Lying on the beaches of the Costa Brava, enjoying free tapas in a Granadian bar, exploring the art museums of Madrid or the boulevards of Barcelona — Spain is a large, varied and fascinating country, much-loved by overseas visitors.
If you’re planning on staying connected during your time there (and can drag yourself away from the ocean, mountains and vino tinto for long enough) the good news is it’s cheap and reasonably easy to get set up with one of the local cell companies.
Here’s what you need to know when choosing and buying a prepaid SIM card in Spain.
Note: Spain is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.
There are some exceptions and limits, however, so be sure to double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.
With four cellular providers, plus several resellers, Spain has plenty of prepaid SIM options. Movistar has the best coverage throughout the country, although Vodafone and Orange aren’t far behind.
There aren’t huge differences in prices and bundles between the main four providers, but there is some variation — it’s worth spending a little time doing some research if you’re so inclined. Orange, in particular, can have good rates for data.
No matter which company you choose, though, 10-15 euros per month will get you a useful amount of calls, texts and data.
I’ve now bought Spanish SIM cards a few different times throughout the country.
On my first visit, I bought one from a Vodafone store in downtown Granada on the second attempt, after being politely advised the first time they were about to close for siesta. Ahh, Spain.
There was a queuing system of some sort at work, complete with machine spitting out tickets, but as nobody else seemed to be paying attention to it, I didn’t either.
I was fortunate to have a friend with me who spoke Spanish, but suspect I would have got by even with my very limited language skills. The staff member showed me a brochure with the various plans on offer, I picked one and, after handing over my passport, it was all set up within five minutes.
I’ve also purchased an Orange SIM from one of the smaller official stores in Madrid, and a Movistar SIM in Tui shortly after crossing over the border from Portugal. In both of those cases, the process was equally quick — 5-10 minutes to work out which package I needed, and configure the new SIM. That included extra time for me to horribly mangle my Spanish and generally confuse the process.
By law SIM cards need to be registered, so you won’t be able to buy one without a passport or national ID card.
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With Vodafone, the best option for visitors is, unusually, the company’s Tourist SIM offering. For €15 you’ll get 2GB of data (sometimes more if there’s a promotion running), plus 50 minutes of calls to domestic and some international destinations, valid for a month. Other packages are available here, but you may need to add the cost of the SIM card — it isn’t always free.
If you go with Orange, SIM cards are free as long as you top up with a reasonable amount (usually 10 euros, sometimes a little more) at the time of purchase. Assuming you do so, you can then spend that credit on an appropriate package. €9.95 gets you 1.5GB of data and 20 minutes of domestic calls, while €14.95 gives 2.5GB of data and 40 minutes of calls.
Other Orange packages are also available, including some with better rates for international calls — check the latest details here.
There are a range of ways to top up, but you’ll likely find the easiest option is just to do it in-store when you see an Orange or Vodafone logo.
With Vodafone, other options include calling 22132, at ATM’s, online or via the ‘Vodafone yu’ app, but you may struggle to use any of them without having a debit or credit card issued in Spain.
It is possible to top up an Orange using a foreign card, and you can do so directly from the website. My bank decided to block the transaction, mind you, but once we got that sorted out, the top-up went through fine.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage and speeds with both Vodafone and Orange were generally very good.
I walked a Camino de Santiago for a month across much of northern Spain with an Orange SIM in my phone, and there was exactly one time when I wasn’t able to get service. Even in rural areas and tiny villages, there was EDGE or (typically) 3G coverage available.
I had a similar experience with Vodafone in Andalusia. In and around Granada, I rarely dropped below a full strength signal anywhere outdoors, and had 3G/HSPA data everywhere I went. It was both faster and more reliable than the cable Internet at my apartment, and I ended up using it for Skype and online conference calls quite regularly.
Even when hiking for a week between Granada and Cordoba, signal and data speeds remained solid almost everywhere. I also had very few coverage problems on buses or trains anywhere in the country with either Vodafone or Orange.