The 411 on Bringing your Phone to Spain

I’ve decided to compile all the information I know about bringing your phone to Spain, since many auxiliares are getting prepared to start the adventure and as we’re pretty much all Millenials, life without a Smartphone can be pretty rough; I know from experience. Here we go, this is gunna be a long one!

To Smartphone or not to Smartphone… that is the question.

In Spain, as in the US, pretty much everyone under the age of fifty has a smartphone. The older generations are also catching on slowly but surely. We even taught my boyfriend’s mom how to use Skype on a smartphone before we left for The States! That being said, if you have a Smartphone at home, you’re going to want one here in Spain. After all the stress of arriving, apartment searching, and finding a useable deodorant at the store, you’re going to want to be able to relax and play some Candy Crush when you get home from a long hot day. Let’s face it, you’re going to need your Candy Crush fix BEFORE you get home from a long hot day.

When I studied abroad (granted that was in 2009 and only for 4 months), most everyone opted to buy the cheapest phone in existence. Since we were all in the same boat and since we all saw each other all day at classes, having a “dumb” phone was manageable. Plus, way back then smartphones were not all the rage. But I transitioned from a flip phone to a Blackberry Curve the summer before I studied abroad, so I felt a little deprived while using my little white brick in Spain.

Goodbye Blackberry, hello caveman status.

My first year as an auxiliar I told myself I could rough it with a pre-paid dumb phone. I  paid 50 euros for a mediocre phone that couldn’t even get Whatsapp, the main form of communication between all of the Spanish people I’d met (though Line is now also becoming more popular). I had to pay for all my texts and calls, and more likely than not I couldn’t call you back cause I didn’t have any saldo (credit) on my phone. And my communication with my friends and family from home suffered most of all. Of course Facebook messages are great, but I couldn’t be like “Hey look where I am right now, it reminds me of the time we did that one thing…” So for my second year I unlocked an iPhone that I’d got over the summer and have been using that here ever since. In my opinion, a Smartphone really is the best way to go. The data plans here are so much more affordable than they are in the US; for what I was pre-paying to add saldo to my phone every week last year, I could have had a decent data plan!

1. I want to buy a Smartphone now… where do I begin?

Getting the phone itself is probably the most expensive part of the whole ordeal. Last summer I wanted to get an iPhone 4s. I was still on a family plan through Verizon, and they had let me keep my account on hold during the 8 months I was in Spain. After a worker in the Verizon store gave me a lot of grief about how they would be unable to unlock an iPhone for me if I bought one with my upgrade, I made the rash decision to bring my number to Sprint because I knew they would unlock a phone for me. I paid something like $230 to buy the phone with a 2-year contract which I was just planning to put on hold while I did my second year in Spain, figuring it was free like with Verizon (It’s NOT free, after taxes and fees it usually cost about $20 a month, though they tell you $9). I called Sprint, asked to talk to the international department, and they unlocked it for me, and then I had to plug it into my computer and follow the on-screen instructions to finish the unlock.

If you’re buying a new Smartphone, the first thing you’ll need to make sure of is that it’s GSM capable. There are two frequencies that cell phones work on: GSM and CDMA. Pretty much the whole world uses GSM frequency carriers, except the US. Verizon and Sprint are both CDMA. That means that a default phone from either one of these companies probably won’t even work abroad because it simply doesn’t have the technology inside it compatible to pick up the signals of a foreign carrier. However, both Verizon and Sprint have models available that have “Global Capabilites” aka those phones can work on either a CDMA or GSM network. AT&T and T-Mobile are both GSM meaning that phones from these companies have the capability to work abroad. Another easy way to look at it: if it uses a SIM card, its probably GSM or GSM capable, if there is no SIM card it’s not compatible.

 

 

Here is a complete list of Verizon Global Ready phones.

 

 

Here is a complete list of Sprint International phones.

 

Here is a complete list of GSM and CDMA carriers.

2. Okay, so I have a GSM capable Smartphone… how do I make it work in Spain?

Once you have your GSM capable phone, you’ll need to get it unlocked. There are a few ways to do this. The first is to CALL YOUR COMPANY and ask them if they can do it for you. Explain that you’ll be going abroad to work for 8 months, and more likely than not, they’ll do it. That was my experience with Sprint. I’ve heard Verizon makes it a bit more difficult and to that I say, call, call again. Keep calling until someone says yes! Persistence is key. It especially helps if you’ve been a faithful Verizon customer for years, I’m sure that can give you a bit of  leeway to negotiate. You’ll also have to get your phone unlocked if its from T-mobile or AT&T; though the phone is capable of working abroad, it is still “locked” into the specific carrier you got it from.

If you like taking risks, you can wait until you get to Spain and find a local place that will unlock your phone for you. Look for signs like “se liberan móviles” or “liberar tu móvil aqui” in the windows of chinese shops (like dollar stores) or different phone stores. Unlocking can cost between 10-20€ depending on the place.

After your carrier or a chino unlocks it for you, you may have to plug your phone into your computer and finish the unlock; be sure to ask them. Make sure you back up your phone before you unlock it just in case something happens during the unlock.

3. Yay! I finally have a phone that will work with a Spanish SIM card! Now what?

Congrats! Victory is yours…almost! Now that you have your Spain-ready smartphone, It’s time to choose a carrier and a plan. But there are so many to choose from! There are four networks available in Spain: 

Another company (the one I use) is Simyo which operates on the Orange network. I’ve had a good experience with them so I’ll also include their plans in the list.

  

Now, the plans! I’m going to list here the info about sin permanencia plans meaning that you’ll pay a fixed amount each month, but you can end it whenever you want. These plans suppose that you already have a phone, and that you’ll just be buying a SIM card and a plan. This is different from a traditional contract because normal contracts usually have a permanencia of 18 months and it costs lots of money if you want to end it sooner, though they will often give you free or discounted Smartphones for signing on. These are also different from pay-as-you-go plans because you’ll be paying a more or less fixed amount each month. Either way, if you don’t already have a Spanish number, you’ll usually have to pay an activation fee that will probably be about 15€. Also, the prices below do not reflect the IVA tax which is 21%.

To find out more options from any of the following carriers, click the carrier’s name which is linked to it’s website.

Vodafone

Vodafone has 2 types of plans that include data: Base plans and Red plans. Whichever plan you choose, if you are activating a new number you’ll have to pay the 15€ fee for the new SIM card.

  • Base: 1 cent per minute to any carrier*, 1,000 SMS (text messages), and 1GB** of data–9€/month 
  • Base 2: 100 mins/month, 20 cents/min after the first 100 with a 15 cent call establishment fee for each call, 1,000 SMS, 1GB of data–15€/month 
  • Base 3: 350 mins/month, 20 cents/min after the first 350 with a 15 cent call establishment fee for each call, 1,000 SMS, 1GB of data– 25€/month 

For all those data fiends out there, the RED, RED2 and RED3 plans include 1.5GB, 3GB, and 5GB of data respectively and include Cloud storage. They all have unlimited calls and texts and cost between 35€ and 70€ a month before tax.

*Minutes and call establishment fees are only counted when YOU are the caller. AKA, if someone calls you, it doesn’t cost you anything.

**1GB of data in layman’s terms is like 51 hours of Facebooking or watching 90 videos on Youtube. Realistically, if you have WiFi in your piso, you will probably be just fine with 1GB of data.

Movistar

Movistar phrases their sin permanencia plans as just buying a SIM card to use with a phone you already have which makes it pretty easy to understand. They have two options, and they’ll send you your SIM for free.

  • Movistar Cero- 0 cents/minute, 15 cent call establishment, 500 SMS and 500 MB of data– 9€/month
  • Movistar Total- unlimited calls, call establishment fee included, 1,000 SMS, and 1 GB of data- 35€/month

Orange

Orange has a few animal themed plans…Ballena (whale), Delfín (Dolphin) and Ardilla (Squirrel) that are appropriately named if you compare their prices to the size of the animal they’re named after. The Delfín and Ballena plans both have an online promo going on: If you buy your SIM card online, they’ll reduce the price of your monthly bill for the first 6 months! For new numbers there is a 15€ activation fee.

  • Delfín 16: 150 mins/month, 1,000 SMS, 1GB of data– 16€/month (12.80€/month for 6 months if you buy online)
  • Delfín 35: unlimited national call and unlimited calls to international land lines, 1,000 SMS, 1.5GB of data– 35€/month (28€/month for 6 months if you buy online)
  • Ballena 23: 200 mins/month, 1,000 SMS, 2GB of data– 23€/month (18.40€/month for 6 months if you buy online)
  • Ballena 33: 400 mins/month, 1,000 SMS, 3GB of data– 33€/month (26.40€/month for 6 months if you buy online)

Yoigo

Yoigo hasn’t got any activation fees, and they’ve got 4 different “sólo SIM” options sin permanencia.

  • La Del Uno: 1 cent/min, 15 cent call establishment fee, 10 cent SMS, 30 cent MMS (picture messages), 1GB of data– 9€/month
  • La Mega Plana 20: 300 mins/month, call establishment fee included, 10 cent SMS, 30 cent MMS, 1GB of data– 20€/month
  • La Infinita 30: unlimited national calls, 10 cent SMS, 30 cent MMS, 1GB of data– 30€/month
  • La Infinita 39: unlimited national calls, 10 cent SMS, 30 cent MMS, 2GB of data– 39€/month

Simyo

Simyo has a few options for people like us who only need to buy a SIM card. Unfortunately, the plan I’m on is no longer an option! Sadface. I’ve listed a few other options below, but I’m pretty disappointed that new customers won’t have access to the great plan I use.

  • Tarifa 0/5/100: 0 cents/min on calls shorter than 10 mins to other Simyo users, 5cents/min on calls to other carriers, 15 cent call establishment cost, 10 cent SMS, 47 cent MMS, 100MB of data, 3 cents/MB if you go over 100.–Monthly cost 3.99€ plus other expenditures
  • Tarifa 2/600: 2 cents/minute, 15 cent call establishment fee, 10 cent SMS, 47 cent MMS, 600MB of data, 3 cents/MB if you go over.– Monthly cost 4.90€ plus other expenditures
  • Tarifa 0/5/750: 0 cents/min on calls shorter than 10 mins to other Simyo users, 5cents/min on calls to other carriers, 15 cent call establishment cost, 10 cent SMS, 47 cent MMS, 750MB of data, 3 cents/MB if you go over.– Minimum price* 6.99€ 

*Minimum price means that you can use up to 6.99€ worth of “extra” aka not free calls and texts. If you pass your minimum of 6.99€, those expenditures will get added on. This is different from the “monthly cost” plans because with those plans, any texts or calls get added on to the base price of the plan from the start.

Tuenti 

I’m adding Tuenti to the list (June 8th, 2014) because I’ve recently switched to them and wanted to let the world know it exists. I found I wasn’t using my plan with Simyo to the fullest and I couldn’t afford to pay what I wasn’t using. Here are their three different plans, IVA (tax) included.

  • 1GB of data, first 30 minutes of each call at 0 cents per minute, 18 cent call establishment fee, 9.68 cents per SMS — 7.25€/month
  • 1GB of data, 75 minutes of calling (no call establishment fee), 9.68 cents per SMS  — 10.75€/month (This is my current plan)
  • 1.5 GB of data, 150 minutes of calling, 9.68 cent per SMS– 18€/month

 

**INTERNATIONAL CALLING**

I haven’t included much information about international calls here. This is because the most common (and cheapest) way to call home is by using Skype, FaceTime or other free applications and programs. Calls between Skype and FaceTime users are free. Also look into apps for your phone like Viber and Line. If your friends and family download them too, you can call each other for free. For more information about apps, check out my article on the top 6 apps to download when you travel abroad.

 

WOW so there you have it, folks! It’s a lot to read through and think about, but keep in mind that since these plans are all sin permanencia you can always change you plan to suit your needs.

If you have any more questions or doubts feel free to write a comment below and I will definitely try to help you out! Get excited guys, it’s almost fiesta time!!

 

[EDIT: June 8th, 2014]

This article was written in mid-2013 and specific carrier plans may have changed. Please use this resource as a guideline. Up to date information on all plans can be found on the carriers’ websites, linked above.

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22 thoughts on “The 411 on Bringing your Phone to Spain

  1. Thanks for all the great information!

    Question: With the plans that charge per minute for phone calls, are you billed at the end of the month, do you put money on your account ahead of time, or do they take it directly out of your bank account?

    Thanks again!

    Like

    • Hey Bailey, thanks for reading! I think the most common option is for them to take it out of your bank account. That being said, I think you’ll have to set up your bank account before signing up for a phone plan, though there may be a way around this if you talk to the people in the store. Maybe you can use an American account, but I’m not sure about that. There might be the option of paying the bill each month but I only have experience with either pre-paid (which are not the types of accounts I described) and the direct withdrawal. Good luck!

      Like

  2. awesome!!! one question: under the orange delfin 35 plan, can you call all the way to the us and reach a landline unlimited?! that sounds kind of incredible if so but almost too good to be true haha

    Like

    • Hey! upon further investigation I found this: “Llamadas ilimitadas a fijos y móviles nacionales y a fijos internacionales de los siguientes países: Alemania, Andorra, Austria, Bélgica, Dinamarca, Francia, Holanda, Irlanda, Italia, Luxemburgo, Noruega, Polonia, Portugal, Reino Unido, República Checa, Rumanía, Rusia (excepto a Rusia Abkhazia (7840), Globalstar (7954) y los destinos 7831), Suecia, Suiza y Estados Unidos.”

      The last country on there is the US so it does look like unlimited calls to US landlines!

      Like

  3. Hey Chelsea! I am from Buffalo as well! I’ll be going to Madrid in a few weeks. Thanks for this post, such useful information!! I was planning to get a cheap phone with a Spanish number once there and then using my iphone but only when connected to wi-fi (so I couldn’t call or text, but I could use most of the other apps on there including whatsapp and skype). What are your thoughts about that? Is that something people do or is that not really an option?? Thanks!
    Lindsay

    Like

    • You could definitely do that and I know people who have! The only down side is that communication (whatsapp is the most common way to communicate) will be tougher when you’re not at home cause you won’t have wifi. You also won’t be ale to use google maps if you get lost, or metro maps if you’re into that sort of thing. You could always stick to that plan and unlock once you get here if you find you would rather have a cheap data plan that includes calls and texts, it’s often cheaper than pay-as-you-go… The call connection fees and other costs quickly add up!

      Where in Buffalo are you from? That’s exciting! I’m from Amherst, I went to Sweet Home.

      Good luck with your pre-trip prep and get excited!!

      Like

  4. Thanks Chelsea! I might try to do this at first and then see how it is when I get there. But you are right, the thought of not being able to use google or metro maps makes me sad! I am from north Buffalo, near the zoo. I have been living in DC for the past two years, but I am in Buffalo for the next month with family until I leave for Madrid. I am loving reading people’s blog posts and trying to gain all the knowledge I can before I leave!
    Thanks again!!

    Like

    • Hello!

      It might vary depending on the specific company/plan you choose. I just did a mock purchase on Orange.es and I was able to select passport or NIE as my form of identification, and no bank account was required. If you browse around the websites of the companies you’re interested in and do a mock purchase you should be able to see what each one will require of you. Good luck!

      Like

  5. Thanks for the article! I use Sprint and am due for an upgrade soon (I have the iphone 4 so it doesn’t have a sim card)- so I was just assuming I’d upgrade to the iphone 5s and have them unlock it for me but the lady I talked to at sprint said that they won’t unlock it until I’ve had the phone for 90 days…which at that point I’ll already be in Spain. Did you have to do this when you had Sprint unlock your phone for you? Or did they do it right away?

    Thanks!!

    Like

    • Hey! Now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure I had my Sprint iPhone 4s for less than 90 days and they unlocked it for me. I may have made kind of a stink about it because when I bought the phone I specifically made sure that they would unlock it for me without a hassle. So I’d had the phone for about 2 months when I tried to unlock and they were like no and I was like NO YOU LIED. And then they asked their supervisor and did it for me. A thing I definitely used to my advantage when talking with Sprint was that at the end of every call they say something like “Are you satisfied with the outcome of this call” and they basically can’t hang up if you say no, they’ll try to fix it. It works to your advantage that you’ve seemingly have been a Sprint customer for a while (and will probably continue to be one when you come back, presumably) so definitely throw that into the mix as well. Good luck!!

      Like

  6. Establishment fee? What is that?
    I noticed the Orange Delfin plans doesn’t have that mentioned…
    Also, can you mail the SIM card to the States so we can pop it in right off plane, or shall we wait until we get an address/piso in Spain? Or maybe I can have it shipped to my hostel where i’ll be the first few days. It sounds like we can’t just walk right into an Orange when we arrive and get this deal?

    Like

    • Hey Amanda, I’m pretty sure you’ll have to wait until you get an address in Spain (though you could do a mock purchase on orange’s website to see if it will accept an international address). The first few days while getting set up with everything will be annoying but you’ll be able to communicate with family via the internet so don’t worry if you have to take your time to figure everything out. You can definitely just go to an Orange at least to get clarification about the plans, but I think the specific deal I mentioned is only available if you buy online.

      The call establishment fee is every time you make a call and it connects (the person picks up, the answering machine picks up) you get charged the 15 cents or whatever simply for establishing the call, plus the price per minute. A lot of people still communicate by “toques” meaning they’ll call you, let it ring once and then hang up. “Give me a toque when you get out of work and we’ll meet at X location” or if you have free minutes and a friend doesn’t they can give you a toque to let you know to call them, etc.

      Like

    • I’m glad to help!! Hope your cell phone transition goes smoothly 🙂 Where will you be living this year? Enjoy your last bit of time at home!

      Like

  7. Hey this is extremely informative and wonderful! One thing I had to consider before buying my phone was the radio frequencies used in Spain. Although your phone may work on the GSM networks in the US, it may not work in Spain still because they use different frequencies. The US uses GSM 850 / GSM 1900 MHz while Europe predominantly uses GSM 900 / GSM 1800 MHz. If I am not mistaken, 3g works on 2100 MHz and 4g on 2600 MHz in Spain which is different than the 3g and 4g frequencies in the US.

    Like

    • Hey, thanks for reading Jarrett! I had no idea about the frequencies thing! Do you think/know whether most “global ready” phones in the US run on the same frequencies as in Europe? This issue never came up while I was researching for this post, so I’m wondering whether many phones now have the technologies to be compatible across multiple frequencies. Thanks for the info!

      Like

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  9. Thank you so much for writing this! I assume the plans might be a bit outdated now…but probably not too bad! I am planning on moving to Spain in September to be an Au Pair for a year. This article was so helpful and insightful! I was slightly confused with one thing, however. I only saw one plan that actually mentions international calls. Or do all these plans apply to international callls as well?

    Thanks so much!
    Alli

    Like

    • Hey Alli!

      You’re right, some of the very specific details might be out of date, but in general I still think its a good guide. Most of these plans don’t include international calls, you’ll have to pay extra for them and they can be pricey, like almost a euro a minute, so it’s best to only use that in case of emergencies. I stick to FaceTime and Skype for my international calls as its free between users and very cheap to call to landlines/cellphones in the USA. You can also get a subscription for Skype like 120 minutes per month for 2 euros per month. There are also some free apps if your family and friends at home have Smartphones that have free calling between users. Check out Viber and Line! Hope that helps! Thanks for reading 🙂

      Like

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