The overall incidence of spinal tuberculosis (TB) appears to be stable or declining in most European countries, but with an increasing proportion of cases in the foreign-born populations. We performed a retrospective observational study (1993–2014), including all cases of spinal TB diagnosed at a Barcelona hospital to assess the epidemiological changes. Fifty-four episodes (48·1% males, median age 52 years) of spinal TB were diagnosed. The percentage of foreign-born residents with spinal TB increased from 14% to 45·2% in the last 10 years (P = 0·017). Positive Mycobacterium tuberculosis testing in vertebral specimens was 88·2% (15/17) for GeneXpert MTB/RIF. Compared with natives, foreign-born patients were younger (P < 0·01) and required surgery more often (P = 0·003) because of higher percentages of paravertebral abscess (P = 0·038), cord compression (P = 0·05), and persistent neurological sequelae (P = 0·05). In our setting, one-third of spinal TB cases occurred in non-native residents. Compared with natives, foreign-born patients were younger and had greater severity of the disease. The GeneXpert MTB/RIF test may be of value for diagnosing spinal TB.