What I’ve Learned Being an Expat in Barcelona

What I’ve Learned Being an Expat in BarcelonaToday I’m going to introduce Emily Jones, a fellow expat from the UK who loves exploring the various parts of Europe. Here’s what she has to say about being an expat in Barcelona.

Being an Expat in Barcelona

I’ve spent a lot of my adult life travelling, living and working in countries very different than my own back in the UK. Each country, indeed each city has a unique experience to offer (both good and bad).

The city I call home at the moment is Barcelona, where I am making a living as a freelance writer. Barcelona is on the top of many people’s ‘places to see before you die’ list, and as soon as you get here it’s clear to see why! Here are some things I have learnt during my time here (perhaps some things I SHOULD have known before I arrived!)

1. The Weather.

I’m actually a big supporter of the British weather- ok the rain isn’t great, but people have been quick to tell me how terrible the climate is in the UK when they learn where I’m from- and I have to break it to them that the sun does actually (sometimes) shine in Britain too.

I have to admit though, in Barcelona the sun is with me almost every day. The seasons here are defined and the difference in temperature between the seasons was a bit of a surprise- people really do have a winter wardrobe, a summer wardrobe a… well you see where I’m going with this. I was foolish to think I could simply rely on layers to put on or take off- when it’s hot, it’s really hot! Think of it as an excuse to go shopping.

I also learned quickly that the locals here do not dress in shorts, short dresses or other typical skimpy hot weather staples, they are a little more conservative (unless you’re on the beach!) so finding light but smart clothes suitable for the day to day has been necessary.

2. If you want to see the main attractions- book ahead!

Barcelona has many things that anyone who comes to visit has to see; some require tickets, others don’t. Whilst famous sights like the Barceloneta neighbourhood on the beach don’t need tickets, others such as Gaudí’s Güell Park, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria and La Sagrada Família do call for tickets and queues are long and hot (believe me).

La segrada familia

They are all amazing sights to visit, but having learnt the hard way that you’ll end sweating, standing in line and questioning if it’s REALLY worth waiting in line for so long, it’s a much better idea to research the best time of day to visit.

Unfortunately, I learned too late that it’s possible to buy your Sagrada Familia tickets before you go to save time and energy once you arrive. There is a lot to see in Barcelona, so the less queuing, the better.

3. Eating and Napping

During the summer Barcelona enjoys 13 hours of sun. As the weather gets longer and hotter- dinner gets later and later. A great tip that I would’ve appreciated knowing before I got to Barcelona, was that the meal scheduling was completely different from my previous English one. Lunch isn’t happening before 2 pm, and dinner does not come before 8 pm (in fact dinner at 8 pm is considered a very early one here!).

Barcelona tapas

However, a great extra that is included in your day to day life, is a specific allotted time for napping. I know, it sounds like you’re back in school, but the siesta moment is no joke. So even though you’ll be eating later, know that your compensation is a moment for naptime!

Most of the shops are closed from 2-5pm, so I had to adjust my whole timetable a little once I arrived here.

4. Learning the language

First off, keep in mind that Catalan and Spanish are two very different languages. Because Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region, the Catalan language can be considered as a prideful tie to the Catalan culture and its roots. In fact, some people choose one language over the other and be aware that if they choose Catalan, you will most likely not understand them.

For reasons of convenience, I chose to take up Spanish seeing how it is the universal language throughout the country. I did not have problems because of my choice because the locals understood that I wasn’t native and would speak to me in Spanish. Remember that most people speak both

Remember that most people speak both languages and that English is also a continuously growing language that most people are familiar with, so don’t worry about communicating!

5. Paella misconceptions

Many people think that the paella dish is a general Spanish dish, like the Italians with pizza. In fact, paella originates in Valencia, a neighbouring Spanish city. Not that my life was turned upside down for this, but when I was eating it the first time I was a bit disappointed because it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.

Since then I have chosen to wait for my trip to Valencia to taste the real thing. Nevertheless, Barcelona is famous for its food and tapas scene, I can guarantee you won’t go hungry. As there are so many divine traditional dishes to choose from.

6. Don’t drink in the streets

Despite being an expat in Barcelona, I must admit when I first arrived my head was in full-blown holiday mode. A cold beer, on a hot sunny day, can be very tempting, and there are plenty of people selling cold bottles of beer to those who’d like one. However, it’s actually illegal here, and you can find yourself with a huge fine if the police catch you. Just because there are people selling it

Just because there are people selling it on the street- doesn’t mean you’re allowed to drink it. Go to a bar, and get a nice cool drink somewhere you can sit down and watch the world go by, it’s legal, and so much nicer.

I do not plan on being an expat in Barcelona forever, but choosing to come abroad has changed my life completely. Getting to experience new cultures, food, people, holidays, and naptimes has been a unique journey that I am glad I chose to take; I feel lucky to have experienced life here a little more than someone visiting for a long weekend. So pack your bags, read over these tips real quick before you set foot on the airplane, and get going!

You may also like: 5 Perfect Day Trips from Barcelona
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What I’ve Learned Being an Expat in Barcelona

Emily Jones
Emily Jones is a writing graduate originally from the UK but now living and working as a freelance writer and editor in Barcelona, though she will soon be heading back to Rome where she is usually based. She loves travelling and writing about her experiences.
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5 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned Being an Expat in Barcelona

  1. Darren

    There’s something about Barcelona that’s always attracted me. Hats off to Emily for packing up and trying something different for a change. Would love to give the expat life a go one day!

  2. Becci Abroad

    Nice post 🙂 So true that most people don’t know that siesta is actually a practice in Spain before they go to live there – happended the same to me when I went to live in Southern Spain.

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