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Guide to Spanish Mobile Phones

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Buying a Phone

A mobile phone (un móvil) can be bought in any major city and even in many small towns.

The major mobile phone companies in Spain are Vodaphone, Movistar, Orange, and Yoigo.

Each company has individual stores where you can buy a phone. Stores like Phone House and Corte Inglés sell phones from many different companies which makes it easy to compare brands and find a good deal. Of course Corte Inglés may be a bit more expensive.

Bringing a Smartphone to Spain

If you plan on bringing a smartphone from outside Europe, get it unlocked before you leave for Spain. First you must determine if your smartphone can be locked.

Unlockable or Not?

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There are two network types:

  • Global System for Mobile communication (GSM)

GSM phones use SIM cards and can be unlocked.

  • Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)

CDMA phones cannot be unlocked.

If you live in the US, you can tell which type your phone is based on your carrier. Here is a list of GSM and CDMA mobile providers.

How to Unlock a Phone

If you have a GSM phone, get it unlocked before arriving in Spain.

Call your provider and ask them for the code. Explain that you’re going to Europe for X amount of time and they should give you the code, though it may take a bit of persistence.

There are shops in Spain that unlock phones if you absolutely cannot unlock it before hand. Look for signs that say “Se liberan moviles” in store windows.

Finding a Plan

There are two types of plans:

  • Contract (Contracto)

This means signing a contract to a fixed monthly rate. Contract plans usually come with a free or lower-cost phone. Most contracts are good for a certain amount of time such as a year or 2 years.

  • SIM Card (Tarjeta SIM)

This is the option I recommend if you’re moving to Spain for a short amount of time such as studying abroad or working as an auxilar. This is also what you should do if you’re bringing an unlocked phone to Spain.

If you’re not bringing a phone to Spain, buy a non-contract phone (móvil libre) and a SIM card (Tarjeta SIM) separately. A SIM card is a prepaid card that you reload money onto.

SIM cards can be reloaded at any phone store, most grocery stores, and online. You simply tell them your phone company, phone number, and the amount of credit (saldo) you want to add. Credit can only be added in increments of 5€ at a time, so for example if you need 11€ more for the next month, you have to put at least 15€ on.

Your phone number is usually written on the SIM card. Also given to you is your PIN and PUK numbers. Write these down, they’ll be needed to unlock your phone when you turn it on and off.

Reading the Plan

Contracts and SIM cards usually list the price of 4 things:

Cuota mensual/semanal (Monthly/weekly payment)

This is the base price that you are charged each month or week. If you have a SIM card, it will automatically be deducted from your credit (saldo). If you don’t have enough credit (saldo) on your SIM card, you won’t be able to make calls or send texts.

SMS (Text messages)

Some plans have unlimited (ilimitados) text messages, others list the price per text message, and others have a set number of free texts included.

Llamadas (Calls)

Calls typically have a connection fee (establecimiento de llamada) plus a per minute price. Some plans instead have an amount of free minutes included.

Internet

Most plans have a set amount of data per payment period you can use.

Phone Habits in Spain

Because most plans charge per minute and per text messages, sending lots of texts or having long chats on a mobile phone is not very common. What is common is using WhatsApp. It’s so common that people have even started using a new verb- “whatsappear.”

People also dar un toque (“give a touch”), also called “enviar una llamada perdida” (“send a missed call”). This is done by calling and immediately hanging up, so a missed call shows up in the recipient’s phone. People will sometimes ask you to “dar un toque” in place of an “I’m here” text or an “I got home OK text.”

Tips:

  • Phone numbers that start with a 9 are land lines and numbers that start with a 6 are mobile phones.
  • Spain’s emergency number is 112 (the equivalent of 911 in the US)
  • Remember that in Spain “,” is a decimal point and . is used to separate digits. So “1.000” means one thousand

Vocabulary

un móbil cell phone/ mobile phone
llamadas calls
SMS text messages
establecimiento de llamada call connection
internet internet
WIFI(“wee-fee”) WIFI
tarifa rate/fee/price
IVA sales tax

Photo credit: Alexis Nyal via flickr

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