There are plenty of things you need to do just after landing in the country. Things like opening a bank account, sorting your mobile phone contract and renting an apartment need to happen fairly quickly. Before you can do any of those things, you have to get a Número de Identidad de Extranjero, or NIE. This is a legal requirement or anyone looking to stay in the country for more than 3 months, so you should make in an absolute priority.
Visit the website of the Secretaria De Estado De Administraciones Publicas, enter "Barcelona" as your region and choose the “Certificados UE” from the menu (if you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen) or Expedición de Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero if you are not. Simply fill in this form and choose to “Make an appointment” - here, you’ll be able to choose a date and time which suits you best, usually within a fortnight.
For your meeting, you should take a few documents with you:
Your valid passport, and passport photographs
Your NIE form, printed out
Your Spanish address (for a permanent NIE, you can get a temporary one without an address)
Confirmation from your university of your acceptance onto the course (or similar) to justify staying in Barcelona
Proof of means (i.e. enough money in the bank for rent etc)
It may save you a lot of grief to have these documents translated into Spanish, as the bureaucracy in Spain can be...nettlesome, at times.
The Foreign Office is located at Rambla de Guipúscoa 74. Your meeting will probably involve a few hours of waiting around, since your scheduled time is considered a placeholder more than anything else. Maybe use the time to surf the net looking for accommodation in Barcelona?
You’ll then have to travel to the bank and pay for your NIE - this should be €12. Banks in Spain normally close around 2.30pm, so make sure you have time as it must (for some unknown bureaucratic reason) be done on the same day.
Finally, you’ll need to go back to the foreign office again (sorry for the faff…) and show your payment receipt. Then, at last, you’ll be given a piece of green paper with a bunch of details on it:
Date and place of birth
NIE number (2 letters and 7 digits, e.g. A1234567Z)
This is your NIE certificate, so try not to lose it. Other than that, the trial is finally over and you’re free to carry on enjoying your time here!
You’ll need to apply for the NIE (as described above) and will also need to provide a medical certificate and criminal record if you plan to stay more than 6 months.
As a rule, if your home nation is inside the EU or EEA (or if you’re from Switzerland) then you can work in Spain without restriction. There are a number of loopholes you must jump through if you do not come from an EU country. You shouldn’t have any trouble if you already have a job secured, so try not to worry!
There are plenty of banks in Spain you can use, and it really doesn’t matter much which one you go for. The important thing is to pick one, visit them and arrange a meeting to set up an account. Common options include:
ING Direct are a great option if you know a bit of Spanish already, as they have particularly good online banking support and mobile apps, so it will make your banking life a little easier!
You’ll need your passport and NIE (described further up the page) in order to get things started. They’ll also want an address (in Spain) and your mobile number, so make sure you have this information to hand before you arrange an appointment at the bank.
You may have to be patient and test your Spanish (or Catalan, if you’ve really be studying hard!) as few workers in the bank are likely to speak English fluently.
The four main network operators in Spain are Vodafone, Orange, Movistar and Yoigo. The easiest way to use your phone in Spain is to go online and search for the best deals. A monthly plan which can be cancelled at any time (so, for example, not "12 month minimum" contracts) would be ideal, since you can simply cancel it when you go home.
If you don’t have accommodation yet, you can get a pay-as-you-go card, but this inevitably becomes more expensive than paying monthly. Cheap contracts still tend to have 1-2 GB of data a month, unlike the UK, for example, where 500MB - 1GB is normal.