From Barcelona: So you want to live in Spain?

From Barcelona: So you want to live in Spain?

Comments16 comments

Blogger Jeremy Holland talks about why some Americans may find it exceptionally hard to adjust to life in Spain.

Many people have asked me what it takes to live in Spain. And, while it has been the best decision I have made, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. This, I found is especially true of Americans.

As an American, the first thing you have to accept is that in Spain and the rest of Europe, you are the same as the African, Moroccan, and South American -- Namely, you are an illegal immigrant, and it makes little difference if you're from a world superpower.

This does not mean you can't find work, but it does mean you have no rights and that it will be more difficult with less pay -- at first.

Secondly, asked yourself: "What do you hope to accomplish?"

Do you plan to stay for a year or two to learn the language? Why are you moving, and what is important to you? Is it a professional career or to live in a foreign land?

Learning Spanish

If you want to move to Spain and learn Spanish, then moving to Barcelona is not the right place to move to. Many students come to Barcelona and complain because Spanish isn't the official language -- Catalan is. Of course it is, you're in Catalunya and the Catalans are proud of their language and culture. They don't mind speaking to you in Castillano, but it's not their mother tongue, so to expect them to is a little like going to East LA and hoping to improve your English.

People queue as they wait for a government job centre to open in Madrid


The second point is probably the most important. As an American, I understand how important your job and career is. In many respects it defines you.

But to come to a foreign country and expect the same position and salary that you had in the States is delusional, and talking about how much you earned in the past will only lead to depression.

While it is possible to climb the corporate ladder or have a career in a company that uses English, you will need to be able to speak Spanish or Catalan.

Like the States, networking is key and especially important in Spain, Greece, and Eastern Europe, where many jobs are handed to people with connections and not the most qualified.

So what does that mean? It means: until you can gain a decent level in the native language and build up a network of connections, you will have to work in either a bar/restaurant, as an English teacher, or in a call centre to live. If you're willing to do that, hustle, and go out and make a life for yourself -- then chances are your move will be a success.

If either of these jobs is beneath you, feels like a step back, or doesn't match what you believe your self-worth is -- then save yourself the time and come for a vacation, but not to live.

That way you won't return home six or nine months later to the smug looks on people's faces saying: "I knew you'd be back."

Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Written by an American expat, From Barcelona, is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya (Catalonia).

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16 Comments To This Article

  • Corah posted:

    on 9th September 2016, 17:35:27 - Reply

    "As an American, the first thing you have to accept is that in Spain and the rest of Europe, you are the same as the African, Moroccan, and South American -- Namely, you are an illegal immigrant, and it makes little difference if you're from a world superpower."

    Like if Africans, Moroccan (WHO IS AFRICAN TOO BY THE WAY) and South American should have less rights because they do not come from a "world superpower"?

  • ledian posted:

    on 27th April 2016, 13:16:58 - Reply

    i have been once in madrid and i would really like to stay there forever, my financial possibilities were lower so i got back to my country without hope finding a job where i could stay there. iam a good pizza maker here in my city (Tirana) , i was looking there to find a job in my profession but its very difficult , is here anyone who can help me with this , unfortunately i cant speak spanish and thats the thing iam trying to learn this language

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • AmericanExpat posted:

    on 18th March 2015, 18:08:14 - Reply

    Totally agree with all of this. I'm an American expat who has been in Spain 7 years.

    And to all you haters: the USA is still globally regarded as a superpower, even if you personally don't think it is or want it to be.
  • henry posted:

    on 12th July 2014, 17:00:47 - Reply

    As an American, i agree with you

    Your comments regarding an American moving to Spain and being treated like an illegal are beyond rediculous.
    What about people who are financially self sufficient?
  • Isabel posted:

    on 4th November 2013, 10:57:46 - Reply

    I'm shocked... How can you say that:


    That is completely not true.
    Both Spanish and Catalan are the mother tongues from people in Catalonia.
  • Confused posted:

    on 31st May 2012, 13:34:23 - Reply

    You are from 'a world super power'? Really? The US hasn't been that for a while.
  • spanish worker posted:

    on 1st November 2009, 16:36:09 - Reply

    hello everybody!!! i'm a spanish guy who lives in valencia and maybe i think i can help you. First of all talking about languages is true that in all the country people know to speak in spanish (or castillian) as we called our language because it was born in region with the same name. The problem i find with moving to Catalonia is that although everybody will speak to you in spanish they will be always trying to speak to you in their mother tongue: Catalan. [Edited by moderator] In my opionion living in Barcelona is not the best way to learn spanish altough is a wonderful city. Talking about salaries is depressing here. I have travelled to some different countries in europe and i can say that prices are slightly higher than here in spain but salaries here are really lower. Here is very common for a recent graduate university student to earn 18.000 -20.000 euros per year (brutto) and in thre or four years to reach 25.000-28.000. In other countries of europe this figures are really different and many brilliant spanish students go to europe to have better professional careers. Of course is not all bad about spain, we enjoy of thousands of hours of sun every year and what is more important in my opinion: natural light. Furthermore, Our diet is one of the best in the world, we enjoy of fresh vegetables, meat, fish and all in a really reasonably prices. Talking about money I think that a four member family with a total salary of 60.000-80.000 euros per year (both parents working) can live really well here. I mean to live in a flat in property 100-120 square meter 3-4 bedrooms, have a dinner every weekend travel in holidays and drive a pair of cars. With this salary I think that you can live here really well but it is difficult to reach them even if you are really qualified.
  • Trent posted:

    on 21st October 2009, 18:05:15 - Reply

    Solid article. When I moved to Barcelona for professional reasons (transferred), another tough area I encountered was finding a place to live. My advice to anyone wanting to move to Barcelona (and even doesn't know much Spanish) would be to visit All kinds of info on the hotspots around the city, advice for getting acclimated, stuff to do, etc, too. Hope this helps!
  • frombarcelona posted:

    on 16th October 2009, 10:43:38 - Reply

    Thanks for all the comments!

    In regards to some of the questions brought up. I wrote this mostly for Americans because, unlike Europeans, they have to deal with the fact that they aren't technically allowed to work here which means their choices are limited as far as work. Also, you're right Jaye, they should do research, but I think it's easier said than done when you live thousands of miles away and your only resource is the internet. plus, the fact is you can't truly understand the way a country works until you live there.

    Also, I don't doubt that in many countries a person's work is important, but I will argue that in the states this is particularly strong, so much so that the sense of self-worth is often tied to the job they have. this can be seen throughout American literature from Horatio Alger to Gatsby. To read more about this I suggest The American Idea of Success by Richard Huber. This part of the American psyche presents a unique challenge to moving abroad, I think.

    So what does this mean? As many of you said, if a person's willing to lower their expectations and accept Spain for what it is, then you'll do well. But from my many conversations with Americans I've found that, while they'll often say this when they first arrive, the desire to be successful in terms of money and status often sees them going home before they planned to.
  • Jaye posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 22:11:00 - Reply

    Hi Jay, I find the same thing, but the blog is written by an American, I'm Dutch-American and I speak from that perspective. [Edited by moderator] I guess what you mean by lowering your expectations has to do with financial gains and career opportunities. I think that's the case everywhere in the world today so it really doesn't say much about Spain itself. I would have said it differently; something like, have realistic thought-out expectations. [Edited]
  • Jay posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 21:11:29 - Reply

    I find this funny that it is directed at Americans. I am American living in Sitges and have been for 6 years. What I have found in these 6 years is it is not only Americans who come to Spain with a dream of a better life and soon find themselves going back home. I know many Europeans (Dutch, Germans, French, UK) that find it very hard to live in Spain. The prices here are now on an even par with all these European countries, but the pay is far far less with more hours worked.
    If you want to live in Spain that is great, but to expect to keep your old lifestyle is almost impossible. Lower your expectations and you will love it here.
  • Juan Luis posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 20:17:05 - Reply

    Interesting article. Only a remark: Spanish, or Castellano, is by law as official as Catalan in Catalonia.
  • Jaye posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 19:08:39 - Reply

    Hi Keith, I definitely think there's the Hemingway myth that everyone has about Spain, but I couldn't possibly take someone serious if they haven't already done a bit of research. [Edited by moderator] I think the blog should simply state that people need to do their research before pursuing anything.
  • northwestrider posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 17:29:26 - Reply

    What if you can speak Spanish, have a graduate degree, over 15 yrs professional experience and do not need a work permit? My spouse is an EU citizen, and I enjoy all the benefits of working and living in Europe as he does, except voting.
  • Keith posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 16:32:15 - Reply

    You would be surprised at the number of intelligent people who just want to "escape" where they are from and don't even speak the language and ask me every day via email... Do you think its a good idea for me to move to Spain. I give them the same advice as this article but it still shocks me that they haven't thought it through. And these are people who have highly paid jobs in the UK, US etc... It appears they have a romantic view of running away to a new life without thinking about how they are going to accomplish it!

    Also, another piece of! We have a saying in Sitges.. "How do you make a small fortune in Sitges... The answer..Start with a big one!"
  • Jaye posted:

    on 14th October 2009, 13:55:04 - Reply

    Who is this written for? I don't understand why someone who might have corporate-ladder ambitions would need to be told that Catalan is the official language in Barcelona. [Edited] Who moves to a country expecting to make a lot of money without first doing some research, or having a position available? You're talking to two different target audiences: ladder-climbing career seekers and students doing "the European thing" [Edited by moderator] By the way, having work define you is not solely American. Are you really taking full advantage of being out of the States or are you an "Accidental Expat"?