Expat guide to getting a SIM card and phone number in Spain


Updated on Nov 04 • 7 minute read

If you’ve recently moved to Spain, one of the first items on your Spanish relocation checklist should be to get yourself a Spanish SIM card and Spanish phone number.

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to Spain’s mobile operators, which plan might be the best for you, and how to get a Spanish SIM card and phone number. By the end, you’ll see that it’s pretty simple and cheap to have a local Spanish phone plan.

Do I really need a local Spanish SIM card and phone number?

Yes! One of the biggest advantages of having a local Spanish SIM card and phone plan is that you can travel throughout the EU region and enjoy free-roaming. Say hello to travelling throughout the EU and staying connected!

Worried about calling home? It’s much smarter and cheaper to get a local plan that includes low-cost or unlimited international calling than using your foreign SIM card in Spain. The local rates for data, calls, and texts are also much cheaper than paying international roaming charges.

Buying a mobile phone in Spain v/s using your own phone

Most people who are coming to Spain can easily use their own mobile phones. You might need to buy a charger or an adapter to ensure you can plug your charger into the socket.

If you’re from America and want to use your own mobile phone in Spain, you need to be aware of the ‘lock on your mobile’. In the US, a phone number or phone plan is directly tied to the device instead of the SIM card. So if you try to insert a Spanish SIM into your American mobile phone, it won’t work as your phone is programmed to only accept a SIM from a particular company.

But don’t panic. All you have to do is ‘unlock your mobile’ by either calling your provider back home or visiting a phone shop in Spain. Doing this before you move to Spain is better as you won’t have any language barriers and you can directly ask your provider if there’re any penalties involved in unlocking your phone.

Anytime you use your Spanish SIM in a new phone or switch on your phone, you may be asked to enter the PIN mentioned on the card your Spanish SIM was attached to. Please note it down or memorise it if you don’t want to be locked out.

Buying a SIM card in Spain v/s Getting a mobile phone contract in Spain

You’ll find various phone companies in Spain that offer pre-paid (pay-as-you-go) or contract phone plans. The decision to get a local SIM card or a Spanish phone contract depends on how long you intend to stay in Spain.

Pre-Paid or Pay-As-You-Go SIM

Getting a pre-paid SIM card in Spain is popular with expats and international students as it’s the quickest way to get access to a local phone number and mobile data.

In general, getting just a pre-paid SIM is best for those who want flexibility (no contracts), are in Spain for a short while, don't want to pay monthly, don't want a lot of paperwork, and mainly want to use data instead of international calls and messages. So Erasmus students, frequent travellers, digital nomads, or anyone who is in Spain for less than 12 months can benefit financially from getting a pay-as-you-go SIM in Spain.

You can either get a pay-as-you-go SIM which allows you to top up when credit (saldo) runs out; or you can get a 30-day package that allows you to use data and make national or international calls up to a certain limit. The latter is more flexible and common.

How can I recharge my pre-paid SIM in Spain?

To top up or recharge your pay-as-you-go SIM, head to the phone stores, convenience stores, ATM, or simply use the SIM providers website or app. You can find packages that include credit, data, and a certain number of minutes and texts pre-loaded. This makes it easy to use such SIM cards instantly.

Don’t leave your pre-paid SIM inactive for more than 6 months after you recharge it. Otherwise, it will become inactive and you’ll lose your number.

Getting a phone contract in Spain

Getting a phone contract or a phone plan in Spain is the best choice for those expats or internationals who plan to stay in Spain for several years. Alternatively, if you want a new phone and can commit to an 18-24 month contract, getting a phone contract will be the best choice.

Phone contracts are also a good alternative to pre-paid SIMs as they offer better rates for making calls, sending texts, and using data, especially when combining it with a family bundle or with television, phone, and internet packages. And unlike pre-paid SIM plans, you don’t need to worry about topping up manually as the payment will be automated.

Look or ask for ‘contratos sin permanencia’ if you want a plan without any commitments.

Mobile networks in Spain

You won’t be disappointed with the mobile phone providers in Spain as there’s more than 27 of them.

There’re 4 main mobile operators or mobile providers in Spain with their own network- Movistar, Orange, Vodafone, and Yoigo. There’re also several mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in Spain that use the networks of the main 4, such as Lebara, Lycamobile, PepePhone, etc.

The biggest mobile network provider in Spain is Movistar, followed by Orange and Vodafone.

If you’re after the best coverage within Spain, then Movistar is the best option. Movistar offers 4G and LTE speeds in most areas and 5G in large cities. Even in rural or mountainous locations, you won’t be disappointed by Movistar’s mobile coverage. On top of that, they offer the best speed for downloads, video calls, video streaming, or gaming.

If you get pre-paid, you could get 5GB data and 20 minutes calling for €5 and 21GB data and 40 minutes calling for €10. Contract plans offer unlimited data and minutes plus discounted rates for the first 3-6 months. Plans range between €15-€40.

If you’re after the best mobile network operator in Spain for expats, then choose Vodafone. With Vodafone’s wide coverage throughout the EU and the world, you won’t have coverage issues when travelling. You’ll also enjoy reliable 4G/5G in major cities and cheaper roaming charges for phone calls or texts.

At Vodafone, you can find great deals online, which can include free gifts or discounted rates for 6 months. Plans range from €15 - €38. Some of the Vodafone Yu Plans even include free roaming in the US!

But since Spain has so many mobile network providers, the prices and packages offered are always competitive and changing. So it’s a good idea to shop around at some of these other reliable providers:

  1. Orange- Orange offers even better coverage throughout Spain than Movistar. It’s on par with Movistar when it comes to 4G network availability and download speed. Their rates are cheaper than Movistar’s and they have English speaking customer service agents as well. You could get unlimited 5G and calls for €35.95 per month. The cheapest plan is €15/month and it offers 7GB data and unlimited calls.

  2. Yoigo- This is a relatively newer mobile network provider in Spain. They offer great coverage in cities and are cheaper than the other 3 main network providers. So if you plan to mainly be in the city, this is a cost-friendly option for expats. For €15/month, you could get 20GB data and unlimited calls. If you add another line to it, you'll get 50% off!

  3. Lobster- A mobile network provider made for expats in Spain. Everything at Lobster is in English. They only offer unlimited plans, which includes calls and texts to Spain and a select few countries abroad. Plans last 28 days and cost €12 - €24.

  4. Lycamobile- The coverage is pretty good as they use the Movistar network. Lycamobile or Lycamovil is also cheaper than most other mobile networks in Spain. For €5/month you can get 1GB data and 100 minutes and texts. For €15/month you could get 20GB data, unlimited calls and 1000 minutes international calls. The good thing about Lyca is that you don’t need to pay any additional fees to activate your SIM card or provide an NIE number or Spanish bank account numberto sign up. So their pre-paid solutions might be good if you’re in a rush to get a Spanish phone number temporarily.

Where can I buy a SIM card in Spain?

To buy a SIM card from any of the 4 big mobile SIM Providers, you can simply head to the official retail outlets scattered throughout the country or shop online.

If you want a SIM from other re-sellers such as Lobster, Lycamobile, etc., try the smaller independent mobile shops, newspaper stands, convenience stores, or even the airport and train stations. But do keep in mind that the costs at the airports are higher!

How to get a sim card in Spain?

If you want to buy just a mobile SIM card, you may need to pay the cost of the SIM card (€5-€10), add credit, fill a registration form, and show your passport or NIE number as all SIM cards in Spain need to be registered by law.

If you want to get a phone contract, then make sure that you already have a Spanish bank account ready as you’ll need to provide it for signing up and setting up automatic payments.

Once at the store, you’ll need to present the following documents to get a mobile phone contract in Spain:

Overall, registering and activating your SIM will take 5-10 minutes and getting a phone contract will take 15- 30 minutes. You can be quicker if you do your research about the plans before and polish your Spanish skills as the store employees may not speak English.

How to ask for a SIM card and phone contract in Spanish

Now that you know about the phone providers in Spain and have done your research on the various phone plans, it’s time to go out and get it. Here’re some useful terms to know if you plan to purchase a SIM or phone plan in-store:

English termSpanish term
My phone numberMi numero
SIM cardTarjeta SIM
Can I have a SIM card from...Puedo tener una tarjeta SIM de...
Phone contractMovil contrato
2 GB Data2 gigas datos
I want to unlock my movileQuiero desbloquear mi movil

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