After deciding to quit my job and move to Spain, I started looking at the options available to me to find a place to live.
Some people choose to first land in a place and then find an apartment – I am not one of them. Having been through the moving rodeo 20+ times, I’ve learned that preparation is the key to a successful transition. And having a place to call home before arriving relieves a whole lot of stress in the long run.
Valencia was where I originally started my apartment search. It was an attractive location. Access to multiple beaches, first rate Spanish language schools, the Parque Natural de la Albufera… It was also meant to be about 30% cheaper than Madrid or Barcelona. What’s not to like about that?
However, Barcelona won out due to several factors.
- More job opportunities in my field
- Increased access to professional and expat organisations
- Closer to continental Europe for easier access to the mainland
- Bonus: 25% discount on my Spanish language course
When I first started looking for a place in Spain, I had no knowledge of the Spanish apartment hunting scene. I’ve never lived in Spain before and my Spanish speaking friends are almost exclusively Latin American.
A few days of research, inquiries and apartment bookings later though – I definitely learned a lot.
Step 1: Selecting apartment search criteria
Since I was not visiting Barcelona before my move, I realistically had five fixed criteria to start my search.
I needed to be able to:
- Book online // Email reservations with a landlord would be acceptable
- Book without viewing (in person) // Flying back and forth for viewings is expensive
- Communicate effectively with the landlord // My Spanish is basic, so English/German would be preferred
- Trust my booking is valid // Better safe than sorry – no internet scammers, please!
- Find a place that would accept my cat // A cat’s for life, not just for Christmas 😉
After some casual searching I ended up adding some nice-to-have criteria too. Though I was changing my lifestyle significantly, I figured some creature comforts could stay.
Nice to have:
- Near the Beach // Within 20 minutes cycling
- No more than 3 roommates // Preferably 1 – Easier for Nala to adjust to and less co-ordination needed
- Bills included // Why participate in unpaid utility bill discussions when you don’t have to?
Step 2: Deciding on a rental budget
Something I have learned from moving to many different countries is that accessing local rates can be a challenge. Especially when you move to an unknown country, don’t speak the language, and don’t have local contacts.
However, there is a big difference between paying a slight premium and being completely ripped off. That’s why before deciding on a budget, I like to find out what the local rates actually are.
For Spain, I started my research on sites like Idealista and Fotocasa and also did some research on Facebook. The two sites were a recommendation I found on Reddit when searching “How to find an apartment in Spain”. I must say, Reddit is a really great place to find local recommendations.
My original plan was to get a studio or one-bedroom apartment for myself. Following some research, I realised that was out of my price range. Although I did see one studio for 450€/month all inclusive, it didn’t accept pets and was only a temporary rental. All other studios were around 600€+ including bills. One bedrooms started around 700€/month excluding bills.
Eventually I settled on a budget of 500€/ month. A little higher than I had hoped, but still affordable. If I didn’t have Nala to think of, I would almost certainly have targeted 400€/month all inclusive though. I saw some nice places for that price!
Step 3: Choosing a location to live in
I’ve only been to Barcelona once and that was a very very long time ago. The only thing I can remember from that trip is walking through a big street market and eating at McDonald’s.
I can only assume the market was the famous Rambla and the McDonald’s… well let’s just say my memories of that place weren’t all too pleasant or special.
Suffice to say, my memories weren’t really enough information to base my future living decisions on. I did have an idea of the type of area I wanted to be in though.
I wanted to:
- Live in an area outside central Barcelona (I’m not a huge fan of crowds)
- Stay in an area I could get a more traditionally Spanish experience
- Be able to get to the city centre within 20-30 minutes
- Have easy access to the beach
- Be close to a metro stop and potentially a Bicing bicycle rental station too
- Live in an area with a good infrastructure – cafes, restaurants, gym/pool, supermarkets etc.
Bonus: If I could find a place with a lower cost of living and artistic/startup/anything-can-happen type vibe.
Despite the mixed reviews – El Cabanyal in Valencia really caught my eye when I was looking there. I really wanted to be somewhere similar to that.
I had no idea where to start my search for the perfect area, so I decided to start looking for the perfect apartment instead. If I saw something I liked, I could then research the area it was in and see if it fit my needs… problem sorted!
Step 4: Booking an apartment online
As I started my online search, I came across a number of useful sites aiding with the Barcelona apartment search. I’ve shared some of the sites I found most useful at the end of this section.
The one I eventually booked my apartment with was Spotahome. This was for a number of different reasons. Since I really liked the service, I thought I would outline the most significant ones below.
- Ease of Use – The site and customer service being available in multiple languages made it very easy to use. It also had extended filtering options to check rules on pets, smoking, utilities included etc.
- Reasonable service fees – Spotahome was the only professional site I saw serving clients with foreign language needs at a fairly reasonable cost. Their fees varied based on length of stay and rental price. I could not figure out the exact % (it changed with every property), but my fee was 242€ for a 9 month rental in a 500€/month apartment. Considering realtors like to charge 1-2 months rent as commission – 1/2 months rent seemed fair to me.
- Reasonable rental prices – Spotahome seemed to have normal to slightly higher than normal rental prices depending on the property. They were a lot cheaper than Airbnb though, which was great.
- Videos of Available Property – Each one of the properties Spotahome offered was individually inspected by a Spotahome employee. A video was taken, so you could see what the property looked like.
- Neighbourhood descriptions – Each one of the listed properties also included a neighbourhood description and video in some cases. I thought this was pretty neat!
- Decent customer service – I submitted around 4-6 individual requests on Spotahome requesting information. I asked about the booking process, information accuracy, neighbourhood information etc. All of the customer service representatives I worked with were very friendly and helpful. I was also given plenty of opportunities to give service feedback.
- Reliable Terms and Conditions – I cancelled one of my bookings with Spotahome because I didn’t get a reply from the landlady within 24hrs. I made the request over the weekend, so Spotahome could have refused my cancellation. Instead they cancelled the booking within hours of my request and then unblocked the funds on my card.
Overall, I liked the ease of the service provided by Spotahome. The user friendliness of their site design and customer service really works in their favour. I do think they have some areas of improvement too though.
- Inaccuracy of Information – I came across a number of discrepancies on the listings I was looking at. For example, incorrect images, incorrect filter information etc. I asked them to update this information and two months later I can verify this has not been done.
- Speed of Service – In this day and age waiting 24 hours for a single reply is pretty painful. Especially when you are looking at different options and need to make decision quickly. The quality is good, but updates only seem to happen once or twice a week though.
- Contracts – At the moment, the Spotahome service does not include providing a standard contract. Instead, they give you the landlord’s details and you finish the contract business separately. I think it would be better to have a standard contract that can be signed electronically by both parties. This would be a lot simpler to execute and give almost instant closure of the transaction.
If anything does go wrong, Spotahome do offer an alternative apartment finding service or a full refund. This does provide a measure of comfort. Further, they do seem committed to providing a good customer experience, which is super important.
From a promotions point of view they are also very active. I found a 10% promotion code to use when I made my booking. After finishing my own booking, Spotahome then gave me a personal discount link to share. Feel free to use it if you like.
And that about sums up my experience of booking a place to stay in Barcelona from abroad. It was a pretty fun experience and a lot easier than some experiences I have had in the past!
Check out the bonus section below for more sites you can use to book your accommodation in Barcelona from abroad.
Bonus: Barcelona apartment booking sites
Airbnb is the easiest site to book an apartment in the short term. Significantly more expensive than all other alternatives shown below though.
Idealista is one of the most popular sites in Spain. This was my go-to for checking out local housing prices. There is high competition for property though and a lot of Spanish only adverts/ landlords (understandably).
Fotocasa is another popular search engine, much like Idealista. I didn’t like the availability of properties though and didn’t find it that intuitive to use.
Pisos was actually my favourite search site. Unfortunately, the Spanish only service makes it less user friendly for new expats arriving. There was some great local property available at low prices though. It is updated frequently too.
Piso Compartido is the sister site of Piso.com, which is specifically for those looking for flat shares. Great site and, unlike Pisos, this one does offer English language search – yay!