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How to: Getting a Spanish phone number & plan!

A photo of a hand holding a Samsung cell phone. The screen is on the home page. There are many colorful apps, a music widget, and a weather widget. The wallpaper is grey with a cartoon blue wave of water rolling across the screen.

There’s a truth to be faced here: keeping your American phone plan while living abroad isn’t feasible. Many auxiliares de conversación debate if they will keep their American plan or suspend it in favor of a Spanish plan during their year(s) teaching in Spain. I like to look at things broader– in general, getting a Spanish phone number is going to be so much cheaper than having an American number, even without considering international data.

Many phone providers have outrageous international roaming fees. A classmate of mine during my study abroad stint in Sevilla in 2021 paid almost $300 to use his American plan in Spain via data roaming just for the month!

So if you’re going to live in Spain (and especially for a longer period than 2 or 3 months), you need a Spanish number and phone plan. In fact, for these longer periods in Spain, getting a Spanish number should be one of the first things you do in Spain along with getting a good VPN! For me, I arrived in Spain to teach in the evening of September 19th, 2023 and got a prepaid Spanish phone plan through Orange the very next morning.

But why do you need a Spanish number?

There’s quite a few important reasons!

  • Making appointments for all the legal processes you’ll need to complete to stay in Spain, like the TIE and other residency involvements
  • Reducing the chances of potential landlords ignoring you because your number isn’t Spanish. I had no luck contacting landlords on Whatsapp with my American number. After changing to a an account with my Spanish number, I got contacted back about viewings and other opportunities!
  • Opening your Spanish bank account to receive your pay if you’re an auxiliar de conversación or doing economic business in Spain
  • Accessing Bizum, Spain’s equivalent of Zelle and similar to Venmo/CashApp

Related reading: NALCAP Series: How to teach English in Spain with NALCAP


Things you’ll need to have and know before getting a Spanish number

Step 1 in getting a Spanish number: if you’re going to get a number in Spain, you’ll need to have an unlocked phone. Carriers usually do this automatically for you upon completion of your contract. This means that your phone cannot be active in an American contract or be a phone that isn’t paid off yet. I purchased my phone through my carrier in August of 2020 and my contract ended by early 2023.

You’ll also need to know if your phone takes only physical SIMs, takes physical and eSIMs, or takes only eSIMs. If you are unsure about yours, Google your phone model. My Samsung Galaxy s20+ supports both physical SIMs and eSIM options, so I knew that I could look at phone companies that offer either. If yours is eSIM only, then you need to look at companies that offer an eSIM option, because not all companies do.

If your American number is being used for two-factor authentication for any of your accounts and you plan to cancel your American number, you’ll need to switch to email authentication and/or an authentication app like Authy. Keep in mind that many banks will not accept VOIP numbers like numbers ported to Google Voice for two-factor authentication. You’ll need to switch any financial options to email and an authentication app if you can if you are cancelling or porting your American number. I changed all of my two-factors to email and Authy and then ported my American number to Google Voice for a flat $20 fee because I didn’t want to keep paying for American phone service but also didn’t want to lose my number.


Future post coming soon: Porting your American number to Google Voice before moving to Spain


So what Spanish phone provider options are out there?

Next, you’ll determine what company you are most interested in. Luckily (or unluckily if making decisions is not in your skillset), Spain’s phone service market is pretty big and competitive. Many auxilares de conversación recommend the following top 5 companies, and we will discuss the prepaid part next!

Using this list, find the one that matches your personal phone habits and your budget. In my case, I matched well with Orange!

Prepaid versus contract

After finding a company you’re interested in, the next step is determining if you want a prepaid plan or if you want to sign a contract.

A gif of Homer Simpson pulling out a contract and saying "That's right."

Contracts usually require Spanish bank accounts, a Spanish address, and your NIE and/or TIE, so prepaid might be the way you have to lean towards anyway, especially if you’ve just arrived. However, if you’ve got those requirements already, it’s time to make a choice!

Bringing back the trusty “in general,” I’ll say that in general, contracts turn out cheaper than prepaid plans. However, I recommend prepaid over contract due to the following important reason:

Flexibility. Flexibility to change my data amount is important, but what was most important to me during my decision making was that I could cancel at any time and not be obligated to continue paying for anything. If something happens, like if I suddenly have to move home, it will be so much easier to cancel a prepaid plan than a contract.

As a bonus, prepaid phone plans are already a lot cheaper here in Spain than in the USA, anyway!

So why did I choose a prepaid plan with Orange?

I knew for certain that due to my desire for flexibility, I wanted a prepaid plan. So I evaluated what other auxes had to say about their plans and found that people had the most luck with Orange. After looking at Orange’s prepaid plans, I started thinking about my own personal phone usage to determine the data I needed.

I’m not a heavy data user, so I opted for a small data plan at 25 gb for 10 euros a month. However, after discovering that my laptop and tablet were too new for my school’s wifi and that doing work in cafés using my laptop on my hotspot was fun, I bumped up to 50 gb for 15 euros a month. Because of my prepaid plan, changing my data allowance was really easy and done quickly in the app. Now, I don’t have to worry about running out of data for blogging, class resource making, and video editing when I’m on my hotspot.

And how did I get my plan with Orange?

At the time I got my plan, which was the morning after my arrival in Sevilla, I was living in a lovely Airbnb in north Triana. For me, the closest Orange store was in the Centro Commercial Torre Sevilla shopping center.

I walked there within 15 minutes instead of taking the bus, even though it would have been easier in the heat. Sevilla is a beautiful city and I was ready to experience some city life! If you are in Sevilla without a bus card and your local store is not a comfortable walking distance away, check out the following post:


Related reading: How to: Getting a tarjeta de transporte transport card in Sevilla


I showed up, but was so nervous to speak Spanish that I pretended to be interested in the laptops on display for 30 second while I thought of my battle plan. By the end of those 30 seconds, a different customer came in and snagged the only open attendant and spent 30 minutes getting assistance. So a word of advice: if Spanish is not your forte, write yourself a script to say or simply what you want so you can show the attendant. Practice and make an effort to speak the language– you are living in Spain, after all!

When it was my turn, I got my plan using my passport and my school’s address since I didn’t have an apartment yet. I opted for a physical SIM because I have no experience with eSIMs and wasn’t ready for something new.

I had to pay 20 euros for the 10 euro plan to start because I was a new client. Orange gifted me 50 extra gigabytes of data! I swapped my SIM, tucked my old SIM away in my bag, and was on my way.

More about Orange

Orange gives out quite a few bonuses/gifts throughout your time with them! Many auxiliares de conversación have claimed they haven’t even gotten close to their limit and Orange has given them more gigs! I have only been with Orange for a month, so I cannot give my own testimony at this time to the company’s generosity.

Like most SIMs, Orange SIMs have a SIM pin. I had to enter this PIN when I activated the SIM, and now, every time I restart my phone. You can disable this after the initial activation, but I like the extra layer of security. I memorized mine but keep my signup paperwork in my folder for future reference.

My initial plan was the 10 euro a month plan for 25 gb of data. However, after seeing that I might need more data after wifi complications at my school, I upgraded to 50 gb for 15 euros a month through the Orange app with a few clicks.

The Orange app is only available in Spanish from what I can tell. Since you have opted to live in Spain anyway, your Spanish studies will definitely help you learn how to navigate it. 🙂

Whatsapp

If you’re not familiar with Whatsapp, it’s a very popular app that many (especially Spaniards) use for messaging and calling since data is so much cheaper than paying for minutes and messages.

So if you already had a Whatsapp account before getting your Spanish number, you can change your Whatsapp number to your new Spanish number in settings, or you can just create a new account like I did. I used Samsung’s dual messenger feature to have two versions of Whatsapp on my phone; one for my American number and the other for my Spanish number. This way, I didn’t have to log in and out between accounts.

I use my American Whatsapp for keeping in touch with auxes, friends, and Whatsapp-toting family members, and then my Spanish Whatsapp for contacting landlords, communicating with Spanish companies, keeping up with my Spanish roommates, and other Spain-related activities.

Recap of the steps

Getting a Spanish phone number is easier than it seems! Maybe the wall of text above is overwhelming you and you’d rather know the facts in plain terms, or maybe you’d like a reminder. I will recap:

  • You need to have an unlocked phone that is not part of any active American contract
  • Find out what type of SIM your phone takes: physical and/or eSIM
  • If your American phone number is used for two-factor and you aren’t keeping your American phone plan, change those two-factors to email and/or an authentication app like Authy
  • Suspend, cancel, or keep your American number with your current carrier, or port it to Google Voice like I did
  • Determine which Spanish company you want to go with
  • Decide if you want a prepaid plan or a contract
  • Go to a local store for your carrier or sign up online
  • Download and learn how to use your carrier’s app– optional but helpful
  • Enjoy your new phone plan!

Thanks for reading!

I hope you’ve learned something and have used this post to kickstart your research into getting a Spanish phone number. I have so many posts planned that it is difficult to figure out what to write next!

See you in the next post!

Beka 🙂

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