Five years ago, rents in Barcelona were still ludicrously cheap compared to other European cities like London, Paris or Amsterdam. In recent years, however, rents have absolutely soared across most of Barcelona – some figures suggest an average of 26% per year – pushing low-income households further out of the city centre. A studio flat in the Gothic Quarter, el Born, or Gràcia can easily fetch upwards of €800 per month.
Alongside high rents, another cost associated with finding a place to live in Barcelona is the hefty fee agencies impose: usually equivalent to a month’s rent. One way to get around this is to rent directly from the owner – though in many cases you’ll find you’re subletting, or even sub-subletting. While this can work out cheaper, it also leaves you exposed to being evicted with little to no notice and no legal backup.
Some of the neighbourhoods in Barcelona are as different as chalk and cheese. From the bustling streets of multicultural El Raval, to the modern apartment blocks and Modernist mansions of the Eixample, choosing where you live is to some extent choosing how you want to experience the city. Fortunately, if you don’t find a place in your dream neighbourhood, the city is small enough you can easily get from one side to the other in no time.
You’ll undoubtedly hear horror stories of people queueing for hours to get their NIE (resident’s ID) only to be turned away at the last minute. Or getting confused by the various different offices you’ll need to visit to get your social security number and your empadronamiento certificate. While most of these stories will be true, don’t let them get you down or put you off. It’s worth investing the time, and possibly even the money, to do this properly, for peace of mind in the long run.
This might seem like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised by the number of expats who don’t learn the local language. One of the reasons is that it’s actually quite easy to get by in English, by working for an English-speaking company or as an English teacher, and by socialising almost exclusively with the international crowd. However, by not speaking Spanish or Catalan, you’ll miss out on so much of the local culture, as you won’t actually be able to interact with locals.
Cycling is one of the easiest and cheapest way to get around the city – so long as you don’t have to keep forking out for a new bike every six months. Bike theft is extremely common in Barcelona and most people who have lived in the city long enough have had their bike stollen at some point. Make yourself less of a target by riding a rather unremarkable bike and, above all else, invest in a couple of sturdy locks. Bikes are stolen for scrap metal as much as for reselling whole, so low-hanging fruit, like wheels and saddles, are some of the first bits to go if unchained.
One of only two European cities to feature on the list of the ten cities worldwide with the worst noise pollution, Barcelona’s noise problem is no news to locals. The high concentration of people living in the city, hordes of tourists and a buzzing nightlife, as well as traffic, are the main factors making Barcelona such a noisy place to live. Keep this in mind when picking a flat and pay attention to how much noise you can hear from the bedroom, for instance.
Barcelona is a city where people like to follow their passions, and you can find people to share pretty much any hobby with, from extreme sports to street art. Choosing a hobby to pursue will not only allow you to meet new people, it’s also a way to get to know yourself better and give yourself the chance to be the person you always dreamt of. When in Barcelona is the ideal time to do so.
While Barcelona really has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife, culture, shopping and food, make sure you get out of the city from time to time. In fact, weekends in the Pyrenees or on the Costa Brava is where those who can afford it like to spend their free time. The Catalan countryside is incredibly beautiful and a couple days away from the city buzz will help you appreciate it all the more once you’re back.
Whatever its flaws – and every city has them – Barcelona is honestly a great place to live. Aside from its many sights, attractions and events, it’s the lifestyle and quality of life that most people appreciate. Barcelona is an incredibly creative city, which attracts open-minded people who have a desire to pursue the good things in life.