Guides: Barcelona

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Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia and is the second-largest city in Spain. The city has an estimated population of 1.7 million in 2018.

In this guide you will find useful information to make sure your transition to the Catalan capital goes as smooth as possible.

Want to learn more about Barcelona, its history, culture and lifestyle? Read our blog: Everything You Should Know before Coming to Barcelona

1. About Barcelona

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1.1 History of Catalunya and Barcelona

The Romans redrew Barcelona in 15 BC as a military camp. It became a colony called Faventia, which slowly grew in population and importance, eventually minting its own coins. In the 5th century, the city was conquered by the Visigoths and was, from then on, briefly considered as the capital of Hispania. It was later conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century, and again by Charlemagne’s son Louis in 801, who made it the seat of the Hispanic March ruled by the Count of Barcelona.

The region was divided into Counties, with the County of Barcelona being the most important. The Counts of Barcelona eventually became independent and began expanding territory to all of Catalonia. Catalonia became part of the Crown of Aragon, until the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon caused the city to lose its power. In the 17th century, Catalonia went to war with Spain and declared independence, helped by France. Spain did lose parts of the region, which are now French territories. Catalonia was later invaded by French troops under Napoleon, although these territories were returned to Spain after the French Empire fell.

Barcelona gained importance once more in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and has since become one of the best-known and most often visited cities in the world. There are two myths behind the founding of Barcelona. One attributes the city’s birth to the mythological Hercules, while the other attributes it to Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, the father of Hannibal, who named the new city Barcino after his family.

1.2 Population

Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia and is the second-largest city in Spain. The city has an estimated population of 1.7 million in 2018.

In addition to the 1.7 million residents within the administrative limits, Barcelona has an urban area of more than 4.6 million, which makes it the 6th most populated urban area in the European Union.

1.3 Demographics

62% of Barcelona’s inhabitants were born in Catalonia, while almost 23% come from other areas of Spain. The remaining 15% of the residents are foreigners. Most of them originating from Pakistan, Italy, China, Ecuador, Bolivia and Morocco. Furthermore, Barcelona is home to Spain’s largest Jewish community with about 3,500 people.

1.4 Weather

Barcelona has  Mediterranean climate that begs you to enjoy the city by day and by night. It enjoys a microclimate with an average temperature of 10°C (50°F) and 25°C (77°F).

Winter: December to February
In the winter, you will experience mostly cool and rainy weather with temperatures ranging between 6°C (42°F) to 15°C (59°F) and an average of 4.9 hours of sunshine per day. The temperature rarely goes below 5°C.

Spring: March and April
The days start to be notably longer and the temperatures rise to more comfortable levels. The temperature usually ranges between 11°C (52°F) to 19°C (66°F) with an average of 6.8 hours of 6.8 hours of sunshine per day. It’s not uncommon to have very windy and rainy days during these months.

Early Summer: May and June
With an average daily temperature of 23°C (73°F), the days are very pleasant. This is when the beaches start to get busy but the sea would still be too cold for a swim.

Mid-summer: July and August
July and August are relatively hot with an average tempretaure of 28°C (82°F). With a daily average of 10 hours of sunshine, days seem perfect for exploring the city and relaxing on the beach. During August, Barcelona is quieter as many business close for holidays.

Autumn: September and October
The temperatures in September and October are usually comfortable with an average temperature of 22°C (71°F). This is when Barcelona becomes less crowded and most academic years begin. November tends to get rainy and cold at night.

1.5 Language

There are two official languages in barcelona: Catalan and Spanish. According to Generalitat de Catalunya (2013) 80.4% of population speak Catalan and 99.7% speak Spanish. 38.4% understand English and 23.9% French. In most governmental buildings and offices, almost no one would speak or understand English. We highly recommend learning Spanish or Catalan as much as possible. You can take free Catalan courses at cpnl.cat/bcn.accolliment or do it online at parla.cat.

2. Transportation

Barcelona has a transportation system and it’s very easy to get from one side of the city to the other side. The prices are very reasonable and the public buses, trains and metros run regularly and almost almost on time. The best thing about the public transportation is that you can use one single card to ride the buses, metros and trains. Here are some of the best ways to get around in Barcelona:

2.1 Metro

The metro runs underground and in total, there are 10 different lines. The metro system covers almost all the areas of the city and overall, they are very reliable and clean. They tend to get too crowded if there is an FC Barcelona football match and also in the summer. If you are riding the metro 5 to 10 times a week, we highly recommend the T10 card (10.20€ for 10 rides).

2.2 Bus

The bus system is very reliable and most bus stops have a board that shows when the next buses would arrive. The N buses (e.g. N7) run at night.

2.3 Train

The train systems (Ferrocarril and Rodalies) connect Barcelona with all the other major areas in Catalunya and Renfe connects Barcelona with the rest of Spain.  You can ride the Ferrocarril trains with the same metro/bus ticket.

To read more about all the tickets, prices and networks, read about detailed blog: Complete Guide to Barcelona’s Bus and Metro System

2.4 Bicing

The Bicing system is Barcelona’s bicycle sharing system and recently, all the stations and bicycles have been upgraded and they are now much more convenient and reliable.

You can check out our detailed guide about Bicing, how to get the card and much more here: Complete Guide to Barcelona’s Bicing

3. Cost of Living in Barcelona

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Barcelona is relatively a cheap city in Europe (far cheaper than London or Paris) but it’s considered an expensive city in Spain, especially in the recent years. It’s highly recommended to become familiar with the normal costs so that you are not overcharged (which is becoming more and more common, unfortunately). In general, there can be three groups of people when it comes to costs:

  • Saver: If you are a saver and plan on taking the public transport almost all the time, buying groceries and almost always making your own food, then you will need between 250€ to 400€ per month excluding rent;
  • Moderate: If you enjoy going out on the weekends and go shopping once or twice a week, you will need between 400€ to 650€ per month excluding rent;
  • Spender: If you are a spender, plan on taking taxis to move around the city and enjoy spending nights outside and going to parties, then you will need between 650€ to 800€ per month excluding rent.

The price of renting a one-bedroom flat can go anywhere between 850€ to 1600€ per month excluding utilities depending on the neighborhood. In the recent years, the rate of ripping off the newcomers and scamming has increased significantly. Make sure you discuss everything with those who have been here for at least year to avoid being ripped off.

Check out our detailed blog about the costs of living in Barcelona: The Cost of Living in Madrid and Barcelona

Get the Studentfy card and start saving money as you go: All About the Studentfy Card or See All the Discounts

4. Opening a Bank Account + Sending/Receiving Money

Whether you want to study or work in Spain, having a bank account is a must in order to pay rent and utilities, send and receive money, get internet for your flat, etc. There are different banks with different requirements but the ones we recommend are CaixaBank and Sabadell. They have many offices and ATMs all over Barcelona and their service is very good. You can open a bank account at Sabadell with no monthly fees and without a NIE with the Studentfy card.

Read about detailed blog about Opening a Bank Account without a NIE or Fees

There are several different ways to send and receive money:

Cash

When you come to Spain, you have the right to bring up to 10,000 € without declaring it at the customs. We recommend bringing 

Bank

With a Sabadell account, you can open send and receive money easily (some conditions may apply, check with the branch)

TransferWise

In most cases, sending money through TransferWise has much commission rates than sending through banks or other systems. On top of that, the first transfer up to 3,000€ is free.

Other options

Western Union, MoneyGram and PayPal are three other convenient ways to wire money. Make sure you are always aware of every fee before you make any transfer.

Check out our detailed blog explaining how to open a bank account in Barcelona without a NIE or paying bank fees: How to Open a Bank Account without a NIE or Fees

5. Legal documents and procedures

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Let’s be honest. When it comes to administrative tasks, things will not be very straightforward and you will be confused. Once you land in Barcelona, you will need to do two very important things very soon: 1. register yourself at the city hall, 2. apply for your residency card (NIE).

5.1 Registering Yourself (Empadronamiento)

This is your registration in the City Hall of your neighborhood. It is to confirm to the local authorities that you are officially living there. Every time you change your address, you will have to register a new “empadronamiento” in the City Hall of your new neighborhood.

Check out our detailed blog explaining how to register yourself at the City Hall of your neighborhood and what documents you will need: What is Empadronamiento and How to get a Padron

5.2 Apply for your residency card (NIE)

Getting a NIE card is one frustrating and time-consuming thing to do but you have to do since that will be your ID card for the rest of your stay.

Check out out detailed blog explaining everything you need to know about NIE. It includes screenshots, steps, translations and forms as well: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Get your NIE

5.3 Getting a Spanish social security number

If you are planning to do a paid internship, you will have to have a Spanish social security number. This is because the company needs to add you to their payroll and pay taxes for you. For that reason, you will have to provide them with your social security number. Luckily, the process is very easy and fast.

Check out our detailed blog explaining what you need to do and have to get a Spanish social security number: How to Get a Spanish Social Security Number

6. Legal Help

If you need any legal assistance, our legal firm parners can help you out with the following matters:

  • Applying for a NIE and renewing your NIE
  • Help with the Empadronamiento
  • Legalization and registration of marriages celebrated abroad
  • Marriage between a Spanish person and a foreigner
  • Business and tax advice for self-employed and companies, and immigration advisory
  • Other services

Read the Legal Help page to find out more about their services and how to apply for legal help.

7. Finding a flat/room

Image by Kirk Fisher from Pixabay

Flat hunting will be another frustrating and unpleasant experience you will probably have to go through. With the huge number of international students coming to Barcelona, the housing market is very profitable and attractive to the real estate agencies. International students are the ideal targets for the scammers and many real estate agencies because of the students’ lack of experience or knowledge. In general, there are three ways for finding a flat, each with its own pros and cons:

Physical real estate agencies

Barcelona is oversaturated with real estate agencies. You can find one in every street. These agencies make money through commissions and fees and they do their best to keep the fees as high as possible.

✅ They usually have a variety of places available depending on your budget and preferences
✅ You can always go and visit the flats and ask the agents about the building
✅ You can read their reviews on Google Maps to see how reputable they are
✅ They often have a big database online that you can check out
❌ They often hide some charges until the day of signing the contract. Make sure thee are no surprises
❌ They sometimes force you to pay unnecessary fees like personal insurance

Online-only agencies

These agencies do not have a physical place and operate online only.

✅ Very low fees compared to the other agencies
✅ A big database with lots of different flats and rooms
✅ They usually have affordable rooms and flats
❌ You cannot visit the flat/room before booking it and have to trust the website blindly
❌ There is a risk that what you get is not exactly what you saw in the photos/videos
❌ Contacting the customer service can be frustrating as everything is online

Friends and personal recommendations

This by far is the best option. We have heard hundreds of different stories and here are recommendations:

  • join trusted communities online like the Studentfy Roomie Facebook groups where we shared good and reasonbly-priced flats and rooms from trusted sources
  • getting to know the former students from your school to see if they have a room/flat available for you
  • check with your school if they have a dedicated platform like a school-specific Facebook group

Some trusted sources:

Other popular websites (they may contain fake listings. watch out!):

  • Idealista.com
  • Habitaclia.com
  • Fotocasa.es
  • EasyPiso.com
  • Badi.com

General info about finding a flat in Barcelona:

If you book through an agency, most definitely you will end up paying an agency fee which is usually 10% of the annual rent (monthly rent *12*0.1*) or one month rent. Many agencies add a 21% IVA tax to the agency fee as well and in some uncommon cases, there are other fees. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you know every commission or fee before signing anything. Some agencies tend to protect their pocket more than their customers. There should be no surprises.
  • Read every single word of the contract before signing it. If it’s in Spanish and you don’t understand Spanish, ask for a copy first and ask a native Spanish speaking friend to explain everything to you.
  • Agree on who pays what. For example, if the fridge breaks down or it needs to be maintained, who will pay for it? All these must be clearly mentioned in the contract.
  • Discuss the deposits and what happens if you leave before the contract ends.
  • Always take pictures of every damage or scratch the same day you move in and keep those until you have moved out and received your full deposit back. Some agencies/landlords will blame you for things that you had nothing to do with and if you don’t have pictures or a written proof, you will end up losing all or some of your deposit.

⚠️ Beware of the scammers ⚠️

Barcelona is an ideal city for the scammers. With tens of thoursands of international students coming to Barcelona every year, the scammers do everything they can to rip them off.

Here are some of the giveaways you are dealing with a scammer:

  • They post beautiful flats with very low prices (e.g. a flat that would normally go for 2000€ a month shows up for 650€)
  • They say things like if you book it tonight, we will give you a huge discount
  • They say you need to transfer the deposit before seeing the flat
  • They often say things like they cant show you the flat because they no longer live in Barcelona
  • You need to pay before receiving the keys
  • The website seems very suspicious with addresses like x8hb3393.co.pay.net.po
  • If they send you an Airbnb link, make sure it’s really on Airbnb and not a fake website pretending to be Airbnb
  • Always check Google Street View to see if the outside of the house match what’s on Google

Neighborhoods

Barcelona has different neighborhoods each with its own features and characteristics. Here are some of them:

  • Eixample: safe and residential part of the city – vibrant nightlife – not as crowded as some other central areas (Read our detailed blog about Eixample)
  • Gracia: artsy and bohemian vibe – more residential and quieter than the center
  • Raval/Gotico: lots and lots of cafés and hip restaurants – always something going on – can be dangerous, dirty or loud
  • Barceloneta: the perfect area right by the beach – becomes extremely crowded and loud during the warmer months
  • Poble Sec: lively and active neighborhood but much calmer and greener than the other ones
  • Sarria-Sant Gervasi: considered as “uptown” – lots of great restaurants – not very easy to get around without a car

Check out our detailed blog about all the neighborhoods in Barcelona and which one would be the right one for you: Neighborhoods of Barcelona

Barcelona's neighborhoods: SuiteLife

8. Medical insurance

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

If you don’t have medical insurance covering you in Spain/EU, we highly recommend getting an insurance one through us. Studentfy has partnered with Adeslas, one of the top health insurance companies in Spain, to help all students get an excellent health coverage at a very affordable price. Here are some of the features of our Adeslas health insurance:

✅ Special conditions for international students
✅ Ability to get or renew a NIE
✅ Dental insurance and coverage
✅ Medical insurance without co-payment
✅ There are more than 43,000 specialists available
✅ 1,150 medical health centers
✅ More than 300 clinics
✅ more …

Check out our Medical Insurance page to read more about the plan, its coverage and apply for it. 

9. Studentfy

We are five international alumni who experienced and went through the same challenges the international students and foreigners are going to face in Spain. We have dedicated ourselves to make sure you get the most out of your time in Spain and do not make the mistakes we made along the way.

Start your journey in Barcelona

  • by getting the Studentfy Card. It will help you save money immediately.
  • checking out our Trips and Events and participating
  • following us on Instagram to find out more about the upcoming events, activities and giveaways

Have questions?

You can directly contact using the contact information below or use the form. You can always come to our office so we get to know each other better (Monday – Friday @ 10:00am – 07:00pm)

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