Living In Barcelona: What Do Expats Dislike Most About ‪‎Barcelona‬? (Survey Results + Infographics)

We all know going on holiday to any location is very different from actually living in it. It’s easy to get lost in the ideal of the place, especially when there are so many positive reasons – like the beach and great weather!

So, the big question today is: What do expats dislike about this city? OK Apartment went to find out with their survey for expats who live in BCN.

This is a hot topic now, especially with the politics and economics of living in Barcelona, and in Spain, changing. I get a mixed reaction from my own expat friends too.

About the survey and study sample

The survey was carried out between the 1 June and 31 December2015. 88% of respondents used an online form and the remaining 12% printed paper.

Some of the participants have been living in Barcelona for more than 3 months, but the majority of respondents have been here for more than 2 years. The percentages are 3 months – year (30%), between 1-2 years (15%), and more than 2 years (55%) Algunos de los participantes viven en Barcelona desde algo más de tres meses pero la mayoría llevan más de dos años. Los porcentajes son: entre tres meses y un año (30%), entre uno y dos años (15%) y más de dos años (55%).

The general characteristics of the sample are

  • Age: 18 – 24 years (18.04%), 25 – 34 years (47.82%), 35+ years (34.14%)
  • Sex: Female (64.29%), Male (35.71%)
  • Level of studies: Secondary education (6.30%), College (advanced/pre-university) (19.37%), University (53.03%), Post-graduate (21.31%)

Motives for coming and intention to stay:

  • Motives for moving to Barcelona: Personal relation (24%); university placement/apprenticeship (17%), found work (17%), studying (11%), looking for work (10%), other motives (21%).
  • Intention to stay in Barcelona. Very few want to leave: I want to stay (61.19%), I don’t want to stay (6.77%), I don’t know (21.89%), I’d like to stay but I can’t (10.16%).

Factor 1: Mass tourism

The result may come surprisingly to those that don’t live in Barcelona, but many say mass tourism is their biggest pet peeve. The negative factor by far mentioned the most was mass tourism. Just over one in three expats (34%) affirm that Barcelona has a level of mass tourism that they do not like.

“Excessive mass tourism” / “Too much tourism all-year / “Selling the “BCN brand” has made the city into a theme park” / “Many tourists. Too many promotors.” / “Tourists come and look at the city as their own”, / “Misbehaving tourists”

Remember that some respondents had up to three different negative statements? If we add up every single statement then mass tourism appears for 28% of those statements. Those most annoyed by this aspect of the city are the Polish (40%) and Italians (31%), and least are the Russians (24%) and Danish (22%).

Unsustainable tourism model?

Barcelona is a city with less than 1.6 million habitants and is now receiving more than 8 million tourists each year. The evolution of that has gone from 1.7 million tourists in 1990, 3.1 million in 2000, 6.3 million in 2006, and 8 million in 2013. This makes Barcelona the 4th most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, and Rome, despite being around 10 times smaller than the latter. It is the port leading in cruises on the Mediterranean. In areas like Las Ramblas, 8 out of 10 passersby are from outside the city.

Often, we may think that the most affected by mass tourism are those born here, but this study shows that expats who live here also feel this is a significant problem. They act as external observers of the city, perhaps even with a more objective view of the problem; we believe that their opinion is said diplomatically and after considering all factors. In all likelihood, tourists themselves also suffer this discomfort, but this is the subject of another study.

This study brings to light the counter-productive effects of mass tourism and the danger it implies for tourism itself. This justifies better the current stance of politicians that aim to put together a “Strategic tourism plan for Barcelona” that is emitted annually by local authorities.

Factor 2: The closed-off character of Catalans

22% of the mentions comment on the cold and closed-off character of Barcelona locals – principally Catalans:

“Closed-minded people” / “People with worried faces and sadness…” / “The coldness of people” / “The stubborness of people, which sometimes turns into obtuseness” / “People are a bit closed, unwilling to welcome newcomers in their circles of friends”

Those that comment on this factor the most are Argentinians (45%) and Russians (29%) and least are Germans (17%) and Polish (17%)It’s not surprising that almost half of Argentines – with a stereotypically fiery Latin character – feel the coldness of the locals the strongest, though it’s surprising almost 1 in 5 Germans feel it too.

This results highlights the famous “Catalan closed-off character”. It shows that perhaps Catalans would be more appreciated by newcomers to the city if they were more friendly.

Although, What do you like most about Barcelona? will be the subject of the next article, it’s worth mentioning that the local people are considered to be a positive factor of Barcelona by some respondents. This is however, only mentioned positively half as much as negatively.

So foreigners seem to feel intimidated by trying to get to know Catalans personally and many are more than twice as likely to highlight the “Catalan character” as a negative factor rather than a positive one… So does that mean the locals make expats feel unwelcome in their city? Well, no actually!

Are Catalans hospitable?

Respondents also answered the question “How would you rate the reception from the local Catalans of Barcelona?”. The answers will give us a clearer idea what people think of the locals. The answers obtained were: Excellent (13.42%), Good (37%) Satisfactory (28.54%), Bad (17.78%) and Terrible (3.26%).

Despite disliking the closed-mindedness, Catalans are mostly good and excellent at making newcomers feel welcome to their city. So, it’s not true that people feel like they aren’t welcome by locals, but rather it’s more that they want to integrate further with the locals but simply can’t find an easy way past the initial rigidity. The results show clearly that:

  • More than half of respondents (50.42%) consider their reception to be either good or excellent.
  • Just over one in four respondents (28.54%) consider the reception to be satisfactory.
  • Only one in five respondents (21.04%) consider their reception to have been bad or terrible.

More Factors…

The results were very interesting! Here is a summary in the form of an info graphic… Please check right at the bottom for the results too!


Want to know more? Read The Full Results Here!