15 Cultural Things You Need To Know About Moving To Barcelona

A bunch of useful, interesting and must-know points for venturing deep into a Barcelona lifestyle.

When you’re considering a move to a European destination, and have gathered a list of potential cities, I’m pretty confident Barcelona will grace a feature. Or maybe, even, the city is your ONLY desired location. After all, Barcelona seemingly holds the ability to provide all the ideal traits you’d want for a future home base. Beach? Check. Cosmopolitan city life? You bet. A climate of dreams? For sure. Saliva-provoking food? You already know it. Team with the all-important logistics of solid transport and a fair range of job opportunities.

Now we’re talking. Minus the technical side, which has now changed following Brexit, I’ll gladly share all I know about moving to Barcelona.

Whilst I currently reside in the UK, the destination is somewhat of my speciality topic so I’m jumping at the chance to help you out. You see, despite a few knockbacks to living in Barcelona, I couldn’t have selected a better place to roll into post-graduate life. My heart was set on the thought of waking up in the very coordinates which were on my vision board at the time, and it didn’t disappoint.

It all started with a virtual tour of an apartment in the midst of Plaça d’Espanya, something I decided to put all my trust into. Yet, I’ve learnt a lot since then, so feel it’s rational to drop a collection of light-hearted things to know before moving to the city that is Barcelona – from the perspective of an ex-local.

P.S… A free PDF checklist on what to do once you touchdown in BCN? I’ve got your back right here.

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Before We Start…

There’s 2 pieces of game-changing advice I’d pass onto anyone who’s even slightly tempted to move to Barcelona. You’ll hit the jackpot when it comes to finding a place to sleep, and a source of income.

  1. I found both my apartments, and all potential listings, on Badi and Idealista – two apps I’d suggest for hunting down accommodation. To satisfy curiosity, pre-pandemic, I paid between 380-450 euros for private rooms within a flat.
  2. Struggling to find a job? Tailor job searches with keywords you’d thrive in. For example, I remember putting ‘native English speaker’ into Google, to streamline my chances of entering the professional world in Barcelona. That’s how I found a role in communications for a Catalan tech company, as a ‘native English speaker’ requirement was specifically advertised.

Keep the above in mind and you’ll already be ahead. Now onto the below…

You’ll Need To Get Something Called An ‘Empadronamiento’

And it’s going to be a headache.

Essentially this document is a step for getting a (then-called) NIE, or national identity number in simple terms.  

I was told at my appointment, which in itself was an absolute nightmare to book as there are never any slots available, that a standard tenancy contract wouldn’t suffice. Instead, the council wanted to see that the place I was renting actually belonged to the person on my contract. A move to perhaps stop people renting out rooms illegally, but something I wish I knew before moving to Barcelona.

Luckily, my first landlord had the original documentation. However, when I moved to a second apartment, the new landlord didn’t have any physical paperwork. Suspicious. Anyone who needed an ‘Empadronamiento’ would be screwed here.

Moral of the story, ask your potential landlord before you sign your contract. Otherwise, you’ll run into complications later down the line.

Action Point: Appointments for an ‘Empadronamiento’ are registered online. However, you’re in competition with hundreds of people to get a booking. There are many rumours regarding optimum times to grab an appointment but ,from my experience, the best thing to do is enter the web before 8 am. Interestingly though, I could never actually lock in a slot for central Barcelona. I ended up picking locations for a council which were further away. Don’t rule this option out!

Once You Explore Catalunya More Widely, You’ll Realise Barceloneta Beach Isn’t That Nice.

But it does the trick for a sweet escape.

The thing is, after a day at work or study, you aren’t going to care too much. You’ll just want to be within close proximity to water.

Some better alternatives for beach aesthetics though, which make for perfect day trips, are ‘Sitges’, ‘Playa de Altafulla’ or even ‘Playa de Ocata’, if you prefer something closer.

You Won’t Do Your Grocery Shopping On A Sunday.

Large supermarkets are closed. Yup, every Sunday. All day.

Of course, smaller off-license stores and restaurants are open but you can forget about doing a supermarket run until the following morning. The frustrations will arise. I have been humbled by a shop front shutter on a Sunday afternoon many times, so when it comes to practical things to know before moving to Barcelona, this is it.

It’s worth adding, however, that a handful of chain supermarkets are actually open if you head away from Barcelona to coastal locations. Sunny spots which live off tourism, and not much else, during the summer months.

On That Note, Outdoor Drinks And Restaurant Culture Is Massive.

Most restaurants will have an outdoor seating area, which is where every point of ‘socialising’ officially begins.

From casual catch-ups with friends, to meals with the extended family, to discussions with colleagues, to self care solo-dining, there’s always a reason to be sat on the patio watching life in Barcelona unfold. I guess you could call it, a majorly elevated pub experience.

Oh, And People Eat Way Later Than You Might Expect.

I mean, we’re talking about 8-9 pm, and onwards, for a full sit-down meal.

In fact, many restaurants aren’t even open between the hours of 3 pm and 7 pm.

Out of all the cultural shocks that could possibly float around living in Barcelona, or Spain more widely, this was by far the most difficult to adapt to. Why wouldn’t it be? Back home, I make it a conscious effort to have my last meal around 6pm…

Although, after you’re done fuelling your stomach, you don’t sleep. There’s a high possibility you’ll be invited out until the early hours of the morning, ON A WORK night. Back to the above point we go. The fun doesn’t stop.

If you’re after a list of allergen-friendly food spots, you’re going to find my post on eating gluten-free in Barcelona pretty useful…

Things To Know Before Moving To Barcelona post: Picture of Colombian fast food
Trying out the viral food spot ‘El Bololó’.

This One Thing Will Get You Some Very Weird Glances

From many summers in Barcelona, I’ve noticed that you’ll see very few locals actually walk around the city in sliders. They consider this sort of footwear a beach item, most prominent around Barceloneta. And only Barceloneta.

Don’t even get me started on socks and sliders. With full certainty, you will get awkward looks and star in someone’s group chat, followed by laughing emoticons.

Getting Away Without Tapping On The Buses Is Easy – But Don’t Do It.

There’s a story which will help get this point across.

On my first bus journey around the city, I didn’t have a clue what to do. Yes, I had a ticket – but the driver didn’t seem to be interested in that when I waved it towards him.

Everyone just seemed to walk onto the bus and take a seat. Naturally, I did the same.

All fine, for ten minutes, until I noticed a mad flurry of people suddenly get up to insert their ticket into a non-obvious and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it card machine by the entrance. They had spotted something I hadn’t quite seen yet, a ticket inspector waiting to get onto the bus once the vehicle pulled up. What are the chances.

It’s all fun and games if you can board buses without getting your ticket checked, which plenty of people do, but sitting in anxious states to save a few journeys on your travel pass isn’t worth it.

Action Point: A logistical factor to know before moving to Barcelona – Multi-use tickets can be purchased in metro stations. The easiest variety to select is the ‘T-Casual’ pass to start with, as you’re given 10 bus and/or metro journeys for under 12 euros. For reference, a one-way journey is 2 euros and some change.

Things to know before moving to Barcelona post - Plaça d'Espanya.
Plaça d’Espanya.

Here’s A Major Downside To Know Before Moving To Barcelona- Pickpocketing Is A Professional Career.

When it comes to essential criteria for things to know before moving to Barcelona, theft is a priority topic. Really and truly, I don’t think anyone is prepared for just how common pickpocketing is.

And it’s important to know, locals are not immune to it.

Whilst I seem to have been lucky so far, touch wood touch wood touch wood, most of my friends have fallen at the unfortunate hands of a pickpocket scheme. They’ve had watches, bags, airpods and passports stolen.

I’ve even heard the tale of a friend who’s TROUSER POCKET HAD BEEN CUT OUT whilst he was asleep at the station. Unsurprisingly, his wallet was missing. Yup. A pickpocket had got him. Mad.

The tightest of grips with your belongings, especially in the areas of ‘Raval’, ‘El Born’, and ‘The Gothic Quarter’ please.

Things To Know Before Moving To Barcelona post: Photo of The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona
The Gothic Quarter – Sadly, a district where pickpockets thrive.

Barcelona Doesn’t Have A Huge Tipping Culture.

Unlike in the US, Barcelona has no direct emphasis on tipping. It’s considered a generous, and optional, add-on.

Generally speaking, a few euros is what I’ve seen locals typically part with if deciding to tip.

On a different type of tip, however, shameless plug towards my post on 15 of the best international travel tips you’ll ever hear. They’re juicy…

Is Nightlife A Prominent Part Of YOUR Life? You’ll Be Pleased To Know That…

Nightclubs close at 5 or 6 am.

A stark contrast to 3 am signalling the end of a club night in the UK.

However, this stems from the fact nightlife in Barcelona properly pops off at like 1 am. It’s almost alien to attend a club before then, as people are eating, pre-drinking or attending one of many street parties…

A glimpse of ‘after hours’ street events you can expect in the city.

Don’t Call Barcelona ‘Barca’!

When it comes to must-know points about living in Barcelona, this little bite of information is one to digest fully.

Scrap using ‘Barca’ as the short code for ‘Barcelona’.

Locals use the term ‘Barna’, to shorten the Catalan capital. Barça, with the accent, is only a reference to the football club.

FC Barcelona store in Gràcia.

Banks Will Treat Your Account Differently For Not Being A Native.

To put it simply, I was with ‘CaixaBank’ and had to pay a monthly fee for being foreign to Spain.

Well, CaixaBank worded the situation more diplomatically by adding it was a fee to keep the account open if not a permanent citizen, but same point, right?

I’m sure there’s banks out there which dodge the maintenance fee, but I was in a rush to just get something open. In hindsight, scooping out my options is something I should have done before moving to Barcelona.

Popular banks in Barcelona include CaixaBank, Santander, BBVA, and Banco Sabadell to name a few. Yes, in a digital age, more and more virtual banks are cropping up but if you’re having trouble with your card, nothing will ever top physically speaking to staff.

Applying For A Job? CV’s In Spain Feature Passport-Style Photos.

This one was a bit of a surprise.

‘The UK would never make you attach a photo to your CV!’

But for Spain, you’ll find that pasting a passport photo to the top corner of your CV is considered fairly standard when job-hunting. Whilst the expectation is not set into stone, per se, you’ll find a lot of people still go by the unofficial guidelines.

Needless to say, such a backwards norm is more than controversial.

Here’s Why You Won’t Get Half-Term Breaks.

One of my responsibilities when living in Barcelona was teaching with ‘The British Council’, so I had concluded I’d be eligible for the prospect of half-term. Think of all the travelling you can do during that time, I thought.

Well, that idea flopped.

Instead, schools close for 3 months over summer, whilst in the professional working world many industries close for the whole of August. Basically, you don’t receive random weeks off throughout the year. Now, I’m no expert on the environment but I have a feasible suspicion that scorching climates play a strong part in the operation of this custom…

Finally, You Can Get By With English But…

Locals really do appreciate the extra effort to learn Spanish or Catalan, even if your pronunciation is off. It’s that little extra step to immerse yourself into a new culture.

When it comes to navigating life around Barcelona though, you’ll find English to be the universal theme linking international friendship groups. It’s also worth noting there are certain fields which require an advanced/native level of English, without necessarily needing more than basic Spanish and/or Catalan.

Yes, they are different languages. It’s somewhat of a touchy subject for Catalans when their language is assumed to be merely a dialect of Spanish.

If you find yourself with some additional time, you might want to learn Spanish or Catalan in an adult-class. This is definitely something I’d advocate for, even just for socialising purposes. You’ll be well on your way to ditch the tourist label with a few slang expressions under your belt…

I went to ‘EOI – Escola Oficial d’Idiomes Barcelona Drassanes’ for my Catalan examinations and would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.

Catalan flags are prominent all over Barcelona.

Now that you’re clued up on things to know before moving to Barcelona, there’s only one thing left to do. Arrange a visit to test the waters…

If a trip to Barcelona isn’t on the cards, or you want something closer to home, can I tempt you with 35 date ideas in the UK? Your next weekend is going to be an epic one…

After visual content? I think you’ll like my vibe-y inspo posts on Instagram. I’ll catch you over there.

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