Thursday, 23 October 2014

Expat issues: How to get a mobile phone, landline and internet in Spain

How to get a mobile phone, landline and internet in Spain

This month's expat issues is a guest post. Timmer is one half of the duo behind, offering English language coverage of the wine industry of Catalunya with videos, interviews, articles, photo galleries and more!

So you’re moving to Spain, and coming from let’s say the United States or the United Kingdom, and you’re used to telecommunications companies causing grief for you. Those of us from the United States are well aware of having to book off an entire day (or at least half a day) in the hope of having services hooked up, only to be faced with a no show and a cascade of excuses at worst or a late appearance at best.

Getting a mobile phone deal

Before I delve into the morass that is home service, let’s talk about the easy part, which is getting a mobile phone or SIM card for your current phone. You’ve got extensive choices from international monoliths Vodafone, Movistar, and Orange, plus country-specific providers like Yoigo and Ono.

If you only need a Spanish SIM, things are quite simple

You’ve got two options with all providers, 'pay as you go' or contract. In order to qualify for a contract, you’ll have to provide your NIE, passport, a utility bill with your address, and sometimes your rental contract. If you’re looking to get a new contract and a new phone number, and you want a new phone handset, you’ll be stuck with the lower end of the spectrum for deals. In Spain, if you’re transferring an existing contract to a new company, you get all the keys to the kingdom including deals on the brand new iPhone 6. It’s created real cutthroat competition, and a culture of being promised the world to transfer your phone to a new provider if you go into one of the stores to sign up.

If you’re new to Spain, the best idea is to get a pay as you go SIM card, especially if you’re only here temporarily. You can get 2 GB data plans and plus 60 minutes of calling for around 20 euros a month. With Yoigo, who I went with almost three years ago, I had 1 GB for 10 euros a month, and calls were a flat 15 cents per call, no matter the length of the call. It worked great with my iPhone 4, and gave me mobile service all over Spain. All the major companies offer similar deals and it’s best to shop around, as all of them change their offers from time to time. (Side note from Kate: I’m on Vodafone’s pay as you go ‘Yuser’ tariff, which costs me €10 a month for 20 messages, 20 minutes of calls and 600MB of data). You definitely need a data allowance: Spanish social lives are conducted almost exclusively through WhatsApp due to the small number of free SMS given with different deals.

All you need to get a SIM card is photo ID such as a passport or driver’s licence. You can get them at stores belonging to your chosen network, The Phone House shops and the electronics department of El Corte Inglés. Once you’re set up, you can top up your 'saldo' (credit) via internet, SMS, at the supermarket or at a cashpoint (if you have a Spanish bank card). In Catalunya, you can also top up at the huge network of Tabacs stores.

Landlines and internet

Hello? Customer service?

Now then, what about landlines and home internet? To get these installed, you need a NIE, rental contract, and a note from your mother in order to sign up. The process is painful. You can register online, by phone or in store if you choose a company like Movistar, Orange or Vodafone. There are often introductory offers and deals which include a mobile phone, so have a look around. You’ll be forced to sign up for a contract, anywhere from one year to two years depending on the deals on offer. As Movistar, through their Telefónica arm, still control phone lines in Spain, a technician comes out to check your lines and do 'the install', which amounts to popping a box in with your new phone number at the street box.

Once that’s done, you’ll receive a package a few days later (if you sign up with Vodafone or Orange for example), containing the router for you to set up yourself. You sometimes have to wait a few more days for the service to actually start. The only exceptions to this process are Ono and Movistar, who come out and do the process in one visit, and you’ll have your service ready to use at the end of the visit. Ono has their own fibreoptic lines, which may not be available in your area, so it’s best to check availability before signing up.

My recommendation for home service is to choose either Ono or Movistar, because you will actually receive technical expertise and service from both companies. Movistar is a little bit harder to convince to actually do some work, as they’re pretty much the dominant company of Spanish telecom, and have the greatest market share. Ono, recently purchased by Vodafone, is by far the best telecom company in Spain. Great service, great features, and they take care of technical problems quickly and efficiently. It’s rather unusual for Spain, and hopefully they’ll stay that way fafter the buyout. We use Ono for our office line and internet, and we’ve been thrilled.

We’ve had firsthand nightmares with Orange. My business partner in our website (and video star) Michael, tried to set up service with them at his apartment in Barcelona. He went and signed up for a “one year” promotional package, the Telefónica guy came out and set up the line at the street, and then the package showed up 3 days later for the self-install. However, unbeknown to Michael, the previous tenant had set up fibreoptic service with Movistar, and the technicians who came out to do that install for the previous tenant had torn out the standard phone lines. So, the modem wouldn’t work, nor the phone lines. After 5 visits to the Orange store and God knows how many phone calls to the customer service line, they said, “Sorry, we can’t help you. We can’t service your place.”

The only option was to pay a ridiculous amount to a private company to reinstall standard phone lines. After looking at prices for this which were upwards of €400, Michael said no way.
The hilarious part is they still wanted Michael to pay the contract. There is a clause in the contract that says you can cancel within two weeks, which he did, but Orange somehow just decided to ignore his request, which he not only called in, but faxed in. A lawyer finally resolved it for him.

I’ve had my run-ins with Orange. We had a service interruption for details which were still very unclear, and after 5 days of running around, 20 hours of phone calls, we finally had our service restored and an apology. We also received a generous offer and upgraded to an iPhone 6, along with a significantly reduced monthly bill. I was a bit of a squeaky wheel on this publicly and privately, which helped significantly.

The bottom line? Be careful what you’re offered on the phone or offered by the sales agent in the store. Make sure you receive everything in writing and signed copies of everything. Unfortunately, not everyone will actually do their job, and it may require lots of follow-up on your part, as most companies are not proactive. When things go wrong with telecoms in Spain, good customer service typically goes out the window.

If you’re buying something, you’ll get lots of smiles and gushing help. After? Not much. You’ll may even be promised the moon to get you to sign, but all those promises disappear and you’ll get denials, shrugs, and blame placed on others on your return visit. To top things off, telecoms spend more time seducing and luring people to switch services rather than offer benefits to their existing clientele.

In conclusion, when it comes to landlines, you may get great deals with Orange and others, but we recommend Movistar or Ono. You’ll thank me later. Secondly, start with a pay as you go SIM card and carefully decide which provider you’re going to choose for your mobile service. For the record, I stayed with Yoigo after a year of 'pay as you go', switched to contract, and just was seduced to Orange for a brand new iPhone 6.

Take your time and evaluate your options, and if the offer from any telecom company is too good to be true, it usually is, unless it is in writing on an actual contract.

Thanks for the guest post, Timmer! If anyone has any expat issues they'd like to see covered in future posts, just let me know in the comments below.

If you found this post helpful, you may also be interested in:
How to rent an apartment in Spain
How to open a bank account in Spain


  1. This is very useful information! I am always side-stepping having to sort out phone/Internet. I was late getting data (compared to my friends) and the shop assistant even called me "la amiga cara" (expensive friend) as the only way of contacting me would have been SMS or phone call. I'm now on Yoigo, paying €6 a month for 1GB. I've heard great things about Orange "pre-pago": you put on so much a month (I believe €15), and they give you lots of rewards. My friend had around €30 credit in rewards at one point, and I think calls were just 1 cent for an hour. But due to my lack of time, I still haven't got around to making the switch!

    1. Thanks Kim! I went with Orange for my internet & landline, it was reasonable for the first year but now I feel it's quite expensive. I do get free calls to the UK though. That's a great offer with Yoigo! I've heard bad things about their network coverage though? Interesting about Orange prepago, I used to be with them but when I wanted data as well (again, only this year!!) the offers didn't look good compared to Vodafone. I think it's a question of browsing and checking out all the offers, but yours definitely sounds good already! Due to the hassle I think I'll stick with what I've got as I only pay €10 a month. Vodafone give some rewards like extra credit too, but not that much!


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