The iPhone in Spain

July 11, 2008 By: erik Category: Complaining, Geeky, News, Spain 9,531 views

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What’s the deal with the iPhone in Spain? Well, I’ll tell you. Today is July 11, 2008, the international iPhone 3G launch date. And there are no iPhones in the stores in Spain. The local Telefonica outlet in my little town has no information whatsoever about the iPhone. Telefonica is the telephone monopoly in Spain, very much the equivalent of AT&T. Their mobile phone branch of business is called Movistar, which is a bizarre Spanglish play on words, since móvil is Spanish for “mobile”.

Continuing my research, I went to and found their “Where to buy” list. There are three stores in Bilbao, and two in Santander, the two large cities closest to me. But when I called those stores to verify that they would have iPhones on the launch date and maybe reserve one, all the shopkeeper knew was that she, too, had heard that it was supposed to be launching on July 11, but that she had heard nothing at all from further up the chain at Telefonica. Great. That’s Spain for you.

What about pricing? How much will it cost once they eventually get their acts together and ship some units? Well, here’s the simplified and translated pricing table (pdf): (all contracts are for two years)

Minimum talk fee 9€ 20€ 40€ 60€ 90€
Obligatory iPhone Fee Normal: 15€ / month Plus: 25€ / month
iPhone 8GB Change contact 259€ 149€ 49€ 0€ 0€
iPhone 8GB Initiate contract 259€ 149€ 49€ 0€ 0€
iPhone 8GB # from other company 259€ 129€ 39€ 0€ 0€
iPhone 16GB Change contact 359€ 209€ 109€ 59€ 0€
iPhone 16GB Initiate contact 359€ 209€ 109€ 59€ 0€
iPhone 16GB # from other company 359€ 189€ 99€ 59€ 0€

Now what’s the difference between the “Normal” and “Plus” plans, besides 10€/month? With both plans, you get an unlimited data connection. This is absolutely essential for the iPhone, because so many of its applications use the internet. But, with the Normal plan, you only get up to 200 MB of data at high speed each month, and then the connection gets throttled back to 128 Kbps (16 kilobytes/second) for downloads and 64 Kbps (8 kilobytes/second) upload. With Plus, you get up to 1 GB of data each month before getting throttled. That’s the difference.

I’m probably going to go for the 359€ option. My current mobile contract has a 9€ minimum talk fee, and I almost never use it all. When I buy technical gadgets, I tend to be of the “pay a little more up front to get the absolute top model so that it lasts a little longer before becoming obsolete” philosophy. I don’t know how much data I will be using each month, but 200 MB sounds awfully small. I would love to pay the 25€/month rate instead of the 15€/month, but there’s no way I’m getting the 60€ minimum talk fee. That’s way too much.

Let’s bite the bullet and perform the forbidden calculation of total cost.

Total Cost = 359€ + 24 * (9€ + 15€) = 935€ + tax

So, with tax, it costs about 1000€ to have a 16 GB iPhone 3G in Spain for two years. Count me in!

Now let’s see when they actually become available…

Update! I bought one three days later. Don’t we all love smart cell phones?

  • Update! This just in!

    I spoke to the nice and patient (with me) woman at the local Telefonica store and she said that yes, there were a few iPhones being sold in a few shops today in Madrid, and maybe Barcelona, but that it would be months before any arrived here. Nice that they’ve done the absolute minimum of effort to comply with the statement, “iPhones will be sold in Spain on July 11”. Good job, Telefonica. Why don’t you lie down and take a siesta.

    Walking back home, I stopped for bread at the local shop, and the clerk said, “Got an iPhone yet?” Apparently I’ve been talking about it a little. When I explained what the Telefonica woman had told me, he said, in accented English, “Welcome to Spain, my friend!”

  • Jes, guelcom.

  • I feel for you. I know how much you’ve been looking forward to it. Magda is relieved that neither Slovenia nor Bulgaria are anywhere on the iPhone radar yet.

  • Uncle Neil

    Then you will be able to buy Apps at the Apps Store.

  • ITS A SHAME that Apple even does business with these criminals…!!!
    they have NO CLUE whatsoever about customer service!!!
    they tend to hang up the phone when you ask a question that they don\’t understand
    and about the iPhone arrival…still nobody at the phone service knows anything on where to buy it!!!

    that they still are letting company’s like telefonica rule a country!!!!

    • Spanish person

      thats not true. I think telefonica works pretty well and DONT CALL US criminals cuz we arent. the comment u wrote is rlly racist and if we wanted to we could say the same thing about your country and be as offensive as you are.

      • Smee

        There is no reason for you to feel offended, unless you are in charge of the customer service department at Telefónica.

        While no telecom company is pleasant to deal with, Telefónica is especially horrible, and some of the bait and switch tactics that I have been victim to, at their hands, are in fact, literally criminal.

        Why do you suppose they are so eager to change their name to Movistar?

  • Jacci

    I bought an iphone about a month ago and two weeks later got it stolen from my pocket on the metro. I had taken out insurance and was assured no problem, when you get your insurance money just come in and get another phone. Today, I went in to the telephonica shop to get another phone and was told that I would have to take out another contract as it was not possible to get the iphone without a contract. I explained that I already had a contract, the phone was stolen and the insurance covered the cost etc. but we just went round in circles. I was told the only way was to try and buy an unlocked iphone somewhere else but telephonica couldn’t sell me one. Can anyone suggest a solution?

  • Wow, that sucks, Jacci. Stupid Telefonica! Shouldn’t they have a mechanism for non-iPhones for replacing stolen SIM cards??

    I’ve heard of black markets for iPhones, but I have no idea how to contact such a market. Good luck, and please share whatever solution you find.

  • David Edwards

    Interesting bit about iphone.I am just about to try and get one. I think the pricing stucture has change a little since you wrote??
    Anyway how did you get on with it.Any info would be helpfull

  • David, you missed the update link at the bottom of the post. Click here for how I ended up getting my iPhone. I have no idea how the pricing is now.

  • Gary Foreman

    Story is the same for the 3GS…I cannot buy one…my movistar store in Benissa has no idea when they will arrive,
    I contacted apple here…and they say…you have to speak to movistar.
    I emailed movistar…and no reply.

    How the heck do you buy an iphone in spain?????????????

  • Hi Erik! I too am an American freshly relocated to Spain. I’m actually living in Palma, but will be spending a good deal of time in Barcelona. My plan to get an iPhone when i got here was quickly dashed when both Barcelona and Palma Movistar headquarters told me they have no idea when they’ll see more iPhones. Do you know if there’s any way to sign up for the phone and service online over here? It seems that unlike AT&T in the US, you actually have to buy the phone through a store. No?
    Nice to find your blog!!

    • As far as I know, you have to buy it in the store. But I don’t know anyone else who has one, so I only have my own experience to go on.

      Thanks for stopping by, Amanda.

  • Gary Foreman

    Cannot buy in Spain…maybe December 2009

  • ruslan viznovych

    hello. It from Ukraine. I want to purchase itself IPHONE 3G, however him it is officially impossible to purchase for us. for me a mother works in spain. is it possible there for you somewhere to purchase deblocked IPHONE of 3G?

  • ruslan viznovych

    it is in Vmadrid.
    will be beholden for any answer.

    • Sorry, I don’t know of any way to buy an unlocked iPhone in Spain.

  • minder

    Dear Erik,

    I am about to move to Madrid and given that you seem to be up on the iphone I have the following question. I can get a friend to buy one in Hong Kong and bring it over and then join a local operator. Or I can wait until I get to Madrid and get one there. Are there now good deals with Spanish operators that make the hardware almost free, as long as you sign up for a year etc? many thanks, raphael

    • Sorry, Raphael. I don’t really know. Since I went with the only deal available (buying an iPhone through Telefónica on a 2-year contract) as soon as it was available, I haven’t investigated the alternatives.

    • Drinnking from the fire-hose alert…
      First, the good news:
      No matter where you get an iPhone from, as long as it is one of the actual iPhone models made by Apple, it will work in Spain just as well as it would on AT&T in the U.S. (Which may or may not be good news to you, depending on your opinion of AT&T’s network coverage.)
      All three of the main mobile-phone carriers in Spain: Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange, use the same frequencies or network protocols, whether it be for voice or data, that the iPhone is manufactured to support. They all have nearly identical coverage maps as well.
      (All other ‘carriers’ are actually third-party resellers that ‘rent’ from the big three, often getting you better rates on pre-paid, and large minute-volume calling plans, and usually much worse data billing-rates.)
      But, you should know that if you get an iPhone 3G, whether it be unlocked from the ‘factory’ or unlocked through ‘jailbreaking’ it WILL still work at 3G speeds, as long as the plan you get from your carrier provides for 3G data, and Spain has decent coverage, particularly around Madrid, and it WILL use any data that you allow it to, and you will be billed according to whichever plan you signed up for.
      Anecdotally, I have seen a factory-unlocked iPhone 3GS 32, that a cow-orker got online for less than 900€, working a Vodafone 3G (HSDPA) connection, and breaking the 7Mbps download barrier, (close do dawn, near Madrid.)

      If you bring an iPhone that is truly unlocked, it will be able to use any SIM from any carrier here in Spain.
      Making phone calls and SMS texts will cost exactly what-ever the company that you get the SIM card from says they will cost, (plus 16% sales tax.) What they charge you to get signed up in the first place varies from store to store, but all the little ‘nickel-and-dime’ fees and taxes that show up on U.S. cellphone bills tend to be much less significant here in Spain.
      Incoming calls don’t count against your minutes, but you have ask specifically about SMS, which tragically often gets double-billed. (both sender and receiver.)

      More good news, if you choose Movistar iPhone, although they are locked but, Movistar has tethering ENABLED in the iPhone’s software, and they told me that they DON’T differentiate between data usage from the apps on the phone, and data usage through tethering.
      Also, if you reach your bandwidth limit (which counts both up and downstream accumulated) they still let you continue to use data, at NO additional cost, except that they throttle the actual transfer speed to about EDGE data-rates. (Which suck over here.)

      *Be aware that Movistar’s data network can somehow tell if you take your iPhone SIM and put it in a 3G or HSPA modem. The bill you get after just light session of non-tethered modem usage, (just a couple hundred Meg’s of download, or so) will likely leave you broke.

      A salesperson from Movistar cold-called me, and offered me an iPhone 3GS for 40€, “no matter” what plan I signed up for, so there are surprises.
      Of course, the next surprise was that they sent me a Palm Pre instead, and it took weeks until they finally sent me the iPhone, but what I’m trying to say is that I can’t keep up with the deals and contracts.

      The Bad, and the Complicated:
      As of right now, there is still only one “official” way to use an iPhone in Spain:
      –>buy one from Telefonica’s Movistar,
      under at least an 18 month contract.

      If, of course, you can find a store that has the iPhone you want to buy in stock.

      Movistar has an extremely complicate pricing structure for the iPhone, and the price the charge you for the handset itself depends on which combination of voice and data plan you sign up for…

      FOR EXAMPLE, using the official published prices:
      (you must add 16% sales tax to any price listed below…)

      You pay 229€ for an iPhone_3GS_16GB if you sign up for the minimum data with the minimum voice, at 15€ and 9€ a month, respectively.

      This means you pay 229€ up front for them to give you the iPhone, plus whatever sign-up fee the guy at the store decides to charge you for getting a new Spanish mobile phone number; (maybe 25€ extra.)
      Now you start paying a minimum of 24€/month (voice plus data,) for the next 18 months.

      A note about what Movistar means by “9€/month voice plan”
      – this means that the absolute least they will charge you per month. for the mere privilege of being able to make phone calls, even if you literally never call anyone during the entire month, is 9€ plus tax.

      More complications from Movistar…
      According to what they have told me a couple of months ago when I bought my iPhone through Movistar – If I had signed up for a more expensive set of monthly rate-plans, in order to pay less up front for the iPhone, I could not later change to a cheaper plan during 18 months. If I want to change to a more expensive rate plan during these 18 months, in order to get more “minutes” or to raise my bandwidth usage threshold, there will be no retro-active rebates on the price of the handset itself.
      Also, they said that even after 18 months are fulfilled, they do not offer any service to officially unlock the iPhone. I will have to check up with this, as it is technically against the law for them to deny this to a customer who has fulfilled their contract, and who officially requests an unlock-code or service. Apple even officially has a system built-in to iTunes to recognize when an iPhone has been ‘liberated’ – so we’ll see.

      Final bad news: A passport and a smile may not be enough to ‘allow’ you to buy a cell phone and a data plan from many carriers, who often require a photocopy of a utility bill and a residency card before they’ll let you sign a contract.
      Pre-paid guys are easier in this sense, but as of this year, in all of the EU, some form of positive ID is still required, even for pre-paids and thow-aways.

  • or in other words,
    A) What Erik already posted here hasn’t changed much yet, and
    B) Yes, unlocked iPhones do work in Spain.
    C) The costs each carrier charges depends on luck, and doing your homework, before signing up with any of them.

    I didn’t do much homework, but rely mostly on luck, sadly.

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  • Zak

    I find the application “Voice to apps” in iPhone very useful. It’s convert voice to text to send SMS, Email, Facebook and Twitter messages.

    You find it in AppStore