Travelers from around the world flock to Barcelona for its sandy beaches, thriving nightlife, and a lifestyle that's centered around sipping sangria, snacking on tapas, and a siesta or two -- though the city is so much more than that.
Located in Catalonia, a region of Spain fiercely proud of its own history, language, and traditions, Barcelona has a mixture of Catalan and Spanish influence, making it a unique and culturally rich city. As you explore Barcelona, you'll find the eccentric but awe-inspiring architecture of Antoni Gaudí spread throughout the city, catch glimpses of the coastline, and be exposed to the vibrant culture of Catalonia.
Though Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, as a city it deals with its fair share of economic and social issues, opening itself up to a host of volunteer opportunities in community development, education, and social work. As a volunteer in Barcelona, you could help migrant workers and refugees, teach English while living with a local host family, or work to assist the homeless, disadvantaged youth, or the elderly.
Volunteering in Barcelona is a great way to get to know the city, connect with the local community, and immerse yourself in its culture. While there are a lot of volunteer opportunities in Spain related to environmental and marine conservation, most volunteer programs in Barcelona are based in education and community development.
Like many European countries, Spain has an increasing demand for English speakers and therefore there are many opportunities to teach or tutor adults and children in English. While many schools will require TEFL qualifications to be a full-time teacher, there are plenty of opportunities to teach abroad without a TEFL certification in a less formal setting.
Both GeoVisions and Cultural Homestay International offer the opportunity to live with a host family in Barcelona in exchange for 15 hours a week of conversational English tutoring. If you're serious about a career in teaching English abroad, consider combining your volunteer experience with a TEFL certification in Spain.
Youth & Community Development
If you're looking to engage with the local community as a volunteer, Barcelona has plenty of opportunities to help combat homelessness, work with displaced refugees and migrants, and support youth and the elderly.
El Casal offers three-month volunteer opportunities in Barcelona that involve working with children, the elderly, and assisting those with special needs. Volunteers receive language learning and cultural exchange through Spanish classes and a homestay with a local family.
Connect 1-2-3 offers a wide variety of individually-tailored volunteer placements in Barcelona from economic and youth development to human rights protection and social work.
Other Volunteer Opportunities in Barcelona
If you're already living or studying in Barcelona and don't want to commit to a full-fledged volunteer program, here's a list of places to give a few hours of your time every now and then:
- Esperança pulls together groups of volunteers to provide the less fortunate with food, clothing, and support a few times every week.
- Arrels Fundacio offers housing, meals, health care and social support to the homeless.
- Amics de la Gent Gran (Friends of the Elderly) is a non-profit working to combat social isolation and loneliness among the elderly.
Planning Your Trip
You'll quickly learn to adjust to a different pace of life as a volunteer in Barcelona. Breakfast happens late in the morning, businesses typically close from 2pm to 5pm for siesta, and many people don't head out for dinner until after 9pm. Most places are closed on Sunday and many close early on Saturday.
Housing & Accommodation
Many volunteer programs in Barcelona offer a homestay in exchange for your time as a volunteer. Homestays are a great way to improve your Spanish and dive deeper into the local culture. Your accommodation and some meals are typically included in the price of the program -- and you'll likely have a more authentic experience as a result.
If your program doesn't offer a homestay or accommodation, there's always the option of renting a room or apartment in Barcelona, though this will set you back €350-€500 per month for a shared space or €650-€850 per month for your own flat.
Language Requirements & Tips
As previously mentioned, Barcelona sits within an autonomous region with it's own cultural identity lending itself to two official languages, Spanish and Catalan. In Barcelona, almost everyone will speak Spanish, however about 50-60% of the population speak Catalan as well.
Catalans are proud of their own language and cultural identity, so be respectful and try to learn at least a few everyday words and phrases in Catalan. Also, don't offend locals by confusing Catalan as a dialect of Spanish -- it is its own language entirely.
Friends and family typically kiss each other on the cheek to say hello and goodbye, but make sure not to greet a stranger this way, and always start with the right cheek to avoid the awkwardness of accidentally kissing someone on the mouth!
Spain is part of the Schengen Zone, and therefore has several types of entry visas based on citizenship:
- If you are from an EU or EEA country, or Switzerland, you will not need a visa to enter Spain on a volunteer exchange.
- Many volunteers including US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand nationals do not need a visa to enter Spain for a short-term stay, and can remain for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.
- If you plan to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days in a 180-day period, you will need to apply for a long-term residence and work visa.
Cost of Living
You can live well in Barcelona for much less than most major cities in the US or UK, but it's important to remember that Barcelona is a tourist hotspot and prices are typically higher there than other places in Spain.
Once the novelty of €1 tapas wears off, a home cooked meal will be your next cheapest option for food. Avoid shopping at La Boqueria, and instead opt for a local market in the neighborhood you're staying in.
A meal in a non-touristy restaurant typically costs around €10, and many places offer a menu of the day during lunchtime that includes a starter, main, dessert, and a drink for €7- €12.
Barcelona is a very walkable city, though the Metro is easy to use and cheap. A single journey ticket costs just over €2, and the TMB app is a great resource for timetables and trip planning. The Barcelona Transport Card or other similar offers may seem like a good deal, but you're better off buying a T10 ticket that allows 10 trips across bus, tram, and metro services for around €10. Download the TMB app for timetables and trip planning.
Another great way to explore the city is by bike. Bicing is Barcelona's bike sharing service, though the app is only available in Spanish and Catalan. As a cheaper and more social option for traveling outside of Barcelona, check out BlaBlaCar, a rideshare platform that allows you to catch a ride with locals or other travelers.
Health & Safety
Use the same common sense and safety precautions in Barcelona that you would in any major city or tourist destination. There are no specific vaccinations required for travel to Spain, and most medications are available over-the-counter at pharmacies.
Pickpockets are probably one of the biggest safety concerns you'll face in Barcelona. Keep your belongings close to you -- don't leave your bags unattended on the beach, and keep an eye on your things on public transportation and in busy touristy areas.
Tourism in Barcelona has taken a hit due to recent political developments in regards to the separatist movement in Catalonia as well as the August 2017 terrorist attacks, though neither of these make Barcelona an unsafe place to live and volunteer in Spain.