How to buy a prepaid SIM card in Spain

Buying a prepaid SIM card is the best way to get internet connection during your holiday in Spain. Wi-Fi is common in Spain and you’ll usually find it in hotels and rental properties, as well as many coffee shops and restaurants.

But, if you want to be online everywhere you go, the cheapest way to stay connected when traveling around the world is to buy a local prepaid SIM card instead of international roaming or using an international SIM card.

The mobile operator market in Spain is highly competitive, which resulted in the prices for SIM cards and mobile data packages to be cheap compared to other European countries.

This is just one of the many reasons why I recommend you to buy local SIM cards when traveling to Spain.


Where to buy a prepaid SIM card

I always recommend to get your prepaid SIM card as soon as you arrive at the airport or at the train station.

However, if you arrive late and the shop is close or you’re just too tired to sort that out, you can get yours later on.

You can buy your pay-as-you-go card (PAYG) from mobile phone shops and from some newsagents.

Alternatively, you can get them in certain grocery stores in the city center. Look for the Lycamobile, Hits Mobile or Lebara ads on display, as these operators specialize in PAYG.


How to buy a prepaid SIM card

The simplest option if you’ve just arrived to Spain is to get a prepaid SIM card.

So what exactly are you buying with a Spanish SIM card? Essentially, you’re purchasing a small chip with a Spanish phone number on it and a certain credit that you can recharge or top up as often as you want. With that, you can make telephone calls, send texts, and use data on your phone just like at home until the credit runs out.

Prepaid SIM cards are totally rechargeable and perfect for short-term stays, or if you plan to be in Spain just for a couple of days.

Most plans will come with unlimited calls and messages but nowadays you should check the size of the data package first. Think carefully about how much data you are likely to use, and choose a package based on that.

What you’ll need?

  • For your new Spanish SIM to work properly, your smartphone needs to be unlocked for all operators.
  • By law, Spanish SIM cards need to be registered. So you need your passport or national ID card to purchase a prepaid SIM card.

The process is quick.

Just remember to ask for a “tarjeta prepago” (prepaid card). It takes 5-10 minutes to work out which package you need, then configure the new SIM. If you have any problem, the vendor will be glad to help you.


How long is the prepaid SIM card valid for?

Your prepaid SIM card is valid for 6 months from the moment you activate it or from the moment you recharge it.

After 6 months without recharging it, your card will be deactivated. If your card is deactivated, you’ll lose this specific phone number.

To avoid it, you must recharge it at least once during this time period. Every time you recharge your prepaid SIM card, the 6 months of usage begins all over again.

You can recharge your card pretty much everywhere: ATMs, newsstands, supermarkets, telecom operator shops or websites.


Does the SIM card work in other European countries?

Most Spanish prepaid SIM cards will also work all over Europe thanks to European Union regulations about roaming charges across borders.

Roaming service and international calls are activated by default with your mobile fee. However, if you plan to travel around Europe after visiting Spain, check beforehand that

  • You can actually use abroad (and where specifically within Europe) the prepaid SIM card you’re about to purchase.
  • You’ve activated the international service on your data plan so you can use as soon as you cross the Spanish border.

Once you turn on the service in the country you’re visiting (e.g. Portugal), your phone will connect automatically to the network with the best coverage amongst the ones who have roaming agreements with your SIM card telecom provider.


Telecom providers in Spain

Telecom providers can be divided into two groups:

  • Mobile network operators (MNO), also known as a wireless service providers, wireless carriers, cellular companies, or mobile network carriers.
  • Mobile virtual network operators (MVNO).

The only difference between them is that MNOs are the owners of the network they manage and use to operate while MVNOs are not, they actually rent the network to an MNO.


Mobile network operators

There are four operators with their own network in Spain:

  • As the most established provider in the country, Movistar generally has the best coverage throughout Spain. It offers 4G/LTE speeds through large parts of the country including areas that seem like blind spots. Although its prepaid offers change, it’s usually the most expensive provider.
  • Orange has a very reliable service throughout the country, both in the cities and the countryside. It generally has some good deals so it’s hard to go wrong with this long-established, international brand.
  • Vodafone offers good value and reliability and is well connected throughout Europe. Thus if you travel into other countries, you shouldn’t have any service issue.
  • Yoigo is a bit cheaper than the other main three. It has great connectivity in the cities but you could encounter coverage problems in more rural areas. So if you’re not planning on leaving any of the main cities, it could be a good option to go for.


Other options: mobile virtual network operators

In Spain, there are more than thirty MVMO. However, here is the list of the one that offer the best tariffs on a prepaid SIM card.

  • Lycamobile has been one of the most used network provider in Spain, targeting people who don’t want to spend a fortune on mobile devices. If you’re looking for something cheap and convenient during your stay, then I highly recommend you this provider. It operates thanks to the Movistar network.
  • Hits Mobile is mainly focused on the expats living in Spain and it’s possibly one of the best operators to get a SIM card while you’re on holiday because of its attractive tariffs. It operates through the Vodafone network.
  • One of the most popular operators for prepaid rates in recent times in Spain has been Lebara, a virtual British operator and one of the best operators for foreigners in our country for both contract and prepaid rates. It operates with Vodafone coverage and has affordable rates.

The situation with SIM cards, cell phone rentals and Wi-Fi in Spain is changing fast. The situation could change by the time you read this. I’ll try to keep this page updated, but always do your own research to make sure you get the best deal.