Article written by Ole Henrik Flekstad Vik.
Moving to Barcelona to do an MBA has been the best decision of my life so far. However, it would have been easier for me if I would have known a few tips on how to carry it off well once I arrive to Barcelona.
The purpose of this article is not to scare anyone away from living in Barcelona. Below you’ll find a few pointers on how to make your first three months in Barcelona as pain free and easy as possible. Trust me, if you’re going to Barcelona, you want to read this.
Here are 5 super- useful things you should know before moving to Barcelona:
- Speaking at least basic Spanish is essential
English will not get you far in this country. This was a big surprise for me. Luckily I had already obtained B2-level proficiency in Spanish before I came here. I cannot imagine what would have happened if I didn’t. Spanish is necessary to do the most essential tasks in this city, like finding an apartment, getting a foreign identification number (NIE), getting internet for your apartment, opening a Spanish bank account, and even picking up a package at the post office (a buddy of mine had to ask his landlord if he could pick up his birthday present for him). You probably think I am exaggerating. I am not. Your life in Barcelona will be significantly easier if you understand basic Spanish.
- Get a foreign identification number (NIE) before coming to Spain
You need an appointment to get your foreign identification number (NIE). The normal thing is to get an appointment a month or more after the date you booked it. Therefore, the smart thing to do is to book your appointment two to four weeks before you are moving to Barcelona. Another option is to contact the Spanish Embassy in your country before moving. They will give you a temporary NIE that lasts the first months of your stay. That way you have plenty of time to book an appointment and get your NIE once you are here. The biggest advantage of having a NIE is that you can use the awesome red city- bikes. This is by far the easiest and fastest way to get around Barcelona. Good exercise as well!
- Apartment hunting in Barcelona can take time
I have friends who stayed the first month of school in an Airbnb. I started looking for apartments one month before moving, and moved into my current apartment the day after I arrived. Starting early is however no guarantee that you will have an apartment when coming down. I sent mails to more than 100 different apartment owners. Five replied, out of which one tried to scam me (this is common, so be careful). I was lucky, and it was only possible because I already spoke some Spanish. All communication between me and the real estate agency was in Spanish. Finding an apartment without speaking Spanish is not easy if you don’t know someone who lives here already.
Ways to avoid some or all the problems with apartment hunting in Barcelona:
- Search for student houses in Barcelona
There are plenty of student houses around the city. You will get a decent room for yourself, internet, washing machine, a maid who washes the apartment weekly or biweekly, and you will live next to other students. This is by far the easiest solution. If you still insist on looking for an apartment (as I did), rent an Airbnb for at least the first week of your stay.
- Check out Facebook to see offers of people living in Barcelona looking for a roommate
A lot of countries have Facebook – pages reserved for countrymen living in Barcelona. There, you can find people living in Barcelona and looking for roommates. Moving in as a roommate can be a great solution, but be aware: many landlords operate without contracts, meaning they can throw you out at any point. This happened to someone I know, and it was certainly not a pleasant experience on his behalf. My tip is to demand a written contract.
Most local schools have forums where foreign students can look for roommates that will go to the same school. I have a few friends who found their roommates this way. It is easier to find an apartment if you are a group of three students or more.
- Install an internet connection in your apartment at low prices
Get an apartment with internet. I did not do that as I thought it would be a formality to find an internet company to install it. Today, two and a half months after moving in the apartment, we are enjoying our first evening with internet access. To be fair, there are options to get internet without installing a router in your apartment, but they are rather expensive. All the internet companies demand that you have a NIE, and most of them also require to have a Spanish bank account. Getting an internet connection in your apartment without speaking Spanish is, as far as I can see, nearly impossible.
- Use the local mobile services
Orange is not a good choice for telephone services. They are famous for bad customer service. They trick foreign customers into using their SIM- cards, without telling them that they need a NIE in order to actually open a subscription with them (happened to three friends of mine). Using their SIM- cards without a subscription is very expensive. The solution: use Lebara mobile services. Lebara is cheap. You can install the SIM and open account at any Lycamobile – kiosk for 10 EUR. After this, you create an account at Lebara.es, and top up your card online whenever you need it. 99 % of communication happens on WhatsApp in this country, so you only need mobile data.
That’s about it. You are now at least 80 % more prepared to meet your first three months in Barcelona. Thanks for your attention and hope to see you in Barcelona soon!