Tips for Living & Working in Barcelona

Ana Zelno

This article is written by Anna Zelno – Diversity & Innovation Strategist.

Moving to a new country is always a daunting decision but having chosen Barcelona as your destination, you’ve already made a fantastic choice. Congratulations! It’s not only an incredible, vibrant city, but the surrounding countryside and Costa Brava coastline make for fantastic getaways. Andorra isn’t far either if a skiing trip or mountain hiking takes your fancy plus the Balearic Islands or Valencia are all reachable too. Barcelona itself has a wonderful cosmopolitan and artistic ambience. Plus if sport is your thing, you couldn’t have chosen a better city — from water sports to cycling, climbing and team sports — there are myriad options. Great apps like promote outdoor fitness classes, which focuses on social-distanced, safe workout options.


So you’ve decided that Barcelona is the city for you — but which neighborhood (barrio) should you choose to live in? Take this decision carefully. It’s worth renting a flat short-term and having a look around the areas that you are most interested in before deciding on your preferred “barrio”. A good property website to get a good overview is or try for short-and long-term rentals. It’s obviously a very personal and important choice — so don’t rush your decision. Check out this article about different barrios to get an idea of what’s on offer. Also bear in mind that you could choose a village on the outskirts if you don’t fancy the hustle and bustle of the centre.

Language is also an important consideration when moving here. Learning Spanish first makes sense, as you’ll be able to converse with most people but it’s respectful to at least learn a few Catalan phrases too and don’t be surprised if people reply to you in Catalan if you speak Spanish to them. Brush up on your Catalonia history to get an understanding of why Catalan is so important and also to be able to empathize with the independence movement. This doesn’t mean you need to form a strong opinion one way or another, just show a willingness to listen and understand different points of view.

Once settled in you’ll discover that fashion is a driving force behind the city and that there are numerous small boutiques where trendy, well-made pieces can be picked up at a fraction of the price of the high-end labels. Food is another trademark of the Catalonia region. Proud of their creative fusion, you’ll discover wonderful restaurants such as Flax & Kale or check out Agut if you want to savour traditional Catalan cuisine. You will find loads of healthy ‘real food’, vegan and vegetarian options.


Once settled into your new job, you could have some preconceptions about the Catalan way of working. Free time and family time are highly valued by the local population but Catalans also have a strong work ethic. They sum it up with the phrase “feina ben feta” which means work that is well done. Siestas are also not commonly taken in big cities given that there is simply not enough time to travel home and back from the office. Most companies give their employees an hour or an hour and a half lunch break, so there is time to relax after eating.

Building relationships at work

If you come from a country where opinions are often directly expressed when you disagree on something then it would be wise to change your approach a little bit in the first weeks to avoid offending people. Local society tends to prefer avoiding conflict and using a more indirect communication style when expressing disagreement. You can have different perceptions when you come from South American or Asian countries.

Also try to avoid putting too much emphasis on your own achievements and success when introducing yourself, as this can be perceived as being quite ostentatious. For self-importance statements to be socially acceptable, they have to happen in an informal context, and with a certain touch of humour and irony.

If you are planning on advertising a job vacancy, you might wonder what would be the most attractive to locals out of the following three option:

A. The level of income.

B. The stability of the contract.

C. The autonomy of the position

You might be surprised that the stability of the contract would be more attractive for many people — even more so than the level of income. A contract for an indefinite period with average income will usually be more valued than a temporary contract with high income. Locals appreciate stability and tend to avoid uncertainties. Thus civil servants (public administration workers), whose jobs are for life and who cannot be fired, are often viewed with an element of envy.

Are you used to starting work immediately after you arrive at the office? You might be surprised (depending on what country you are coming from) to find that people start their work day by talking with each other or having a coffee. Try to adapt, especially at the beginning when you need time to understand local culture and use this as an opportunity to network in the workplace. You will probably discover that those moments, shared with colleagues informally, are indispensable to building the trust needed to work together effectively.

Catalans in general tend to be very self-critical, so it could be assumed that they accept criticism from others quite easily. However this isn’t the case. If it occurs, they will tend to react defensively.

If you would like to understand Catalan values through local traditions research and discover Castells — a Catalan word which means castles. They are a cultural marvel particular to Catalonia that consist of building human towers, by standing on the shoulders of each other, and was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010. They, along with other local festivities such as San Jordi, reflect Catalonia’s values of teamwork, commitment to one’s group, intergenerational cooperation, solidarity and achievement.

Tips for entrepreneurs:

If you are an entrepreneur check out Barcelona Activa a public institution that offers support to local business people. They will help you to look for a job, to improve your job profile and/or start your business. Another great resource is the Women Hotel Travel Tech group (WHTT LINKEDIN GROUP) who can help with networking and career advice. Also it’s worth having a look at the various co-working options by Traveling Life Style in the city – there are various options depending on whether you prefer a more community-minded feel or if a small, quieter option is more your cup of tea. If you are still hesistant about Barcelona’s start-up ecosystem have a look to The Startup Guide Barcelona to get the full picture.


When you arrive in a new country, the best way to adapt is to integrate. Such integration often involves a mutual exchange of values, behaviours and habits but it also enriches all involved if they are open to each other. From the outset it is worth trying to observe common patterns of behaviour, ask what is usual and common, be a cultural detective and discover the values and beliefs that are responsible for people’s behaviour. Working with an intercultural coach or trainer in the first months after arrival is a great way to accelerate your cultural adjustment process, reduce the level of stress and help to achieve your personal and professional goals.

If you’d like to learn more about living and working and Barcelona and you’d like to expand your network, don’t hesitate to join the next workshop by Anna Zelno and Silvia Serrat, click to register: Living and Working in Barcelona

If you have any question or you are hesitant whether the Workshop is right for you, contact me, I will be happy to help you: Anna Zelno

Note: Part of the content of this article comes from the diversophy Ⓡ game developed by Anna Zelno and Claudia Issa.

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