A guide to SIM cards and mobile phones in Spain | Expatica
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Last update on October 08, 2020

Do you need to buy a SIM card in Spain? This guide explains how to choose a Spanish mobile operator, what you need to get a Spanish SIM card, and the main Spanish mobile networks.

With more than 50 million users, Spanish mobile networks claim one of the biggest mobile phone markets in Europe. It is therefore relatively easy and affordable for visitors and expats to get a Spanish mobile number, by connecting to one of Spain’s mobile operators and getting a SIM card for Spain.

In some cases, you may need to unlock your phone to accept a Spanish SIM card. Cellphone in Spanish is el teléfono celular or teléfono móvil, although just móvil or celular is commonly used. SIM card in Spanish is tarjeta SIM (pronounced tar-heta).

This guide discusses the basics around Spanish phones, including how to choose a Spanish mobile network and the documents necessary for getting a SIM card or cell phone plan. It also discusses the format for Spanish mobile phone numbers and calling codes for Spain.

This guide includes:

Spanish mobile phone networks

Spain operates on a GSM network. If you’re relocating to Spain from a country that also uses GSM with an unlocked phone, switching to a Spanish SIM card is straightforward.

Visitors from countries that use networks cannot use their mobile phones in Spain. In such cases, you can buy a phone on a contract or with a Spanish prepaid SIM card.

Likewise, if you have owned your mobile phone for less than a year and are locked into a contract with a service provider in your country, your phone will generally not work with a Spanish SIM card.

Spain SIM card: SIM card Spain

In these circumstances, you must contact your current service provider or ask about a roaming data SIM for Spain. If you had your mobile phone for longer than a year, you should be able to get it unlocked so you can simply add a Spanish SIM card when you arrive.

If you cannot unlock your phone and you are coming from a country that does not operate on a GSM network (e.g., Japan, Canada, the United States), consider buying a world mobile that has both CDMA and GSM radios.

Spanish mobile phone operators

Spain has one of the largest numbers of mobile users in Europe. Consequently, mobile operators in Spain compete fiercely against one another. The good news for mobile phone owners in Spain is you can find some excellent deals if you shop around.

There are four principal Spanish mobile networks:

Movistar is the most popular mobile operator in Spain. In 2017, however, Vodafone ranked as providing the best 4G/LTE coverage, servicing 96.5% of the country. Orange’s networks covers 91.7% of the country while Movistar and Yoigo cover 89%. The top three mobile networks in Spain also cover more remote areas, while Yoigo doesn’t perform so well in the countryside.

There are also several low-cost mobile operators in Spain, operating on the Spanish mobile networks mentioned above. The companies making the biggest impression are Happy Móvil, Lebara, and Simyo. Prices for lesser-known companies are lower than the big four; however, connectivity is typically only available in the larger cities. Check out network coverage before signing up for a Spanish SIM card with a smaller mobile operator; many mobile companies provide this on their websites.

Some smaller Spanish mobile providers in Spain include:

  • Movistar network: DIGI mobil, Lycamobile, Tuenti
  • Vodafone network: HITS mobile, Lebara móvil
  • Orange network: Happy Móvil, Llamaya móvil, MASmóvil, República Móvil, Simyo, Freedom Pop

How to get a Spanish SIM card

For foreigners arriving in Spain, the quickest way is via a prepaid SIM card. This can also give you time to determine how much you are likely to use your mobile phone. Pay-as-you go options require a nominal fee for a SIM card (usually €5) and a minimum of €10 in credit. Vouchers are also available for €15–20.

When purchasing a SIM card in Spain, it has to be registered by law. Customers must present photo ID.

If you have residency in Spain, you must also provide your Spanish residence card or NIE number.

Spanish mobile operators

For visitors or expats without a permanent residence, it is possible to purchase a cheap Spanish prepaid SIM from the main Spanish mobile operators. Using a larger Spanish mobile network typically means top-up cards for prepaid SIMs are more readily available. They also offer better support, although smaller networks generally offer the cheapest deals.

In Spain, prepaid SIM cards are available online and at phone stores, supermarkets, service stations, Spanish mobile operator stores, and airports.

The costs of a Spanish SIM card

The cost of calls and texting on Spanish phones varies from one company to the next, however. The highly competitive market costs are generally reasonable. To give you a rough idea of mobile phone charges on Spanish mobile networks check out this article.

The smaller mobile networks in Spain generally offer the best deals on Spanish SIM cards. Happy Movil usually offers the best deals, but this is subject to change. Tuenti also offers highly competitive rates that are two or three times less expensive than the major carriers. Ask about the current mobile phone deals at an independent mobile phone shop once you arrive in Spain.

Using a cell phone abroad can incur high roaming charges with your homeland operator. If you’re coming with a SIM from another EU country, your provider may apply the same fees as local rates. If your phone is locked, the best option is to sign up for an international roaming plan with their existing mobile operator – providing they offer reasonable rates – to avoid the hassle of purchasing a Spanish SIM card. You can cancel the service when you get back home.

Spanish phones and mobile plans

If you opt for a Spanish cell phone plan, the minimum period you must commit to in Spain is 18 months. A cell phone plan is only a suitable option for long-term residents.

To sign up for a cell phone plan in Spain, you must provide some form of identification to buy the SIM, together with a Spanish bank account that is linked to your ID number you present. Read Expatica’s guide for more details on how to open a bank account in Spain.

Spanish mobile numbers

Spain cell phone plans are the most cost-effective option, including the best deals on calls and data privileges. You can sign up for a contract in a store or online. When you sign up online your Spanish SIM card will be delivered to your home address.

Before your cell phone contract is valid, you must provide some form of written confirmation to the Spanish mobile operator which basically affirms you agree to the terms and conditions. The process is just a formality.

When signing with a Spanish mobile operator, ask for a contract that does not financially penalize you if you terminate the contract prematurely. Look for the words ‘sin permanencia’. You can determine whether a mobile operator in Spain offers contracts ‘sin permanencia’ by looking at the FAQs on their website.

Regardless of whether you opt for a contract or prepaid SIM, your mobile phone needs to operate on a GSM network and be unlocked to accept a Spanish SIM card.

Understanding Spanish phone numbers

Mobile phone operators in Spain are regulated by the Comision del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones (CMT). The organisation is responsible for assigning mobile numbers to Spanish phones.

All mobile numbers in Spain have nine digits. Spanish mobile numbers are prefixed with either a 6 or a 7 and followed by eight digits. Personal numbers start with 70.

Blocks of mobile phone numbers are not allocated to mobile phone networks in Spain. There is no grouping that identifies the carrier.

The international dialling code for Spain is 0034 / +34. Unlike in other countries, no additional 0 is added or subtracted when calling internationally or locally: 0034 6xx xxx xxx (from abroad); 6xx xxx xxx (from Spain).

Using Spanish phones

Spanish mobile operators do not typically charge for receiving texts or calls from an international number. The only exception to this rule is some Spanish prepaid SIM cards; ask about that if you expect to receive messages from abroad.

Mobile phones using the same Spanish mobile operator are often given free calls or texts. Even if you are not on the same service as a friend, it is common practice for them to give you a missed call to let you know they have arrived at the venue you are meeting at.

If you go tto any of the Spanish islands, some tax rates are more expensive than mainland Spain. The tax for the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) is 21%. The Canary Islands (Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura) are only 7%.

Certain emergency numbers in Spain can be called from a mobile phone, sometimes even without a Spanish SIM card. Save this list of important Spanish emergency numbers. You can also read how much it costs to call 800, 900 and 118 numbers in Spain.