In September 2016 I did it for the first time. After months of online research, considering several countries, talking to students who completed internships before, and preparing myself financially, I finally took a plane and travelled alone to Barcelona. This was going to be my new home base for the next few months.
But before that all happened there was a lot of preparation, which I like to break down into 3 parts. The first one, of course, was finding the actual internship company in Spain while I was still living in the Netherlands, which was already a tough enough challenge. Then there was finding a room or apartment, without being able see it in person first. And then last but not least I had to take care of the paperwork to make sure that legally I wouldn’t have any problems working in another country, that I was going to receive a salary, and extra financial aid by applying to student grants.
Finding an internship company in IT
This was probably the most difficult task out of the 3, especially because I had no idea what IT companies the city had to offer.
One of the ways I was recommended by my university was to use an internship agency. For me the problem with that is that you actually have to pay the agency and are limited to whichever companies they are partnered with. As most other students I imagine, I preferred to save this money and use it to pay my living abroad expenses instead. In addition, I wanted to have the freedom to find companies I am interested in myself. Perhaps if I wanted to intern somewhere outside of Europe, like the United States, I would have considered to use an agency though. As it would be more of a challenge to find a company who is not only looking for interns but also willing to sponsor a visa. Fortunately I did not have to worry about this.
So initially I tried to apply the same approach that I would have used in my own country: I was searching online for digital agencies that take on creative projects for other companies. The impression I got after a while was that these agencies were most of the time about creating temporary marketing -or advertisement-related solutions with impressive experimental design for other companies, rather than high quality coded products that will be used for the long term by tons of people and drive a lot of direct income. And personally I am more interested in the latter.
One of the problems I experienced with the Spanish digital agencies I contacted about internship opportunities, is that most of them consist of a team that’s too small to deal with all the inquiries. Out of the few Spanish companies that actually got back to me and I had a Skype call with, I also realized that Spanish and Catalan are still very dominant languages in an international city like Barcelona. Knowledge of the English language is for a lot of Spanish natives not as common as I thought it would be. On top of that, if I were to do an internship abroad and work for another company, some kind of monthly payment would help me out a lot, and these companies due to their size, were not always able to offer me that. My conclusion from this was that I should try a different approach.
At the same time I was actually trying to create a startup and participating in a lot of hackathons (programming contests) with as goal to acquire an investment. I know that investments are not necessary to create a starting company, but what I learned was that they do help accelerate company growth, by a lot. With more money, a company is able to hire more people, develop their product faster, all while being pressured by their investors to release their product as soon as possible.
In other words, these startup companies have some money to play with, a lot of work to be done, and are looking to hire a lot of employees. Perfect for someone who is looking to do an internship project I thought.
So I started googling for things like ‘Fastest growing startup companies in Barcelona”, which gave me several articles with a list of possibilities. Most of the time these are international companies from other countries, with multiple offices around the world, including in Barcelona. They often have an official website with a ‘careers’ or ‘jobs’ section with tons of available jobs. Not all of them list internship possibilities, but as they are quite new organizations they can be flexible, and so I sent them unsolicited applications along with my resume, portfolio and my motivation letter / email.
Other ways I searched for IT startup opportunities consisted of the following ways:
- Through LinkedIn job offers
- Through AngelList (A platform with startup jobs)
- Through Crunchbase (A platform with information about startups and their acquired investments)
After contacting about 15 fast growing startups I started seeing many more replies compared to when I was contacting Spanish digital agencies. I was offered to visit 5 companies, of which most gave me an assignment to show I have sufficient skill to work for them.
In the end, I had to choose and finally decided to work for Bynder, an international Dutch startup. I figured, since they are originally from the same country as I am, the paperwork would go more fluently. Their Barcelona office surprisingly only had 1 Dutch employee, so I was still getting the international experience I was looking for, and the possibility to develop my Spanish, which unfortunately is still a work in progress!
Finding an apartment remotely
The next challenge was finding somewhere to stay during my time in Barcelona. Thankfully the city is very developed, has a lot of helpful technology tools, and tons of students who move here every year facing the exact same challenge.
After doing some online searches I found two very helpful tools:
Badi: This is one of the many fast growing startups in Barcelona. They have developed a smartphone app widely used by students in Barcelona to find available rooms in the city. Similar to Tinder, simply ‘like’ the rooms you are interested in, and if the person who placed the ad is interested in you as well, you will have the ability to chat. Most of the people I talked to on spoke English quite well.
Idealista: A longer established website is Idealista. One of the cool features it has, is that you can exactly draw your search area on the map. Once you have found an interesting place you can message the poster of the ad directly. However, I recommend either calling them, or adding their phone number to your phone so you can message them on Whatsapp instead. Doing this seemed to give me a higher response rate. I also noticed that most of the ad posters only speak Spanish, so make sure to have your Google translator ready. Besides just rooms, this website also offers a lot of full apartments in case you have a larger budget.
There are also Facebook groups for people from almost every nationality staying in and moving to Barcelona. Such as ‘German people in Barcelona’, ‘Dutch people in Barcelona’, etc. These are good groups to join, ask questions and meet people from the same nationality, and sometimes people also offer available rooms/apartments through here.
The way I found my first room was through Badi while I was still in my own country. I chose to be cautious and rent only something for the first two and a half weeks. Like this, if it was a terrible place, which fortunately it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be stuck there forever. This also gave me enough time to visit several other rooms in person and find something nice for the rest of my stay in Barcelona.
As much of a pain it can be, getting the paperwork in order is also part of it. In the end it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but just doing the research and knowing where to go took some time. Fortunately a Human Resources manager of Bynder, the company where I was going to intern, helped me out a lot.
The two things that are absolutely necessary to be able to do paid work in Spain are acquiring a Social Security Number and a NIE.
The NIE number stands for Número de Identificación de Extranjero. Its a tax identification number used for foreigners that want to stay and work in Spain. It is possible to apply for a temporary or a permanent one, but in both cases they don’t seem to expire. I personally applied for a temporary one, but if the form with NIE number doesn’t have a expiration date, it should not expire. To apply for one I made an appointment at the Spanish consulate in Amsterdam. (You can only do this if you are not staying longer than 3 months) A few weeks later I was sent the number by email. You will need this number for your internship contract, and in most cases, also to sign up for a gym, or open a Spanish bank account.
Social Security number
The second number that I needed to get was the Social Security number, also known as a ‘Social Seguridad numero’. You will need this to have access to the Spanish health system. To get this, I had to wait until I arrived in Barcelona before I could go to one of the Social Seguridad offices around the city. For some reason these are only open in the morning. It’s important you have your internship contract in order and bring it with you, along with your passport and NIE number.
To help with the financial side of my abroad experience, I also applied for the Erasmus scholarship offered through my university, and switched the Public Transport compensation (Dutch: OV vergoeding) to a living abroad compensation.
Lastly its also important that you are insured, especially medically. As a Dutch citizen, the best thing to do is to get the European Health Insurance Card if you don’t have one already. In my case this card is part of my current health insurance provider card, and can be found on the back of it. With this, the Dutch health insurance provider will still cover your medical expenses if something happens to you somewhere else in Europe.
Currently I am doing my second and final internship in Barcelona again. This time at a different startup company in financial technology, named Goin.
I guess you can say I really enjoyed my first experience in this amazing city, and I would recommend it to anyone. It is very lively, there are tons of students, tons of internship opportunities, the weather is obviously much better than where I am from, and there is always something to do.
So for those thinking about doing the same thing, feel free to message me for more specific questions, and let me know if you are in Barcelona someday!