The first thing you should do when you land in your city is buy a SIM card for your phone. However, before you leave the USA you need to make sure you get your phone UNLOCKED by your carrier or buy an unlocked phone. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use your shiny new SIM card anyway. There are places here that advertise unlocking services, but why pay when your carrier will do it for free? These places also will take your phone for about a week and seem pretty sketchy. Just make sure your phone is paid off and you should be good to go! I had T-Mobile before I left, which offers free international data and texts, so I used that to get myself out of the airport and into the city center.
There seem to be three major phone services here: Orange, Vodafone and Movistar. I heard a few horror stories about Movistar holding money ransom, so I decided against them. I went to El Corte Inglés, a huge department store, to look at the counters of both the other places. I decided to go with Orange, on the Ballena pay as you go plan, which is 8.95 euros a month. Texts cost me .12 cents but everybody here uses Whatsapp, a texting and calling app instead of sending real texts. This sends messages and calls through data/Wifi instead, because texts are charged for here, unlike the majority of plans in the USA. However, 9 euro is a fraction of the cost of my cell phone service in America.
All you need to open your account is your passport and 20 euro. They popped out my T-Mobile SIM, popped in my new card and I was on the internet immediately!
- Get your phone unlocked
- Pick a phone provider
- Take them your passport
- Pick a plan and buy a SIM card
- Top up every month online, at estancos (tobacco shops), in grocery stores and a variety of others. Many stores have signs out front advertising this service.
I literally got the run-around trying to open a bank account. I went to La Caixa, a Spanish bank, after reading on Google that they had afternoon hours. That proved to be false, so I went home. The next day I went back in the morning, only to find out that without my TIE (foreigner identity card) I could only open a non-resident account that had a fee of 10.60 euros per month! That obviously is not ideal. My friend recommended Santander, so I went to one of their branches. I was told that I had to go to a different branch to open a youth account, so off I went. At this branch I was told that since I wasn’t a Spanish resident (because I don’t have a TIE yet) that I would have to go to the Santander international branch– back in the direction I’d just come from!
Annoyed, I popped into a Sabadell because I’ve seen them everywhere and had heard other people in my program had opened accounts there with success. The process was so much more painless! The woman told me that until I have my TIE, I will have a non-resident account, but to bring my TIE by once I have it and they can change the type. I had to give her my address in the USA, show her my passport and my carta de nombramiento. She told me to come by the next day to sign the paperwork. I went back and she wasn’t there! I waited in a café for about an hour and a half and when I returned, so had she. I signed the contract and was told that my card should arrive in about a week!
- Take your passport and carta around with you.
- Find a bank that will open you an account
- Ask about fees!
- Sign the paperwork
- Set up online banking
- Wait for card!