Mobile / Cell Phones in Spain


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Mobile / Cell Phones in Spain

If you're without an NIE, you'll be stuck with a pay-as-you-go mobile which you'll have to recharge all the time and pay higher rates..."

Posted by Dreamer

Information on mobile and cell phones in Spain, contract and pay-as-you-go phones and an overview of mobile phone service providers, including Movistar, Vodafone and Orange.

One of the first things to do when you arrive in Spain is get a mobile/cell phone. (In North America: cell or cell phones; in Europe and Spain: mobile phones. The same thing.) Almost everyone has at least one mobile phone in Spain and sending SMS text messages is extremely popular, as there are no periods of free calling on weekends or evenings available with any of the Spanish providers. So, just to communicate with your friends, texting can be a necessary skill to develop – how dextrous are your fingers?

You can also pay for a variety of services by sending an SMS text message to a vendor (wireless hotspots, contests, voting, etc.) that charges your phone account. It’s convenient and can save you from racking up credit card charges and providing those sensitive numbers. You’ll see the option available when paying for something or on advertising posters everywhere. 

Unlike North America, but similar to the UK, whoever makes the call will pay the charges, whether that’s to or from a landline or mobile/cell phone – the receiving phone is not charged. But when you do make a phone call, you generally pay for the call connection (establecimiento de llamada) and the time you spend talking on the phone. This rate (tarifa) is generally quoted either per minute or per second, but all call time is charged per second. Most rates don’t include IVA (VAT tax), which is charged at 16%.

You’ll likely not be able to use a North American cell phone in Spain unless it’s GSM/GPRS compatible (AT&T and T-Mobile cell phones, for example) with a SIM card. This is the system in use here. If you’re bringing a mobile phone from the UK then you’ll be better off, as the systems here are compatible. In either case you’ll VERY likely need to have it unlocked. This means taking your mobile or cell phone to one of the smaller mobile/cell phone shops in Spain that offer this service (about €20, look for “se libran móviles”) where they remove whatever it is that made your mobile or cell phone work exclusively on your previous provider’s network.

Contract and Pay-As-You-Go Phones

If you’re buying a mobile or cell phone in Spain, consider whether you would be better off with a contract or pay-as-you-go phone. When you sign a contract, you’ll have a monthly bill to pay, but you can often get cheaper rates and a free or cheap mobile phone. This is similar to most countries. However, you’ll need to have a NIE to sign a contract.

Even with generally higher rates, if you don’t make many calls or send many text messages in any given month, a pay-as-you-go phone may end up being cheaper. As you would expect, you only pay for what you use.

You can “recharge” (recargar in Spanish) your pay-as-you-go phone with more credit (saldo) at grocery stores, tobacco shops, phone stores, bank machines and with online banking.


Vodafone: if you travel around Europe then this is probably your best bet since they're from the UK and offer service throughout the continent."

Mobile Phone Service Providers

Mobile/cell phone service providers (operadores) in Spain can be divided into two categories: those with their own networks and virtual providers who depend on others’ networks to provide their services. In general, call quality, coverage and customer service vary little across the spectrum. 

Movistar (Telefónica), Vodafone, Orange (formerly Amena) and Yoigo are the four mobile phone service providers in Spain with their own network. Of these, Movistar is the oldest and most established and Yoigo the newest.

I’ve experienced and heard mixed things about each of them, generally as follows:

  • Movistar (Telefónica): Decent rates once you’ve signed onto specific plans that accommodate your calling schedules. Their coverage is the best in Spain and they have partnered with many international providers to allow easy access to voicemail, etc. while you’re traveling.
  • Orange: You’ll often find great, cheap offers on both phones and calling plans that can get you down to 3 cents/minute in some cases! Very spotty coverage in the rural areas though.
  • Vodafone: If you travel around Europe then this is probably your best bet since they’re from the UK and offer cell/mobile phone service throughout the continent. You’ll get cheaper roaming charges and they generally offer reasonable rates across the board. Their coverage is quite decent as well.

Virtual mobile phone service providers are relatively new in Spain. These providers are able to fix their rates independently of the networks they use, and in many cases offer lower rates or other incentives, such as free call connections. These providers include: Eroski Móvil, Euskaltel, PepePhone, Lebara, Carrefour Móvil and Happy Móvil. Expect to see the next crop of virtual providers on the market any day now.

Any of the mobile phone service providers in Spain may offer things such as free voicemail, credit advances for pay-as-you-go phones or other services and features, or have promotions offering free call credit, free text messages, free phones or new low rates. To get the best deal on mobile phone service in Spain, be sure to shop around with the different providers for the latest promotions and features – they change fairly often.

Once you choose a provider, and depending on your calling needs, you can sign up for plans that have cheaper calling rates during certain times of the day, to certain countries, etc. Be sure to note that your provider may have different calling rates depending on which provider the person you’re calling has.

Many of the mobile phone service providers in Spain offer customer service in English, including Movistar, Vodafone and Eroski Móvil. You may have to wait a few minutes before you’re put through to an English speaking agent though.

Buying Your Cell/Mobile Phone

You’ll be able to buy a cell/mobile phone in Spain through either the providers’ specific dealer networks, independent electronics stores or department stores like El Corte Inglés. Smaller cell/mobile phone stores are everywhere in Spain, and you can find particularly good deals on phones at the sketchier mobile phone stores often operated by immigrants. In these places you’ll probably save between €10-50 on a new phone. I’d be wary about any “used” phones offered however.

Generally, the prices for new mobile phones in Spain start at €20 for the cheapest models and up to €500 for the latest models with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. 


Last updated 22 01 2008

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Corina said:

This website is magnificent with so much needed info. It's fantastic !!!!!!!! I thank all of the people who had an input in creating this web site.

shareacar said:

Movistar say they have support in English, but it only seems to be in effect if you are buying something, any problems or if you are complaining, you have little chance.

Also you will need to find your way through the push button 1 to be put on hold, listening to elevator music for a week remote menu's (in Spanish naturally)

Several companies have sprung up this year with full "own language" support, good coverage and excellent and easy to understand call rates. Even PAYG rates are good.

Try looking at Telitec, Europa, Viva to name a few.

Hope this helps,


katiegovier said:


There is another option now for people with no NIE having to have a ?normal?pay as you phone. The company I work for offer a system where people can have their phone topped up by 30 euros each month from the bank, removing the need for top up themselves, they also get 90 euros back in the 19th month as a thank you. They offer great tariffs and there is no contract commitment.

Katie Govier

pegeen said:

Hello,does any one know anything about registering your pay as you go mobile phone? I believe it's a security measure to prevent them being used as bombing devices. I have just discovered that my mobile has been de-activated and only receives/sends text messages.I keep forgetting to check with the Orange shop here in Alora. At the moment I am house sitting in the campo. Pegeen

MAC31 said:

The law has changed this year

If you do not give your passport or DNI number by November 2009 they will cut you off Movistar / Vodafone sent SMS messages to warn people of this they are offering you rewards if you give the details to them from any thing up to ?25 free top up



themartins said:


Does anyone know where we can register our pay as you go vodafone mobile in the Alpujarras? We have registered on line but we need to show a passport in a vodafone shop.


AmericanStudent said:

My daughter is going to be in Valencia for a year on a student exchange. She will have her unlocked GMS cell phone. She is too young to enter into a contract for a year. Does anyone have a recommendation for a pay as you go service that allows SMS? Also, if she has an internet phone, will she be able to use it or is that only allowed with contract services?

Thank you so much for your response.

stevevls said:

Unless you have an existing spanish bank account, you'll be out of luck if you try to buy a contract without an NIE. the banks won't open a new account without it, and the phone company won't sign you up either. i think you're stuck with prepaid until you get your ID. at least i am!

Robin Graham said:

What about terminology?

I will have to buy a prepaid phone in Spain next week. I assume there is a Spanish term for prepaid.

Does anyone know what it is?

pegeen said:

Hi Graham,

The terminology for "Pay As You Go" is "Sin Contrato" without contract.Provided that your phone is unlocked you can buy a sim card with any company. Depending on where you live, make sure that you receive good cover.

I live in Alora and have had good cover with Yoigo and Orange. As a security measure you will have to fill in a form with either your NIE or passport number.

stevevls said:

You'll be looking for Una Tarjeta Prepagada (as apposed to Un Contrato). Another word you'll want to know is the one for balance: Saldo.

By the way, not all the small phone stores carry SIM cards anymore, so you're best off going to a big chain like El Corte Ingles.

Pieter Vos said:


They call Prepaid "Prepago" or "De tarjeta".

SIM with a contract is called "Contrato".


gill brown said:

Can anyone tell me if you can get a contract internet dongle with unlimited usage?
Or maybe the best value dongle.

Many thanks

panther_husky said:

I'm Madrid at the moment and was robbed by 2 Romanians. My concern is they took my mobile phone and for 12 hours I have been trying to contact Orange on various numbers and keep getting pathetic robotic information which doesn't help me at all. I can't cancel my number and of course it is Sunday and the orange shops are closed. I have heard of this problem countless times from others traveling in Spain.

BE AWARE using Orange (in Spain at least)

btinspain.spain3 said:


Problems always arise when you are trying to get the best deals, sort out problems when you get problems, find the best deals for internet, cheap calls, mobile internet, unlocked handsets , make it easy on yourself

emmajcody said:

Hi All,

I am moving to Spain with my boyfriend who has secured a job recently and I am looking for work in Gibraltar. We will be living in Sotogrande initially.

I wonder if anybody can help with this... I have an Iphone 4 on a 24 month o2 contract and still have 1 year left. I called them and they said I can either pay the contract off for ?376 and keep the phone or transfer to someone else.

I am wondering - if I paid the contract off and cancelled, then got my iphone unlocked, could I then get a pay as you go Sim in Spain or contract where i get cheap or free calls/texts to the UK? I have read that they are quite a bit more expensive than the UK, is that correct? Do most iphone contracts include internet (3G)? Also, can I actually get a contract if I have a phone already so just need the Sim?

emmajcody said:

...Or am I best off paying off the phone and then selling it on ebay or something and then getting a contract once I get to Spain with a new iphone!??

Sorry, a little confused here!




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