Barcelona, Spain
European Sabbatical - Spain

7ish Months Living in Barcelona – An Update

Where to start? We arrived April 14 and have been living in Barcelona for just about seven months now and it’s been a a good experience. Nik and I have learned a lot about what we like and don’t like about living abroad. We still have about six more months on our current rental before returning to the states or maybe finding my happy place of a beach rental in Nice, France.

Related: Our Roadtrip to Nice

Why We Chose Barcelona

Lunch at Our Favorite Place, La Medusa 73
Lunch at Our Favorite Place, La Medusa 73

Once I submitted my paperwork in applying for Austrian Citizenship, Nik and I discussed moving to Europe for at least a year if I got approved. Neither of us are very proficient in speaking any foreign language but I did study Spanish in high school and a little in college and figured the little amount I know is better than the zilch we know in French or otherwise.

We had also visited Barcelona on two different trips and really enjoyed our time, so we decided to make Barcelona home base. It’s very affordable and is a good location for flights to other cities and countries.

Upside of Living in Barcelona

Eating and Drinking

Garage Brewing x Warike in Gothic Quarter
Garage Brewing x Warike in the Gothic Quarter

A lot of the places we frequent, we found by walking past or searching Google Maps. There are a few craft beer bars that we really like, and plan to dive into that topic in another post. It’s also nice to walk into some of these places and they remember us…probably because we stand out as Americans with bad Spanish.

La Medusa 73
La Medusa 73

Our favorite spot for lunch is seafood at La Medusa 73. You’ll probably find us there roughy once a week or every other week. It’s that good. The staff are very friendly and we love going there for a good meal. Read more about La Medusa at Mercat del Ninot in a previous blog post.


While there is high end cuisine here, every corner bar has very reasonably priced tapas and that can become mundane after awhile. Lucky for us, our neighborhood has a wide variety of cuisines and quality restaurants. We have favorite places nearby for Thai, Filipino, Korean and smash burgers. Finding a big juicy burger has proven difficult.

Social Life

Oktoberfest in Barcelona with Friends
Oktoberfest in Barcelona with Friends

We have made a few friends that we hang out with, whether it’s checking out a food fest, a beer bar or having them over for dinner. Not sure if it’s because of the two years of a pandemic, but Nik and I are also pretty content just laying low amongst ourselves with Koval and exploring the city a bit on our own too. It’s nice to know a few people but we haven’t sought out larger expat groups.

Getting Around the City

Something we learned very early on after arriving in April that this city is great for walking. Barcelona also has a very good and clean public transit system. The several train lines and many bus lines can get you almost anywhere you need to be. Absolutely no need for a car, which is why so many people in the city use mopeds to get around.

Health Insurance is Affordable

Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Founded in 1906
Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Founded in 1906

For a couple months after arriving, we kept our US insurance though COBRA, while also getting some temporary travel insurance through World Nomads to bridge us until we got a Spanish health insurance plan. Very thankful we had the coverage too, as we had one emergency room visit that we were able to walk to. In the end we paid two bills out of pocket, both under $500 and one for which we got reimbursed thanks to the travel insurance. Find me an ER bill for that cost in the US. Non-existent.

As part of the process to get residency in Barcelona, we needed to show that we have Spanish health insurance. We decided on a plan with Sanitas, a company that is geared towards expats and English speakers. There’s no choice from Sanitas but to get a year plan and pay it in full. Coverage for the two of us, for the year, is only a few hundred more than we were paying for one month of COBRA! We’re probably overpaying because we wanted to make sure we are covered for everything big and small.

Nik is fully recovered from his back surgery that he had a few weeks before our move. He has been going to a gym doing workouts and is back to running 5 and 10K races. I’m doing alright too. Got some new kicks and am slowly back in the swing of doing Apple Fitness workouts at our apartment. If I want, I can accompany Nik to his gym every day for free. There is no family membership plan so he is allowed to bring a guest everyday. Quite the opposite of how our previous gym memberships in Chicago worked.

Traveling Around Europe

Nik and Julie in Praiano, Italy along the Amalfi Coast
Nik and Julie in Praiano, Italy along the Amalfi Coast

As of this post, we’ve visited 13 places with a few more ahead on the agenda. Living in Barcelona has been really convenient for flying to other cities. Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport is a big airport. Most of our flights have been with Vueling, the largest airline in Spain measured by fleet size and number of destinations.

In addition to flying, getting to other great coastal towns in 90 minutes or less can be done by train or car, which we have done.

My favorite trips have been to the Amalafi Coast, Italy, Nice, France and Prague.

Nik says his favorites have also been Amalfi, Nice and Paris.

Challenges of Living in Barcelona

Heat, Humidity and Allergies

Once we got settled in a neighborhood outside of the cute tourist areas, we found Barcelona to be like any other big American city, most notably New York City: busy, loud, dirty and sometimes smelly. Not a whole lot of grass for Koval and the allergies became an issue almost instantly for both Koval and Nik. So while we like living abroad and traveling, we’re not in love with living in Barcelona.

Much like many other countries this past summer, there were unusually hot temperatures here. It was brutal all summer and early fall with very little breeze or rain and the air felt thick daily. Even walking Koval at 11pm for his last walk of the night would still be 80 degrees and humid.

Yes there are beaches along the Barcelona coast, but we lived about a 30-35 minute public transit ride away. Nice to have access but not the most convenient to get to. When we were apartment hunting, we did try to find something close to the beach in a neighborhood called Poblenou but didn’t have much luck.

Related: Our Experience Renting a Furnished Apartment in Barcelona

Celebrating Koval's Birthday in Barcelona
Celebrating Koval’s Birthday in Barcelona

Although Koval has done well adapting to new apartments and areas, the allergies here have been quite bothersome. A new allergy issue seems to pop up just as soon as a previous one clears up. We recently wrote a much more complete update on Koval, which you can read here.

Communicating in a Foreign Language(s)

For one reason or another we have not signed up for any Spanish classes. We have looked, but have mostly chosen to not sign up because our travel plans keep us from sticking to a class schedule. I do feel some of my Spanish has improved a little bit, it just sometimes takes me a minute to think of the right words to formulate sentences. By no means are either of us conversing with much proficiency, but enough to get by.

Barcelona is part of Catalonia, an autonomous community of Spain1 In Spain, an autonomous community is the first-level political and administrative division, created in accordance with the Spanish Constitution of 1978, with the aim of guaranteeing limited autonomy of the nationalities and regions that make up Spain. (Source: Wikipedia.), and therefore many people speak not only Spanish, but Catalan too.

I would say a lot of people in Barcelona speak some English. It’s usually in stores and shops where we have some trouble communicating and many of the grocery stores have their signs in Catalan. The Google Translate app has been a handy tool. Restaurants are probably the easiest for us because there is often an English version of the menu. And if not, we know enough Spanish to know what we want to order or we use the Google app.

The Mopeds

Moped Parking
Moped Parking

Five words: they are noisy and everywhere. While sitting outside at the various tapas bars is generally nice, the noise from the mopeds and scooters gets really annoying.

What else?

That’s the gist of how we’ve been doing and how we’re enjoying things abroad. What else would you like to know? Drop a line in the comments or send us an email.

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