Barcelona is 'cosmopolitan' and 'open' but not perfect, say expats

A survey by International Talent Monitor is published as the city bids to host the European Medicines Agency

Shops in Barcelona's city centre (by J. Pérez)
Shops in Barcelona's city centre (by J. Pérez) / Jordi Julià

ACN | Barcelona

September 7, 2017 07:37 PM

International professionals who live and work in Barcelona consider the city as “open” and “global”, valuing its quality of life, connectivity, and ability to attract talent from around the world. The city’s approach to taxation, however, alongside its increased cost of living, and bureaucratic procedures, drew criticism from members of the international community who have found their home in the Catalan capital.

This has been confirmed by a survey carried out by the third edition of International Talent Monitor, the bi-annual event organised by Barcelona Global. The conclusions of the study coincide with Barcelona’s candidature to become the new HQ of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA was previously based in London, but due to complications as a result of Brexit, the agency must be moved to another city within a member state.

Freedom to choose

The survey allows participants to score different aspects of the city from 1 to 7. This year, 817 international professionals participated, mostly involved with the technology sector, specifically research and development. The event was also attended by CEO of Barcelona Global, Mateu Hernández, as well as the director of Banca Privada, Albert Figueras, from Banc Sabadell (which also supports the project). 

70% of attendees hold a masters or doctorate. These are “people who can choose where to live,” said Hernández, referring to the high degree of qualification of professionals at the event. 

Climate, cuisine, and more

Quality of life was rated as one of the best aspects of Barcelona, scoring above 5, while climate and cuisine were also rated highly, as in previous editions. The city was also seen to have generous artistic offering, sports infrastructure, and cultural appeal. It’s health service, both public and private also maintained a positive rating above 5.

The survey’s participants consider Barcelona to be an global city, scoring it at 5.5, whilst its capacity to attract international talent was scored at 5. International connectivity was also viewed kindly at 5.9 points. The presence of an international community was also seen as a bonus, receiving 5.8 points. These aspects were highlighted by Hernández as relevant to the city’s hopes of becoming HQ of the EMA.

The drawbacks

But all is not rosy in this international wonderland. Education was seen as a priority with room for improvement. The study revealed a shared conception among participants that “more affordable international schools are needed in order to help integrate the children of foreigners who come to Barcelona.”

The city’s bureaucracy, specifically problems with obtaining documentation, was viewed negatively, receiving 3.4 points. A lack of availability of documentation or public information in English was also a cause for dissatisfaction.

The city’s rapidly increasing cost of living, especially in terms of housing and rent, also presented another downside as its score dropped below 3 points. Hernández stated that this demonstrates empathy with the malaise of the people of Barcelona as a whole, as increasing rent has seen a rise in evictions in recent years. 

The survey also revealed that taxation was a source of frustration for the international professionals involved. Barcelona Global’s CEO explained that it is comparing tax levels in Barcelona with other European cities in order to set change in motion.

Hernández highlighted an improvement in relations with the international community, both in the public and private sectors, with initiatives such as the City Council’s Barcelona International Community Day

Hernández also described this year’s survey as doubly important, due to its timing with the city’s candidature to become headquarters of the EMA. According to him, “the best answer” that can be given to the 900 employees of the European organisation when they ask what life is like in Barcelona “is the opinion of other international workers.” 

Barcelona is a private and non-profit association that works in promoting Barcelona on an international level, in various sectors such as business, culture, and research.