Barcelona’s population is half expatriate !

Published 2019-09-06 11:51

Almost half of Barcelona’s residents are foreign-born and this is a record. This was revealed last week by the Municipal Register of Inhabitants of the city. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain, seems to be a haven for expatriates. This is due to two reasons: firstly there is record growth of expats joining Barcelona’s multicultural composition that is rapidly changing the face of the city and secondly there are the deliberate efforts by the City Administration to transform the existing multiculturalism into an interconnected, intercultural community for all its citizens.

Factual breakdown of Barcelona’s diversity

According to Barcelona’s Municipal Register, the total number of citizens within the administrative limits of the city is 1,650,358. When the urban outskirts of the city are included, Barcelona's 2019 population is estimated at 5,541,127. The population since 2015 has grown by 264,208 which represents a 1.23% annual change. 

Roughly sixty percent of Barcelona’s inhabitants were born in Catalonia while more than 20 percent originate from other areas of Spain. The intercultural diverse attraction lies in the fact that more than 300 000 inhabitants (20 percent of the population and actually one out of every five inhabitants) are foreigners from outside Spain. Representing 179 countries, the largest communities of these foreigners originate from Italy, China, and Pakistan, each with more than 20 000 inhabitants, followed by France, Morocco, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Peru, and others. In this population a mixture all major religions, including the Jewish belief, are represented. These foreigners, rather than natural population births, account for the record growth in the population of Barcelona since 1991. 

Looking at the makeup of its citizens, 47 percent are male and 53 percent female of which the largest representative age group, about 63 percent, are those between the ages of 18 and 64 years – the bulk of Barcelona’s workforce.

Barcelona’s multicultural make-up contributes to its status as a leading sport, economic, arts, fashion, commerce, and tourism hub. In terms of GDP it is regarded as the fourth largest economic power in the European Union and 35th in the world.

The expatriate attractiveness of Barcelona

In actively promoting the goal of strengthening Barcelona's intercultural community, the city has designed strategies to hasten expansion and integration of its diversity. These include efforts to incorporate the renowned gypsy-communities and other migrating minorities into the citizenry; to promote inter-religious diversity and dialogue as well as peaceful co-existence and to pursue joint intercultural efforts and cooperation towards developing the city.

In 2019 Barcelona embarked on a five-pronged strategy that focuses on a) creating knowledge, awareness and acceptance of different cultures; b) promoting equality in rights and opportunities to inhabitants from different countries and with different cultures; c) promoting greater interactive collaborative relationships between different cultures and groups; d) promoting a greater sense of belonging in Barcelona through programs that encourage stronger ties in neighborhoods, the working area, professional groups, etc. and e) implementing mechanisms to promote participation by all cultures in the city’s development.

Barcelona’s Study Abroad Experience (Barcelona SAE) forms part and parcel of the city’s efforts to maximize its culturally diverse potential targeting the younger student community. Its approach is different from other similar programs in that it specifically promotes cultural immersion in all its academic programs. Enrolling students must complete “on-site orientation which includes targeted discussion about challenges and cultural, social and economic differences in Spain and Europe”. The Barcelona SAE staff also pride themselves on their specialist knowledge and participation in intercultural awareness training to provide specific guidance to racially and ethnically diverse students, religious minority students, and the LGBTQ+ community. (Spain in general is recognized as one of the most culturally liberal and LGBTQ+ countries in the world).  

Expatriate challenges and opportunities

Transforming Barcelona into an intercultural city is a growth-development that will expand the job-market and specifically incorporate the youth segment of the city.

Barcelona has many areas with potential to accommodate international job-seekers: 

  • Proximity and easy access to Europe
  • Sophisticated transport infrastructure
  • Accommodating cultures
  • Developed IT and tech hub in the Poblenou district
  • Buzzing tourism sector
  • Lively entertainment and social life

When it gets to costing relocation to Barcelona, bear in mind that although the cost of living is lower than other world cities, salaries are also lower. The biggest expense is housing but buying or renting are still cheaper than in northern Europe. There are also many cheaper options 20 – 40 kilometers outside Barcelona. 

In a nutshell, living a bit outside of Barcelona has many advantages. For example you could find a three-bedroomed apartment or home, even a sea-side one at one of the seventeen beaches some 35 kilometers south-west of Barcelona for €600 per month. Many of the international schools are also located outside Barcelona. Train- and other transport options from a perimeter of 30 kilometers outside Barcelona will get you at your destination in about 30 minutes. 

There is a language barrier in that Catalan is the official and first language although Spanish is spoken by all local residents. This problem however will be overcome as Barcelona progresses with its focused transformation into an interconnected intercultural city where English will become another major language.  Expatriates in the short term will manage with English but should develop a basic Spanish understanding and vocabulary. 

Relocating to Barcelona will be smooth and pleasing if the mindset is one of flexibility, tolerance, and sensitivity towards other cultures, religions, habits, manners, and languages. In particular expatriates need to understand that they will become wholly part of the changing landscape of Barcelona.