Data Roaming in Spain – Obtaining a Local SIM

Friday, July 15, 2011

I was in Spain this month, and after my nasty data roaming experience in Mexico earlier in the year, coupled with my obsession to no longer provide any data roaming income to Rogers/Fido, I went about finding a mechanism to purchase a local Spanish SIM card for my trip.  Many countries, including those in Europe, make it easy to purchase a prepaid SIM locally – the problem I was faced with was that I was only going to be in Spain for 4 days, and I don’t speak Spanish, so I didn’t really have time to waste scouting out a local cell phone shop.

Vodafone microSIM

Vodafone microSIM

Googling “spanish SIM card” gave me a few different options, but the one I chose to go with was spainsim.com.  I have an iPhone/iPad and they had a specific section on their web site regarding microSIM cards for those devices, so I felt comfortable dealing with a company that was i-aware.

SpainSIM had a number of data bundles available, starting at 500MB, valid for 3 Days, for €19 (~USD27.00), and going up to 2GB, valid for 30 Days, for €49 (~USD70.00).  They all offered good value relative to what it would cost to roam natively using your home SIM card.  I ended up chosing a 1GB package for €25 (~USD35.00) which was valid for 7 days.  SpainSIM also has a basic charge for the SIM card of €59.95, which includes €12 in voice/sms credit.  With freight, my total order came to €104.95 (~USD150.00) for 1GB of data that my home carrier would have charged me $30,000 in roaming fees for.

SpainSIM doesn’t just drop a SIM card in the mail and hope for the best.  When you place your order, they time your SIM card’s arrival at your hotel perfectly, so it’s there waiting for you.  My hotel was particularly troublesome – they apparently don’t accept packages for guests that have not yet checked in.  Even though I was due to arrive the next weekday, they would not accept delivery of my package.  SpainSIM however was very conscientious about ensuring that my delivery arrived on time.  They phoned me, phoned my hotel and phoned the courier to ensure everything was worked out.  Sure enough, my SIM card was indeed waiting for me at check-in thanks to the efforts of the proprietors of SpainSIM.com.  I was amazed by their service, which is an important thing to consider when digesting my next point.

While the price of SpainSIM’s services are very reasonable relative to what your home carrier would charge you for roaming, you can actually still get more reasonable prices than this if you have the time to spend seeking out a cell phone shop.  The SIM card I purchased was on the Vodafone network, and upon arrival in Spain I discovered that one of my Spanish friends actually worked for Vodafone.  She informed me that the SIM card I paid €59.95 for at SpainSIM actually cost €15 in their shops (and still includes the €12 initial credit) and that the €25 1GB Data Bundle I purchased, went for €6.50.  So, rather than spending €104.95, I could have visited a Vodafone store in Spain and obtained the same for €21.50 (+ 18% VAT I presume).  So, if you have time to spare, you speak Spanish, and you know you’ll be in an area that is likely to have mobile phone stores, just go straight to the Vodafone store.  Having done it all over again, I would still personally go through SpainSIM because of the excellent service I obtained from them.  The €80 or so savings I could have realized by doing it myself could very easily have been eaten up if I were forced to roam on my home SIM for even just a few minutes (perhaps looking up the local Vodafone store on Google Maps) or by the round-trip taxi fare from my hotel to the nearest Vodafone store 10 km away.  I also neglected to ask my Spanish friend if there were any residency requirements when setting up an account directly with Vodafone, so it’s quite possible that using a third-party service such as SpainSIM may be the only option for foreigners.