Expat Series: Living In Barcelona, Spain – Interview from a True Expat

Spain has a special place in my heart because I spent a whole semester in Madrid, Spain during junior year in college. This month’s expat is self-proclaimed “Cultural Provocateur” Kari von Etheridge spending her time abroad in beautiful Barcelona, Spain. Its so important for us to bring to you authentic experiences from expats who are just like you and me and have graciously give us all advice about their home away from home. Kari, a Brooklyn native, is definitely a #TCBGlobalCitizen and this month she is a part of the TCB Expat community! Let’s find out more!

Meet Kari. Teacher. Traveler. Expat.


Photo Credit: Kari’s Instagram

The Arrival

For the past 3 years, Kari has lived and worked in Barcelona. Like many of our expats, Kari’s initial intentions were not to live in Barcelona but to start her adventures in Madrid. But because of the ease of finding employment (which we will learn about later), Barcelona became the best choice at the time! The goal for Kari, after spending such a long time in Barcelona, is to transition to Madrid before the end of 2016 where she will spend an additional year.

Barcelona is a perfect place for Kari to explore with fresh eyes as she never visited the city before moving there. The silver-lining in this decision is the ability to just live, authentically in a new country. 

The first summer upon arrival, Kari felt amazed by the entire experience but the truth, as Kari tells us, is that the months/years to follow was faced with many challenges.

Kari does not fully speak the language of her host country although, she admits, that she should base on her 3-year time spent in Spain. She has enrolled in classes and frequented language exchanges. These barriers rarely come into play.

Getting Set Up

  Getting Registered As an Expat – 

Kari’s experience moving to a city “sight unseen” without any immediate connections (friends/acquaintances/family) taught her many lessons. The main lesson was how advantageous it is to make friends and acquantances. She uses that sentiment to provide advice for others as well:

“Meet as many people as you can and preferably ones that speak both languages spoken here. Be smart about who you choose to be friends with These ‘friends’ can be extremely helpful in navigating about town.”

Upon arriving in Barcelona, Kari had to complete the “empadronamiento” at the Citcertificado-empadronamiento-e1439900012327y hall (Ajuntament). This is to make sure she was ‘clocked in’ or registered with the city in case she decided to stay longer than expected; a way the country monitors its expats. This or something similar may be the requirement for many European cities.

For the empadronamiento, you can use the address that you have available or if using your own address, ensure you can empadronamiento, as some places may have reached their limit for the number of people that can register their address.  Once you have that and your “Número de Identificación de Extranjero” (N.I.E) which, will be attached to your visa, you need to go to the ‘Tesoreria General de la Seguretat Social’ for your social security number. For this all you need is your passport & N.I.E.

Getting a visa is very important! Kari tells us:

“I have a student visa. This allows me to work 20 hrs a week and study. To apply for your student visa, you’d need to first get a letter from an accredited school stating the program and length of time studying at your particular school. Once you have that, you would need to take that to the Spanish Consulate in your city (whichever city you live or not you just need an address of residence).  Each city has their own rules on how to apply and what is needed for the consulate there. Check the website for the specific Spanish Consulate visa requirements.”

Prior to departure make sure to obtain a doctors letter stating you’re clear of any infectious deceases and no mental health issue, medical insurance coverage, and a sufficient amount of money for your room and board we’ll call it as to not be a burden on your host country.

A criminal background check from either the FBI or your State depending the requirements of the Spanish government may be required.

For a work visa, you would have to get a company to hire you and that’s difficult as they have to prove you have a special skill and there’s no one in the host country that can do the same job or you’re already an employee for 6 months at your company back home that has offices abroad and you’re just switching locations.

    Getting an Apartment – 

Obtaining an apartment was a simpler process back in 2013 upon Kari’s arrival. Previously, expat were only required to put an ad on Loquo (a network of local online classifieds and community websites in Spain last published in July 2016) and people would contact you. Now that the city is becoming crowded, renters are not looking as people are actively searching themselves.


Kari explains that expats should be prepared for a long process when looking to secure a flat. Now, getting an apartment requires you to look at every online website you can find and looking at as many places you can. (Loquo, Idealista, Habitaclia, Fotocasa, etc.).

   Getting a Bank Account, Mobile Devices and Health Insurance – 

unnamedOpening a bank account is much easier than getting registered and getting an apartment (for La Caixa). The process includes presenting your passport to open an account.  At the time of Kari’s arrival, there was no minimum you must have to open it.

If you already have a cell phone (smart phone) you can get a SIM card for €5/€10. €20 is enough money on your prepaid service to last a month as folks rarely talk on their phones and usually use WhatsApp. Health insurance is easy as well. The country offers it to you at your bank. You can choose what plan works best for you. Nice!

    Getting in to a School for Yourself or Your Family – 


Photo Credit: Expert Vagabond

Choosing a school is relatively seamless. The beauty about Barcelona is that everyone and everything is accessible. You can research schools and once you have chosen a school you can walk in and ask to speak to the headmaster or send them an email. Depending on the school you will either get a prompt response or they can take quite a bit of time to respond. Kari suggest that the best decision is to first visit the institution and their headmaster and bring someone that knows Catalan (local dialect) as they tend to respond better to that than Castellano. Kari eagers us to remember when dealing with any government offices, Catalan speakers will get you a lot further & a better response! (Great Tip!)


number-15-bus-transport-system-barcelonaKari is a certified bus taker as she prefers to be above ground to get around town. Another option is to enjoy Barcelona on two wheels as Barcelona is easily a bike city, which is great for someone that knows how to ride a bike. Kari tells us that Barcelona has a Metro system that’s excellent! Coming from NYC woman, this says a lot!

Work, Work, Work

Kari tells us:

“My situation about finding a job was interesting. It was the reason for picking the flat I lived in at first because my roommate worked for an agency that employed teachers. I knew if I were going to work this would be the fastest way to get ‘in’”

Love it or Dislike It

  Kari Loves:

I love that I live in most people’s vacation destination. I love that Barcelona is on the coast and I have the water in front of me and mountains behind me. I love that:

  • Barcelona City is a foot city and you can walk just about anywhere
  • Public transport is efficient and reliable
  • The lifestyle is easy breezy and laid back.
  • I can hop on a super cheap flight to anywhere and be in some places in less than 2hrs for €7 one-way.

  Kari Dislikes:

  • The fact that it will never feel like ‘home’ as the Catalan people, that I have encountered, can be unwelcoming people at times.
  • that most important things take so long to get done.
  • that there’s no opportunities for people to flourish and that’s including the locals.
  • that people are not aware of the importance of personal space.

A Typical Day in Barcelona


Photo Credit: Good Travelers

A typical day for Kari depends on if she is working or not. Since she had both worlds of working for a year to not working for a year, it varies. To her, working is the same as being back in the states as far as get up go to work. However, I’m not stressed out and I have a more of a laid-back attitude. I don’t feel the pressure of my job being in jeopardy. Not working is late waking up at 2pm and deciding what I’ll get myself into that night then going back to take a nap before heading out to dinner with friends. Or catching a flight to another city/country because it’s cheap & I can.

Locals and Foreigners

For Kari, the locals that she has met, have taken some to warm up to.

“What I learned is Catalonia is in the middle of fighting for their independence & they see a government that threatens their right to what they identify with (Catalan). There’s a whole Franco situation that you’d need to tap into to fully understand.

There’s a big gap between rich and poor. This can be said about most countries. But I’ve found that they are like this with their own so I don’t take it personal. I also found that because I’m American and from NYC that fact often translates into better than any other person from the diaspora. There are quite a few groups that have been helpful for me. Meetup, Couchsurfing, & InterNations. InterNations was an important one for me.

How Would You Describe Yourself as an Expat

“In the city of Barcelona I’m pretty much the same as I was back in the states w/out the stress that America can put on you. For the most part I’m outgoing at times laidback at times, social, antisocial. It really is a day-to-day situational thing for me. I’m an artist so I’m always thinking of creative things to get into from an entrepreneurial perspective. As an expat you can always find what a country is missing & what it can benefit from. What exactly can you bring to the table & this is out of necessity for yourself & discussions you’ve had w/other expats.”

These are a Few of my Favorite Things

  • thing to do- Chill on my terrace or rooftop. Walk around discovering different neighborhoods.
  • place to go out- I really like the neighborhood I live in which is Sant Gervasi Galvany. They have really good restaurants & low-key bars. It’s a stunning area
  • place to eat- There’s a Peruvian restaurant I frequent call El Dorado Chicken
  • neighborhood- SarriaSant Gervasi


Photo Credit: Blogspot

  • memory made in the city/country- There are so many AMAZING memories. But one is within the first 2 weeks of touching down in Barcelona for the first time ever, I met a really cool guy that showed me the best parts of Barcelona through a locals eyes & took be to at least 12 different beaches up & down the cost. Most amazing sites, days, nights, & company.

Want to Learn More about LIVING IN Barcelona and her future adventures,  follow Kari across these social media platorms






Interview has been been modified accordingly

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