Getting An Abono Transportes (Travel Pass)




Getting a travel pass is something the vast majority of us had to do and it can be more difficult than anticipated (like everything else). First, it’s good to know what the abono is and does. It is a travel pass that is good for the Madrid Metro, both city buses (Red in color) and longer-distance buses (Green “Interurbanos”, and cercanías, which are trains that go from one town to another (Madrid Atocha to Alcalá de Henares, for example).

0dosalsas Madrid-bus

Warning: Do not be one of the people on a Facebook group asking if your abono will take you from Madrid to Valencia because you will be cyber-bullied, partly in jest. In short, the abono is good for all public transport inside the Community of Madrid.

Next, you have to know which abono you need. The Communidad de Madrid is divided into various zones that mostly resemble circles around the city proper, with the downtown Sol area being the smallest and closest to the center, and places like Buitrago del Lozoya and Alcalá de Henares being way outside.


The only way to know which abono you need is to know (1) where you will definitely live, (2) where you will work/teach & (3) that Alcalá de Henares is located in Zone C1. What follows after you know these constants is a complicated mathematical formula. But, like in all my Math classes, you can guesstimate. For some people, it’s very easy. If you are going to work in Alcalá and you decide (wisely) to live in Alcalá, and the university is in Alcalá, you know to buy a C1 abono. You would also have the choice of not buying one at all and just paying the fare each way. Only you will know how much travel you will do and to where. In my case, I live in the C2 Zone, work in the C2 zone and attend university in the C1 Zone. I travel through C2 all the way down south to the center of Madrid. I then travel East all the way back out to C1 (Alcalá). I was really confused on whether I would have to pay again to go back outside of the city center on my way out to Alcalá but it’s very easy.

Your abono is good for all travel within the zone(s) listed on your abono, and closer to the city center. Mine is a C2, so I can travel from C2 all the way to A, and back again if I want. However, there are abonos for people who don’t want to travel all the way from the pueblos to the city center. If you’re elderly and you just need to visit your children in C1, there’s an abono for that. You can just buy the C1-C2.


The prices from the graphic are current as of 8 April 2014. However, I recommend checking out the source because the prices change often.

The next important piece of info you’ll need is really easy – how old are you? I mentioned the elderly person – he/she doesn’t have to pay as much and neither do “jovenes,” or “youths.” If you’re applying to this program there’s a good chance you’ll get this discount. I’m old but it would have saved me about 38 Euros per month. To qualify as “joven” you must be under the age of 23 (5-22 years old). According to what my friends have told me, to get this abono, you have to wait a bit longer. You must go to the tobacco shop and order it, then wait for X number of days. Other than this waiting step, it’s normal.

But what is normal? Here’s the process. Getting my C2 abono took about an entire day due to conflicting information from everyone. In the end, I quit and walked back to my hotel. Fortunately, I walked in the completely wrong direction and happened to walk right by the place I needed to go. If you just need the simple A abono, I’ve heard that you can get these just about anywhere in the metro/train stations. But to get the more expensive ones, there are certain “estancos,” or tobacco shops you must visit.

I thought it would be easy. The woman at the info desk in Plaza de Castilla told me exactly where to go. I went there and they told me they don’t sell C2 abonos. I walked back and forth several times, talking to anyone who might know where to go and it all let to nowhere. Fortunately for you, here’s where to go: In the Tetuán barrio, on the corner of Calle de Bravo Murillo & Calle de Pinos Alta you’ll see a sign for “tabaco.” Here’s the place the sells the C2 abono. There are others, I’m sure, but I don’t know where they are. In order to get your abono you’ll need the money, passport (for ID), & a small photo of yourself. These photos are sometimes described as “passport photos” but it’s really difficult to get the correct size in the US. The Spanish use them for other things too, like getting your NIE card, so it’s a good idea to get about 8 or so at one time and be done. If I remember correctly, there’s a photo shop right about where I was standing when I took this picture.



The street jutting to the right in the photo is Calle de Pinos Alta and the tobacco shop the red and yellow sign to the right of the picture.



Calle de Bravo Murillo runs South-West from the Plaza de Castilla and Calle Pinos Alta shoots off to the North-West. The intersection is where the “e” is in “Google.” (lower left-hand corner)

After I filled out the long form with my passport info, the woman took my money and photo then spliced it all together. Afterwards, she gave me my first “cúpon mensual,” or monthly coupon. This “abono” thing I’ve been talking about is actually worthless. It has your abono number, name, photo & any information about the type of abono you have, such as if you’re a youth, elderly (tercera edad), and you zones, of course – but it won’t get you anywhere without the coupon.

Abono Coupon Mensual

Here is the coupon that you’ll have to buy every month. You put a vast amount of money inside a machine and get this tiny ticket that resembles the tickets you get playing skeet ball. Actually, those are worth more because you can trade them for stuffed animals. Anyway, to renew the coupon, you take your ID card out of the plastic case and slide it into the machine. The machine then tells you which abono you have and knows how much you owe. You put in the money and the machine spits out the coupon; it’s very easy and you can do it in English if you’re not comfortable in Spanish. You put the coupon in its slot over the bar code and take it out to use when necessary.

To use it, you pull out the coupon (don’t drop it!) and stick it into a ticket reader. The reader gives you a message saying you’re OK and gives it back to you. These “readers” are on every form of transport or at a central entrance point. Each bus has its own reader but in Metro stations and train stations there is the classic turnstile you’re probably already familiar with. Sometimes you have to reinsert your coupon upon exiting train stations but sometimes you don’t. I’ve never figured out the system.

Getting A Cell Phone

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.


The Flight to Spain/First Day

OK. I actually came over a few days ago but have been too busy/tired/lazy to post this. The flight went mostly as expected with one giant hitch. About 7 hours before my flight was to leave, while I was still packing, I got an automated call from American Airlines. My flight out of Huntsville to O’Hare was cancelled. I ended up spending two hours on the phone that night before successfully rebooking my flights, but had to be moved back a full day. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because I got to actually pack in time to go to bed and I had messed up my hotel reservation anyway; I would have gotten all the way to Madrid and found out I couldn’t check in til the next day, leaving me in a bad situation.

The important thing is to stay up all day the first day, otherwise it’ll take much longer to get over the jet lag. I spent my first day nearly failing at two seemingly simple errands: get new sim card for my unlocked iPhone 4s and buy travel abono. I will cover these is separate blog posts because they can actually turn out to be anything but simple.