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, or buy a new Spanish mobile phone. 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 required to get a Spanish SIM card or cell phone plan, including conditions for getting a Spanish prepaid SIM card as a short-term visitor. It also discusses the format for Spanish mobile phone numbers and calling codes for Spain.
This guide includes:
- Spanish mobile networks
- Spanish mobile operators
- How to get a Spanish SIM card
- Spanish phone plans
- Understanding Spanish mobile phone numbers
- Using your Spanish mobile
Spain operates on a GSM network, so if you are relocating to Spain from a country that also uses GSM and have an unlocked phone, switching to a Spanish SIM card is straightforward and your best option.
Visitors arriving from countries that use networks other than GSM will not be able to operate their cell phone in Spain. In such cases, you can buy new and used Spanish phones 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.
In these circumstances, you will have to contact your current service provider or ask about a roaming data SIM for Spain. If you have had your cell phone for longer than a year, you should be allowed 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, such as Japan, Canada and the US, you might consider buying a ‘world’ mobile that has both CDMA and GSM radios.
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 for Spanish phones if you shop around and compare mobile plans and SIM card deals.
There are four principal Spanish mobile networks:
Movistar is the most popular mobile operator in Spain, although in 2017 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 provide coverage in some of the more remote areas, while Yoigo did not 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 these lesser known companies are less expensive than the established big four, but connectivity is typically only available in the larger cities. It is advisable to check out network coverage before signing up for a Spanish SIM card with a smaller mobile operator in Spain; many mobile companies provide this on their websites.
Some smaller Spanish mobile providers in Spain include:
- on Movistar network: DIGI mobil, Lycamobile, Tuenti
- on Vodafone network: HITS mobile, Lebara móvil
- on Orange network: Happy Móvil, Llamaya móvil, MASmóvil, República Móvil, Simyo, Freedom Pop
For foreigners arriving in Spain, the quickest way to get connected is via a prepaid SIM card. This can also give you time to settle in and determine how much you are likely to use your mobile phone in accordance with your social and/or work life. 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. Therefore, before mobile phone shops are permitted to sell you a Spanish SIM card, you will have to present photo ID in the form of a passport, national ID card or driving license in Spain.
For visitors or expats without a permanent residence, it is possible to purchase a cheap Spanish prepaid SIM from any of the main Spanish mobile operators. Using a larger Spanish mobile network typically means top-up cards for prepaid SIMs are more readily available and they offer better support, although smaller networks generally offer the cheapest deals.
In Spain, prepaid SIM cards can be purchased via internet and phone stores, supermarkets, service stations, Spanish mobile operator stores, and most international airports.
The cost of calls and texting on Spanish phones varies from one company to the next, however, with 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. A newer firm called Tuenti also offers highly competitive rates that are two or three times less expensive than the major carriers. It is advised to 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, although if you’re coming with a SIM from another EU country, your provider may apply the same fees as local rates (hence no roaming charge). If your phone is locked, the best option for short-term visitors is to sign up for an international roaming plan with their existing mobile operator – providing they offer reasonable rates – to avoid the hassle or cost of purchasing a Spanish SIM card. You can cancel the service when you get back home.
If you opt for a Spanish cell phone plan, the minimum period you must commit to in Spain is 18 months, so a cell phone plan is only a suitable option for long-term residents.
To sign up for a cell phone plan in Spain you have to 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.
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 have to 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 penalise 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.
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 so there is no grouping that will identify the carrier.
The international dialling code for Spain is 0034 / +34. Unlike in some 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).
Unlike some countries, Spanish mobile operators do not typically charge cell phone owners for receiving texts or calls from an international number. The only exception to this rule is some Spain prepaid SIM cards, so 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 intend to visit or live on any of the Spanish islands, you should note that 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.
Click to the top of our guide to Spanish mobile networks and SIM cards.