Interview with James Watts, an entrepreneur moving to Barcelona from the UK

Barcelona is attracting growing numbers of so-called ‘Brexit expats’, who are deserting the UK after discovering the city’s numerous business and lifestyle benefits. Entrepreneur James Watts is one of them.

moving to barcelona from uk

Entrepreneur James Watts is part of a growing number of ‘Brexit expats’, Brexit EU migrants who have chosen to leave the UK to relocate elsewhere on Europe because of the implications of Brexit. James runs two businesses, www.beatnikbreaks.com and www.privatedining.com, which he will launch this Spring in Barcelona.

Currently house-hunting in Barcelona with Lucas Fox, he spoke to us about the impact of Brexit and what aspects of the city he most admires.

You are moving to Barcelona from the UK because of Brexit implications. What aspects of Brexit in particular were catalysts in your decision to move?

Two aspects, one business and one personal.

Business – the UK has, traditionally, always been a great place to start a business. English-speaking, low regulation, a magnet for international talent and a springboard into the EU. Whilst the UK will clearly always be very business-friendly, the changes that are coming with Brexit caused me to reassess my plans. I.e. loss of access to the single market, restrictions on accessing the world’s best talent and a potential hard Brexit. None of which I find very appealing.

Personal – an extreme version of the political right appears to be in control, and there’s been a definite change in the atmosphere within the UK after the vote. Hate crimes have increased, social media is full of anger and xenophobia, and the politicians leading Brexit seem happy to crash out with a ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ mindset.

For me to start a business I need stability, the single market and world-class talent. The implications of Brexit mean that the UK is no longer a competitive option for any of these three fundamentals. The idea to move had always been there. Brexit just made it a reality.

Why did you decide on Barcelona?

Quality of life, and not just the 300 days of sun!

It’s a city that has something for everyone, especially for people who really want to live life. Whether it’s the gastronomy, the relaxed lifestyle, the business-savvy Catalan culture or the world-class airport. It makes perfect personal and professional sense. I also found that living in a city that sits between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees is a real eye opener. It offers a 12-month outdoor lifestyle that you won’t find in the UK (definitely not in London!). Barcelona makes perfect personal and professional sense. Once you’ve moved here you’ll wonder why it took you so long.

What does the city offer that Brighton or London does not?

Brighton offers a great deal and I spent 15 happy years between there and London. But I felt that it was time to move on, to try a difference in culture and quality of life. 300 days of sun and the Barcelona cost of living makes a difference, but it offers much more than that. For a relatively small city, Barcelona really punches well above its weight globally, and in many areas you can only truly appreciate once you live here. You see it in the quality of the:

– Infrastructure: the airport, transport and conference facilities

– Technology: Mobile World, Connected City, [email protected] and 4G on the underground

– People: An incredibly diverse population and cultural scene

You really sense that the work that is being done here is part of a bigger strategy, a grand plan for the city with an objective to make it globally competitive. I read recently that Barcelona is the twelfth most visited city in the world, although I’d love to know how many of those people then decide to return and make it their home.

You are looking to move both your businesses to Barcelona. How do you rate Barcelona entrepreneurship? Have you been welcomed by the business community?

It’s a very different way of working here. I’ve always been used to a more formal way of doing business, establishing a network and working with an idea. In Barcelona it’s much more about getting to know people, and when you do then you’ll see that they are very welcoming and equally passionate. There’s a definite line between work and personal time in the UK, and this is much more fluid in Barcelona. People tend not to commute in Barcelona. They live and work within the city and so this has a massive impact on the way you work and live your life. Your colleagues are often the people you have lunch, tapas or dinners with. Or socialise with at social events, for which there’s an endless supply of invitations, which then leads to new connections and work. It sounds a bit daunting but it’s actually a lot of fun. There’s a real unspoken culture of enjoying work. And no 4-hour daily commutes to London!

moving to barcelona from uk

Entrepreneur James Watts with colleagues Nicola and Nathalie

Do you intend to grow your businesses? Do you think language will be a barrier?

Yes, and whilst it’s true that there are barriers to every choice of location, language isn’t a significant or even noticeable one here. It’s such a cosmopolitan and professional city that major meetings are automatically carried out in English. I was at a conference this morning with a national Spanish bank, and all of the panel, although all Spanish and Catalan, chose to speak in English. The same is true socially. I could be sat at a dinner table and guests are likely to be from across the EU and world.

Do you know of many other British entrepreneurs who are intending to relocate to Barcelona or elsewhere due to Brexit?

Absolutely. My apartment seems to have become an unofficial hotel since the Brexit vote! Many UK entrepreneurs are actually EU nationals, and UK businesses are also very well staffed with Europeans. People who have settled, made a home, raised families and gained long work histories in the UK. Though the vote has meant that they are no longer sure whether they have any rights to stay. UK EU citizens are now effectively second class UK citizens. And entrepreneurs, being proactive people, are making the jump before they are pushed. Plus on the plus side, many other EU states and cities are eager to attract them.

You are currently hunting for a property in the city. What are you looking for and how has the search gone so far?

I started with a plan to buy an old character apartment in the Born, but having spent some serious time looking around at what the city has to offer I’m realising that the variety is far greater than anything I’m used to. Whether it’s a luxury apartment in Eixample, a derelict industrial space in Poble Nou or the romance of the Born and the Old Town, it’s really hard to decide. And I’ve just discovered the countryside outside of Barcelona. I think I’m either going to have to make a quick choice or find a much bigger budget!

How do property prices compare to the UK?

For someone looking to relocate, it’s really about the quality of life that you can get for your money. You certainly get far more space and romance here with your apartment. If you compare to London, then it is three or four times the space! But it’s really about the life that you buy into. And that just doesn’t compare, on any measure.

Can you describe Barcelona in 3 words?

Positive, passionate and creative.


If you want to find out about expat life in Barcelona, relocation to Barcelona, Barcelona entrepreneurship or moving to Barcelona from the UK, our sister site LFStyle has numerous relocation and business-related stories.

If you are looking to move to Barcelona from the UK, please browse the Lucas Fox Barcelona listings on the website.

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