Cell Phones in Spain: A Beginner’s Guide

When I first arrived in Seville, Spain, I knew very little about how to navigate using my American smartphone to stay in contact with family back home, share my experiences on social media, or even call local Spanish numbers. I spent the first few days talking to fellow study abroad students to hear about how they were approaching their phone situation. Some chose an international plan with their American carrier before they left, and a couple had gotten a cheap “burner” phone with the intention to only use it for their time abroad. However, the seemingly most popular choice by far was to obtain a Spanish SIM card to use for the duration of the program. This is a relatively affordable and easy option, since it allows you to use data similarly to how you can in the US without accruing international data roaming charges, as well as the ability to text and call local Spanish numbers and those around the E.U. depending on the plan you get.

The three main European-based phone providers that have many locations all over Spain are Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange. All offer a variety of plans for SIM cards with varying amounts of minutes for phone calls and gigabytes for data. Be sure to research online before you go to the store to see what plans are available and offer what you’re interested in. Another important step to complete before you buy the SIM card itself is to make sure your American phone is unlocked and paid off. I had to take several more trips to the store than I needed to because my phone was not unlocked and I hadn’t received an unlock code from my American carrier.

Once you have chosen the carrier and plan right for you, have made sure your phone is unlocked and paid off, the new SIM card will be ready to be inserted. It will likely require a PIN or PUK number as well. Be sure to write these numbers down and keep them somewhere safe, as you will need them every time you restart your phone (such as when it dies and needs to be recharged, for example). Typically, SIM cards need to be renewed monthly, which can be done through the provider’s website, or you can go back to the store you initially purchased it in to keep it active.

Be sure you know how much data your plan comes with and track your usage throughout the month so as to avoid surcharges and additional fees. With your new Spanish phone number, you’ll be able to call local numbers with ease without having to dial the international code, such as for calling a restaurant to make a reservation or to hail a taxi.

One thing that caught me by surprise when I first arrived to Spain is just how widely used WhatsApp is. Even with your Spanish phone number, you can still use your American number for use on WhatsApp, which is how nearly everyone in Spain and most of Europe communicates with each other. The ‘Messages’ app that you would use to text someone in the US is hardly used or sometimes doesn’t even exist on European phones. WhatsApp is also a great way to stay in touch with friends and family at home, as are social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat that have instant messaging features built in to their platform.

Henry Hargrave a college student at the University of Denver. He is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Seville, Spain.

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