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Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Keeping in Touch with Home and Telephone Options in Spain

Whether or not one can use their cell phone while on the Camino seems to cause a bit of anxiety amongst new pilgrims. Please remember, Spain is a very advanced country with an infrastructure that puts much of the USA to shame.

Everybody, from the doctor to the lawyer to the secretary to the waiter to the farmer to the shepherd to the school child in Spain uses a cell phone. So, "No problemo!"

The first thing I would do is call the carrier you use in the USA and ask some questions, such as "How much will it cost me per minute to make calls from Spain to the USA?" "How much will it cost me for people in the USA to call me in Spain?" "How much will it cost me to make calls within Spain?" Some carriers are getting smart and realizing we are now an international population. However, most of the time, this is still a very expensive option and you'll save a lot of cash by using a Spanish SIM or telephone.

My advice is to gather the information from your home carrier FIRST, and then compare your options.


There are 4 main telephone operators in Spain:

Movistar (dominant operator with 65% of market, part of Telefónica)
Vodafone (bought Airtel in 2002 and is aggressively trying to expand market share)
Orange (known as Amena until 2005)
Yoigo (originates from the carrier Xfera)
Spain operates on a GSM network. For Europeans and many other countries, this means that your current phone will probably work in Spain. If you are coming from North America or parts of Asia you may have a CDMA phone, which will not work. So this is a question you must ask your carrier!

If you have a GSM phone, you need to check whether your phone is unlocked - some phones are locked in to the network you already have - if it is unlocked you just need a Spanish SIM card.

In the United States, if you have had your cell phone for more than two years, the company must unlock it for you free of charge, so if your phone is locked, check into this.

My preference is Vodafone. I have used them all along the Camino and except for a few spots where cell reception is scanty (which also happens in the USA), they have worked fine for me.

If your phone is unlocked your best option is to purchase a SIM card in Spain and put it in your phone. Bear in mind it will NOT work in St. Jean Pied de Port, but you really don't need a phone for those first 2 days. Every other pilgrim walking will have a phone if you get into an emergency situation, and even YOUR phone will work without a French SIM to call emergency services, just like in the USA.

The last time I bought a SIM card in Spain, it cost me under €20 and lasted quite a while. I bought a card that was good for phone calls WITHIN SPAIN. Calls from one Vodafone cell in Spain to another was free, so this worked great between me and my walking partner. I upped the minutes when I needed them at any Tobacco Shop (they are in almost every village). Other places you can often up your minutes are in food markets.

TIP: When you are upping minutes, pay then WAIT to get the message on your phone that your minutes have been increased. One time, I did not do so, and discovered 15 kilometers up the trail that the person had not given me the minutes I paid for!

If you purchase a SIM at Vodafone, they will open your phone and put the SIM card in for you. Just watch how they do it, so you can replace your home SIM when the trip is over. It's not difficult at all.

I tape my home SIM to the inside of my journal, but you might want to put it in a little envelope and keep it in your money pouch.

Here is a link to an article with photos:
How to remove the Sim Card

Joe preferred buying a Pay As You Go phone. These are very inexpensive and you just up the minutes as you need them. This way you can leave your regular phone at home.

KEEP IT ON AIRPLANE MODE to keep those roaming charges down. Just switch it to Airplane Mode when you're walking, and switch it back when you decide to use it.

KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH HOME. To me, the telephone is NOT the best way to keep in touch with home. Instead, I use the FREE INTERNET that you find all along the Camino. I use email mostly. But if you have GMAIL, there is a nice little option for GMAIL CHAT that if your folks will upload, you can use for free. Using this is like using SKYPE or FACETIME. It is free and you talk face to face.

If your folks don't have gmail, you can use Facetime if you have an iPhone or Skype if it is uploaded to your phone or ipad. It's free and easy to use.

Please be considerate of those pilgrims around you trying to sleep and do not use these options after hours.

If you are not familiar with GMAIL CHAT, FACETIME, or SKYPE, please don't wait until you are in Spain to learn to use them. Set them up NOW at home, and have a few practice calls.

Another great option for keeping the family in touch with YOU, but saves you from having to contact so many people while on the Camino, is using BLOGGER. You can download Blogger to your telephone, then just leave a quick blog post each night or two to let people know where you are and how you're doing. You can take photos and upload them as well. Again, download and learn to use this BEFORE you leave. It's a wonderful option, and this is one that I use. This way, my 3 sons, my grandchildren, my mother, and my friends can all read my blog each day and see that I'm just fine, and it saves me from having to call all of those people from Spain.

In Spain wifi is pronounced "wee-fee" and it is literally everywhere! And it is free. Nearly all the albergues will have it. If they do not, there is sure to be a wifi hotspot somewhere in the village. If nothing else, try the libraries, which also have free computers, by the way, in case you don't want to bother with carrying electronics at all!

Finding a Vodafone or other telephone company is easy. You can Google it from home and write down the directions ahead of time, or you can just ask once you are in Spain.  I don't know about the other companies, but Vodafone is used to pilgrims and they speak English and other languages there. They have always been VERY helpful and are good at showing you the best deals.

Once more, I'll remind you, if you are looking to call OUTSIDE Spain, from Spain to the USA or to receive calls FROM another country, it may be beneficial to use your own carrier's program.  But I enjoy being unplugged while on the Camino. It's one of the benefits, in my opinion, and simply having my family be able to read a blog and see that I'm ok works great for me.

You will need an ADAPTER plug for Spain. You can find those tiny little two-prong plugs in the Rick Steves Travel Store for ONE DOLLAR.

You do NOT need a surge protector unless you use one at home when you charge your phone. The electric current in Spain is as good or better as ours. That is just silly in my opinion, and extra weight you do not need.

Nor do you need a heavy converter unless your phone is a dinosaur.  New telephones and electronics have converters built into them. Look on the plug or simply google to find out if your phone can be used with 110 as well as 220 volts. If you have an APPLE product, all of their products have converters built in. (If you're taking Grandma's hair dryer or curling iron, on the other hand, you may blow it up if the plug does not state it uses both 220 and 110). But most modern electronics are to be used in both Europe and the USA.

DO NOT WALK AWAY from your phone. Do not plug it in to charge then walk away, and expect it to be there when you return, especially if you have a nice new phone.  Sit down, read a book, and wait. 95 out of 100 pilgrims will tell me about how they plugged in their phones and walked away and the phone was safe.  But if you happen to be one of the 5 who lost the phone, you'll wish you'd stuck nearby and babysat it!

If you are taking your iPhone to Spain, I suggest you download the Find My Phone app. This app will let you find your telephone from any other computer. So if someone steals it, or you leave it somewhere, you can log in on somebody else's phone or computer and it will tell you exactly where your phone is.

Please let me know if you have questions or new information.

I hope you will consider walking free of electronics?
But if not, I hope these suggestions and information will help you.

Buen Camino!

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