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Interview with Chris – a British expat living in Spain

Updated 19 Jan 2022

Chris, a British expat living in Spain, spoke to Expat Arrivals about his experience. He's a father of three and an avid golfer. He likes to keep fit, although wine tasting can vie for his attention! Chris provides financial planning solutions for the international community of Spain, among others. He specialises in pension planning, investment management, dormant/frozen pension tracing, evaluation and transfers, as well as tax-efficient savings. 

If you're in need of any financial assistance, you can find Chris on the Spectrum IFA website, as well as on Twitter and Instagram

About ChrisChris Burke

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: London

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Sitges, Spain (just outside of Barcelona)

Q: When did you move here?
A: I first moved to Spain over 12 years ago, Barcelona 11, but last year I relocated to Sitges.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: With my family.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I always wanted to live abroad in a warm climate away from the cold, grey English winter days. I’m a financial adviser to predominantly English-speaking expats here.

Living in Barcelona

Q: What do you enjoy most about Barcelona? How would you rate the quality of life compared to London?
A: The weather and the food! I have a much higher quality of life in Spain, even just having the sun most days makes me smile. Good food and a warm, outdoor lifestyle are key.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The language proved difficult at first. I also had to get used to not being able to see my friends and family so easily. Also, struggles with administration and people you can truly trust.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Barcelona?
A: It can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, that’s the great thing about Barcelona. I personally think the cost of living is cheaper, until it comes to taxes…

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Barcelona?
A: Great. It’s very well connected and cheap!

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Barcelona?
A: Once you are registered with your CatSalud card, the system works very well here. I have used it many times and its very good.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Barcelona? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I would recommend taking extra care in the central tourist areas just off La Rambla, such as the Gothic Neighbourhood and El Raval, especially at night. It’s well known for pickpockets (the biggest bugbear of the city). Don’t dress like a tourist or look like you don’t know where you are going.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Barcelona? What different options are available for expats?
A: Good. There is a wide range of housing available for a variety of budgets, although mainly apartments.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Eixample is central, safe and well connected. If you prefer to live closer to the beach, then Poblenou. Also, areas near the top of the city have quick access to the National Parks.

Q: Are there any activities, attractions or events that you would recommend for new arrivals in Barcelona, or Spain in general? What are your favourite leisure spots?
A: I like to play golf and padel – there are plenty of clubs around the city. I’d also recommend going to watch a game at the Camp Nou. There are many ‘Meetup’ groups in the city to meet people, that’s the key for me. Meeting enough people so that you can choose your reliable contacts.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners?
A: Tolerant, except for maybe tourists. Locals think and act very differently to us and this needs to be understood. 

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I never found it difficult. If you put yourself out there, there are a lot of friendly people here. I naturally met a lot of people through work and my padel- and golf clubs.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: A mix of both. But if you want to fit in with the locals, you need to speak a basic level of the language. However, I spend more time with English-speaking people as the humour/nuances are similar.

Working in Barcelona

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I did it all myself and I never had any problems but, then again, I moved before Brexit. I think that, although it’s still very much possible, there are a few extra hoops to jump through now for Brits wanting to move here.

Q: What is the economic climate in Barcelona like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Great, and it’s improving. There are loads of international companies moving here. The government has also set up a ‘Barcelona International Welcome’ initiative to attract foreign workers and make the process easier. It's easier if you work for a global company rather than a Spanish centric employer.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Barcelona? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: The majority of my clients are expats here, so I may not be affected as much as others. However, the culture is slightly different. The lunch breaks can be two hours or more! Although this is not as prominent as a few years ago. I would highly recommend working with a local in your business, it helps enormously for lots of things.

Family and children in Barcelona

Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: Tibidabo Attraction Park, Parc de L’Oroneta (they have a children’s steam train on a Sunday morning which is fantastic), The Rainforest Museum (amazing!), the Zoo and the Aquarium. If you have some time on your hands and fancy a day trip outside of Barcelona, PortAventura World (a theme park close to Tarragona) is a great day out.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: No particular suggestions. There is a magnitude of excellent schools here, both private and public. For children up to age 10 I would suggest a half private or local school, this way the children learn Spanish quickly and become ‘native’. Then, for senior school, perhaps a private school and studying for English grades.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Barcelona?
A: Welcome! You’ve made a great decision coming to live in this fantastic city! There is no other city like Barcelona in Europe and it’s a wonderful place to live.

Interviewed in January 2022

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