Relocating from Vancouver to Barcelona

April 20, 2017 | Blog, Home & Relocation, My Story

Life in a new town just outside Barcelona, one mum tells us what to expect.

Tips for a smoother change of life


I’m from Vancouver Canada where I lived most of my life. I was working in the field of architecture and design and in the Spring of 2016 I received my EU Passport and decided to make a change and move to Spain. It was a very big decision for me since I am a single mother of a 13 year old boy. However, he loves futbol and I love Andalusian horses plus we both love beaches and warm weather.

I must admit the relocation process was very challenging, especially with a child. We came with 4 suitcases, my computer and my son’s bike. We landed in Barcelona in a heat wave and it was absolutely crazy.

I actually thought I could do almost everything myself, and with the help of google translate I managed a lot on my own. But it was 100 time more difficult and stressful than I could have ever imagined. There is no way to mentally prepare for Spanish bureaucracy. For everything related to registering in the town and schools etc, I found a university student to help me. She spoke Spanish, Catalan and English so I have used her a lot. I found her through my realtor and I pay her 20 euros per hour which often included the use of her car while she drove me around. I also hired a lawyer to help obtain my son’s residency as I found it was impossible to get an appointment for him via the website (which is the only way).

Nobody in the government offices speaks English so you must have a translator with you if you are unable to speak Spanish. Also, it is worth noting that in general people don’t really reply to emails here.

I’m learning Spanish but not fast enough.  I did a month intensive with Speak Easy in Barcelona, which I loved (around 120 euros per week). I did some private classes with Educatic (20 euro per session) I did a Pimsleur on line course and I use the Dulingo App. Originally, I signed up for a course in Sant Cugat. It is available to new residents for about 50 Euro registration fee but the course was full and they didn’t have a spot until 7 months after I arrived. Sant Cugat is very Catalan and most local businesses and services do not have English speaking employees so it is essential to learn the language as soon as possible.

Aside from  google and my university student translator I also found a lot of useful information on the MumAbroad website. After about 6 months I discovered the Facebook group for English Speaking Parents in Sant Cugat and that has been a huge help. My advice to others thinking of relocating is to have about 3 times as much money as you think you’ll need. Also join any local expat groups on social media before you arrive – the members have a wealth of information. And if possible don’t arrive in the summer because everything shuts down in August and all the logistical things either take forever or just don’t happen at all.

The right time of year to come

It is essential to plan ahead – if you’re a parent get a place to live and register with the town hall (ayuntamiento)  by March so you get a spot in a school for your child. This process is called empadronamiento and every time you change your address you will have to register a new empadronamiento. It is mandatory to register (empadronarse) for anyone who plans to live in Spain more than six months in a year. You will need this document to apply for an identity card and to get school place for your child, amongst other things). This is sooooo important (unless you are registering in private schools which are around 1,000 Euros per month). The competition for public and semi private schools is insane here and it’s almost impossible to get into a concertada. In fact, any spot is a challenge, my son wasn’t able to get into a public school until the end of October.  The school give all new students language classes which is great but in general I have found the public school options are very limited here and even if you are not religious it may be worth sending your child to a religious school as they have a good reputation.

In retrospect I would have done everything differently. I think it would have been better to have come to Sant Cugat before moving just to get an idea of the different areas. I was in such a rush to get out of my hotel, I didn’t have enough time to check out the town and really decide where I wanted to be. I live in Park Central and it is very pretty but I didn’t have a car at first and it’s a bit too far away from the centre. Plus the apartment is too small for me, which I knew at the time but couldn’t wait for the right place.The cost of moving is high. The realtor fees are a little more than one months rent. Most landlords want a 2 month deposit and many require an entire year of rent in advance (if you do not have a work contract in Spain). In addition, phone and internet services often take a month to activate.  For a smooth transition it is important to know these details and be prepared.

Useful  Information:

  • – great website for apartment rentals
  • – a great website for finding domestic help, tutors and babysitters
  • and – online grocery shopping and delivery
  • In order to get services like phone & internet you must have a local bank account and your NIE or residency.
  • Orange is one of the only phone companies that will provide service if you’ve had your bank account for less than 6 months.



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