Living in Catalonia as an international: the good, the bad, and the funny

More than a million of Catalonia’s 7,716,760 residents were born abroad, while over 20% of Barcelona’s inhabitants are internationals

Image from the Barcelona International Community Day, October 23, 2021 (by Guifré Jordan)
Image from the Barcelona International Community Day, October 23, 2021 (by Guifré Jordan) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 30, 2021 11:57 AM

September 19, 2022 07:45 PM


In an attempt to find out what moving to Barcelona or Catalonia and living here is like, we asked our readers and Filling the Sink podcast listeners to send in voice messages telling us about their experiences - and we interviewed many more at the Barcelona International Community Day

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Here’s what some of them had to say: 

The good

Many people enthusiastically praised the weather, the food, the sea, the mountains, and even the “vibe”. 

“It’s quite liberal,” Dominic, an engineer from Australia, told us. “There are lot more social freedoms: to be able to buy beer in a supermarket, to be able to go to the beach and you see people enjoying themselves.” These are things that are much more restricted in his home country, he said. 

Raha, a student from Iran, said “several things” were better in Barcelona than in her hometown, “especially as a woman.” “But also I find a lot of things in common,” she said. “The people are very warm here and friendly like my hometown, so I feel at home.”

Compared to the United States, “healthcare is night and day,” Kim from northern California told us. Both Kim and his wife, who retired to Canet de Mar in 2018, have public CatSalut coverage and private insurance. “If I get sick or I get cancer or I get something or I have something, I don't get bankrupt here.”

The bad

Bureaucracy was, by far, the biggest complaint we heard, especially when it comes to obtaining and/or replacing NIE residency cards.

“As a student, we must renew our card every year but every year, for four or five months we don't have a residency card - it is still being processed,” Mahmoud from Iran explained. 

Claire, who is English and Dutch and lives in Barcelona, described it as “a minefield.” “That involves getting appointments for things like the NIE. That you have to pay someone to get you an appointment under the table when you have to go to the National Police, for me that’s really crazy!”

“The salaries are not so high compared to rents and the cost of living. They could be higher,” Cindy from Colombia said. “Taxes are difficult. I had a huge fine because I didn’t have enough information.”

Joe, an English teacher from England who has lived in Catalonia for almost 30 years, thinks salaries “are too low.” “I think they're too low I think people are not valued as much as they should be,” he said.

The funny

When asked if he had any funny anecdotes from when he first moved here, Joe told us about a time he overindulged in Olot - quite fitting for someone who now uses cooking as a means of teaching English.  

“I’d only been here for a few weeks and a very hospitable person invited me to her house in Olot, in deep Catalonia,” he explained. “I wasn't really used to how the whole food thing works here. There was a first course and salad and something else. There was then some pasta, and by the pasta, I couldn't eat another thing and then they bring out the meat and the fish and dessert and I couldn't… It took me a few days to digest everything really!”

And some advice

Othamane, who is from Morocco and who spoke to us at the Barcelona International Community Day, had some advice for people who move to Catalonia.

“I notice that many foreigners, when they come to Barcelona, they stay together. The French with the French, Italians with Italians, the English with the English… I don't understand it,” he said. “When you live in a city, the first thing you need to do is to socialize with the locals to understand their way of life.”