I’ve now been in Barcelona for a little less than four weeks. Technically I’ve only been here three weeks, as I flew back to Prague last week to pick up my kitty Nala.
It’s been a pretty productive few weeks though, that’s for sure. It’s also taught me a lot about navigating situations I hadn’t really anticipated.
Since it’s been a few years since I last moved, I had forgotten some of the little things that happen. Those little details and events that make a real difference to your experience.
I’m still navigating some of the waters of getting settled, but there are some experiences I felt are worth sharing.
Settling into Accommodation
When I arrived at the apartment I booked online, I was super happy to see that it was just as described. It was clean, modern and well looked after. The landlady also had a decent level of English to help with the key handover and contract technicalities.
One thing I hadn’t expected though, was that it would be quite so small. Pictures and videos obviously don’t lend well to translating actual size via the computer. I had to wonder where I would put all my things…
When I was packing, I had expected the apartment to be empty, save for the furniture. Instead, I found it had absolutely everything already provided. Kitchen pots, pans, utensils. Bedroom pillows, a duvet, linens, towels and blankets. Cleaning brooms, mops and detergents. The list goes on and on. The landlady even had food in the kitchen cupboard for me to use!
Considering I’ve lived in furnished accommodation for most of my life, this really did come as a surprise. I’m still not sure if this is normal for a furnished apartment in Spain or simply due to the landlady’s step-daughter having lived there previously.
Having said that, I was definitely not complaining about the fact I had a freshly made bed with pillows and a duvet waiting for me. I had fully been expecting to sleep on a plain mattress for a week while my boxes arrived from Czechia!
Two slightly less welcome surprises came in the form of the property’s tap water and some very mysterious extra charges though…
Tap Water in Barcelona
I’m a really big fan of water. Drinking water, showering water, pool water, beach water, lake water, fountain water. You name an item or place with water and the likelihood is I will enjoy being in it, near it or consuming it in some way shape or form.
The water in my apartment, however, has been somewhat disappointing. Although the water is apparently safe to drink, it just tastes… awful.
Being ever the optimist, I did try a few things to remedy the situation. I tried filtering the water with my trusty BRITA filter. That (surprisingly) didn’t help.
I then tried to boil it to see if that would make it more palatable. That didn’t help either.
Eventually, I stumbled across an article on Google on Barcelona tap water, which was written by a water filter company called TAPP. Apparently their water are relatively cheap, effective and would you know it: biodegradable! I was intrigued to say the least.
Ever conscious of my budget, I calculated that at my current rate of bottled water consumption (2l/day), I would be paying around 130€/year to buy my water.
The TAPP 2 filter was going to cost me 89€ for the first year, including the required equipment and 60€/year for the annual refill cartridges thereafter.
Given I would be saving a minimum of 121 x 6 litre plastic bottles/year with the TAPP 2 water filter, the choice to order was clear. I haven’t installed it yet as my sink needs a special connector from TAPP to do so, but fingers crossed it’s a winner!
Unexpected charges in a Barcelona tenancy
Before moving to Barcelona, my friend Ashley and I decided to go on a road trip together.
We travelled through Naples, Nice and Monte Carlo before landing in Barcelona and it was definitely a great adventure!
However, when we arrived in Barcelona, and after signing the apartment contract, we got a little surprise. Apparently, having Ashley or other guests staying in the apartment was to incur an additional cost of 10€ per night.
Hold on a minute… what? This was not what I signed up for!
I stayed quiet in front of the landlady at the time, as I’m not one to complain about injustices without getting my facts straight. After all, you never know what the local conditions and practices are in a new country. Ashley can attest to the fact that I was not best pleased though.
You see, there had been no mention of a charge for guests before this time. Not on the Spotahome description and not in the contract either.
In my (slightly enraged state), I therefore felt it was a fabricated charge, created on the spot when she saw my guest. Not fair! No bueno mi amigos!
A hot head rarely gets anyone anywhere though, so I decided to be slightly more strategic about my response…
Reacting to unexpected charges in a Barcelona tenancy
A few days after I moved into the apartment, I decided to inquire to my landlady about a number of questions I had:
- How do I sort the garbage?
- Can I use the washing machine at night given the contracted no-noise past 10pm clause?
- Are there any recommended petsitting services in the area?
- Could my landlady waive the 10€/per person/night charge as I had never seen it written down before?
I got a friendly email back, with my questions answered neatly in red text below.
RE: Guests – I was apparently in a single occupancy room, guests would disturb my roommate, and bad experiences last summer necessitated the charges.
Hmmm… what to do with that?
Put my investigation hat on – that’s what!
- I looked up the original Spotahome advertisement – it showed couples were not allowed to live there, but didn’t say anything about guests
- I reviewed what I knew of my contract terms – that didn’t have a clause for guests either
With that clear I knew I had definitely not signed anything for those charges.
Next step: Figure out whether the landlady could impose charges on me outside the contract and advertisement terms…
Solving unexpected charges in a Barcelona tenancy
My next move was to go to the Spotahome website where I had made the original apartment booking.
I started an online chat with one of the Spotahome agents and confirmed:
- They were not aware of extra charges for guests on this property
- The ‘no couples’ language on the advert did not apply to guests
- The landlady should honour the contractual and advertising terms – if not, Spotahome would help mediate
Following this confirmation and my mother expressing the desire to come stay, I wrote to my landlady again.
I informed her of the days my mother wished to stay (as she had requested) and asked again for the charges to be waived.
This time I let her know that I had spoken to the agency to check on the details of the charges. I also sent her a screenshot of a different ad on the Spotahome website which clearly showed additional charges for guests on the advertisement.
My landlady responded by saying she would get in touch with the agency and confirm further action.
Several days later I received an email from her confirming I was right in saying there was no mention of the charges anywhere and that single occupancy did not apply to guests.
She also informed me that she would be updating the ad for future tenants, but waive the fee for me.
Identifying required paperwork
Since I plan on staying in Spain for a significant period of time, I really needed to get my paperwork straight.
I did some research prior to landing in Spain, but the full requirements were still a little hazy to me. Eventually I found this really neat City Life page that provided a great decision tree (pasted below) to show me what was needed.
- NIE number (Número de Identidad/Identificación de Extranjero) – This would allow me to open a bank account, complete my registrations, get a phone plan etc.
- Social Security Registration – To allow me to set myself up as a Spanish tax payer moving forward
- Empadronamiento (Residency) – A legal requirement for EU citizens wanting to stay in Spain longer than 3 months
Requesting an NIE appointment
If you’ve ever done any research on the Spanish NIE, you will likely have come across the woes that surround getting an appointment for this. Personally, I didn’t believe the tales until I saw for myself how difficult it was.
I sat refreshing and inputting my details into the Cita Previa site for three mornings in a row. After that I realised I value my life too much to be doing that and instead decided to hire a pro to complete the job for me.
The service I used was mynie.co.uk and it cost 39,99 GBP to get the NIE appointment plus NIE and social security number paperwork filled out.
I initially didn’t hear from them for about 2 weeks and was a little confused as to why the service wasn’t provided in the 48 hours specified.
I then picked up the phone and a quick conversation showed that there had been a technical glitch, which meant I didn’t get the appointment email and my appointment had in fact been the day before.
They resolved to get me an appointment booked the following Monday, which they did. Unfortunately, however, the email including my completed paperwork is still missing.
I suppose that means I will need to call them again to get that sorted. Having said that though, the most important part for me is done. I have a confirmed NIE appointment two weeks from now – yay!
Setting up health and dental insurance
As I am coming to Spain as a student, one of the requirements for residency is valid health insurance. This is because without having a job, I initially won’t be paying into the Social Security fund which would otherwise cover my public healthcare needs.
Cost and service were the two most important factors for me on this. Although I have utilised private health insurance in the past, it was on an ad-hoc pay as you go basis for the last three years.
I was never required to pay for private health insurance before and European public health standards being pretty high, this was never an issue before.
After some research, I ended up debating between Cigna and Asisa. Cigna being tailored towards foreigners with an English site most certainly seemed like the best choice at first. However, after considering the fact my Spanish will be near fluent in the next six months I decided to go with Asisa.
Their premiums were almost 30€/month cheaper than Cigna and the level of cover appeared of equal quality. Application forms and such were also available in English at the branch, so I knew what I was signing up to too.
I did come across an insurance comparison site, which was pretty neat though. It was called Rastreator and showed a number of other local Spanish options too.
Exploring the neighbourhood
When I landed in El Poblenou, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew it was a regenerating neighbourhood. I also knew there were meant to be a number of restaurants near my place and the beach was not too far. That being the case, I decided I really needed to check out the neighbourhood and see what was on offer.
Comparing supermarket prices
One of the most important things for me when I land in a new place is finding the nearest supermarket. This is obviously caused by necessity as I need to feed myself, but it also provides me comfort and a feeling of home.
Oftentimes, after being somewhere for a while though, you notice that the closest supermarket may not be the best/cheapest. This was something I found in Spain too.
I was super glad when I found out that the nearest supermarket to my apartment block was a Lidl. I’m Austrian, so any shop with the chance of stocking Germanic foods is a plus for me. Lidl being a discount food store hit the sweet spot for my budgeting needs as well.
However, after speaking to my landlady I found out that here in Spain, the cheapest supermarket to shop in is apparently Mercadona. I went to check it out and it does indeed have some good quality items at very reasonable prices – laundry detergent for example!
Personally, I found the local mini marts actually are cheapest for fresh fruits and vegetables. There are a number of them lining the streets of El Poblenou. I do admit that for anyone who likes their fruit to look nicely buffed, the supermarkets are still best though.
Getting a budget haircut at the Barcelona Hair Academy
When I arrived in Barcelona, I hadn’t had a haircut in a long time. My usual hairdresser is in the UK, and I hadn’t visited in a while.
There comes a time, however, where split ends eventually become a thing. Although I don’t prioritise my hair so much, I do believe in keeping it healthy, so I decided to try my luck in Spain.
I wanted to see what reasonably priced options were available and stumbled across the Barcelona Hair Academy. It’s a hairdressing school that looked to have a stylish edge to it and offered a cut and blowdry with student stylists starting at 8€.
When I saw this I figured I would give it a try. I had enough hair on my head to allow for a second cut if all went terribly wrong and the price was so cheap I could afford another one too!
I didn’t have to worry though – although I can’t say it was the best haircut I had in my life, considering the lady had only been learning for four weeks it was actually pretty good.
There was a fully professional hair stylist helping her out the entire time as needed. He made sure she was employing the correct techniques, guided in areas of uncertainty and checking the result. That definitely gave me confidence throughout the process.
Nonetheless, I do think I will try out the 18€ senior student stylist offer next time. The junior stylist did take over 2 hours to complete a simple trim and whilst I did enjoy the experience, I value my time too.
We’ve all got to start somewhere though!
Waxing at Estetica del Born
Although I know many girls like to shave and trim body hair, I’m a big fan of good old waxing. Depending on location, this can be an expensive luxury to afford. Luckily it seems waxing is a big thing here in Spain though and as such prices are pretty reasonable.
I ended up finding a place around 30 minutes from my apartment. It was called Estetica del Born and I will definitely be visiting again.
The salon itself was clean, super cute and appointment reservation was fast and simple via Whatsapp. It was in English too. When I had to delay my waxing appointment, the flexibility to change was also super.
The lady who was waxing me was also really nice. I was trying my broken Spanish on her and she was being very patient and even correcting me through my whole appointment.
The wax itself was relatively pain free. The sugar wax was heated to just the right temperature and no pesky strips were being used, so it was environmentally friendly too!
– – –
Well, that’s it for now.
I still have a few things I need to get sorted here in Barcelona. Joining the gym and making some new friends being top of the list.
For now though I can say my experiences of settling in have been largely positive. Nice people, interesting walks, good services and definitely options to minimise expenses. All things that make me happy.
Yes, I must say – I think I’m really going to like it here! 🙂