How to start a business in Barcelona
ynonymous with sun, sea, sand and the fantastical architecture of Gaudí, Barcelona has grown into a popular tourist destination since the 1992 Olympics put it on the map. However, the Catalan capital also has a rich cultural and artistic heritage stretching back over its two-thousand-year history and an equally important tradition of commerce and industry, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Successive local and regional governments have been building on that tradition in recent decades. Today, Barcelona is both a leading European city for technology and entrepreneurship and an important driver of the Spanish economy. The city has developed a thriving coworking scene, and offers numerous accelerators and science-and-technology parks. It’s now one of the strongest European startup ecosystems, attracting significant investment and international talent every year.
A supply of highly educated graduates from leading universities and business schools who are available at competitive salaries also draws in the multinationals. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Siemens are among the many setting up Spanish headquarters or business and innovation hubs here, and the city hosts a number of global trade fairs, including the Mobile World Congress, Smart City Expo and 4YFN.
But alongside the work, there’s plenty of play, and Catalans appreciate the good things in life. Thanks to its multicultural nature and willingness to embrace the new, Barcelona blends tradition with innovation in gastronomy, arts, architecture and culture. And if you tire of the city, the Pyrenees and the beaches of the Costa Brava are within easy reach. All this, plus the great weather, adds to the appeal.
What do I need to know before I move to Barcelona?
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens should get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to cover them until eligible for Spanish healthcare. Citizens of other countries will need their own health insurance. To register as a resident or rent an apartment, you’ll need both originals and copies of your photo ID and proof of employment or evidence of sufficient financial resources (budget for four to six months’ living expenses, or longer).
When looking for a place to rent, remember that Barcelona is highly desirable and bargains are rare. Beware of anything that looks too good to be true and only pay upfront through a verified and trusted agent or via sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com. Spanish and/or Catalan lessons would be a good idea, as would travel insurance (Barcelona pickpockets love new arrivals). Barcelona has a pleasant Mediterranean climate, but don’t leave all your warm clothes at home. It gets chilly in winter and older apartments are mostly built for summer.
Do I need a visa? What about a work permit?
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens don’t need a visa to live and work in Spain but must apply for a foreigner’s ID number called an NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) and get on the central register of foreigners at the Oficina de Extranjeros (foreign affairs department of the national police). The deadline is ninety days after arrival in Spain but it’s worth trying to get one as early as possible, as you’ll need the NIE for many administrative procedures and appointments are limited. Visit SEDE – Administraciones Públicas to apply.
Some people skip the lines in Barcelona by going to neighboring towns or paying agents such as NIEBarcelona.com. You’ll need a photo ID and proof of either employment status or sufficient financial resources (including for dependents) and medical insurance. The fee is €12 ($14). Non-EU family members can join you by applying for a family member’s card.
Other non-EU citizens need to apply for a visa, usually through the Spanish embassy or consulate in their home country. The type and requirements depend on your profile and reasons for coming, but you’ll normally have to provide proof of employment or financial resources, background checks and medical insurance, among other requirements. Fast-track authorizations and visas are available for entrepreneurs, investors and their families if they can demonstrate a viable project of social or economic value to the country. Certain highly skilled professionals and researchers may also be eligible. Once legally in Spain, you’ll need to apply for a resident’s NIE and foreigner’s ID card (TIE) at the Oficina de Extranjeros.
Barcelona is one of the strongest European startup ecosystems, attracting significant investment and international talent every year.
Is Barcelona expensive?
Barcelona regularly tops lists of most expensive places in Spain but is still relatively affordable compared to other major European cities. Renting an apartment is the biggest expense, from around €500 ($560) for a minimal studio and €1,000 ($1,100) for a central two-bedroom apartment.
People love to eat out, and there’s something for every budget, from fine dining and tapas to no-frills eateries that cater to the working crowd and offer solid three-course lunches for less than €10 ($11). A main course in a trendy restaurant will cost around the same. Expect to pay €25 to €50 or more for dinner. Fruit, vegetables and wine are good value, while meat can be expensive. Cinema tickets cost €8 to €10 , and gym memberships are around €50 per month. Public transport is good value, with Zone 1 ten-trip passes at €10.20 covering the city and neighboring towns. Daycare is usually upwards of €400 per month, and babysitters or nannies charge €8 to €15 an hour.
[Read more: Take a look inside Barcelona’s top coworking spaces]
What should I expect when renting an apartment?
Most apartments are advertised on sites like Fotocasa.es or Idealista.com by agencies that charge up to 10 percent of the annual rent as a one-off fee. Central, trendy or touristic neighborhoods such as Ciutat Vella, Barceloneta and Gràcia are overpriced. Poble Sec and Poble Nou are better value, Guinardó and Horta even more so, and it’s always worth trying to negotiate. Always view in person, clarify what’s included, and check whether utilities and appliances are connected and working.
Landlords can legally request one to three months’ rent for deposit and guarantees, plus the first month in advance. You’ll also need to provide bank details, proof of employment or financial resources, photo ID and your NIE if you have it. Rents and contract duration are fixed for five years unless agreed otherwise, and notice is required to recover your deposit. Once you’re in, you must provide your rental contract and ID to City Hall for the padrón municipal (municipal registration) register. Call 010 for details.
Barcelona regularly tops lists of most expensive places in Spain but is still relatively affordable
How do I get insurance?
Spain’s public health service is free to anyone paying social security contributions. To access it and get discounted prescriptions, you must carry a Tarjeta Sanitaria Individual (TSI). You can request this personal health card through your local doctor’s office with your Seguridad Social (Social Security) number, padrón municipal, photo ID and NIE. For more information and to find a doctor, search for “TSI” at catsalut.gencat.cat. In the meantime, the EHIC card covers EU citizens. Other nationalities must have private medical insurance, but it’s worth checking whether reciprocal agreements exist with your home country.
Things like opticians and dentists aren’t normally covered by the public service, and Barcelona also has excellent private healthcare, so many people also hold private insurance. When renting an apartment, your belongings or any damages may not be covered by the landlord’s home insurance, so you could need personal coverage. Vehicle insurance is mandatory (see dgt.es). Large insurers such as AXA, Mapfre, Caser or Adeslas offer all types of policies.
How do I start a company in Barcelona?
Spanish bureaucracy can be complex and changeable, so you need a good gestor, a multitasking agent who deals with accounting, legal, regulatory and tax matters. See gestors.cat or get recommendations from local entrepreneurs, particularly if you need one who speaks your language.
Company setup involves a number of consecutive steps. The first is to check what permits you need and define the legal form according to activity, number of partners, capital, etc. sociedad limitada (SL, limited liability) is common for small-to-medium businesses. This involves registering the name with the Registro Mercantil Central (Central Register of Companies), setting up a business bank account, getting a deed of incorporation and other legal documents drawn up by a notary, and registering with the Agencia Tributaria (Tax Office), the local Registro Mercantil and Seguridad Social (Social Security).
Ordinarily, this takes several weeks (or months) and the fees can really accumulate. However, the CIRCE program now offers a streamlined setup. Once you have certain things in place, they do the rest online, reducing timelines to a matter of days and costs to a few hundred euros in straightforward cases. Access is through a Punto de Atención al Emprendedor (entrepreneur service point) at Barcelona Activa or the Cámara de Comercio (Chamber of Commerce). Private PAEs cost more. Note that, by law, certain businesses must be a sociedad anónima (corporation). These, and SLs requiring special permits, can’t be set up online. Multiple other business models exist and may involve less paperwork. The above services and Xarxa Emprèn can provide advice.
How do I handle money in Barcelona?
You should open a bank account as soon as possible, as you’ll need it to pay rent, taxes, utilities, etc. Things are improving for customers, but many banks still charge for account maintenance, cards and certain transactions unless you deposit your paycheck or meet other criteria. However, an increasing number do offer commission-free, no-strings accounts so it’s worth shopping around.
Check how extensive a bank’s ATM network is as you can be charged for withdrawals under €120 ($140) from other banks’ ATMs. Some banks allow you to apply online, but if you go in person, note that opening hours for the public are generally 9 AM to 2 PM Monday through Friday. Requirements vary, but expect to provide photo ID and proof of address, residency and possibly employment status. Your cards will arrive in the post after a few days. Barcelona is increasingly becoming a card city and contactless payment is widespread, though some businesses have a minimum transaction amount.
What are taxes like in Barcelona?
Residents are taxed on worldwide income at progressive rates, with some exemptions. This personal income tax is known as Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas (IRPF). The tax year runs from January 1 to December 31. Personal returns, including for those who are self-employed, are filed the following April to June. Total overseas assets over €50,000 ($56,000) must be declared by March 31. Companies file Impuesto sobre Sociedades (corporate tax) six months after their fiscal year-end (i.e., in July if coinciding with the calendar year). The rate is 25 percent, but incentives exist for new businesses and certain types of activity or hiring. IRPF is declared on behalf of employees.
Self-employed workers and companies must also register with the Tax Office for VAT (Impuesto sobre el Valor Añadido, IVA), unless exempt, and must file quarterly and annually (big companies may need to file monthly). You can file online at agenciatributaria.es with electronic ID, but self-employed workers or companies usually pay their gestor to take care of it. Other local, regional and state taxes exist, such as on vehicles and property. See also dgt.es, barcelona.cat, gencat.cat.
What language do they speak in Barcelona?
Catalonia has two official languages, Spanish and Catalan, and most people are bilingual. English is spoken to varying degrees, but many official websites and resources (including civil servants) are only available in either Spanish or Catalan, so a basic grasp of either is useful. Both come easy to speakers of other Romance languages like French or Italian.
Barcelona is a popular destination for language learning, with numerous academies and private teachers. BCN Languages offers three-month Spanish courses from €318 ($360) and intensives from €94 ($106) per week. Many foreigners and people from other parts of Spain get by without learning Catalan, but making an effort really endears you to locals. It’s easy to pick up after mastering Spanish or being exposed to it for a while.
How can I make friends and business connections in Barcelona?
Barcelona is a small city with a thriving international community. It’s easy to meet people based on personal or professional interests through Meetup and Facebook groups, associations or events, including those for entrepreneurs, like Startup Grind or Barcinno. Many nationalities also have a formal or informal society if you’re craving the company of your compatriots. Catalan society is close-knit and locals can be more reserved than other Southern Europeans, so to integrate you’ll need to put yourself out there. Look for multicultural organizations, such as Barcelona Global and Barcelona Women’s Network, or Facebook and Meetup groups that promote language exchange and international friendship.
For leisure, there’s something for everyone, from sports, arts and culture to live music venues and mega-festivals like Sónar. Check Metropolitan Barcelona for listings. There’s also no shortage of trendy bars, eateries and clubs, particularly in Gràcia, Ciutat Vella and Poble Sec. However, you’ll often find people just kicking back with a beer, tapas and friends in the city squares, enjoying the great weather.
This article was informed by Startup Guide Barcelona. Want to know more about Barcelona’s startup ecosystem? Order your copy now.
Written by Katherine Williams.
Repackaged by Anastasia Ilcov.