Getting a cellphone in Spain was supposed to be the easiest thing on the list. Nope. However, I think my case was a little unusual and, by and large, the process is rather quick and simple. Before leaving, I did my homework completely. I had AT&T unlock my iPhone 4s (for a small fee as I was almost out of contract), researched many mobile providers, and chose a SIM Card to buy along with its company. In Spain, as in the US, you have the option of a contract, but it isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s much easier (and simple) to just buy a SIM card and prepay. Perhaps after a few months you may want to sign up for a contract but I wouldn’t recommend it until you’ve had some time in the country to figure things out – no need to rush into more contracts being as you probably just got out of one in the US.
After my research, I chose a company called Tuenti (which is part of Movistar) due to their rates and good reputation on the internet. After checking-in to the hotel, I went out in search of a Movistar kiosk to buy my SIM card. Unfortunately, the first one I came to was out of them. “No biggie,” I thought to myself and kept walking. I eventually found a shopping mall and quickly located another Movistar service person. Didn’t have any. At this point, I decided to just go with Movistar because the deal seemed to be about the same (1gb of data, 1k sms messages, .03 per minute calls, etc). Unfortunately, of the two remaining sim cards he had for me, none worked. Rather than wait “dos horas,” I decided to brave the elements once again and walk around randomly looking for a kiosk.
After (seemingly) doing this all day, I decided to go with the first thing I saw. Down some back alley in the Sol area, I found an Orange kiosk run by a Chinese guy. “Los Chinos,” as they are called, have a somewhat dubious reputation in Spain, in part due to their reported unlocking of mobile phones for exorbitant amounts. I always chocked it up to a bit of old-world racism (which absolutely exists here), but I’m not really sure.
Update 10 April 2014: I’ve had Orange now for 6 months and I haven’t had any major problems. The most annoying thing I’ve run into is the constant text messages from them at all hours of the night with pertinent info like my horoscope. I also had problems “topping up” (UK term for adding money to the account) in the beginning because I didn’t yet have a Spanish debit card and I live in a tiny pueblo where there aren’t many obvious places to take care of this. My roommate found a store that adds money to your “saldo” and it hasn’t been a problem since. In the city, these places are everywhere but not up in the Sierras.
Just look for “recarga tu móvil aquí” or something to that effect.