mobile (cellular) Sim and service guide
Guide to getting a SIM card, mobile number, and more.
Learn how to keep in touch with friends and family while visiting or living in Spain. As an expat, knowing how to get a SIM card in Spain, or which mobile operator to choose, can be a challenge. That’s why we created this guide to help you wade through the numerous options so you won’t be left disconnected.
Everything you need to know to get the right mobile phone provider for your new life in Spain.
The Major Providers
Formerly known as Telefonica until Telefonica purchased BellSouth and unified its mobile services under the brand “Movistar” in 2005, Movistar boasts the highest marketshare of all providers at around 41%. We used to have a section of the forum called “Telefonica Rage” which should tell you something about how it felt to deal with this former state-owned monopoly. These days things are better. They offer decent rates once you’ve signed onto specific plans that accommodate your calling schedules. Their coverage isn’t the best anymore, but their speed for downloads, videos and gaming is now ranked #1 per OpenSignal.com’s comparison (July 2020). Movistar Spain offers 5G in the largest cities.
Movistar does not offer customer service in English.
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. Offers 5G in 21 of the largest cities. They’re the most popular network among expats as well. Notably slower download speeds than the other networks, but otherwise Vodafone’s performance is good, especially if you have a 5G cellular phone.
Vodafone offers customer service in English.
The second most popular carrier among expats, you’ll often find great, cheap offers on both phones and calling plans that can get you down to 3 cents/minute or even unlimited talk and data in some cases! I have personally found their 4G service to be faster than Vodafone’s and the coverage excellent. Their service speeds continue to improve and recently tied Movistar for download speed in the national rankings according to OpenSignal.
Orange offers customer service in English.
Also popular with expats. They don’t have as much coverage as the above network carriers but offer free roaming on Movistar and Orange, so theoretically you’ll get more total coverage than any other option.
Yoigo doesn’t offer customer service in English however, you might find some English speaking staff at some of their shops.
Part of the growing number of MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), Lobster Mobile is probably the most popular virtual mobile phone provider due to 100% English-language customer service and free calls to English-speaking countries are huge perk for expats.
*Free calls to the USA, UK, The Netherlands, Germany and more.
Did you know that there are least 28 mobile phone companies offering SIM cards for prepaid and contract-based cellular phone service in Spain – 28!
Spain’s Mobile Networks
New arrivals to Spain will be pleased to know that an excellent mobile network is accessible for expats and visitors alike. Like other European countries, Spain uses the GSM network for mobile communications which makes it easy for most people to connect on arrival. If you’re coming from somewhere that uses the CDMA network, your smartphone might still work in Spain.
Compatibility, Coverage, 4G, 5G
Mobile networks and carriers in Spain use 2 GSM bands, 2 UMTS bands, and 2 LTE bands:
- 900 (E-GSM)GSM
- 1800 (DCS)GSM
- B1 (2100)UMTS
- B8 (900 GSM)UMTS
- B3 (1800 +)LTE
- B7 (2600)LTE
4G / LTE Services in Spain
Spain is a top 20 LTE country globally with a reported average LTE/4G download speed of about 28mbps (slightly down since the start of the pandemic in 2020) and average upload speeds on 4G/LTE of about 9.3mbps between all four major networks: Movistar, Vodafone, Orange and Yoigo.
5G Availability in Spain
Spain’s 3.5GHz (5G) network is expected to be fully deployed by 2023. Vodafone, Movistar, Orange, and Yoigo launched 5G in a handful of cities across the country starting in 2019.
Rates and Prices for Mobile Data in Spain
Prices change monthly, so this is really just a guide. In relation to where you’re coming from, you can get a rough idea of the cost of monthly minutes and data prices according to the following ratios comparing against mobile network prices in Spain. You’ll pay about…
- 1/10th the rates you’ll pay in Canada after currency conversion
- ⅓ the price you would pay in the US
- about the same as the prices in the UK
Price per 1GB of data in Spain (2020) was about $1.83. source: Visual Capitalist
Let’s have a look at some examples:
Econo plans: The cheapest complete (data + talk), prepaid mobile phone plan in Spain may come from Suop at €3.89 per month, which currently gets you 1GB of data and 100 min.
Mid-range plans: A fantastic mid-range plan from Orange.es: €12.48 per month for minimum 3 months, offering you 100GBs to use up over a six month period.
Big and Unlimited plans: For bigger data plans you’ll usually pay about 25-60€ per month for plans ranging from about 30GBs to unlimited.
Unlimited plans are only available for contract-based phones. During our research in June 2021, the shortest contract we could find was a 6 month contract on Vodafone for unlimited data.
Tethering: Always ask about tethering (the ability to turn your phone into a wifi hotspot) to make sure it’s supported by the carrier and the plan you’ve subscribed to. Every plan we saw included tethering, but that might not always be the case.
Here is an example of Lobster (Spain’s English-language mobile provider running on Movistar’s network). You can see their Large plan offering 35GBs with unlimited texts and calling to Spain, US, UK, and other EU countries for 24€/month.
Yes, you read correctly. Even though the UK is no longer part of the EU, Lobster is still covering you!
Stay connected with your new SIM
The burning question: What do I need to do with my mobile phone (cell or cell phone in North America; mobile phone in Europe and Spain) from home to stay connected in Spain without spending a lot of money on roaming fees or worrying about compatibility?
This depends on how long you’re going to be in Spain. Let’s assume you’ll be here 3+ months.
Here is what we recommend if you are coming from Canada or the USA:
1. Make sure your phone is unlocked. Call your service provider and explain that you are going to be traveling for an extended period of time and need to swap SIM cards. If you’re on a payment plan or leasing your phone, there is a possibility they won’t allow it.
2. Get a daily or monthly international plan from your service provider to get you through the first few days or even weeks.
3. Research which Spanish mobile network you want to sign up with so you know which store to go to for a Spanish SIM card (due to Covid-19, airport shops are currently closed). Use Google maps to find a store and remember they’re closed from 3pm-5pm and closed all day on Sundays.
4. If you are coming from the US, download the Google voice app and, once you’re in Spain and have a Spanish SIM, have someone in the US port your number to Google voice using your Google account. This will allow you to use the Spanish SIM, cancel your US phone plan, but keep your US number for calls/texts on the Google voice app. It’s only a $20 USD one time fee but your calls and data will then work off of a Spanish data plan or wifi. Remember, you need to do this once you are in Spain and have your new SIM. If you do this before you leave you won’t have service when you land.
5. Worse case scenario….Wifi (pronounced weefee in Spain) is available at all airports in Spain.
Prepaid vs Mobile Contracts
To get connected in Spain, you have two main options: a prepaid SIM card or mobile phone contract. Prepaid SIMs are typically the easiest way to get yourself a local phone number and data access without committing to anything long-term. This is probably the best option if you’re simply after something that lets you make calls and get online. Many operators also offer pay-as-you-go bundles that provide a certain allowance of calls and data per month which can then be topped up should you go beyond this. Another perk is you pay only for the months you use it. For example, you arrive in Spain and stay for 1 month, leave for 6 months and come back to Spain for 3 months. You activate your pay-as-you-go SIM card for the period you are in Spain then put it on hold for up to a year depending on your service provider. This can be great if you’re looking for more flexibility.
After 8 years in Spain, we still use pay-as-you-go because for us, it is the cheaper option and no headaches with contracts. We are connected to Wifi 90% of the time and use WhatsApp or other messaging services that also offer video calls. For 2 mobile phones and 3 SIM cards, we spend 28€ per month.
If you’re settling in Spain long term, however, then signing up for a local mobile phone contract might be a good alternative. Typically, phone contracts work out much cheaper than prepaid SIM cards, especially if you spend a lot of time using data. Mobile contracts are also a good choice if you’re thinking about getting the latest smartphone. Generally speaking, contracts are often for 18-month periods, which is something to consider depending on your circumstances.
What to do if you don’t have a NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero)? A prepaid SIM is the way to go.
Like in Canada, bundling your services (mobile contract with your home phone, internet, and TV connection) usually means you are getting a better deal. Mobile subscription in Spain is no different. Typically, subscriptions cost less for calls, texts, and data usage compared to prepaid SIMs. Contracts include an allowance of call minutes, texts, and mobile data. They might also include other allowances, and the amount you pay will depend on which plan you choose.
Spanish mobile contracts are either SIM-only or include a handset. The contracts normally run for 18-months. To avoid signing up for a lengthy contract, look out for deals labeled “sin permanencia“. These might not offer the best rates but they may be the best option for you, depending on your circumstances.
How to get a mobile phone contract in Spain
Signing up for a Spanish mobile phone contract is fairly straightforward. The major networks all have retail outlets in many towns and cities across the country.
Should you decide to do it in person, brush up on your language skills first as most sales assistants don’t speak English. Because of this, many expats prefer to sort it out online. To set up your mobile phone contract, you’ll likely need to provide the following:
- Valid ID (passport, driver’s licence, etc.)
- Proof of address (rental agreement or empadronamiento)
- NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero)
- Spanish bank account details
Monthly payments are made via direct debit and you’ll need to provide payment details when you sign up. If you don’t already have a Spanish bank account, then you might want to set one up before you sign up for a contract. One of the easiest ways to do this is with a mobile bank account, which you can apply for in minutes. Read our guide to opening a bank account in Spain for more information.
How to get a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Spain
Prepaid SIM cards typically offer more freedom than a lengthy Spanish mobile phone contract. They are often only slightly more expensive when it comes to calls, texts, and data usage. That said, they might be a better option if you don’t use your phone much, are connected to your home WiFi, or if you are only staying in Spain for a short period of time. All major Spanish mobile operators offer prepaid SIM cards, so you’ll want to shop around to find the best SIM-only deal for you.
You can buy a Spanish SIM card at a number of places, including the mobile operator’s retail outlets, certain convenience stores, and online. Simply look for the operator signs on the shop window if you are unsure. To sign up for a Spanish SIM card, you’ll need to provide proof of identity (such as a passport) as this is a legal requirement. You’ll also need to complete a short registration process but this should only take a few minutes.
In Spain, prepaid SIM cards usually come with credit already loaded onto them (€5, €10, €15, etc.), which means that you can choose the right amount of credit for your immediate usage. Depending on your service provider, you’ll have plenty of ways to add credit, including online, in-app, at an ATM, in selected stores and outlets, and more. However, bear in mind that this process may require you to have a Spanish bank account. For more information on this, read our guide to opening a bank account in Spain.
We are an official seller for Lobster Mobile.
We can mail your SIM card to any location in the world and activate it the day before you arrive to Spain. Or, if you are in Valencia, we can meet up with you, give you a SIM card and activate it in less than 5 minutes.
There you have it! Everything there is to know about mobile phone service in Spain and the many options available.
Our recommendation: Choose pay-as-you-go for your mobile service. We found that keeping our mobile service separate from our home internet/TV service is helpful in case you run into problems with that service provider (system offline or billing issues). That way, you will never be left without phone or internet service. On my dual SIM phone, I have 2 SIM cards from different providers. Yoigo and LOBSTER. That way, I will always have data and phone minutes regardless of where I am.
Get in touch if we can help you in any way.