Although all regions in Spain have their own feel and culture, Catalonia is the one that wants to be – and probably is, the most different.
Its capital, Barcelona, is one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations and the spectacular Costa Brava coastline attracts holidaymakers from across Europe. Whilst it can make for an ideal holiday destination, those foreigners thinking about making the move to Catalonia should be aware of what life is really like in the northeast corner of Spain, before making their decision.
Many foreigners may really only consider moving to Barcelona itself or perhaps one of the more popular beach resorts, but in fact Catalonia has so much more to offer, from historic towns and sweeping countryside to mountain retreats and secluded coves.
The region is popular with EU residents, but you'll also find there are large populations of Chinese, Pakistanis and Moroccans, giving Catalonia a more multicultural feel than many other places in Spain.
The main official language is Catalan
While most people in Catalonia can speak Castellano (Spanish), the official language is Catalan. Signs are written in Catalan first, schools teach in Catalan and most cultural events will be conducted in Catalan. Instead of learning Spanish you may want to consider learning Catalan before you make the move here instead, particularly if you’re moving with your family in tow.
Contrary to what many foreigners think, Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish, but is in fact a completely different language. Even if you still choose to learn Spanish, we can guarantee that you’ll need at least a bit of Catalan to feel more at home in the region and fully appreciate all it has to offer.
Read our article on Spanish vs Catalan: Which language should you learn if you live in Barcelona? to find out more.
Catalan culture is very different to the Spanish culture you might expect
Forget sultry flamenco, bullfighting and tapas, Catalan culture is more about dragons and devils, human towers, hearty stews and seafood. Don’t move to Catalonia expecting the typical Spanish culture, because you'll find that it's different. Catalans have their own style of dancing, namely the Sardana, bullfighting is outlawed and even the food is different here.
Catalans love their festivals, and you’ll find there’s at least one crazy festival celebrated in the region every month. Unlike in much of Spain, these are not so much based around religion. Although the origins may still be religious, they are celebrated in a different way with lots of noise, fire, giants and Catalan folk music.
It’s not all about Barcelona
Barcelona is of course the capital and largest city in Catalonia, but believe it or not, there are many other great places to consider moving to, if your heart is not set on Gaudí's city. If you still want to be within easy reach of the city, but want a quieter pace of life with excellent beaches, then you could consider the coastal towns of Sitges or Castelldefels.
If picturesque towns, rolling hills and hidden coves are your priority, then head to the Costa Brava, a couple of hours' drive north of Barcelona. Here, some of the most popular towns include picturesque Cadaqués – a favourite of Dalí's, quaint hilltop Begur and the artistic town of Tossa de Mar.
For more of a city feel, but fewer crowds than Barcelona and plenty of history, opt for Girona in the north or Tarragona in the south. The Costa Daurada, south of Tarragona is also a popular place to foreigners to live.
It’s more expensive than other regions in Spain, but there are still some great bargains
Catalonia is one of the most expensive regions in Spain, with the exception of Madrid and the Basque Country, for both property and day-to-day living. This is particularly true in the centre of Barcelona and in nearby towns such as Sitges, as well as in the Costa Brava. Because the cost of living is greater in Catalonia however, salaries are usually slightly higher than in places such as Andalusia or Valencia too.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t chose to live cheaply however, and won't be able to find a bargain when it comes to property. If you’re determined to buy in Barcelona, then there are still good deals to be had in neighbourhoods on the very edges of the city. If you’re looking for a beach property, the Costa Brava may be quite expensive, but head south to the Costa Daurada, and you’ll find property prices to be a lot more reasonable.
You can ski and go to the beach – sometimes in the same day
Catalonia is a land of contrasts, with the high Pyrenees to the north, wide river estuaries and vineyards to the south and picturesque beaches hugging its coastline. There are ski resorts just a couple of hours’ train ride from Barcelona and beaches within easy access from most of the region.
Catalonia is wetter and greener than the south of Spain, so in spring and autumn expect rainy days and chilly temperatures. Despite the fact that many apartments and houses don’t have central heating in Catalonia, it does get cold in winter, so this is something you need to prepare yourself for. Luckily the Catalan winters are usually dry, bright and sunny, albeit with a chill in the air.
You’ll learn to love the outdoors
Even if you feel like you’re a city person and you want to move to one of Catalonia’s cities, you’ll soon discover that the cities and nature fuse together and you’ll start to love the outdoor lifestyle.
Even Barcelona has a natural park within its limits and on weekends you’ll often find city residents hiking and mountain biking in the hills of the Collserola. Choose to live in Girona and you’ll get hooked on the city’s favourite pastime of cycling, and move to the coast, and you’ll get into everything from sailing and paddle boarding to snorkelling and diving. There are a total of 18 natural parks in Catalonia, so you're never far from nature.
You may find it harder to integrate into Catalan society
Many foreigners moving to Catalonia find that the Catalans are not as open as the warm and friendly Andalusians or the Madrileños. They find the people to be a little more closed and harder to get to know, meaning that it can take you longer here to feel accepted or integrated into society. Our advice is that learning a bit of Catalan will go a long way in helping you to integrate better. Once you do get accepted by the Catalans however, you're in forever and you’ll find that they generally make very good and loyal friends.