Before you get to know the mobile phone system in Spain
you'll want to brush up on the vocabulary. Below are some
of the common words you'll hear or need to know to understand
mobile phones and get what you want when buying a phone.
||type of prepaid mobile phone all non-residents and
residents can purchase
||type of mobile phone only residents can purchase
||home or public phone, land lines which are not mobile
|companies offering mobile phone service such as Amena,
Movistar and Vodafone
|mensaje de texto
||written message readable by mobile phones
||flat rate or
|one charge for all times and days of the week. Variations
will be tarifa plana for fixed lines, same
provider lines or all lines.
|tarifa franja horario
||time scale plan
||charge depending on what time you make a call
|plan del grupo
||plan allowing you to identify 1 or more users with
the same provider for cheaper calls and text messages
between those phones
||Wireless Application Protocol, or a language similar
to html for mobile devices allowing them to contact
and read information from servers and urls.
||Short Message Service - a SMS compatible phone generally
allows you to send and receive text messages.
||incoming call alerts or rings you can download
||phones which support better sound quality for ringtones
and other multimedia, allowing you to hear instruments
and other sound effects.
||connect a headset or other device so you can look
like you're talking to yourself in the street
||Smart card inserted into a mobile phone for subscriber
authentication and roaming. Can be inserted into many
GSM mobile phones to allow you to use them on while
in Spain or Europe.
Most Spaniards cannot live without a cell/mobile phone,
or movil. (Note: For those of you traveling from the U.S., the term "cell phone" or "cellular phone" in English is not commonly used. While people who speak English will understand you, it's better to refer to it as a "mobile phone" or "mobile"). I think every study-abroad student gets
a mobile phone the week they arrive. Spain does not use the same system
for mobile phones as the U.S., although there
are now mobile phones which can be purchased in the U.S.
that can be used throughout the world. I do not recommend
you buy one of these phones. Beware of charges for calls
when using them - they're almost always more expensive than
using a mobile phone purchased here once you arrive, especially
if you plan to be in Spain for an extended stay. I recommend
purchasing or renting a cell phone when you arrive in Spain.
There are two types of mobile phones in Spain: tarjeta (card) and contrato (contract). If you are
not a resident you must purchase one with a tarjeta.
Only residents can buy phones with a contrato,
or contract agreement. There are many advantages to the tarjeta system, so don't worry. You can add money
to your card on many, many places, including: grocery stores, kiosks, a provider's store (ie: Vodafone, Orange, Movistar - there are many locations). To use an ATM to recharge your mobile you must have an account in Spain. This is a good reason to open a non-resident account. A non-resdient account also generally gives you online bank account access, and almost every bank allows you to recharge your mobile online.
When purchasing you generally have
three choices when of providers: Orange, Telefonica
Movistar and Vodafone.
Some notes about mobile phone use in Spain:
When purchasing a phone make sure you check the rate plans
for each service provider - there are different rates for
calling different countries (something I recommend you do
from a fixed line). There are also different rates for calling
which are based on your plan type and what type of phone you
are calling to.
Receive calls free
Although you may run out of money on your card, you can still
receive calls (including international) at no cost to you!
Most services allow you to send a message to the caller that
let's them know you are out of money on your phone and cannot
return the call. If you plan to have friends and family call
you on your movil have them check the price for the
call. A call from the U.S. to a movil in Spain will
always cost more than a call to a fixed line in Spain.
If you go a month without adding a minimum amount of money
to your card your per-minute calling rates may go up, as is
the case with Orange. You'll generally get a message on you
mobile phone telling you to add a certain amount of money
before a specific date to avoid the increase in charges.
Calls to and from fixed lines
Calls from fixed lines (your
house or public telephones) to mobiles are generally much
more expensive. For example, a local call from a fixed line
to another fixed line will generally cost you 0,20€,
while the same call to a mobile phone will cost you between
0,60-0,80€. Depending on the calling plan you elect
you may be charged a flat fee for all calls or significantly
more for calls to fixed lines. The latest statistics showed
the number of calls from fixed lines to mobile phones in Spain
represented 4% of all calls, yet 26% of all charges! The
EC is planning on taking companies to court to normalize the
charges, something that will benefit all callers.
Calls to and from other mobile providers
Calls to other mobiles using a different service provider
than your own will generally be higher than calls to someone
using a mobile phone with the same service provider. An example:
You have Orange and call a friend with Movistar and are charged
0,49€ per minute. Then you call another friend with
Orange and are charged less, say 0,12€ per minute.
Text messaging is available for all
companies, and is a popular way to communicate. Most allow
you to mail messages to mobile phones over the internet, although
you will be limited to the amount of messages you can send
in a given month. Banks such as Cajasol, also give
you 50 free text messages per month if you have a bank account
There is a difference in coverage for each provider.
From my experience here Orange has the poorest coverage of
them all. When I've been out with several people I've noticed
in many places that my "Orange friends" often don't
have coverage while my "Vodafone friends" do. Movistar,
a part of the Telefonica monopoly, offers the best coverage
(of course it's easier when you dominate the market!), but
rates tend to be higher. Still, all of this will vary depending
on your exact location. In my apartment, Orange has the best
coverage, while Vodafone is spotty and Movistar users must
go outside in our patio to talk. This is the opposite of the
Ringtones, images, games, sports updates,
etc. are perhaps more common than in the U.S. Many announcements
on tv, internet, even candy bars push downloads and info you
can get by dialing a specific number.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone
while driving in Spain, either with it in your hands or using
a hands free device. Police will more often than not ticket
you for doing this, so it is best to pull over or wait until
you get out of your car.
After understanding how mobile service works you're ready
to dive into selecting a service provider. Note there are
advantages to each plan and they all hit you with big charges
some way or another. Promotions come up every few months making
things cheaper. These prices will change over time. Every
company will charge you a 0,12€ connection fee. For
some time I had posted information about individual plans,
but as these change so much and my time could be better spent
reviewing more important things than what it costs to make
a call, I will cover some of the ways calling plans are structured:
The same flat rate for making calls no matter what time, and
with some plans no matter what provider or type of line (fixed
or mobile). This is my favorite, so I don't have to worry
about big charges depending on what time I call or who I am
calling (fixed line, other mobile provider). I like to be
able to call when I want, and do a lot of daytime calling.
If you make most of your calls at night or during
a certain time, this type of plan may have some advantages
for you. A typical plan may break the hours down like this:
0:00 - 08:00 (cheapest); 08:00 - 16:00 (most expensive); 16:00
- 24:00 (cheaper). So if you make almost all of your calls
in the afternoon or late in the evening, you could save some
Group plans are another way to avoid higher charges.
Many companies allow you to add callers to your group as long
as you all have the same company for your service. All calls
made to mobile phones within the group have a lower charge.
If you are studying here and have a group of friends this
can be a great advantage.
All companies also give you an even lower rate
when you pick one other caller instead of a group. Simply
identify one other caller who you can connect with for about
0,03€ per minute. Perfect for novios y novias.
One example is Vodafone, which has some plans
that give you 10 Euros in credit for every 20 Euros you spend.
If you have a good amount of call volume, this can cut your
calling bills by about a third. In general you must spend
the 20 Euros during a month period to receive the bonus.
If you want to use your mobile to surf the internet
using the phone as a browser, or using it as a modem connected
to your computer, you can also buy bonos specific
for data consumption. These give you a lower rate and are
used for tarjeta type plans. For contracts you can
connect at a general, per usage rate, or you can subscribe
to a data plan. Consumption is generally based on bandwidth
used (MB downloaded), and not on time connected. Like calling,
there is always a connection fee for usage added on top of
rare you will find an international calling plan for places
like the U.S. and Canada (and most of Europe) that is economical,
at least from your provider. You may have to go the route
of the calling card to get the best rate. It used to be
that Eurodirect was the best deal around, and they still
charge you 2.8 cents per minute for calling to the U.S.
from a movil. But you also use your minutes from
your provider as you have to dial the equivalent of a local
number to use the card. So if a local call on your mobile costs you 15
cents per minute with your calling plan then each minute
is costing you 17.8 cents a minute. Amena started
marketing a new card which beat Eurodirect, but you had
to be an Amena customer. Then this went away for a while, likely as Amena was losing money left and right. Now it appears Orange (formerly Amena) is marketing something similar, where you can buy a 5€
card which will get discounted rates per minute
to the U.S., Canada, a lot of Asia and Europe. I still cannot find detailed prices on their web site.
A couple of options exist where you can contact the people
via internet to get more details. One, OnSpanishTime.com,
is run by Jeremy of multimadrid.com,
and they do a great job contacting and explaining everything
to their customers. I am researching some local alternatives
where you can stop by a store and take care of everything
when you arrive. You can also purchase a SIM card to use
your GSM phone in Spain. This gives you a "local"
telephone number while in Spain, and the card can be mailed
to you before your trip. More information on buying a SIM
card after you arrive in Spain is in the next section below.
If you are only around for a month or two it may still be
worth buying a phone. Some local shops will buy back your
phone for a reasonable price, making it about the same price
as renting a phone. Make sure you check on the terms and
the buyback amount before you purchase.
-OnSpanishTime.com (mobile rental)
-Spainsim.com (SIM card purchase)
If you have AT&T/Cingular, currently the only major U.S. provider
which uses SIM technology or at least doesn't tend to lock
your phone, then you may be able to buy a SIM card and save
a lot on calls within Spain as well as receiving calls from
people back home. If you are from another European country,
or from somewhere else, chances are you will have no problem
buying and using a SIM card. The SIM card gives you a Spanish
telephone number which anyone can call. Most of the providers
in Spain offer very economical SIM cards. For example, Orange
and Vodafone currently offer a SIM card for 18 Euros, and you get 12
Euros of free calls. That's a cost of only 6 Euros. If you
will be in Spain for a while and have an address you can
also send off a coupon and get an additional 6 Euros in
calls for free. In the end your SIM card is free! A few
notes if you decide to buy a SIM card and use your mobile
- Memorize the PIN number which comes with the SIM card,
or at least have it written down in several places. If
you turn off your phone or the battery dies you will need
to enter this the next time you turn it on.
- Consider how you will charge the phone. In many cases
you can bring a converter and use your existing charger.
If you will be in Spain for a longer time you can buy
a charger when you arrive. I have seen that almost all
mobile phones are dual voltage, and using my Spanish Nokia charger
for two friends phones from the U.S. worked just fine.
The chargers in both cases were exactly the same except
for the prongs for the outlets, which were specific to their respective
- If you have friends in Seville consider what provider
they use (Orange, Vodafone, Movistar) as calls between
the same providers are in most cases cheaper.
- Consider the calling plan when you purchase a card and
determine the best option for how you will use the phone
- Should you register the card in your name? If you do
not you may not be able to make changes to services and
plans later. Or as happened to a friend of mine someone
may be able to register the card with the same number.
This was an error on the provider's part, but it was a
hassle getting his number back because his name was not
registered to this number and he spent several days being
out of contact. If you plan to pass along your card to
someone else it may be easier to not register it in your
name. If you do pass it along to a friend or someone after
you leave and it is registered they will need your name
and your passport number or whatever type of ID number
you used when registering the card.
- Consult your provider in your home country before leaving.
When we inserted a SIM card in my brother's phone it blocked
incoming calls. It took us a little time to figure out
this was a simple setting in the phone, and we didn't
need any assistance. However, when a friend was recently
visiting and we tried the same card the phone asked for
a security code at start-up (not just the PIN number).
With a phone call to his provider in the U.S. we could
have likely solved the problem, but he wasn't in Spain
long enough to make it worth it.
Who wants to type in the complete word? Text messaging
is inventing a lot of new vocabulary for ease of use and
speed in typing. Most is based on the pronunciation - if
it's shorter and sounds like the consonant, vowel or complete
word then it will be adopted. As well, use of slang and
Andaluz where letters are often dropped in pronunciation,
is common. Just a few examples are below in random order.
More will be added as I run into them.
||qu- ("t kiero" = "te
||ll- ("yamar" = "llamar")
|stas, stamos, stais
||estás, estamos, estais,
||-ado ("estao" = "estado")
||ch- ("chula" = "xula")