Keeping in touch - contacting the people back home
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On my first trip to Spain in 1999, I used a calling card issued by my long distance company to call home. On receiving my bill, I was a little surprised to find the 10 minute call from Spain had cost me over $20 USD.

Since the trip in 1999, a lot has changed in international communication. Hotel wireless networks are now prevalent, allowing you to send e-mail from your wireless device. Most people now carry a cell phone that is capable of international calls. Still, a little planning ahead can save you a few pennies.

More Spain Trip planning articles:
Spain Travel Agent - a recommendation
Safety - pickpockets
Overview - my thoughts on Touring Spain
Use the map to select a city in Spain

Wireless (WiFi) Devices (not cellular) - You can use your iPod Touch, laptop, iPad and any other wireless devices in a number of hot spot locations in Spain. Finding a hot spot when you need it, usually, is the most difficult part of using free wireless sites. Hotels often offer free wireless to their guest, Starbucks is usually a good bet for a hot-spot, as is McDonalds. The tourist office in Madrid provides free access in the Plaza Mayor. Sometimes you will need to obtain a code to access the wireless network (in the Plaza Mayor ask the waiters serving the plaza tables).

My experience with using a wireless device in Europe is confined to the i-pod touch. I used the Skype app to make internet phone calls back to phone numbers in the USA.

The other issue you may encounter with free WiFi is bandwidth issues. signal strength and security. With even a limited bandwidth you should be able to send and receive e-mail through the e-mail app of your wireless device. If the e-mail app does not connect directly to your e-mail you can get your e-mail through your providers website (know your passwords). Audio and video communication through an internet hot-spot will be affected by your signal strength and the amount of bandwidth available through your connection. In my experience, voice calling was usually possible through Skype but video was not always possible either through Skype or Face Time. Lastly, there are some security issues in using a wireless hotspot. Information (including logon passwords to your e-mail account or personal files) can be intercepted by the wireless center or even snoopers that hack your device through the network. I have even heard of hackers providing free WiFi at public areas just to snoop on the devices that connect to them. Securing your WiFi device is not my area of expertise (check out How to WiFi security).

Cell Phone - Cell phones are handy tools, indispensable for the business traveler. They may also provide additional security for all travelers. Some U.S. providers offer international calling usually at a rather steep price. Occasional international travelers may want to look into renting a phone in Spain. Regular international travelers might find it better to buy an "unlock" cell phone, able to use the prepaid cell phone minutes for the country visited. One item to note about calling a cell phone in Spain - all fees to an incoming call to a Spain (domestic) cell phone are billed to the caller. You can learn more about unlocked phones by going to my page about using a cell phone in Spain.

Internet Cafes - These cafes used to be found rather easily in most business districts, in or outside of the tourist areas.When I was in Spain in 2006 I stepped into a McDonalds for a drink and noticed a coin operated computer stand with internet access. Historically, the price for internet use can be very cheap (less than a euro for one half hour) to on the expensive side (e.g. 4 euros for 15 minutes). Wifi sites have diminished the popularity of internet cafes. More info on using internet cafes can be found at Explore Seville.

For those with out a wifi device. many hotels still provide (now often for a fee) a computer in their lobby with internet access. Hotel computers are there for the hotel guest but do not automatically assume that the non-hotel guest can't use them. In 2006 I was looking for an internet cafe, and spotted through a hotel window a couple of computers. Stepping inside I asked, for a fee, if it was possible to use a computer (I think I even told the clerk I was not staying at the hotel). The clerk replied "of course I could use the computer", can't recall if she charged me a fee. I suspect this approach works best when clerks are not busy; not dealing with their guest.

To use an internet cafe for e-mail, you might want to sign up for a temporary e-mail service, like Google's gmail or hotmail.com. Since you are using someone else's computer there is no reason to accidentally leave information (cookies, history folders, connection settings) that might allow someone to access your regular e-mail account. Before you leave home, sign up for a temporary e-mail address and share this e-mail address with family/friends. Fill in the address book on the temporary account so you will have your friends' e-mail addresses available when logging in to the temporary account from over- seas. Once you return from Spain, you can clear the address book or deactivate the account.

Prepaid Phone Cards - Prepaid phone cards appear to be one of the most economical ways to call home. Prepaid cards are available in Spain, but I usually use a U.S. carrier phone card. In my case the U.S. domestic rate for prepaid long distance is 3 ½ cents per minute. When I call to the U.S. from Spain, 3 to 10 domestic minutes are used up on the card for every minute talking on the phone, costing me anywhere from 10 ½ to 35 cents for the international call. More minutes are consumed when using a phone booth or making a call to a cell phone in Spain than calling from a U.S. residence to a Spanish residence. Using prepaid phone cards does require one to shop around for the best value cards. You can contact the long distance carrier directly to find out how many minutes are consumed for international calling.
One other note: If you are planning to make long distance calls within Spain (i.e. Spanish city to Spanish city) you might do better buying your prepaid card in Spain. Once when my wife made a call from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland, using a U.S. long distance carrier, she was hit with an exceptionally expensive charge. I suspect that by calling the so-called local access number for Ireland, she was connected to facilities in the U.S., which then re-routed her call back to Ireland. The long distance cost in this case was the combined total of the cost of the call to the U.S. and then the call back to Ireland.

To use a prepaid card in Spain, you will need to obtain the local access phone number for the long distance carrier issuing the phone card. For example, the AT&T access number for Spain is 900-99-00-11. Once you dial the access number, you should receive directions to enter your card number, etc. With the phone card I use, in order to enter the prepaid card menu, I have to enter the U.S. 1-800 number right after entering the local access number for Spain. When listening to your dialing options, keep in mind that there are at least 2 different types of phone cards, pre-paid and regular calling card.
Note: Write down the prepaid phone card's access numbers and card number and take a couple of copies with you to Spain. Should you lose the card, there is a good chance you will still be able to use the card's numbers to make a call home.

Next: My experience - Using a cell phone in Spain
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This page last updated January 2012
The information on this page comes from my five visits to Spain.