So you are moving to Spain to teach English for a year, are you? Now that August has arrived, I am sure you are all waiting anxiously for your visas, buying flights and counting down the days til you make the move out to beautiful sunny Spain!
At the same time, you might be thinking about all the things you will have to do once you arrive. In case you missed it, don’t forget to check out part 1: pre-departure, 2: packing, and part 3: the apartment search.
Now here are my three key tips for opening a bank account, setting up a phone and getting internet once you arrive in Spain as an auxiliar de conversación.
1. Chose a big, well-known bank
For a country with quite literally a million banks to chose from, it can be a real pain in the ass dealing with them. One of the first things you will want to do when you arrive in Spain is open a bank account; you’ll need one for any contract you might have to set up. But choose carefully. I learned the hard way last year by choosing the first bank I saw in Córdoba, CajaSur. CajaSur is a local bank, which meant that it was only found really in Córdoba and Andalucía.
As auxiliares, I can safely assume that you will want to travel a lot around Spain and probably Europe too. Chose a big bank that you can find all over Spain, like “la Caixa” or BBVA. These two have the best reputation. I chose “la Caixa” this year after a friend recommended them, and I couldn’t be happier. They have locations everywhere, at least 5 within 15 minutes of my apartment in Logroño. They also have free and “youth” accounts if you are 26 years old. So no fees. A lot of banks in Spain do this, so make sure to ask.
It was easy to set up online banking with “la Caixa,” and make sure you ask for the codes if you are planning to buy things online. Many banks in Spain will give you a card with a grid of letters and numbers, codes that will be prompted when you try to buy something like a train ticket or a flight online. Antiquated, but effective against fraud. Many banks have deals and let you use partner or foreign ATM’s without fees if you set it up in advance.
Avoid Santander. It is one of the biggest banks in Spain but I have heard nothing but horror stories about them. Charging huge fees to maintain the account, requiring a minimum balance, or taking forever to give you a debit card. Save yourself the trouble and go somewhere else.
You will need a bank account for when you get paid, in La Rioja we receive direct deposits into our accounts, when we actually get paid that is. You might also need a bank account to sign a lease, set up a cell phone, get internet. Just go into the bank, take your program letter with you and explain that you need to set up an account. Say that you will be a resident. There are more fees if you set up with your passport as a tourist. If you don’t have your NIE number yet, explain that you will receive it soon and they can change the type of account opened.
2. Get a phone
A phone should also be the first things you set up once you arrive. You’ll need one for looking for an apartment and getting settled around town.
My best suggestion is bringing a smartphone from the States with you. If it is an android you can call your phone company and explain that you are moving abroad for 8 months and ask if they could give you the code to unlock it. AT&T gave it to me in a minute. Try to unlock an iphone as well, but remember that it is much cheaper to do it here. I’ve heard sprint will unlock iphones for free. I got an iphone 3G unlocked here for only 12 euros. Just remember it has to be a phone with a SIM card, all phones in Spain and Europe use this system.
Now all you have to do is buy a SIM card once you are here. The cheapest company is usually Movistar. Most of my Spanish friends use them. Other companies include Vodafone, Orange, and Yoigo. If you are planning to be here for more than a year, I would go ahead and sign a contract that way you can get a nice phone for cheap. But trying to buy a smartphone here without a contract is wildly expensive. They’ve also just gotten rid of all the deals for iphones in Spain. If you want to buy an iphone here, now you have to pay full price everywhere, whether you sign a contract or not.
Many people do pay as you go, adding 5 or 10 euros on the phone whenever you want. This what I have been doing. I usually spend 25-30 euros a month. Usually you go and buy the SIM card, for a few euros and it includes money on it. For example when I bought mine at Vodafone, it was 9 euros for the SIM and it came with 9 euros of saldo (credit). If you don’t care about your phone, then you can buy a cheap, basic phone to use here. That’s what I have done in the past. You won’t need a bank account for this option, and you can top up your phone at grocery stores, online, phone shops, tobacco shops, and at special phone machines.
If you already have a phone, you can sign a cheap contract at Movistar for month to month, instead of a 2 year contract. Contracts here are really cheap, usually around 20-30 euros a month including unlimited data. You’ll need a NIE and a bank account to sign a contract. Some of the local, less known companies won’t have service outside of Spain, don’t forget to ask if you plan on traveling abroad. Even if you don’t add internet on your phone, it’s good to have a smartphone so you can connect to wifi.
You can set up internet on pay as you go phones too, at Vodafone it’s 3 euros a week that’s taken directly out of your saldo. It’s a really good idea to have a phone with internet in Spain because of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is what people in Spain use instead of texting. It’s an application you download, and it automatically syncs your phone contacts and tells you who also has WhatsApp, that way you can chat for free. Very few people in Spain and Europe text, instead they use this. It is also international so it’s a great way to keep in contact with your friends and family back home.
In Spain, whoever makes the call, pays for the call. The receiver doesn’t pay anything. It’s very popular to give people perdidas or toques, which means calling, letting it ring once, and then hanging up so that the person sees the missed call and calls back and pays for it. Or it is used as a way of free communication, like “when I am outside your apartment, I’ll give you a toque so you can come down.”
3. Set up internet ASAP
Maybe not everyone is as addicted to being online as me, but having internet in my apartment was crucial to me. My laptop is my lifeline here. I use it for everything. From planning my classes, to skyping with my family, to watching TV and movies. For me, it was very important that I had fast internet in my apartment in Spain.
Look for a piso that already has internet installed. In Spain it takes around a month to install wifi, which for me, was a killer. I read the entire Game of Thrones series while waiting for wifi in September this year. So not a complete waste of time haha. If you can’t find a flat with wifi, then look for companies that don’t require a 12 month contract, like Jazztel or KNET (Logroño). Last year I made a mistake signing a year long contract for internet with Orange. I had to pay 40 euros a month and then when I tried to cancel it in June, they made me jump through so many hoops with sending letters and faxes and calling expensive numbers, that eventually I ran out of time and patience and I just closed my bank account and left. I’m pretty sure I am on Orange’s s*** list and I can never go in one of their stores again.
Don’t buy one of those internet jump drives (pincho), portable internet, they aren’t worth it. It’s like a jump drive which has internet on it. They are more expensive than wifi, usually 3o euros a month and there are limits to how much internet you can use per month, and once you exceed it, your internet slows down to nonfunctional. I made this mistake last year and I ended up having to wait for over a month for working wifi. The internet on the jump drive lasted a week and then slowed down to nonfunctional.
Up next: how to defer your student loans while working as an auxiliar de conversación in Spain
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47 Comments on “Key tips for auxiliars in Spain, part 4: bank, internet, and phone”
Thank you for your experience and ideas. I want to share one ethical complexity I’ve encountered with banking in Spain. Each of the most abundant banking chains Spain is complicit in unethical military investments (unfortunately, this includes Caixa, BBVA, Sabadell, and also Santander). There is a website called bancoarmada.org that details their involvement, provides info about activism opposing these big banks, and offers alternatives of banks committed to ethical investment. I’ve chosen to invest in a credit union instead. Most of the credit unions here are part of a network that allows you to withdraw money from other credit union’s ATMs free of charge. Also, credit unions generally charge fewer fees to their investors than major banks.