Making the right or wrong choice of accommodation can make or break your stay anywhere. So how do you know where to live in Barcelona if you're a newbie in town? We share our experiences and advice of hunting down a place to live in this colourful cosmopolitan city.
You've seen the surreal photographs and heard the tales of endless partying, sunshine and laid-back living. You've maybe already even booked to do a TEFL course in the city, or want to live and work here. As with any stint abroad, the first thing you need to arrange after booking your plane ticket is accommodation.
Many TEFL courses in the city run for four weeks full time and will sort you out with accommodation during this duration. However, it's highly unlikely that you want to jump straight back on the plane home after the course finishes. After all, you've just started to get to know the "real" Barcelona, and have probably fallen in love with this vibrant hub of life!
A University city filled with students and expats
Barcelona is a University city with a dozen universities and colleges. Tens of thousands of students come through these state education establishments year in and year out ensuring the city is always geared up for student accommodation. Also, Barcelona is a hugely multicultural city, welcoming outsiders in to the extent that 15% of its residents are non-Spanish. This ensures a healthy supply of accessible housing options for a constantly changing migrant population. So accommodation for a new foreign teacher in town should be easy, right?
Renting an apartment is not for newbies
Renting apartments locally in Barcelona is only for the long term visitor. There are short term, pricier options through rental sites, but this is often out of most teacher's budgets. Standard Spanish rental contracts make 1 year the minimum term although after that you can leave at any point with a minimum of 1 month's notice. A contract usually expires after 4 years after which a new contract must be agreed upon. There are several stringent requirements for renting a place by yourself - usually proof of a steady income of at least double the monthly rental price. A hefty deposit (usually 2 months rent) is also required upfront, and can sometimes be a hassle to get back in full. It's smart not to reveal that you will be leaving the country after the contract is up, as some (by no means all!) owners will use that as an opportunity to exploit you knowing you probably won't go through the legal fuss to get your deposit back.
The holy grail of apartment rental is renting directly from the owner, skipping the agency fees (which can easily cost the same as 1 month of rent!)and the extra demands that agencies place on you regarding paperwork and payslips - chances are that as a new teacher you won't be able to show your last 6 months of payslips and won't have a permanent work contract. However, unlike a trusted agency there is a greater risk of getting scammed. The dream is to find a nice little old lady that thinks you're a wonderful person to rent their empty apartment, no paperwork needed and will take a modest rent at the end of the month when she drops in for a coffee and a chin wag. It's not impossible but without a network of local contacts it just ain't gonna happen.
But, don't lose hope - there is always a solution!
Flat sharing; the most popular choice for TEFL graduates in Barcelona.
By far the easiest and quickest route to a decent room in the centre is to share an apartment. Competition for the best rooms is fierce, and there is almost no way to 'reserve' a room ahead of time for when you arrive. The best advice is to get to the city, stay in a hostel or short term room from a reputable site and start browsing the local (Spanish) rental websites every single day. Try to search specifically in the neighbourhoods ('barrios') that interest you. Search for the most recently added rooms (they go fast, so any rooms lingering for more than a week or two are suspect!), and call the number listed rather than writing an email. Add yourself into Barcelona accommodation groups on social media and jump on an offer as soon as humanly possible. Try to arrange a viewing immediately and cancel all other plans - in Barcelona it is the one who lives in the apartment / owns the apartment that will choose whether you live there or not - not you! The viewing can often feel like a job interview, so it's crucial to be presentable and on your best form. Bear in mind that atleast 20 others are just as desperate as you, so stay humble and you will do fine.
The next question is whether to share with English speakers, internationals or locals. Personally, I come close to tears when I hear of so many people wasting the amazing chance of a cultural exchange. Jump in the deep end and go international or local! It's a fantastic way to learn the language and try the real Spanish lifestyle.
Which 'barrio' to head for?
El Gotico (downtown by the infamous Ramblas) is a common choice as it's in the middle of the downtown scene and close to everything, and for someone just arriving it can be a great place to start out. However, security can be an issue in the narrow winding alleyways of El Gotico and Raval, so maybe take a coffee in a nearby bar and ask if the streets around there are safe. There are a lot of students and internationals in El Gotico, which can be great fun but isn't the most 'authentic' Barcelona experience. However, if you like to party, it's ideal!
TIP: Before committing on an apartment in El Gotico, make sure you check it out on a Saturday night for noise and, if you can, take a walk down on Sunday morning to see whether you're welcomed by the stench of stale urine or the waft of fresh bread.
Gracia is a sought after area for those who are familiar with Barcelona. Geographically slap bang in the middle of the map, this Bohemian neighbourhood has almost 1000 bars, cafés and restaurants. Gracia is the 'cool' and hippy place to live but don't hold out for air conditioning, elevators and double glazing. This quaint old corner of town, previously a village outside of the old walled town of Barcelona, is full of older buildings and lively terraces which adds to the spirit of the place.
Barceloneta (the barrio by the beach)gets unbearably noisy, dirty and crowded in the long summer months. Rooms here can be expensive (especially with sea view), but there is a certain charm of being beside the boulevard that never sleeps. As with any touristic zone, the experience won't be the most authentic, and locals in this area aren't impressed by the endless stream of drunken 'guiris'.
El Born is a more upmarket, hip part of town just beside El Gotico. Pricier, but very appealing. Nestled beside Cuitadella park, the spectacular Arc de Triompf and within walking distance to the beach any rooms in this barrio are in hot demand. Passeig del Born is also a hub of nightlife and expat bars.
L'eixample, is the generic name for pretty much all of the grid square area outside of Gracia and the old town. The area Example' in Catalan) was the expansion from the old walled town of Barcelona about 100 years ago. This area is famous for it's grand architecture, leafy avenues and friendly locals.
L'eixample has a bar on every corner, and every street block has at least one bank and a Chinese shop. Buses, metro lines and bicycle lanes criss cross the E'example meaning you'll always be well connected. The streets feel refreshingly wide here after the narrow alleys of the old town, mostly due to the innovative and world famous 'hexagon' street plan. Go here if you want to really live like a local, and actually want to sleep!
How much should you pay for your room?
El Gotico tends to be the cheapest neighbourhood with Gracia not too much more. A small room with no window and no WIFI in a old, basic apartment could be rented for 300 Euros a month in El Gotico. A double room with WIFI and in a nice apartment with a terrace in Gracia could cost 450-500 Euros a month.
The hygiene and sanity of your flatmates, the noise from the neighbours, the heat in the afternoon or the chill at night are all things which ought to impact the price you pay but are pretty tricky to gauge before moving in. Trust your gut when visiting a flat, if it feels good, go for it - you can always look for something else later. From personal experience, a balcony or terrace are heavenly to have in Barcelona.
Prices usually include the utility bills if you're there for just a few months but they might be split between the tenants seperately from the rent if you're arranging to stay in a place for longer. A month's deposit is normal when moving in and a months notice when moving out is courtesy.
Don't expect too much in the way of legally binding contracts, which means that most people who move out have to sweat about their deposits until they actually have them in their hands. There is a school of thought that leads people to not pay their last months rent since the landlord has a months deposit anyway. It's not uncommon but it's not correct either and an honest landlord could become quite offended by this manoeuvre.
A friend of mine heard of someone that got scammed...
Barcelona folklore includes a great story about the woman who paid a deposit, went to move in a week later and found five other people who had also paid deposits ready to move in, with the supposed owner just being the outgoing tenant. Other tales include the one about how ex-tenants with copied keys turned up in the night and stories about agencies charging 200 Euros for a list of 'direct from the owner' apartment rentals which don't exist. Yes, there are scams - almost always aimed at foreigners who are easier to fool and less likely to sue. But most of these can be spotted a mile off, especially on social media. If something looks too good to be true (sorry, but a penthouse for 300 euros exists only in a fantasy!), then it probably is. Always, ALWAYS meet the landlord - scams come from those that claim to own an apartment but then don't show up because they had business to attend to out of town. But don't worry, they will send you a key aslong as you send them stacks of cash...
At the end of the day, you WILL find somewhere to live! It could be a dream come true or it could be an excuse to spend more time out and about enjoying everything Barcelona has to offer. Some people get lucky, others get very lucky but one thing is guaranteed - accommodation will always be a hot topic in Barcelona!