Archive | February, 2010

Where to get a phone before you get to Spain?

Posted on 12 February 2010 by American expat!

As I recommend in my upon arriving to Barcelona post, the very first thing to do is get a Spanish phone number! The easiest and fastest way is to buy a cheap, pre-paid phone when you get there, but what if you are the kind of person that wants everything taken care of before arrival? (so that you can leave a number when you are arranging to see apartments, signing up for schools, applying for jobs, for example.) For you, I’ve found a couple of options.

How to get a Spanish phone number before you get to Spain

Here are two pre-paid SIM cards that will give you a Spanish number and that you can recharge anywhere. These are pay as you go- no contracts or bills.

Note: These only run in unlocked phones!

The first is H2O Wireless Direct Dialing GSM Sim Card. This gives you unlimited Talk, Text, MMS + 100MB of web data., free international calls and is contgract free.

Next is OneSimCard International SIM Card for Over 200 Countries

You’ll get a European phone number, unlimited incoming free text messages and calls, an additional phone number if you want, and of course no contract. This is a good option if you’ll be traveling to several countries.

Looking around Amazon, there are quite a few international SIM cards available, but you are eventually going to want a Spanish phone. Contracts are totally different than in the US, all phones are unlocked and they are not contracted to be sold only with certain phone service companies. It is a better and cheaper system.

If you wanted to run you US phone number and your Spanish phone number in the same phone, you can do that too! I had one for a few years – it was very handy to not have to cart and charge two separate phones. Here are just a couple examples of unlocked dual SIM phones:

LG Optimus L7 II Unlocked Phone P715, 4 GB – International Version

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini GT-i8200 Factory Unlocked International Version

I’ll stop with the phone promos, there are tons on Amazon I have just discovered. You can also find some on eBay, but a lot of those are pretty low quality phones and imitations. I am speaking from experience here…. I bought one on eBay a couple years ago which worked great, but it was a no-name Chinese model, and thinking about it now reminds me to recommend staying away from the no-name Chinese phones. Not only are they are impossible to navigate, they come with strange videos, weird and useless features like UHF Television functions and of course, awful ringtones.

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Five things you must do upon arriving in Barcelona

Posted on 08 February 2010 by American expat!

 First things first

Assuming that you have arrived and settled into your short term accommodations, your first or second full day in your new home Barcelona should look something like this.

1. Get a pay-as-you-go Spanish mobile phone. 

This is absolutely your number one priority. Don’t worry, it’s easy and it’s cheap. You don’t have to bother with a contract right now, or which type of phone you want just yet.  But you need a local phone number—with texting abilities—as it will be your most used tool in settling yourself in and meeting new friends. Trust me on this. When I first got here, I tried to give my email away as my primary means of contact and received funny looks. Texting is the preferred method of communication and most Spaniards have a couple of cell phones. So, head off to any phone tienda (I recommend Orange as the service, it is cheaper at the time of writing than Movistar/Telefonica) and pick a crappy cell phone for 20 euros. It will have some credit on it, so you can start to use it right away. You can recharge in supermarkets, at the phone store, and at the ATM once you have a bank account.

*Update: I found a couple of options you can set up ahead of time to have a Spanish number before you even arrive. Check here for information on purchasing a Spanish SIM card and unlocked phone (or dual SIM phone).

2. Take a bus tour of the entire city.

Barcelona Bus Turistic

Barcelona Bus Turistic

No really, I’m serious.

The big red double decker Bus Turistic right at Plaça Catalunya will take you all over the city with an audio accompaniment in your language of choice. I don’t recommend jumping off at the tourist spots—save those for when you have visiting family or friends—but use it to learn about all the neighborhoods in the city. This will likely take you all day, but you will learn some history and you will be miles ahead of those (like me) who failed to do this and struggled for months trying to find which barrio was right for me. This is a bigger deal than it sounds – see why in this post.

3. Start your house search

Take your computer to a café or free WiFi area and go to Loquo.com and begin your search for a place to live.

Even if you have rented a place for a month, start your search now. It is tedious and you need to get a feel for each area and what you are up against as far as finding a decent place to live goes. Open the site and peruse the photos, prices and areas and make some notes about which ones interest you. There are some listings in English but those will likely be the more expensive and agency placed ads. So use an online translator in a new tab and copy and paste the text to get the gist of what each place is like. If you are feeling bold, email a few of the best ones on your list with your name, phone number, a little bit about yourself and a suggested date to see the apartment.

Note: Beware of ridiculously low priced nice, furnished two or more bedroom apartments. These are scams. They will ask you to deposit money into a bank account and pick up a key without ever meeting anyone in person. You will never find the key, nor hear from the thieves again.

4. Sign up with Meetup and Internations

Meetup: There are tons of groups in Barcelona. Join a few and get out and meet some like minded people. There are plenty of expat groups, Spanish/English intercambios (language practice and exchange), various activities like yoga, networking, eating, drinking, photography, volleyball, hiking and activities you otherwise do not need to bring your own special equipment nor transportation for. You will likely meet your very first friends this way.

For networking and socializing with professional minded people, you’ll want to sign up for an Internations account. This is a great group that throws monthly networking events in fabulous locations. I’ve met many interesting professionals from these events.

5. Sign up for a Spanish course.

There are so many in Barcelona, most of which are very good, and you need to learn Spanish as well as meet more people in the area. The classroom is a great way to do it, plus your new friends can also help you with your house hunt. You can even get a year long student visa from certain Spanish schools. Contact me if you want to know more and I will put you in touch with someone.

I have been to four six seven different language schools in Barcelona and there is only one I recommend staying away from, and I can’t for the life of me remember the name. It is the one at the end of La Rambla (as in closest to the sea). In fact, I recommend staying away from anything on or near La Rambla unless you want to mingle with tourists, thieves, jaded workers and terrible food.

Your first day is complete, good job.

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Short term accommodation in Barcelona

Posted on 07 February 2010 by American expat!

The most important thing to do before you arrive in Spain is find some comfortable short term accommodation. There is a good reason for this: You want to figure out which area of town fits you best, as well as what you are willing to live with –or without– before committing yourself to a location or sharing arrangement that you almost certainly will discover is not ideal.

It takes a while in Barcelona to find the right combination of location, apartment, “flat mates” and atmosphere that is best for you. If you rush it, and most expats do in a bid to get settled, your first place ends up being your worst place and can cause far more headaches than spending a few more dollars for an extra month would.

Backpacker’s budget

If you are on a tight budget, check out sites where residents in locations around the world offer free accommodation to travelers, like hospitalityclub.org or the younger crowd serving couchsurfing.com.  This will allow you to meet new friends as well as save some money should you find someone to put you up for a few days. Create a profile and introduce yourself to some local people, but do it far enough in advance that something can be arranged. DO NOT send random messages or post on the forums with “I am arriving tomorrow and I need a place to stay, help!”  You won’t receive replies.

If you don’t have a couch to crash on, you’ll probably find yourself at a backpacker’s hostel, paying between 8 to 25 euros a night to share a room with strangers, though many hostels have small private rooms. While they aren’t luxurious, the staff at local hostels tend to be more helpful and open with down to earth advice about finding your bearings. Plus hostels are great places to meet other new Barcelona arrivals who are as excited about everything as you are and who will probably make excellent partners in crime in the bars at night or sightseeing buddies by day. The trick is finding a good hostel full of long term residents, so compare a few at Hostelbookers.com online before you arrive to find the best place to stay.

Traveler’s budget

If you can’t stomach a hostel or crashing on a couch, but still want to avoid the cost of a hotel, look into renting from a local. You can rent entire apartment or just a private room by the night, week or month and and the prices – and places- run the gamut from cheap to luxurious. In fact, many places listed at a monthly rate are very close to actual rent prices you will be paying, so it is certainly worth a look. If you are staying short term, say two or three months, you may even elect to keep your rental for your entire stay.

Or if you can’t stand temporary accommodation (like me – I just want to feel settled!) You can check out Spot a Home’s map with long term rentals, both rooms and entire apartments. All have been checked and are legitimate, most include video tours.

From the airport to your short term place

Once you’ve set up your short term accommodation, bought your flight, packed too much and set off for Spain, make your first day as productive and economical as possible.

After landing, take the Aerobus for 5.95 euros from the airport (pay on the bus, the stops are right outside the terminal and easy to spot, so are the buses) to Plaza Catalunya. Then, with address in hand, and possibly a pinpointed map, jump into one of the multiple cabs at the bus stop and head off to your short term bedroom. Then go out, have a good meal and enjoy your first evening on the town. If you are downtown don’t worry too much about speaking Spanish (or Catalan) at this point and just get the lay of the land and ride the high of your adventure.


In the morning, hit a café, (avoid Starbucks…come on you will be glad you did) or if it is summer, head to a chiringuito at the beach and enjoy a cortado and pastry and then get a few things done on your To Do list.

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