Expat Life in Barcelona
Today we are happy to share with our another installment in our series “Expat Life in Spain” where we talk to expats living in different cities around Spain. Today we are sharing a guest post from Chloe from Check in with Chole as she hares her experience about moving to and and living abroad in Barcelona (check out our basic guide to Barcelona here).
Chloe is a British expat that has lived in Barcelona since 2017. What first started as a temporary move for an internship, led to Chloe moving to Barcelona indefinitely. Chloe currently spends her days working in the hotel industry, whilst also running her own blog and Instagram page, where she shares more about life and travels in Spain as well as tips for learning Spanish.
You can find our previous two interviews in the series below:
Read Sarah’s story about her experience living abroad in Madrid
Read Peace’s story about moving abroad to Almeria as a family
- Read Nina’s story about moving abroad to Logroño
Sincerely, Spain: Tell us a little bit about your Spain story and how you ended up in Barcelona.
Chloe: I first came to Barcelona in 2017 for an internship. I studied International Tourism Management (with Spanish) at university, which was a four year degree that included a year abroad. I had studied Spanish ever since I was 12 years old, so it was really important for me to do my year abroad in Spain so that I could improve my Spanish. When it came to searching for where to do my year abroad, most options for tourism internships were based in Barcelona and Madrid, so I then had to weigh up whether or not having a beach was important for me (turns out that it was.) Luckily, I received an offer to work in a fabulous five star hotel in Barcelona and I took it.
That’s the story about how I first ended up in Barcelona, but since then, I have actually moved back. During my year abroad, I met my now boyfriend, who was also working in the same hotel as me at the time. Upon finishing my year abroad, I had to return to the UK to complete the final year of my degree, and as soon as I finished, I couldn’t wait to get back out to the city (and the man) that I fell in love with.
Sincerely, Spain: What is your daily life like in Barcelona?
Chloe: My daily life has changed quite a bit recently. Before the pandemic I was working in a boutique hotel, but for obvious reasons it closed and I was quite some time without working. The good news is that things are starting to look up and I have actually returned to work this month.
Working in hotels, it’s quite hard to develop a fixed daily routine, because one week you might be working the morning shift and the next you’re working the afternoon shift, or maybe even the night shift. However, some things I always try to fit into my day are: a daily walk, time spent outdoors, and quality time with my boyfriend.
One thing I love about daily life in Spain is the fact that everything happens much later than in the UK, especially in regards to meal times. I love that in Spain people eat later because I feel like this allows me to really make the most out of my day. In the UK, I would usually have my dinner around 5 or 6pm and then the rest of the evening would be for down time. In Spain, you eat lunch later, have a siesta (if you’re lucky), and then continue with your day again from 5pm, giving you an extra 4 or 5 hours of the day before dinner time. This extra time allows me to get more things done, but also allows me time to do the things I want to do.
Sincerely, Spain: What are your favorite things about Barcelona?
Chloe: I love that it’s such a cosmopolitan city. There are so many different cultures living in Barcelona, which means you get to meet people from all over the world, which I find fascinating. This is also greatly reflected in the restaurant scene, as there are so many different cuisines and always new places to discover – I am forever adding to my list of new restaurants to try.
I love that there is always so much to do. Barcelona is definitely a city where you will never get bored. There is often some kind of event happening, many places to go for a walk, a bar on every corner and so on. I also love that you’ve got the option to go to the beach or head to the mountains – it’s the best of both worlds.
Finally, I love the weather. Barcelona is a city with the perfect mix of not too hot in the summer, but not too cold in the winter. For me, it’s just right.
Sincerely, Spain: If you’re having guests visit, what are the top things you have to share?
Chloe: If it’s their first time visiting, I would try to show them a few of the must-see attractions, like Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, The Cathedral etc.
If they’ve already visited Barcelona a few times before, then I would try to show them something more unique. I have lived in three different neighbourhoods in Barcelona, so I’m always finding new hidden gems close to home, which I keep in mind for guests when they visit. This could be a new bar I’ve found, a nearby market or a quirky street. The great thing about Barcelona is that it’s a very walkable city, so I usually suggest to guests that we head out for a walk and stop along the way when we discover something interesting.
I definitely like to make sure I have a few good bars and restaurants to take guests to as well. The vibe in Barcelona is very sociable, so you’ll always see groups of friends and family enjoying a drink together on a cosy terrace, and it’s nice for guests to experience this atmosphere too. At least one rooftop bar is usually on my list too – one with a great ambience and stunning views. Last but not least, one place that is always on my list is El Nacional – a hidden gastronomic space in Passeig de Gracia with four different bars and four different restaurants inside. I mainly take people here for the décor inside because it is absolutely spectacular.
Sincerely, Spain: What would be your top advice for people looking to move to Barcelona?
Chloe: I often get a lot of questions from people asking me about the language situation in Barcelona. Whilst it’s true that Catalan is the official language, this shouldn’t put people off from moving here. Everyone speaks Spanish and a lot of people can also communicate in English too. Learning some phrases in Catalan might be polite, but it’s definitely not necessary for living here. You will be surprised at how many people you hear walking down the street speaking in castellano, including the older generation, which shocked me.
I’d also tell people not to worry if they don’t speak Spanish. Yes, it will help you massively, but I’ve also had friends that have moved to Barcelona without speaking a word of Spanish, and they managed to get by just fine. Obviously, if you’re looking to move here in the long term, then learning Spanish would be recommendable, but if you’re just looking to study abroad for a while, or take a gap year, you will be able to get by in English and I think this is important for people to hear. I think there is a big misconception when people say you need to learn the language in order to survive, and I think this puts a lot of people off from moving abroad. Barcelona is a very touristy city, so a great number of people will speak English.
Another thing I would say is beware of the pick-pocketers! They are so clever, so make you sure you keep your belongings on you at all times – bring your bag to the front of your body if you’re entering public transport and NEVER leave your phone or bag on the table or nearby seat whilst at a restaurant. It’s best to keep it on you, or in between your feet on the floor.
My final piece of advice would be to get involved and say yes to everything, because this is something I probably could have improved on myself. As I mentioned before, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city, so a lot of people will be expats too. There are plenty of Facebook groups, language exchanges and clubs to join. This is one of the easiest ways to make friends and explore your new surroundings.
Sincerely, Spain: What is your relationship with Spanish?
Chloe: I first started learning Spanish in school when I was just 12 years old. I remember really enjoying it from this moment and continued to enjoy my Spanish classes throughout my school years. Some people were good at Maths or Science, but Spanish was definitely my strong point.
I then continued my Spanish studies into Sixth Form. Our Sixth Form Spanish class was for people who really wanted to learn Spanish, and so there were only five of us in the class. I was not very confident in school and I started to doubt my ability in Spanish when I got to Sixth Form. Out of the five people in our class, I definitely classed myself as the weakest and this massively affected my ability to speak the language. However, I still enjoyed learning Spanish and wanted to keep improving. I then went to university and continued to study Spanish alongside my Tourism degree, gaining a bit more confidence but I was still shaky.
It wasn’t until I moved to Barcelona that I was really able to improve my Spanish skills. However, I will say that when I first moved to Barcelona, I was in for a bit of a shock. I thought I could speak Spanish quite well after studying it for so many years, but when I arrived it was all so different to what I had learned previously. When you learn Spanish in school, it provides you with the basic knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and how to form a conversation, but you don’t really learn how the natives speak in their day to day lives. This is really what I aim to share on my Instagram page – phrases that will actually help you get by in day-to-day life in Spain. Nobody really speaks with perfectly formed sentences and formal language in day-to-day life, so it’s important to learn slang terms too.
During the first six months of my internship, I was working as a receptionist in a hotel. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to practise as much Spanish as I would have liked to here, because most guests were English-speaking.
Then, for the last 6 months of my internship I moved to the housekeeping department and that’s when it completely changed for me. I would often have to communicate with the cleaners, the maintenance workers and other departments and these people did not speak any English at all. I had no choice but to practise my Spanish and this is when I started to learn and improve so much. This was when I also lost the fear of making mistakes and feeling like I wasn’t speaking Spanish good enough. I had to communicate in Spanish, whether I made mistakes or not. There was no time to think about whether I said something wrong; I had to speak in Spanish to get through my working day.
This was when I actually met my now boyfriend (who worked in the maintenance department, and does not speak English.) I remember when we went on our first date, I was so nervous and I feel like I lost all of my ability to speak Spanish. We always laugh about this now. However, with a lot of practise, I was able to improve massively and feel completely comfortable speaking and understanding Spanish. As my boyfriend is originally from Galicia, I have also been able to learn a lot of “gallego” too.
I often think back to my Spanish classes in school and about how afraid I was to speak, but I look at where I am now and feel so proud to be able to say that I am fluent in Spanish. The funny thing is, sometimes I feel more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, as I’m using Spanish all the time. I’ve been told I even talk Spanish in my sleep!
Sincerely, Spain: Is there anything you would change about Barcelona if you could?
Chloe: I would like to see a stricter policy against pick-pocketers! I know it’s not just in Barcelona, but the situation in Barcelona is quite bad. Whenever I go back to the UK, I’m always shocked to see people calmly leave their phones on the table and their bag on the back of the chair. It’s a shame that you can’t do that so freely here and you have to be on constant alert.”
Sincerely, Spain: What are your future plans?
Chloe: This is a question I don’t quite have the answer to. The pandemic has allowed me time to truly figure out what it is I want to do (and I am still working on this, so watch this space!) In regards to whether or not I’ll stay in Spain – My boyfriend and I have spoken about moving to another part of Spain at some point. He would love to move back to Galicia and I would be open to the idea too, but it depends on where we can both find work. For now though, the plan is to stay in Spain.
Thank you so much, Chloe, for taking the time to answer our questions. If you want to hear more from Chloe, you can find her online at the following places: