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Why Barcelona Is a Safe Haven for Digital Nomads

Barcelona ambassador Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit explains what makes Barcelona uniquely suited for travelers and entrepreneurs who don’t stay in one place.
Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit
on November 28, 2019

When we think about digital nomads, we often think about one-person startup owners hopping from island to island in Southeast Asia, but there are many more types of digital nomads than that very specific example.

We don’t see them. They’re silent, methodical, and hard working. They don’t want to be brought to the spotlight because some are on stealth mode while others are semi-retired and don’t want to attract attention.

What we do know is that they move often and that they attend meetups to mingle with like-minded travelers, indie hackers, and other expat circles, almost exclusively in English-speaking environments. They rarely ever pay for a monthly subscription to a coworking space because they don’t plan too far in advance. They prefer to pay the daily pass or work from the comfort of highly rated cafeterias.

Barcelona is full of them: some stay for weeks, some for a day or two, and some stay put for a few months to be able to soak up and enjoy the local lifestyle looking for a place to settle down someday.

How many are they? Given that there’s no census, it is hard to quantify. The leading platform for digital nomads, Nomadlist, shows a staggering average of 700 to 900 people per day in Barcelona, but there are likely more than that. Adding those who are not users of Nomadlist or those who don’t like to be tracked, I reckon there must be thousands.

Barcelona has always stood out as a leisure destination. The gentle climate, beaches, and laid-back lifestyle attract millions of tourists per year. However, in the past few years, Barcelona’s startup ecosystem and its improvement in the adoption of technology — such as Wi-Fi in virtually every café, electric scooters, & car rental startups — have greatly contributed to making it a more attractive city for businesses as well.

Barcelona ranks in the top 15 ecosystems in several rankings from Startup Genome, including Life Sciences and Gaming, with the latter being one of its strongest industries. Both local companies like SocialPoint and Novarama and international powerhouses like King.com, Bandai, and Ubisoft have opened development offices in the Catalan capital.

Digital nomads bring quality visitors to the city who mix business and pleasure. They will attend meetups and conferences like Mobile World Congress, 4 Years From Now, Startup Grind, or FullStackFest, just to name a few. All these conferences are growing each year as does the ecosystem and the number of startups in the city. An estimated 1,300 startups reside in Barcelona, according to Catalonia Trade & Investment, and each year Barcelona welcomes new international conferences, like the EU-Startups Summit or the Seaside Startups Summit, coming next year.

While all these digital nomads travel around seeking new experiences and places to reside for a while in a permanent “workcation,” some cities are more appealing than others. Barcelona is one of them. The combination of a blossoming startup ecosystem, a well-equipped city, affordable prices, cultural diversity of a European capital, multi-cultural inhabitants, a progressive and open-minded mentality, and the local amenities, are more than enough reasons to convince most digital nomads to remain for a good while.

Compared to most first-class startup ecosystems, Barcelona has good bang for buck. It also provides a better-than-average size of seed funding to new startups, at $292,000 per startup. Another good reason to stay is that the average developer salary is a little over $40,000 per year while the global average is about $60,000, making it cheaper to hire local talent for startups.

Barcelona has good international connections to cities like Madrid, London, and Paris (or even to U.S. cities) with new direct flights provided by Norwegian Airlines and Level, make it easy and cheap to stop by in Barcelona. Travelers can enjoy our beaches and the Catalan landscape, including the Pyrenees for those who want to ski.

The city size is large enough to have thousands of companies, but not so big that you need to spend an excessive amount of time commuting. One can cross the city by bicycle in half an hour. Plus, public transport covers the entire city and faster and more reliable compared to most urban cities around the globe.

However, all that glitters isn't gold. Truth must be told: excessive red tape and bureaucracy and the lack of English-speaking people outside of the city center might be an obstacle to some. While Barcelona has an open and welcoming culture, Catalans are not always easy to befriend, and there’s a worrying feeling of contempt towards tourists. This is partially due to the aggressive uber-capitalism that is gentrifying the top destinations in the world at the expense of the satisfaction (or lack thereof) of locals.

In spite of that, Barcelona remains a safe haven for most digital nomads. If we are to thrive as a business destination, we need to keep welcoming digital nomads so they can become ambassadors of our city and, who knows, maybe local residents for good.

Think about it: we could have ambassadors for us traveling constantly around the world. What city wouldn’t want that?


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