take advantage of all the great photo opps!

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

  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.
  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, 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.

a woman sitting in front of intricate Spanish architecture
Walk slowly, soak up the sights, and enjoy the Spanish architecture

Spain Visa Process

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. 

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 the 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!

In Summary

Moving to Barcelona has been the best decision I have ever made. You can never run out of things to do, people to meet, places to go, food to try, and nightlife. Anyways, 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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