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For 8 years I had been working towards achieving my dream of living and working in Spain, and on April 25th 2018 I achieved that dream. To read Part 1 of moving to Barcelona click here. Welcome to Part 2 of my experience of moving back to Barcelona. Leaving off from Part 1 - I’ve landed, and just laid my head down for my first sleep in the city.
Hitting the Ground Running
For those who know me, know that I’m an extremely organized person. I’m constantly thinking 5-10 steps ahead of whatever I’m doing, and I have backup or contingency plans for everything.
I’m not a risky person, but I’m definitely a calculated risk person (this is where the back up plans come in handy) especially when it comes to major life decisions. So naturally before even leaving Canada I already had most of my administrative and government tasks laid out, organized and booked. Here’s a list of everything I had to get or do within the first couple of weeks of landing:
- NIE Appointment (Foreign Identification Number in Spain)
- Spanish Bank Account
- Private Health Insurance
- Social Security Number
- Search for an Apartment
- Empadronamiento (registering as a resident in the city of Barcelona)
- Get set up as an Autónomo (Spanish Freelancer)
- Organize my Accounting and Taxes
- Activate my Soho House Membership
- Internet + Mobile Phone contracts
Thanks to the amazing company I work for and the flexibility that comes with it, I was able to take my first week off as “vacation" in order to get settled and my life organized when I first landed. But, I’ll be really honest, it wasn’t much of a vacation. My days were spent running around the city, crossing off checklists and going to appointments all while doing multiple apartment viewings daily across various neighborhoods across Barcelona.
It was all kind of a rush during my first few days in the city. I was majorly “adulting” and trying to become 100% legal in the city. The most important document for a someone who is living in Spain for more than 90 days is your Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE), the green card in the photo below. Think of this like your identification number as a “foreign national”, and you’ll need it for everything. To get a bank account, a phone/internet plan, to register for Social Security, to get an apartment, to register that you live in the city, to get a Bicing membership, etc. The tricky thing is that in Spain getting your NIE and all the things you need it for, is kind of like a chicken or the egg situation. For example, my NIE appointment wasn’t until May 10th but I landed on April 25th and needed to find an apartment asap. However, in order to get your apartment you need a NIE number, but to get your NIE you need an address in Spain (lol). So usually you’ll need to either put a friend’s address down, or an Airbnb address and then switch it later. I was VERY lucky in that I actually ended up finding my apartment about 3 days after landing, and the agency that I was dealing with was totally happy to accept my passport number for the interim until I had my NIE number 2 weeks later - please note that this rarely happens.
It is also rare to find an apartment so quickly in Barcelona. As I mentioned above, I started looking even before I landed to get a sense of the average cost, sizes, if furniture came included, the neighborhoods I was interested in etc - so that during my first week there I could start reaching out and booking viewing appointments. I used a great app called Idealista (available in multiple languages), where you can apply a bunch of filters in order to find apartment listings that fit your lifestyle, budget and desired neighborhood! I ended up seeing 7 apartments in total in the span of about 5 days. These apartments spanned across the Exiample district, Poble Sec, Sants-Montjuïc and Gràcia.
One listing in particular that really caught my attention was in Poble Sec (the neighborhood that I wanted to live in). I messaged the agency right away, and luckily responded pretty quickly. They were incredibly flexible and agreed to organize a viewing for me on a Saturday. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very kind Japanese man, who spoke Spanish. He showed me the apartment and within 5 minutes I knew this was the apartment I wanted. I immediately told him that I was seriously interested and asked what he would need in order to proceed with me securing the place.
Another piece of advice that I received from someone before moving was to come insanely prepared with all your documents to provide your financial status when apartment hunting (Thanks, Ben!). In Spain, agencies need to see that you are "financially solvent" and can afford not only the monthly rent (ie. you have a stable source of income) but also what’s called “La Fianza” which is usually two or three months worth of rent, as well as the agency fee which is 10% of your annual rent. In short, you need A LOT of money upfront in order to rent an apartment solo. I had a whole bunch of documents saved on a draft email in an attachment that was ready to forward to any agency for an apartment that I was interested in. These documents included my work contract, bank and investment statements, as well as past years tax statements from Canada.
So, when I expressed my interest for the apartment, he seemed very impressed that I had all of my documents prepared and ready to go. We agreed that he would send me the contract later that day for me to review, and then I also asked if I could have one more viewing so that my two friends whom I was staying with could come see it. Everything felt so fast, so I wanted to ensure I wasn’t just jumping the gun and this apartment was indeed my dream apartment, so second opinions were highly welcomed.
That weekend my friends Cristina and Raúl reviewed my contract, and suggested I have a couple of lines of the document adjusted. The agency and my soon to be landlord were very willing to make the changes that I requested (yay!). A couple of days later my friends came with me to see my apartment and gave their blessing. After that, I signed my contract, transferred almost 5,000 euros and received my keys. My move in date was set for May 12th.
Testing my desired neighborhood in BCN
Since it has been over 8 years since I last lived in Barcelona, I had many conversations with friends and contacts who had lived or were living in the city over the last couple of years to gain insight and advice on where I should live. And there was a common answer among all of them: Poble Sec. Located on the L3 Metro Line (the green line), spitting distance from Montjuïc and Plaza Espanya, and one of the last neighborhoods not completely overrun by tourists, it was my best bang for my rental buck, and thus became #1 on my list of neighborhoods to live in.
Given that I had never lived in this area, I decided to book an AirBnB in the neighbourhood for 2 weeks while I thought I would be apartment hunting. This was suppose to be my “testing” period to ensure I liked the neighborhood before committing to anything. Little did I know how fast I would end up finding and securing an apartment, so in the end, I didn’t end up needing the AirBnB. It did however, serve me well during the gap that I had between staying with friends and my official move-in date. In fact, my AirBnB was so close to my new apartment, that on my move in day, I ended up just walking my suitcases down the street to my new digs.
First Days as a Remote
My experience working from home and while traveling a lot for work in my previous role, definitely helped me prep for my transition into the next chapter of my career: becoming a fully remote employee. However, what really helped was not only reading the book Remote by Jason Fried, but also speaking with many of my colleagues and friends who are remote themselves and asking for advice.
Here’s what they shared:
- Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks
- Have a dedicated working space (ie. not your couch)
- Get showered and dressed every morning, don’t be tempted by staying in your pajamas
- Change your working environment often! (split your day up, work from cafés, coworking spaces etc)
- Know when to switch off and end your day** (this one is hard to do)
- Set boundaries and firm working hours, don’t get sucked in to answering messages late at night because of time zone differences
- Remotes usually work more than office employees (given time zone differences and needing to prove work - we don’t have the face time advantage)
With a new type of working style also came with a new schedule. Living and working from Spain I am 6 hours ahead of our Toronto office, and I would be 9 hours ahead of who was my Lead at the time. Meaning I would need to adjust my schedule to ensure I had enough cross over time between my team members and Lead.
Taking into account these time zone differences, I decided to make my schedule from 10am to 7pm CET. This actually works really well given the lifestyle and schedule of Spain. I feel like I’ve regained control of my mornings and don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym before work, I can comfortably sleep in until 7 or 8am and still have enough time to work out, shower and get ready. Also, not having to commute each day is truly a beautiful thing! Since I was at least 6 hours ahead of the majority of the company, my mornings while working also became very quiet which is wonderful and allows me to truly be heads down and undistributed for a solid 4 - 5 hours before I start receiving emails and slack messages. I feel that from my timezone differences and being a remote employee has actually helped me increase my productivity.
Adjusting to the Spanish Schedule
My new working schedule also fits quite nicely into the Spanish schedule, which consists of eating lunch around 2pm and dinner at 10pm. I’ll admit that the first few days of having to wait until 2pm to eat was really difficult, since in Canada, I was accustomed to eating lunch at 11:45am or 12noon. When I share this with my Spanish friends they think Canadians are crazy and always ask at what time we eat breakfast. Then when I share with my Canadian friends that my Spanish friends don’t eat dinner until 10pm, they ask what time do they go to bed? Haha, it’s really amusing and super cool to see the vast differences between countries, and scheduled times for eating!
I also tried to once again make lunch my largest meal of my day, similar to how I use to eat when I lived in Colombia. I find it works really well for my body, in that it allows me more time in the day to digest my food.
Speaking of food - one of my favorite things about Spain and eating is Menú del Día. This is daily menu that is offered at most restaurants and consists of an appetizer, main, a drink (which can be alcoholic, ie. beer or wine), bread, dessert and sometimes also coffee, all for one set fee! The price ranges anywhere between 7 to 22 euros, with the average being between 10 to 15 euros in Barcelona. It’s literally the best and most economic way to eat if you don’t want to cook yourself. I like to treat myself once a week (usually on Fridays) to a Menú del Día.
Giving myself permission to Live and Relax
Besides my organizational nature, I am notorious for sometimes spreading myself thin and taking on too many things at once. Prior to moving to Spain I was working 3 jobs (1 full time, and 2 part-time), taking an English certification course, leading my own fitness group on Thursday mornings, and trying to launch LOKATE. Needless to say, I took on way too much when I was trying to uproot my life and move across an ocean. So I decided that when I landed in Barcelona I was going to give myself permission to take a break from everything, and to just live. It sounds silly, but you’d be surprised how often we are not allowing ourselves to rest, or just relax. We as humans, and especially Canadians or Torontians are programmed and almost made to feel obligated to take on the world. And you know what? It’s exhausting!
So when I landed, I wasn’t going to do more than just go to the gym, work, see friends and travel. I was going to take a pause on all my side hustles, and extra curricular activities, I wasn’t going to seek new hobbies etc. I wanted to give myself at least 3 months to just take a pause. More on how that went in my next post!
Resources for Moving to Barcelona
In the meantime, if you’re thinking about making a move to Spain or specifically Barcelona, below are some resources for you:
NIE help: JUSTLanded!BCN
Bank Account: Sabadell (have excellent Customer Support in English)
Finding an Apt: Idealista
Health Insurance: Rainer Hobrack - Cosalud Seguros
Apt Insurance: Rainer Hobrack - Cosalud Seguros
Accounting Firm: DISYEM (based in Madrid)
Internet + Phone: Orange (I also looked at Movistar, and Vodafone)
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