Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cell phones in Spain

I started off this morning by finally getting a cell phone (móvil).

Look! I have a móvil!

I had brought my cell phone to Spain from the US this time (a Kin), hoping to use it instead of renting one like I did last time I lived here (5 euro/month).  I took my cell phone to our chino on Saturday afternoon, because to use a phone from the US with a Spanish company (or anytime you switch companies in Spain but want to use the same phone) you have to liberar your cell phone.  I believe you can also have this done at your cell phone company before you leave the states, but that would mean you can't use it after they "free" it -- and I used my phone up until we had to turn them off on my final flight from New Jersey to Madrid.

Almost all chino-shops offer services of liberación del móvil, so I didn't worry about having it done ahead of time.  When I took my phone to our chino, he said he didn't think he could liberarlo.  He wrote it down and said he'd ask someone, but he'd never heard of the brand, and didn't see the right things inside when he opened up the battery.

I thanked him, and walked down the block to an electronic shop that advertised "liberación del móvil" on the outside of their shop.  I asked if they could do mine, and he took it apart, looked inside, and told me no.  Later when I looked myself, I realized there's no place in my phone to put a SIM card, which is what I would have needed anyway.

So then I walked a block down to calle Alcalá to start looking at phone plans at different companies.  The awesome thing about living in a city like Madrid is that everything you could need is within a few blocks. For example, from Gregorio's piso where I'm currently staying, there is a grocery store at the corner of the block - a few steps away.  The chino-shop is across the street from his apartment, on the corner, right across from the grocery store.  If you head to the other corner of the block, there's a frutería with fresh fruit and vegetables. There are restaurants. Electronic shops. Book shops on that block.

Walk one more block from the apartment and you've hit calle Alcalá, which is filled with shops and food places. So, there's no need to hop in the car and drive to the mall to look at phone plans.  I just walked two blocks to c/ Alcalá and had many cell phone company stores at my fingertips (rather, at my feet?).

To help others who have just moved to Madrid, I'm going to go into a bit more detail about the different cell phones/plans here.

The main cell phone companies in Spain are:


In Spain, all incoming anythings are free.  So an incoming call from any number - no matter where the person is calling you from - and texts from anywhere are both free.

It's the outgoing that charges you.

So to start, you can either have a contract or a tarjeta.  I asked about a contract when I was in the Orange shop, and the guy working told me it lasted for 18 months. So if you're staying for less than a year, you'll probably go with a tarjeta like I did.  You get a SIM card that goes into your phone, and then you put money into it, or "recharge it" (recargarlo) whenever necessary.  This way, you know exactly how much you're spending on your phone.  When you run out of money (or have no saldo), you can't make calls or send texts until you recargarlo (but you can still receive calls/texts).

What many people will do when they run out of saldo while they're out and about is call the person they're trying to reach, let it ring once, then hang up.  By leaving the person a llamada perdida, they'll call you back, and then you can talk on their dime. Hehe.

My phone came with five hours on it (I think), so I haven't had to put more money on it yet, but it's really easy to do so.  You can add saldo to a phone at grocery stores (in the check-out lines, you'll have to tell the cashier the name of your phone company, how much money you want to add, and then tell them your phone number twice), locutorios (at machines, just type in the above inforamtion), ATMs, the cell company's shop -- all over.  All you need to know is your cell phone number.

Now let's talk charges.  The standard I've seen for texts is 0,15 euro (15 cents, yeah?  With numbers here they use the comma instead of the period, and use the period where we would use the comma - so the number one thousand is: 1.000).  This listed price (0,15) is almost always without the 16% IVA (tax).

Then there will be a rate/minute for calls.  In Spain, companies often distinguish between calls to móviles and calls to landlines (fijos), and have different rates depending on the type of call you're making.  There is also often a connection fee (establecimiento de llamada) for every call you make.  It's usually around 0,15.  So if the person answers, you'll get charged the connection fee, plus however many minutes you end up talking.

Some plans don't charge connection fees between certain hours, or on weekends. Some don't charge anything for calls between certain hours (One of Gregorio's cell phones has free calls after 6pm.  His cell phone for his business has free calls between 10am and 2pm).

Here are the three tarjeta plans I was looking at with Orange:

I got the Ardilla plan, which is 0,09 euro/min with any company (within Spain), 24 hours/day.  Texts are 0,15 euro/sms and the connection fee is also 0,15 euro per call.

[Note: Be careful with your phone if you're traveling out of Spain.  I would probably turn it off so as not to accidentally use it, because the charges when you're out of country are ridiculously high per minute and for the connection.]

I bought the cheapest phone that would work with my Ardilla plan -- for 19 euro!

Look how cute it is!
After opening it at home I discovered it has a radio!  Which is super awesome.  As I found last time, it seems as though some of their cheapest phones are more advanced than our $50-70 basic phones in the United States.  This phone even has a game! My old phone didn't have any games whatsoever, and no radio.

It was also very easy to buy.  The man working asked to see my passport (I carry around a copy of it in my purse and handed him that), and my address (I gave him Gregorio's even though my address will change).  Then I paid 19 euro and I was good to go.  Really, the whole interaction took less than 4 minutes -- so much less of a pain than getting a cell phone in the states (under a contract), in my opinion.

So anyways, I'm pleased with the purchase, and pleased to have a cell phone (even though it doesn't get that much action...)

I spent all day today looking for an apartment (haven't found one yet), but I'll blog all about that tomorrow.  It's approaching 3am and somebody needs to get some sleep, so her cold and cough will go away. *cough* Rebe *cough* (haha, get it?)  Ok, I need sleep.


  1. calle alcala! how is my old street?! did you pass by my old piso? is bouncy man still there?


  2. Alcalá is the same as always -- filled with people to watch and window shopping. I haven't been down past your old piso yet, but I was in Manuel Becerra looking at a piso the other day. BOUNCY MAN! I almost forgot about him! I'll have to look...

  3. How was your experience with Orange movil? I keep seeing negative reviews online for their poor coverage. Did you have any issues with it in Madrid or elsewhere in the country?


    1. I liked Orange -- In general while living in Madrid I used my phone a lot less often than in the states. I'd send/receive a few texts a week, and make/receive short calls here and there. So for that on a simple cell phone it worked really well, no coverage complaints.

      If I went back for another year I would probably get a smart phone through Yoigo, because they have an 8 euros/month internet plan that many friends of mine had.