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Phones, Sim Cards, Choices and Questions, Oh, So Many Questions!

HBS60

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
August 2024 (planned)
I’ve been researching in this forum the issue of cell phones, SIM cards, international travel. Lots of good information out there, but I’m still struggling to put it all together, so I thought I’d describe my current cell set up, what I’ve learned so far, and what I’m still trying to figure out. Apologies if these things have been discussed elsewhere. Some things I’ve found useful but cant’ always remember where I read it, I’ve been drowning reading these threads, so forgive me if I’m being repetitive.

I currently have an older iPhone 8 Plus (I know, ancient). So far it has served me well and I havent’ felt the need to upgrade to a later version, but I noticed that it wont’ accept an iOS version beyond 16, (planned obsolescence?) and it is not enabled to use eSIMs.

My current service provider is Verizon, and I do have the $10/day international plan which I used once when I visited South America for a week 6 years ago. But now, I’m talking about 4-6 weeks, so I want to figure out a better way.

I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

I arrive at 6 AM, hopefully I’ll have enough time to clear customs, retrieve my luggage, get cash out of the ATM, and hopefully buy my SIM card. I don’t know what time the stores open. I’m supposed to take the train to Atocha for my train ride to Pamplona at 10:30 AM. This should be plenty of time, unless there are any delays, so I’m trying to come up with what to do instead if there are any problems.

I can’t find out if there’s any stores IN Atocha where I can buy a SIM Card, and I dont’ feel comfortable stepping out of the Atocha station with a backpack, looking like a lost tourist trying to find a store where I can buy a SIM card, so I might need to hop on the train and try to buy one in Pamplona.

I did locate an Orange store about a 15 minute walk from the Hostel I’ll stay in at Pamplona, but I couldn't find any other nearby stores IN or close to the Pamplona train station (that would be my preference. I’ll take the bus to SJPDP the next day.

I’m aware that I could just get by on WIFI, but I’m not too confident on how safe this is, but in a pinch, it will do.

Once I put the SIM card in, it is my understanding that I’ll get a Spain phone number. I plan to use WhatsApp to make calls back home to the US if needed, but I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to get voicemails if folks in the US use my US number (thankfully I dont’ get all that many). I saw a very recent thread about two factor-authentication which was very helpful, so I’ll call the banks to change it, and I’ll let family members know that they can email me. I’ve never used WhatsApp internationally, do users call my usual number, able to leave voice mails, etc? I believe I can use wifi and/or whatsapp to call my usual number to check for voicemails, how do I prevent from accidentally incurring in international charges?

I do post on FB, so would my FB app be able to recognize my phone after changing the SIM? I also need to keep track of finances so I hope I don’t run into glitches.

As far as my phone, I might need to replace it soon for a newer model, which would accept eSIMs. If I understand correctly, I could keep my current US number plus getting a new Spain number. I’m concerned that using my US number will result in the $10/d charges with my current plan, so I dont’ know how I can tell the phone to use the Spain eSIM. New iPhone are very expensive and being that I’ve already been spending lots of money in plane tickets, backpack, shoes, etc etc, I’m trying to be careful on what I spend. I’ll consider a new phone AFTER I get back if I get the sense that I want to keep going back to Spain, unless I hear of a compelling reason to do it now instead of waiting. I’ll go on Medicare next year, and I need to know how that’s going to affect my finances, so that’s a factor, too.

Sorry for so many questions, as I’m not an experienced international traveler, and I’m trying to “get all my ducks in a row” early on. So far, I’ve learned so much in this forum, and I’m grateful.
Thanks!
 
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My current service provider is Verizon, and I do have the $10/day international plan which I used once when I visited South America for a week 6 years ago. But now, I’m talking about 4-6 weeks, so I want to figure out a better way.
The Verizon $10/day plan maxes out at $100 per billing cycle. In other words, you can use it for more than 10 days, but they will only charge you for 10 days in each billing cycle.
Once I put the SIM card in, it is my understanding that I’ll get a Spain phone number. I plan to use WhatsApp to make calls back home to the US if needed, but I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts.
Yes, you will have a Spanish phone number, but your contacts are stored on your phone, not your SIM. And WhatsApp will continue to work with your US phone number.
 
The Verizon $10/day plan maxes out at $100 per billing cycle. In other words, you can use it for more than 10 days, but they will only charge you for 10 days in each billing cycle.

Yes, you will have a Spanish phone number, but your contacts are stored on your phone, not your SIM. And WhatsApp will continue to work with your US phone number.
Thanks, good to know! It’s nice that the Verizon thing maxes out at $100/billing cycle, but I’ll be straddling two billing cycles, and it seems that the Spanish Sim would be a lot cheaper. If I understand correctly, since the WhatsApp will continue to work with my US number, I probably could use it on wifi while I could use the Spanish SIM for navigation, local calls, etc.

I forgot to ask: what about cell coverage up in the Pyrenees? WiFi probably wont’ do me any good up there. As I understand it, GPS does work even without cell service, as long as I have downloaded the maps, as I believe apps like BuenCamino would do. What about emergency calls up there without cell service?
 
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Thanks, good to know! It’s nice that the Verizon thing maxes out at $100/billing cycle, but I’ll be straddling two billing cycles, and it seems that the Spanish Sim would be a lot cheaper. If I understand correctly, since the WhatsApp will continue to work with my US number, I probably could use it on wifi while I could use the Spanish SIM for navigation, local calls, etc.
Yes, a Spanish SIM would be a lot cheaper. You don't need to be on WiFi to use WhatsApp. It, and all of your other apps will work off the cellular data on the Spanish SIM card.

I forgot to ask: what about cell coverage up in the Pyrenees? WiFi probably wont’ do me any good up there. As I understand it, GPS does work even without cell service, as long as I have downloaded the maps, as I believe apps like BuenCamino would do. What about emergency calls up there without cell service?
I've never noticed any place that didn't have service on that leg.
 
. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to get voicemails if folks in the US use my US number (thankfully I dont’ get all that many)
If your US SIM card isn’t in your phone, you won’t get any voicemails till you get home and reinstall it. Tell your friends to contact you on WhatsApp.


I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

Others may disagree, but I would only buy a SiM card in a brand store - Vodafone, Movistar, etc. I think you’re likely to get better service later on down the camino if you need help. I may be wrong but I have a vague memory of people having issues who had bought their SIM cards in one of those multi-brand stores.

What about emergency calls up there without cell service?

If your provider doesn’t have service, but another does, the phone will automatically go to that service and connect to the emergency services. But if there’s no cell phone service at all, there’s no way to call. Some people on the forum carry emergency beacons and other things like that. Because the places where there is absolutely no coverage in Spain are so few in number, I have never investigated that option. I will say after having walked some of the more remote caminos that Movistar’s coverage is better than Vodafone’s.
 
If your US SIM card isn’t in your phone, you won’t get any voicemails till you get home and reinstall it. Tell your friends to contact you on WhatsApp.




Others may disagree, but I would only buy a SiM card in a brand store - Vodafone, Movistar, etc. I think you’re likely to get better service later on down the camino if you need help. I may be wrong but I have a vague memory of people having issues who had bought their SIM cards in one of those multi-brand stores.



If your provider doesn’t have service, but another does, the phone will automatically go to that service and connect to the emergency services. But if there’s no cell phone service at all, there’s no way to call. Some people on the forum carry emergency beacons and other things like that. Because the places where there is absolutely no coverage in Spain are so few in number, I have never investigated that option. I will say after having walked some of the more remote caminos that Movistar’s coverage is better than Vodafone’s.
Thanks! I’ve read that one advantage of buying a SIM card at the airport is that the stores there would have more experience in activating cards for tourists, not so much in any random store. This may not be much of a problem at the Camino since I imagine that they do have the experience.

I also need to figure out which company, ie, MovieStar, Orange, Vodafone. I read somewhere in these forums that topping off with more data can be more difficult with some companies more than others. I’m allowing myself 6 weeks to do the Camino, hopefully less than that, but if I need to go beyond 30 days, I’ll need to buy additional data. For some reason, I’ve been thinking that Orange may be the best bet, but I don’t actually know…

I’m more concerned about lack of service up in the Pyrenees, that’s the leg I’m most worried about. I’m choosing to break it with a stop at Orisson, hopefully the second day would be less difficult. I’m worried about getting lost in the fog up in the mountains, less so on the plains or where there are so many nearby roads and towns. From videos I’ve seen, most of the Pyrenees stretch is a fairly clear road, except for some poorly defined dirt roads that are difficult to see, but somehow the Pilgrims seem to know where to go. I guess I’ll find out for myself when I get there…

Thanks!
 
Get a spanish phone number with Airalo. eSim, so no physical SIM card. Easy to use app to add more funds if needed.
Yes, a Spanish SIM would be a lot cheaper. You don't need to be on WiFi to use WhatsApp. It, and all of your other apps will work off the cellular data on the Spanish SIM card.


I've never noticed any place that didn't have service on that leg.
That’s great to know, thanks!
 
If your US SIM card isn’t in your phone, you won’t get any voicemails till you get home and reinstall it. Tell your friends to contact you on WhatsApp.
It depends on what you mean when you say this but technically this statement may be incorrect.

If Verizon provides a divert to voicemail service when your number is turned off or out of coverage area AND you turn on this option then you can phone your own USA number, enter your pin and retrieve any voicemail, even when your USA SIM card is not in your phone.
 
If you’re worried about missing SMS texts, I believe there are apps that you can download that will automatically reply to your incoming texts. You could say something safe (that doesn’t tell the world you’re traveling) like, “Thanks for your message. I may be delayed in getting back to you. If you need to reach me urgently, please send me an email or call me on WhatsApp.”
 
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I also need to figure out which company, ie, MovieStar, Orange, Vodafone.
It is probably a spellcheck issue but the Spanish phone company is Movistar. A minor issue.

Movistar is a close equivalent of AT&T as far as history and service are concerned.They were the incumbent phone company when mobile phones were introduced. They have an extensive network but they tend to be arrogant as far as customer (dis)service goes.

It has been reported that topping up via their website is difficult but if you are in Spain then you may be able to buy a top-up voucher in a corner store.

Some people have recommended Orange but I avoid them based on limited experience with them and extensive experience with Vodafone.

As far as network coverage goes then IN GENERAL Movistar is best, Vodafone second and Orange third but if you are walking the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela then all three are great along this route and in Madrid.

Outside of the Camino Frances then you really need to check the particular area to see which company has the better coverage but all of them will be good in any reasonable sized city or town.
 
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In general, some of the great deals mentioned on the forum such as 140Gb data, 800 international call minutes and unlimited local calls (Vodafone Spain) for €20 are only available online. The equivalent package purchased in a Vodafone Spain store may only include 70Gb data but similar other add-ons.
 
I’m more concerned about lack of service up in the Pyrenees, that’s the leg I’m most worried about. I’m choosing to break it with a stop at Orisson
There could be fog up there in August, but it's pretty hard to get lost, and there should be plenty of other pilgrims to follow. Plus you will have your apps with GPS (make sure to download all parts of the apps so that the maps work offline)

While the stage between Orisson is in the Pyrenees, it's not mountaineering at all. The Camino is on paved roads and good trails. It's basically the foothills. Here's a time-lapse video:

 
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From videos I’ve seen, most of the Pyrenees stretch is a fairly clear road, except for some poorly defined dirt roads that are difficult to see, but somehow the Pilgrims seem to know where to go. I guess I’ll find out for myself when I get there…
Unless you are travelling at a very unusual time of year or at night then you will struggle to get lost over the Pyrenees, fog or no fog. Just follow the person in front of you.
 
but if I need to go beyond 30 days, I’ll need to buy additional data
Again a smallish issue, almost all cellular pre-pay phone plans are for 28 days rather than a month or 30 days.
 
It depends on what you mean when you say this but technically this statement may be incorrect.

If Verizon provides a divert to voicemail service when your number is turned off or out of coverage area AND you turn on this option then you can phone your own USA number, enter your pin and retrieve any voicemail, even when your USA SIM card is not in your phone.
I do have the ability to call into my number, enter a pin and retrieve voicemails, but I can’t figure out how to dial my own number from WhatsApp. So much I need to learn!
 
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I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.
If you go to a branded store (Movistar, Vodafone, Orange) then there is no difference in cost, wherever you are.

I did locate an Orange store about a 15 minute walk from the Hostel
Try https://maps.app.goo.gl/MNByxCKC9jN9H93H6

how do I prevent from accidentally incurring in international charges?
If you get a plan with lots of included international minutes then this is mute. Or if you make a data call using WhatsApp then you will be fine. However, I am not sure if you can call your own USA number using WhatsApp, I guess that you can. I have never tried.

I do post on FB, so would my FB app be able to recognize my phone after changing the SIM?
There will not be any changes.
 
It depends on what you mean when you say this but technically this statement may be incorrect.

If Verizon provides a divert to voicemail service when your number is turned off or out of coverage area AND you turn on this option then you can phone your own USA number, enter your pin and retrieve any voicemail, even when your USA SIM card is not in your phone.
Wow,I should learn my lesson and stop giving phone advice. :) I had no idea that this was even a possibility.
 
I do have the ability to call into my number, enter a pin and retrieve voicemails, but I can’t figure out how to dial my own number from WhatsApp. So much I need to learn!
I have never tried this either.

I would make sure that you are listed in your own contacts. Then start WhatsApp, find yourself and try to initiate a call and see if it either rings or goes to voicemail, either way if it works then you can do it.
 
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
I do have the ability to call into my number, enter a pin and retrieve voicemails, but I can’t figure out how to dial my own number from WhatsApp. So much I need to learn!
If you get a plan that includes international minutes then you don't need to use WhatsApp. Just make an international call with your Spanish SIM card installed.
 
My guess is that trying to use WhatsApp to call yourself won't work because WhatsApp will recognise that you are calling yourself and won't call your cellular phone number but attempt a data call to yourself and recognise that this won't work.

@trecile tends to recommend cheap virtual calling apps like Viber. Using one of these apps you can call your own USA number but just using the international minutes included in a Spanish phone plan is probably simpler.
 
I have never tried this either.

I would make sure that you are listed in your own contacts. Then start WhatsApp, find yourself and try to initiate a call and see if it either rings or goes to voicemail, either way if it works then you can do it.
I see myself but for some reason, it’s just my name but I dont’ seem to have the ability to start a phone call to myself. I’ll keep playing with this and see how it goes. That being said, your other response talked about possibility of international plans, and that might work. I’m now trying to navigate through the Movistar website. I’m a native Spanish speaker but some of their terminology is a bit unfamiliar to me. It seems I could order a SIM card and install it myself, something I’ve never tried before. I also located a Movistar store just 500 meters from my Hostel in Pamplona, so that’s very convenient!
 
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Wow,I should learn my lesson and stop giving phone advice. :) I had no idea that this was even a possibility.
You can usually also divert your USA number to another USA number so that a trusted person can answer your calls while you are away but this may incur extra charges if there is a charge for receiving calls. Check with your USA supplier before attempting this.
 
It seems I could order a SIM card and install it myself, something I’ve never tried before.
Another poster on a different cell phone thread mentioned that when he/she asked Vodafone Spain to post a SIM card to Australia they refused to post it outside of Spain. This may also apply to Movistar.
 
Another poster on a different cell phone thread mentioned that when he/she asked Vodafone Spain to post a SIM card to Australia they refused to post it outside of Spain. This may also apply to Movistar.
I’ll try to find out. At any rate, if they won’t mail it, I can always see what’s available at the airport, or if not possible, later that day in Pamplona.
Thanks for all the advice!
 
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There could be fog up there in August, but it's pretty hard to get lost, and there should be plenty of other pilgrims to follow. Plus you will have your apps with GPS (make sure to download all parts of the apps so that the maps work offline)

While the stage between Orisson is in the Pyrenees, it's not mountaineering at all. The Camino is on paved roads and good trails. It's basically the foothills. Here's a time-lapse video:

That was fun to watch, if only it was that quick!
I worry most about segments like the one at 1:47-1:48, but as long as there are people around, I should be fine!
 
If you're worried about emergencies, remember the number is 112.
You do not even need a functioning phone subscription
It can be dialed when the phone is locked, and if memory serves it sends your GPS coordinates encoded (derived from network and phone information) in the signal (in more modern phones - 2018 and later) to the operator (e112 standard), keep your geo-locator on I suppose. Can't say if the iPhone 8 is covered in that, but that alone may be worth an upgrade
 
Like @DoughnutANZ I doubt that calling your own number on WhatsApp will work. However I believe that networks in the US have toll-free numbers you can call from anywhere and any phone to pickup messages. The answering robot asks you for your "home number" and then your pin/passcode. You would call this number with your Spanish number using some of the international minutes the Spanish network provided you.

It may also be possible to login to your network's website to get voicemail using wifi or your Spanish cellular data. It appears that Verizon allows this by converting the voicemail into text that you can read. They call this Visual Voicemail. I found a Verizon Voicemail support webpage for you but I haven't dug very deep.
 
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Another thing about getting voicemail notifications. My landline service is Verizon's FIOS which is not the same service as Verizon's mobile service which you have but this is what I can do. Check to see if Verizon Mobile can do something similar.

I have our landline voicemail setup so, in addition to keeping the voicemail message around for listening to later, FIOS sends me an email saying that I have a new one in the queue. The email looks like this:

A new message has arrived in your 978-555-1234 mailbox.
Sender: " John Doe" from 123-555-9876"
Recipient: 978-555-1234
Type: Voicemail
Subject: 30 sec voice message

This is really handy for when we are away. I ignore any messages from unknown callers or numbers or messages less than 10 seconds long. They are spam calls that are usually hangups anyway. I could have FIOS redirect the calls to my mobile but most calls are spam so I don't want to be bothered.

The advantage of this is you may find that you don't need to make an international call each night to check for left messages. Don't forget to tell friends to use WhatsApp or email to contact you while on your trip instead of calling you the normal way.
 
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I’ve been researching in this forum the issue of cell phones, SIM cards, international travel. Lots of good information out there, but I’m still struggling to put it all together, so I thought I’d describe my current cell set up, what I’ve learned so far, and what I’m still trying to figure out. Apologies if these things have been discussed elsewhere. Some things I’ve found useful but cant’ always remember where I read it, I’ve been drowning reading these threads, so forgive me if I’m being repetitive.

I currently have an older iPhone 8 Plus (I know, ancient). So far it has served me well and I havent’ felt the need to upgrade to a later version, but I noticed that it wont’ accept an iOS version beyond 16, (planned obsolescence?) and it is not enabled to use eSIMs.

My current service provider is Verizon, and I do have the $10/day international plan which I used once when I visited South America for a week 6 years ago. But now, I’m talking about 4-6 weeks, so I want to figure out a better way.

I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

I arrive at 6 AM, hopefully I’ll have enough time to clear customs, retrieve my luggage, get cash out of the ATM, and hopefully buy my SIM card. I don’t know what time the stores open. I’m supposed to take the train to Atocha for my train ride to Pamplona at 10:30 AM. This should be plenty of time, unless there are any delays, so I’m trying to come up with what to do instead if there are any problems.

I can’t find out if there’s any stores IN Atocha where I can buy a SIM Card, and I dont’ feel comfortable stepping out of the Atocha station with a backpack, looking like a lost tourist trying to find a store where I can buy a SIM card, so I might need to hop on the train and try to buy one in Pamplona.

I did locate an Orange store about a 15 minute walk from the Hostel I’ll stay in at Pamplona, but I couldn't find any other nearby stores IN or close to the Pamplona train station (that would be my preference. I’ll take the bus to SJPDP the next day.

I’m aware that I could just get by on WIFI, but I’m not too confident on how safe this is, but in a pinch, it will do.

Once I put the SIM card in, it is my understanding that I’ll get a Spain phone number. I plan to use WhatsApp to make calls back home to the US if needed, but I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to get voicemails if folks in the US use my US number (thankfully I dont’ get all that many). I saw a very recent thread about two factor-authentication which was very helpful, so I’ll call the banks to change it, and I’ll let family members know that they can email me. I’ve never used WhatsApp internationally, do users call my usual number, able to leave voice mails, etc? I believe I can use wifi and/or whatsapp to call my usual number to check for voicemails, how do I prevent from accidentally incurring in international charges?

I do post on FB, so would my FB app be able to recognize my phone after changing the SIM? I also need to keep track of finances so I hope I don’t run into glitches.

As far as my phone, I might need to replace it soon for a newer model, which would accept eSIMs. If I understand correctly, I could keep my current US number plus getting a new Spain number. I’m concerned that using my US number will result in the $10/d charges with my current plan, so I dont’ know how I can tell the phone to use the Spain eSIM. New iPhone are very expensive and being that I’ve already been spending lots of money in plane tickets, backpack, shoes, etc etc, I’m trying to be careful on what I spend. I’ll consider a new phone AFTER I get back if I get the sense that I want to keep going back to Spain, unless I hear of a compelling reason to do it now instead of waiting. I’ll go on Medicare next year, and I need to know how that’s going to affect my finances, so that’s a factor, too.

Sorry for so many questions, as I’m not an experienced international traveler, and I’m trying to “get all my ducks in a row” early on. So far, I’ve learned so much in this forum, and I’m grateful.
Thanks!
I have used t-Mobile as my provider for many years. As t-Mobile is originally a German company, they have a very large presence and many roaming partners in Europe.

The plan I have, which costs USD $54 monthly, includes UNLIMITED text and data in over 150 countries , including France, Portugal and Spain. As soon as I turn on the phone when the plane lands at Lisbon, Madrid or Paris, I am immediately connected to a t-Mobile roaming partner.

Voice calls cost USD .25 (twenty five cents) per minute, in or out. So, fast SOL calls (sign of life), will not cost you much. Also, the signal strength is better than what I commonly get here in Northern Virginia, or in Palm Beach County. FL where I moved from last year.

If you use Wi-Fi calling, to call from places with free Wi-Fi, you can easily keep your voice costs to a very slight level. Of course, you use your US phone number - remember the +1 country code.

t-Mobile only start sending you veiled threats about using the phone out of the country once you do so for 30 or more days,. They will explain that the coverage is intended for business trips.

Once you go over a month, they presume you are trying to live overseas. Do not worry about it. They will not cut your service off. I have gone 5-6 weeks several times, and for 30-35 days multiple times in a year. Their bark is worse than their bite.

The SIM chip should work with you ancient phone, even if it does not run the most current version of the iOS.

Hope this helps.

Tom
 
I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

This webpage has a ton of information on SIM card pricing and where to buy the cards at the Madrid airport. It says it is up-to-date as of January 2024. There is so much there that you might not think at first that it has what you are looking for but keep scrolling.

https://www.traveltomtom.net/destinations/europe/spain/sim-card-madrid
 
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@HBS60 , a quick point with regards to emergencies: download the Alertcops app.
It's free, it instantly sends them your location, and they have English speaking operators. It doesn't matter if you need police, fire or ambulance they'll sort it for you. You can find it on the iPhone store. It's literally called Alertcops - one word.

There are numerous threads about downloading this app, including at least one about the excellent service they received. You may have to wait until you're in Spain as some people ( mainly Stateside?) seem to have issues. You could do it once you've got your new SIM!

Edited to add: apparently, you can add in the notes area special things the police should know such as medications or medical conditions or other contacts etc..

It's also appropriate for all levels of assistance, not just emergencies.
Including, apparently, being lost!
 
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I’ve been researching in this forum the issue of cell phones, SIM cards, international travel. Lots of good information out there, but I’m still struggling to put it all together, so I thought I’d describe my current cell set up, what I’ve learned so far, and what I’m still trying to figure out. Apologies if these things have been discussed elsewhere. Some things I’ve found useful but cant’ always remember where I read it, I’ve been drowning reading these threads, so forgive me if I’m being repetitive.

I currently have an older iPhone 8 Plus (I know, ancient). So far it has served me well and I havent’ felt the need to upgrade to a later version, but I noticed that it wont’ accept an iOS version beyond 16, (planned obsolescence?) and it is not enabled to use eSIMs.

My current service provider is Verizon, and I do have the $10/day international plan which I used once when I visited South America for a week 6 years ago. But now, I’m talking about 4-6 weeks, so I want to figure out a better way.

I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

I arrive at 6 AM, hopefully I’ll have enough time to clear customs, retrieve my luggage, get cash out of the ATM, and hopefully buy my SIM card. I don’t know what time the stores open. I’m supposed to take the train to Atocha for my train ride to Pamplona at 10:30 AM. This should be plenty of time, unless there are any delays, so I’m trying to come up with what to do instead if there are any problems.

I can’t find out if there’s any stores IN Atocha where I can buy a SIM Card, and I dont’ feel comfortable stepping out of the Atocha station with a backpack, looking like a lost tourist trying to find a store where I can buy a SIM card, so I might need to hop on the train and try to buy one in Pamplona.

I did locate an Orange store about a 15 minute walk from the Hostel I’ll stay in at Pamplona, but I couldn't find any other nearby stores IN or close to the Pamplona train station (that would be my preference. I’ll take the bus to SJPDP the next day.

I’m aware that I could just get by on WIFI, but I’m not too confident on how safe this is, but in a pinch, it will do.

Once I put the SIM card in, it is my understanding that I’ll get a Spain phone number. I plan to use WhatsApp to make calls back home to the US if needed, but I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to get voicemails if folks in the US use my US number (thankfully I dont’ get all that many). I saw a very recent thread about two factor-authentication which was very helpful, so I’ll call the banks to change it, and I’ll let family members know that they can email me. I’ve never used WhatsApp internationally, do users call my usual number, able to leave voice mails, etc? I believe I can use wifi and/or whatsapp to call my usual number to check for voicemails, how do I prevent from accidentally incurring in international charges?

I do post on FB, so would my FB app be able to recognize my phone after changing the SIM? I also need to keep track of finances so I hope I don’t run into glitches.

As far as my phone, I might need to replace it soon for a newer model, which would accept eSIMs. If I understand correctly, I could keep my current US number plus getting a new Spain number. I’m concerned that using my US number will result in the $10/d charges with my current plan, so I dont’ know how I can tell the phone to use the Spain eSIM. New iPhone are very expensive and being that I’ve already been spending lots of money in plane tickets, backpack, shoes, etc etc, I’m trying to be careful on what I spend. I’ll consider a new phone AFTER I get back if I get the sense that I want to keep going back to Spain, unless I hear of a compelling reason to do it now instead of waiting. I’ll go on Medicare next year, and I need to know how that’s going to affect my finances, so that’s a factor, too.

Sorry for so many questions, as I’m not an experienced international traveler, and I’m trying to “get all my ducks in a row” early on. So far, I’ve learned so much in this forum, and I’m grateful.
Thanks!
On August 31, 2023 I purchased a Vodafone SIM card for my Samsung A53 in the Train Station Mall area of the Madrid Airport. It worked flawlessly across Spain. No issues with WhatsApp or my phone's contacts.
 
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I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts.
Back in the day when mobile phones came out your contacts were stored on the SIM card. That was so when you got a new phone and put in your SIM card to retain your old number your contacts went with it. Things are different these days. You'll still have your contacts.
 
Thanks! I’ve read that one advantage of buying a SIM card at the airport is that the stores there would have more experience in activating cards for tourists, not so much in any random store. This may not be much of a problem at the Camino since I imagine that they do have the experience.

I also need to figure out which company, ie, MovieStar, Orange, Vodafone. I read somewhere in these forums that topping off with more data can be more difficult with some companies more than others. I’m allowing myself 6 weeks to do the Camino, hopefully less than that, but if I need to go beyond 30 days, I’ll need to buy additional data. For some reason, I’ve been thinking that Orange may be the best bet, but I don’t actually know…

I’m more concerned about lack of service up in the Pyrenees, that’s the leg I’m most worried about. I’m choosing to break it with a stop at Orisson, hopefully the second day would be less difficult. I’m worried about getting lost in the fog up in the mountains, less so on the plains or where there are so many nearby roads and towns. From videos I’ve seen, most of the Pyrenees stretch is a fairly clear road, except for some poorly defined dirt roads that are difficult to see, but somehow the Pilgrims seem to know where to go. I guess I’ll find out for myself when I get there…

Thanks!
All the fun of the fair! I used google maps rarely and usually only to see how far I’d traveled not for way-finding. Those yellow arrows are great. Buen Camino!
 
GPS does work even without cell service, as long as I have downloaded the maps,
Yes. GPS works by receiving radio signals from satellites.

Actually you can navigate by following a downloaded track without a map as long as you see the track and know which direction on it you want to go. The background behind the track can be blank. Just walk in such a way that your current position is always on the track. You won't know if you are going to be going up a hill soon or know when you might come across a bar or cross a highway but you should reach your destination eventually (if you didn't have too much to drink before attempting to cross the highway).
 
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This is how I managed being a very low tech person. I took an old cell phone which I no longer use. Went to a non- brand cell phone store in Pamplona (we were there on a Sunday and the brand ones were all closed). The clerk put in a new SIM card 10 € for 28 days, gave me the new phone number, my passport was required. There was lots of data, I believe the plan was called Lenova. In Burgoes I looked up Burgos Lenova and went to the store that came up. The kind clerk there took 10 € and topped up the plan for another 28 days. Had lots of data for what’s up, Google maps etc. I also have an IPad mini, got any messages from home when I hooked up to wifi, but could also use data from the phone hot spot.
 
I see myself but for some reason, it’s just my name but I dont’ seem to have the ability to start a phone call to myself. I’ll keep playing with this and see how it goes. That being said, your other response talked about possibility of international plans, and that might work. I’m now trying to navigate through the Movistar website. I’m a native Spanish speaker but some of their terminology is a bit unfamiliar to me. It seems I could order a SIM card and install it myself, something I’ve never tried before. I also located a Movistar store just 500 meters from my Hostel in Pamplona, so that’s very convenient!
1 - Verizon offering free iPhone upgrade now not sure of details
2- I used SIM from Orange that I ordered off Amazon but orange brand
3 glad I preordered as my phone needed a little tweaking for this to be seamless. Took to Verizon store and finally got right
4 the SIM is not activated until installed and powered up which I did in Madrid airport. Keep all the codes that came with SIM!
5 also the SIM can be pre registered and ready to install before. you leave - I found this easier to do at home on pc and you can put in an activation date in the future
6 I had excellent service on Camino with orange
 
Thanks! I’ve read that one advantage of buying a SIM card at the airport is that the stores there would have more experience in activating cards for tourists, not so much in any random store. This may not be much of a problem at the Camino since I imagine that they do have the experience.

I also need to figure out which company, ie, MovieStar, Orange, Vodafone. I read somewhere in these forums that topping off with more data can be more difficult with some companies more than others. I’m allowing myself 6 weeks to do the Camino, hopefully less than that, but if I need to go beyond 30 days, I’ll need to buy additional data. For some reason, I’ve been thinking that Orange may be the best bet, but I don’t actually know…

I’m more concerned about lack of service up in the Pyrenees, that’s the leg I’m most worried about. I’m choosing to break it with a stop at Orisson, hopefully the second day would be less difficult. I’m worried about getting lost in the fog up in the mountains, less so on the plains or where there are so many nearby roads and towns. From videos I’ve seen, most of the Pyrenees stretch is a fairly clear road, except for some poorly defined dirt roads that are difficult to see, but somehow the Pilgrims seem to know where to go. I guess I’ll find out for myself when I get there…

Thanks!
I bought my SIM card at Madrid airport last May and they set it all up for me. When I walked out of the store I was good to go.
 
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If you decide to buy your sim card in Pamplona, you might want to stop at the Corte Inglés department store. Convenient location and they'll have booths for the major carriers- Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange.
 
Joe and I used to stop by the Vodafone office in either Madrid or Pamplona to get our Sim cards or burner phones. The young people who work there have always been very helpful and as I recall it was more expensive to buy at the Corte Ingles.

Now I just get the International Plan on my iPhone - but I think Joe will again get a SIM.
We never bother with one for France, since we're only there 2 days.
I don't think we've ever paid more than €30 for coverage all over Spain.
Joe might remember if he reads this...
 
I’ve been researching in this forum the issue of cell phones, SIM cards, international travel. Lots of good information out there, but I’m still struggling to put it all together, so I thought I’d describe my current cell set up, what I’ve learned so far, and what I’m still trying to figure out. Apologies if these things have been discussed elsewhere. Some things I’ve found useful but cant’ always remember where I read it, I’ve been drowning reading these threads, so forgive me if I’m being repetitive.

I currently have an older iPhone 8 Plus (I know, ancient). So far it has served me well and I havent’ felt the need to upgrade to a later version, but I noticed that it wont’ accept an iOS version beyond 16, (planned obsolescence?) and it is not enabled to use eSIMs.

My current service provider is Verizon, and I do have the $10/day international plan which I used once when I visited South America for a week 6 years ago. But now, I’m talking about 4-6 weeks, so I want to figure out a better way.

I know I can buy a SIM card at the Madrid airport upon arrival. Since I come from the US, I believe I’ll be arriving in Teminal 4, where there are stores that sell them, albeit it’s more expensive than getting one in Madrid itself.

I arrive at 6 AM, hopefully I’ll have enough time to clear customs, retrieve my luggage, get cash out of the ATM, and hopefully buy my SIM card. I don’t know what time the stores open. I’m supposed to take the train to Atocha for my train ride to Pamplona at 10:30 AM. This should be plenty of time, unless there are any delays, so I’m trying to come up with what to do instead if there are any problems.

I can’t find out if there’s any stores IN Atocha where I can buy a SIM Card, and I dont’ feel comfortable stepping out of the Atocha station with a backpack, looking like a lost tourist trying to find a store where I can buy a SIM card, so I might need to hop on the train and try to buy one in Pamplona.

I did locate an Orange store about a 15 minute walk from the Hostel I’ll stay in at Pamplona, but I couldn't find any other nearby stores IN or close to the Pamplona train station (that would be my preference. I’ll take the bus to SJPDP the next day.

I’m aware that I could just get by on WIFI, but I’m not too confident on how safe this is, but in a pinch, it will do.

Once I put the SIM card in, it is my understanding that I’ll get a Spain phone number. I plan to use WhatsApp to make calls back home to the US if needed, but I don’t know if the new SIM card would mess up my contacts. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to get voicemails if folks in the US use my US number (thankfully I dont’ get all that many). I saw a very recent thread about two factor-authentication which was very helpful, so I’ll call the banks to change it, and I’ll let family members know that they can email me. I’ve never used WhatsApp internationally, do users call my usual number, able to leave voice mails, etc? I believe I can use wifi and/or whatsapp to call my usual number to check for voicemails, how do I prevent from accidentally incurring in international charges?

I do post on FB, so would my FB app be able to recognize my phone after changing the SIM? I also need to keep track of finances so I hope I don’t run into glitches.

As far as my phone, I might need to replace it soon for a newer model, which would accept eSIMs. If I understand correctly, I could keep my current US number plus getting a new Spain number. I’m concerned that using my US number will result in the $10/d charges with my current plan, so I dont’ know how I can tell the phone to use the Spain eSIM. New iPhone are very expensive and being that I’ve already been spending lots of money in plane tickets, backpack, shoes, etc etc, I’m trying to be careful on what I spend. I’ll consider a new phone AFTER I get back if I get the sense that I want to keep going back to Spain, unless I hear of a compelling reason to do it now instead of waiting. I’ll go on Medicare next year, and I need to know how that’s going to affect my finances, so that’s a factor, too.

Sorry for so many questions, as I’m not an experienced international traveler, and I’m trying to “get all my ducks in a row” early on. So far, I’ve learned so much in this forum, and I’m grateful.
Thanks!
I recommend buying a used iPhone with eSIM capability off SWAPPA and then get an eSIM for data only, you’ll use your primary U.S. telephone number for calls and messaging, from Airalo or Nomad. Data service in Spain is very affordable and reliable.
 
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I went through the process you are going through, HB. In the end I decided to go with the $100/month plan for international calling (x2). I didnt want any glitches. But yes you can do it cheaper.
 

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