This post will answer any frequently asked questions regarding cell phones while studying abroad.
Deciding between a US phone or Spanish phone
You may decide to get international service on your home US phone, but it is often expensive. Getting a local “Pay As You Go” Spanish phone is a great and inexpensive way to be reachable while abroad and your host family and new local friends can use it to reach you (they often cannot call a US number), plus the cost of incoming calls is always free, so your parents can reach you whenever they need to. You can get an inexpensive flip phone just for talking and texting, or a sim card that will go into your personal phone but will provide you with a local Spanish number and a data plan. Please remember to always fill out the CONTACT INFORMATION FORM whenever you change your number so that we can reach you in an emergency.
Where to get a phone
The well-known phone companies are Yoigo, Orange, Vodafone, Movistar, Alow. Alow specializes in plans for international students. They all have shops throughout the city, Many companies offer free calls between people with the same plan, so you may want to join a company that your friends are on so that you can call one another at a discounted rate. When you go to get a phone you will need your passport with you.
Refilling your account
When you run out of your allotted minutes, you’ll need to put more money on your phone. This can be done online, at the company’s stores or more easily – at any supermarket, convenience store or tobacco store! Give them 20€ and your phone number and wait for a few seconds and you’ll get a text telling you that 20€ has been added to your account.
You’ll find that calling internationally can be very expensive. It is recommended to put some money on a Skype account, which you can then use to call landlines and cell phones in the states. Google Talk also has similar plans. You’ll need to be on a wifi signal to make these calls, but it is by far the cheapest option to reach the states!
To data plan or not to data plan?
Many students decide to forgo having a data plan while they are abroad and rely on wifi to connect to the internet. While wifi in Spain is often not as fast as in other countries, there are loads of restaurants, cafes, libraries, etc. offering free wifi services. Did you know that you can also download maps before you leave the house and make them available offline?
Tricks for saving money on a local phone
You’ll find that just making a call will take money from your credit, but there are ways to get around tricky payments.
- Hang up before the voice mail picks up, and you won’t be charged for the call.
- Similarly, use “missed calls” by calling someone and letting it ring twice and then hang up. Between friends this can be used as a code, such as “I’ll send you a missed call when I get to the metro stop.” Your phone rings twice to let you know they are there, but it won’t charge either of your phones if no one has picked up.
- Receiving calls is ALWAYS free, so let people call you. Your parents can call your Spanish cell phone from the states and it is free to you, but will charge them their international calling rates. Calling from Skype to a cell phone in Spain is about 3 cents a minute.
- Only download things or upload photos when you’re on wifi. Your phone will use up any data plan you have by trying to find signal when you’re walking around, so turn off the data signal when you don’t need it.
- Don’t use your phone when traveling outside of Spain, unless on wifi. You can download maps to be available offline, and whenever you are at your hotel or a café you can use skype to call friends or use the wifi to upload your latest photos.
Many students opt to get an international plan before they go abroad but there are two issues with this. First is the cost, it is often very expensive to do this. Secondly, anyone in Spain cannot reach you while abroad, so your host family and new friends abroad may have trouble reaching you. Still, this can be a good option especially if you’ll only be in Spain a short time.