Belgians are moving abroad for work, love, or simply to look for a better life. Because of the corona crisis, more and more people are getting the opportunity to work from home, so their geographic location no longer needs to be a stumbling block for the employer. I decided to interview other Belgian expats, who started their own business here. The 2 men and 2 women I spoke with all grew up in Flanders, but have moved to Barcelona for different reasons. Yet they all have at least 1 thing in common: "Barcelona is my new home!"
Casa Pagada project Leontien
Jasper (27) grew up in Bruges, but came to Barcelona in 2014 to finish his studies and then 'stuck around' as he says himself. Together with his Spanish girlfriend Mireia and their dog Chili, he is having a great time here in Spain. It has now been 4 years since he started his startup, Tradler. "Tradler is a software that helps logistics companies thank their staff for the hard work they do" he explains. "Currently, we are a group of 12 people, who live and work all around the globe. The hard work has paid off because Tradler is now in the top 10 of Barcelona startups in the EU list". Many expats don't stay in the center of Barcelona to live, but after a while they seek peace and quiet in a nearby town or even village. That's also the case with Jasper, who now lives with his family in Viladrau, a small town in the Montseny mountains. "A 'hehucht' as they would say in Bruges" laughs the Belgian expat.
Just like Jasper, Jeroen also lives with his Spanish girlfriend Laia and their dog Tigre in Barcelona. Jeroen (39), originally from Roeselare, moved a little over a year ago with Laia to Catalonia, to be closer to her family. Both are also great admirers of nature and it is one of the reasons why they love it here. "The quality of life is so much better here, in my opinion. Spain is a super beautiful country so you can visit a nice place every day or every weekend. A whole day of hiking or biking in these beautiful landscapes brings you complete relaxation. We also like to ride the motorcycle and here we can do so year round because of the pleasant temperatures" says Jeroen. He worked in Belgium as an electrician and is now self-employed in Barcelona and its surroundings. "I focused on learning the language for 6 months first, then I immediately went to work and set up my company Property Care Technics. I still work as an electrician, but I also take care of vacation homes for Belgian and Dutch people. At regular times I check up on the house to see if everything is still in order. If they wish I can also do the maintenance of the pool, empty the mailbox. I make sure that the house is completely ready when they arrive here for their vacations".
Barcelona is brimming with startups talent and Belgian expats, that's clear! Speaking of a power woman; Leontien (40), from Schilde, first lived in Shanghai for 12 years. After years of doing business in the metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou and opening 7 stores there, it was time for a new adventure in 2017. "The niche I am at home in, furniture stores and lifestyle concept stores, turned out to be more accessible in China than here in Barcelona. Despite the success of my pop-up store, Casa Pagoda, in the city, I decided to get into real estate anyway." The project she is working on is in collaboration with her business partner Frank. "Recently, I joined Luminosa, where we provide a full service to people who want to invest in real estate in Barcelona. We are specialized in finding the best investments in older properties that we then completely renovate with the help of our team, Renovate Manager, and then resell. We make sure that our client goes through this whole process worry-free and simply gets a good return on their investment".
From an early age, Leontien dreamed already of living abroad. Besides her job, she also makes time for sufficient relaxation. Together with her 3 children, Kye, Liv and Ava, she enjoys the lovely climate and everything Barcelona has to offer. "The best thing for me? Skiing for a day at a two-hour drive, leaving in the morning, being home in the evening and having lunch the next day on the beach. That we can do this, we owe to the fantastic location of Barcelona".
Mounia (31), from Antwerp, also shares her opinion. She came 3,5 years ago to Barcelona, after falling in love with the Mediterranean lifestyle during a road trip. "Actually, I am both a big fan of Madrid and Barcelona, only here you have the sea, and that was the deciding factor". She also started her own project in September 2020. The business consists of 2 parts, on the one hand a preschool and the other part is a bar. In the middle you have a large indoor playground which is used during the day by the preschool and during the evening and weekends as a bar with an indoor playground. The biggest cultural difference for Mounia? That outside of work, people really live. "What you often hear in Belgium during the week is that people meet less because they have to work tomorrow, you don't have that here at all. After work life only gets started. Going for a swim in the sea during lunch is no exception. People earn less here, but are often much richer in their experiences".
Of course, it is not all sunshine and roses, because I also asked them what the difficult moments were during their adventure. "My grandfather had a brain hemorrhage a few years ago, which left part of his body paralyzed. For his 75th birthday we had organized a small trip to Barcelona, something he had always always wanted to do. Unfortunately, he got sick 2 days before his departure and we had to cancel everything. This was the first time I realized that I live far away and you can't just jump in the car to visit someone in the hospital" explains Jasper. For Mounia, the distance was also difficult during a special moment: "I had an emergency surgery last year and this was the first time I had to go under anesthesia". Everyone also agrees that in Barcelona it is not easy to get something done. "The bureaucracy is complicated. Everything that has to do with paperwork and government institutions can take a long time" emphasizes Leontien.
To conclude, I asked them what they miss about Belgium? "Obviously my family and friends, and the occasional fries from the chip shop", laughs Mounia. For Jasper it is secretly the kitchen of grandma and daddy. Leontien would love for her family and friends to be a bit closer. And Jeroen, ..... "The chip shop! And also my good friends, of course".