Nestled between sea, mountains and rivers, Barcelona is a city rich with history and beauty, but also densely populated and, due to the city's layout, high-rise apartments abound.
Rent and property prices in Barcelona tend to be significantly lower than major European capitals such as London and Paris, and slightly lower than Madrid. That said, this is matched by lower levels of employment and lower average salaries.
Expats should keep in mind that it is helpful, and in many cases necessary, to speak Spanish or Catalan when searching for accommodation in Barcelona, particularly when arranging leases. For this reason, many expats hire a real-estate agent to assist in the process of finding and securing a place to live in the city.
Types of housing in Barcelona
The city centre of Barcelona is packed with apartment buildings where expats will be able to rent or buy accommodation. Most expats rent property in Barcelona first, even if it is not on a short-term basis.
Given that there are many options for short-term accommodation in the city, many expats prefer to arrive in the city before committing to a long-term lease. The range of this kind of accommodation includes flatshares, single rooms in larger houses or vacated student accommodation, all of which aren't particularly suited to large expat families.
Houses in Barcelona are often difficult to find, more expensive and challenging to secure than apartments. Several months of rent are expected to be paid in advance as a security deposit, in addition to the first month's rent and an agent's fee – usually the equivalent of one month's rent.
Barcelona is fairly unique in that its neighbourhoods tend to have a mixture of residential and commercial property, rather than solely consisting of one or the other. It is also usually possible to access essential services such as healthcare within a short distance of where one stays.
It may be a good idea for expats who will be working in Barcelona to find a property near their workplace. Expat parents who send their children to a private school may also want to live closer to the school. In cases such as these, it is a good idea to find accommodation close to public transport.
Areas and suburbs in Barcelona
Barcelona is a huge city with 10 districts and even more neighbourhoods for expats to choose from. Each Catalan barrio has different attractions, so expats will always have something to look forward to in their suburb. Ciutat Vella, the Old Town, is one of the most popular districts in Barcelona and is home to neighbourhoods such as La Barceloneta, El Gòtic, El Raval, and Sant Père. Located a short distance from the Old Town, Eixample is one of Barcelona's trendiest areas with some of the best shopping and dining experiences.
Expat families looking for residential suburbs with gardens and family-friendly amenities should look no further than Pedralbes, Tres Torres and Esplugues de Llobregat. As a general rule, areas that are closer to the beach – which tend to have more space and are close to important amenities – tend to be more expensive.
See Areas and Suburbs in Barcelona for more information on the best neighbourhoods in the city.
Finding accommodation in Barcelona
One of the first things an expat should do when looking for a place to stay in Barcelona is to identify areas of the city that appeal to them and serve their needs. This can either be done through research online, speaking to residents on social media or at work, or exploring the city in person.
After searching for a suitable area, the search for an individual property begins. There is a multitude of online listings and property portals, and newspapers often have classifieds sections.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are in Spanish, although there are a few English websites and publications that are aimed at the expatriate community. Many expats make use of real-estate agents who can speak English and know the property market to assist them in their search.
Renting accommodation in Barcelona
Expats who are going to be paid Spanish salary levels should try to ensure that a housing stipend is included in their contract, as rent can take a significant amount out of a person’s wages. Students and young professionals in the city have increasingly taken to sharing apartments for this reason.
Making an application
Thankfully, landlords often choose their tenants based on who contacts them first and can pay the stipulated amount. They will generally require proof of income and a security deposit of between one and six months’ rent. Some landlords will accept a bank statement or a personal guarantee from an employer or Spanish citizen as proof of income.
Leases and deposits
After the terms of the contract have been settled with the landlord, the new tenant will sign a lease agreement or Contrato de Arrendamiento. The contracts are often in Spanish or Catalan, so hiring a real-estate agent would come in handy.
On top of the first month's rent and the security deposit, if hiring a real-estate agent, tenants will also have to pay the agent's fee. This is generally the equivalent of one month's rent. Community fees, which are paid for the upkeep of communal areas and services, are generally included in the monthly rental fee.
Generally, lease periods are one year and payments are due at the start of each month.
See Accommodation in Spain for more detail on leases and the rental process in the country.
Utilities are typically not included in rent and tenants will therefore have to pay for the usage of things such as electricity, water and gas. That said, in comparison to other big European cities, utilities in Barcelona are rather cheap.
Expats may need to transfer the electricity, gas and water accounts into their name when moving into a new place in Barcelona. Those who have negotiated their lease agreement through an estate agency will have the formalities arranged by their agent. Otherwise, expats will need to supply the utility companies with their NIE number, passport copy, bank details and lease number among other documents.
Utilities are usually paid via direct debit monthly and expats will be able to choose a supplier of choice for electricity, gas, internet and telephone lines, as Barcelona's market is free.
Aigües de Barcelona is Barcelona's sole water supplier, and the city's tap water is considered safe for consumption. Still, many families choose to filter their water or purchase bottled water. Water bills are sent and paid every three months.
As is the case throughout Spain, Barcelona is committed to increasing its recycling rates. As such, Barcelona has a recycling system consisting of five differently coloured bins which are usually placed next to sidewalks, apartment buildings and on residential streets. Green bins are for glass, blue for paper, yellow for plastic packaging, brown for organic waste and grey for hazardous materials.
Buying property in Barcelona
Investing in property in Barcelona is quite an attractive proposition for foreigners. Expats who move to Barcelona to retire or live in the city and can afford it will find the relatively low cost of real estate in the city appealing. The fact that residency is granted to property purchases of more than EUR 500,000 is an added bonus.
It will be more challenging to buy property in the city for expats who plan on making a profit by renting out property or who plan to live and work in the city. The high levels of unemployment, a fragile economy and the unavailability of credit mean that low to middle-income expats are likely to struggle.
That said, expats who do their research into the real-estate market in Spain and have a steady income should have plenty of opportunities for finding a property that suits their needs.