6 life hacks for living in Catalonia’s capital from a graduate of the RANEPA IPACS
Ksenia Yanushkevich is a graduate of the Russia-Eurasia: Political and Economic Processes program taught in English at the Institute of Public Administration and Civil Service (IPACS) of the RANEPA and the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In July 2020, she defended her Master’s thesis at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and joined the Spanish office of a Russian company in September. In a conversation with a correspondent of the Academy website Ksenia shared her experience of living in Barcelona.
Housing in Barcelona
One of the most convenient accommodation options is the dormitory, which is located on the campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It is worth bearing in mind that the campus is a 30-minute train ride from the city center and places in the dormitory need to be booked well in advance of the start of the academic year in February or March. Therefore, accommodation in Barcelona itself is also a good option, especially for those who want to enjoy life in Barcelona to the fullest.
Ksenia recommends using the following sites/applications to search for apartments/rooms:
• Idealista (search for both apartments and rooms);
• Badi (mainly, the server comes in handy for those looking for a room to rent). It is better to book accommodation in advance, as September is high season because of the influx of students, and good rooms tend to get sold out quickly.
Neighborhoods to live in:
• Gracia (the S2 and S6 trains run through this area to the University campus; city center, good infrastructure, mostly suitable for renting rooms, many student apartments);
• Sants-Montjuic (not very central but good location; about 10 minutes by train which leads to the university; good value for money; suitable for both rooms and apartments);
• Fort Pienc - Sagrada Familia (slightly more expensive than Sants, but cheaper than Gracia; beautiful architecture, convenient location, walking distance to the center, good infrastructure);
• Ksenia Yanushkevich does not recommend choosing the Raval and Born neighborhoods to live in. This is the heart of the city, but these neighborhoods are notorious for theft and violence. It is better to rent accommodation with a good reputation a little farther from the center.
What to keep in mind when renting an apartment:
• Most of the apartments are rented out through agencies, owners are not engaged in it. As a result, you will most likely have to pay a one-month commission to the agency + VAT.
• Generally, to rent an apartment you will be asked to pay a deposit of two months’ rent, which will be refunded at the end of the tenancy, given that there is no damage to the apartment. When renting a room, they generally ask for a one-month rental deposit.
• In addition to renting a room/apartment, you will have to pay for utilities (electricity, gas, water, internet, general house maintenance, garbage collection) separately. It is worth asking the agency or landlord in advance if these fees are included in the rent. If not, in case of renting an apartment expect to pay 100-150 euro/month additionally, in case of renting a room expect 30-50 euro/month.
• you may be asked to provide documents showing that your financial resources are sufficient to pay for the accommodation; in case of renting an apartment it is mandatory, in case of renting a room it is optional. Prepare the certificates from work and sponsorship letter from your parents or bank statements translated in Spanish in advance for this purpose. Additionally, you may be asked for a matriculation form from a Spanish university, a proof that you are studying there.
• room (depending on the location) – 300-500 euro/month;
• Apartment (depending on the location) – 800-1300 euro/month, excluding utilities.
There are several chain supermarkets in Barcelona that can be found in any neighborhood: Mercadona, Lidl, Consum, Caprabo. BonArea is a supermarket specializing in meat products. The Carrefour supermarket chain has slightly more expensive groceries than the above. Basic groceries for a week costs around 30 euros.
In addition to supermarkets, there is a market in every neighborhood. It is worth bearing in mind that some products may be more expensive at markets (vegetables, fish, nuts), but of course the quality is noticeably better.
Remember that supermarkets and markets in Spain are open from Monday to Saturday, Sunday is a day off. If you have not had time to stock up on groceries for Sunday, there are Express supermarkets and small shops, but the prices there are considerably higher than in the other places.
Meals in cafes and bars are very common in Spain, but the price tag in many places, especially in the center, is quite high. Almost all café bars in Barcelona have patatas bravas (potatoes with bravas sauce). So when choosing a budget restaurant, the rule of thumb is that if patatas bravas cost more than 5 euros, the place is expensive. An average lunch menu in Barcelona costs 15 euros (first and second course, bread, drink and dessert).
There are also several food delivery services in Barcelona, where you can often find different discounts and promotions: UberEats, Glovo, Deliveroo.
Transport in Barcelona
Barcelona has excellent transport networks. It is a subway and two types of electric trains: Rodalies de Barcelona (R) and Ferrocarils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) as well as day and night buses and trams. There is a single transport card for all these modes of transport in different variants. The following may seem interesting:
• Billete sencillo (single fare): €2.40;
• T-casual (10-trip ticket): €11.35;
• T-usual (ticket for unlimited rides within a month): €40;
• T-jove (ticket for unlimited rides within three months for persons under 25 years of age): €80.
Tickets are purchased at special terminals, which can be found at each station. The best option is to buy a T-jove ticket (you will need to enter your passport number at the terminal to activate the ticket).
Barcelona transport is divided into zones, above is the cost of tickets for Zone 1. The Universidad Autónoma station, like the main places in Barcelona, is in Zone 1, so it is safe to buy a ticket for Zone 1 only.
Barcelona is also very bike-friendly, with numerous bike lanes in the streets and bicycle rental stations in every corner of the city.
As for taxis, in addition to the cabs you can catch on the streets, Barcelona has two online services for ordering taxis: Cabify and FreeNow (Uber and Yandex.Taxi alternatives).
Extracurricular activities at the university
The Autonomous University of Barcelona offers a wide range of extra-academic activities for its students: volunteering, sports and culture. A fair is held at the beginning of each year to showcase all the opportunities where you can join one area or another.
Volunteering is represented in such opportunities as assistance in medical and general education institutions, projects to integrate refugees into Spanish culture, and work with prisoners. The participation schedule is quite flexible, basically you can devote one or two hours a week to it. Courses are organized for volunteers to prepare them for situations that may arise when volunteering. Keep in mind that most volunteer programs require knowledge of the Catalan language because the work takes place in municipal institutions where staff communicate in Catalan.
There is also a sports complex on the territory of the University. You can sign up at the official website, a discount is available for students. A monthly subscription will cost you approximately €30 per month, plus €80 for the matricula (one-off payment). In addition to the sports hall, the complex has a swimming pool, sauna, tennis court, football and volleyball fields. Sections and coaching are paid for separately.
The University also has a cultural center which offers students the following sections: choir, dance and drama. It is generally assumed that the student has prior experience in the area. To get into a particular section, you undergo preselection by signing up to the try-outs through the email email@example.com.
Integration into the student community
Twice a year, at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, the University holds International Students Welcome Days. It is a set of events that allows students from different countries and different fields of study to get to know each other and integrate into the student community.
In addition, the University has a “Mentor” program aimed at helping international students adapt to the university. If you would like to participate in the program and be assisted by a University student, you must complete the following form.
There is a vibrant student life at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, with fairs and celebrations every month where you can meet new people.
As with the rest of Spain, shop sales are held twice a year in Barcelona. In winter from late December to early February and in summer from late June to mid-August. You can also stumble upon off-season sales in April and October.
• Main shopping streets where a lot of shops are concentrated: Passeig de Gracia, Avinguda del Portal d’Angel, La Rambla.
• Large shopping malls: L’Illa, Las Arenas, Diagonal Mar.
• Outlet of branded goods: La Roca Village.