Photography: Jordi Bernadó
journalist and content marketing specialist
Chené Koscielny, journalist and content marketing specialist, looks at how and where to find reliable information about events and everyday practical info as an expat in Barcelona.
If you live or work in Barcelona and you don’t speak Spanish or Catalan, it can be hard to find answers to your questions in English when navigating everyday life.
“Which type of Spanish flour do I use for baking cakes?”
“How do I register my pet in Barcelona?”
“When can I get my COVID booster shot?”
“Which is the best vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona?”
Finding information, you can trust as an expat is a challenge.
As a journalist, I’m always gathering information, collecting brochures, saving podcasts, and downloading apps in a bid to find new information and to uncover interesting places to visit or things to do.
The Croissant and Gossip Circuit in Paris
When I first moved from South Africa to Paris 20 years ago – Google was in its infancy (created in 1998) and the best source of information for an expat spouse living in the French capital was coffee mornings with other foreign mums of small children.
Over croissants and coffee, we swapped gossip, but also valuable snippets of information about the best places to get your nails or hair done and where to find doctors and dentists who wouldn’t treat you with the typical Parisian contempt for foreigners.
Part of the Solution in Geneva
Living in Geneva many years later, I had the same problem as in Paris: finding reliable information in English was a real challenge. This time, of course, we had Google – but the shortcomings of Google as a reliable source of information soon became evident.
Although you could find official info about a few practicalities, there was no single source of online information about events or issues relevant to English audiences. Everything is in French.
A few expat blogs existed, but none of them were very comprehensive, so in the end I created an English website – thingstodoingeneva.ch –which became the biggest English platform in the city during our five years there – and is still going strong!
Unreliable vs. Reliable Sources
How trust-worthy is the information on expat blogs, Google, and social media? Researchers found that trust in online media and social media is at an all-time low. A study on social media as a news source finds 59% of US adults believe the information shared on social platforms is inaccurate.
- Expat Blogs
The catch 22 for most expat blogs is that to make money they need to publish sponsored content, but that compromises the credibility of the information, and ultimately reduces the relevance and authenticity of the website. Finding the right balance between sponsored content and interesting, authentic content is no easy task, as I discovered firsthand when running my own platform.
If you understand the way search engines work, you’ll know that publishers or brands who know how to use keyword phrases in their content (search engine optimization, SEO) – will rank highest on Google results pages. This is regardless of whether the info is reliable or even interesting. Again, it means you cannot always trust what you read.
- Social Media
Fake news on Facebook and other social media channels is a well-recognized problem. Untruths, trolling and inappropriate comments in expat forums and groups are common, which hardly make them a reliable source of information.
So, Where DO you Find Reliable Information in Barcelona?
In my experience, you need to consult a combination of sources and you must approach many of them with a pinch of salt. Whether you’re looking for restaurant reviews, information about medical services or financial advice, you must read selectively, widely, and critically to find reliable sources
Look out for fake news, sponsored content, and hidden agendas.
- English newspapers
English newspapers are few and far between – Spain in English, and El Pais in English are some of the ones I check sporadically to get information in English about current news in Barcelona or Spain.
- Expat Blogs
There are many expat blogs, and some do a great job at keeping us informed about local events and information, but the bigger they become and the more they focus on sponsored content, the less interesting, reliable, and relevant they often become, in my experience.
- Social Media
Facebook groups for expats in Barcelona and posts or stories on Instagram or TikTok, may give me an idea of a new restaurant to try from time to time but it’s rare that I learn something truly useful on these channels.
Personally, the best source of information for me, especially when we first arrived during COVID lockdown in 2020, was WhatsApp groups for parents at the American School and other local WhatsApp Groups.
The reasons WhatsApp groups work, in my opinion, is because they tend to focus on specific areas of interests, communities or neighborhoods. This is how I find interesting shops and services in my area, as well as answers to questions such as where to find an emergency ophthalmologist, when I can get my booster shot and how to get the council to fetch big rubbish items from my home.
The information is often more relevant and because the members tend to know one another, they genuinely try to help and may feel more accountable for the opinions or information they share.
“WhatsApp group members may feel more accountable for the opinions or information they share because the information is not given anonymously, and people know one another.”
Of course, there are still silly opinions and a lot of frustration with endless message streams, but If I need an urgent answer to a question – WhatsApp is my first resort.
Great Initiatives by the City of Barcelona
Thanks to behind the scenes lobbying of organizations such as Barcelona Global, the Barcelona International Welcome website was created by Barcelona Activa, the city’s development arm in 2020. This site provides official information about practicalities and is a good starting point for anyone who first arrives in the city.
Also read our article about Barcelona’s newly opened Barcelona International Welcome Desk.
And, of course, for interesting, non-sponsored information about news, events, and opinions relevant to internationals living in the city – Barcelona Global’s newsletter in English – is a must!