How to find internet access in Spain (and not go bankrupt in the process)


Every modern traveller knows how it feels to be at the mercy of poor internet access, especially on long trips and when a connection is essential.  Along with that goes that sinking feeling of either receiving a whopping great mobile phone bill on your return, finding out that your hotel charges €20 for a day’s wifi access (€20!) or resigning yourself to swill latte after latte just to get your paws on the local coffee shop’s elusive router password.

The EU has made significant progress over the past few years in this area, campaigning for lower roaming costs for both standard phone use abroad as well as internet use, but the progress has been slow.  In theory, 2015 should see the last of roaming charges within Europe but in the mean time, try some of Gusto Guides‘ top tips to get connected while you are on the move.

  • Check if your hotel or rental property has WIFI included.  We recommend checking out travel forums (like TripAdvisor) where other travellers can dispel any doubts you have before booking that sweet, sweet deal.  This comes in especially handy as hotel websites can be quite ambiguous or downright misleading, with ‘free internet’ often meaning limited access in one way or another.
  •  Libraries – All large cities in Spain have a good network of libraries, especially Barcelona where facilities are exceptional.  They tend to offer free wifi even if you are not registered, although if they do insist that you sign up it can be a bit of a bureaucratic headache.
  • Public Wifi – Yes, lots of towns and cities offer ‘free public wifi’.  In practice, however, access is poor even if you are standing right next to the router and have the fastest computer in the world.  Also remember that it is best to avoid sending sensitive data (e.g. bank details) over this kind of connection.
  • Locutorios – If hotel charges for internet seem extortionate, look out for a locutorio – a phone and internet café, where access (often via an ancient but perfectly functional desktop) is usually reasonable and extra services (printing, fax, etc) may also be available.  They tend to be plentiful in the centre of the city.
  • Professionals and business travellers – If you really do need iron-clad reliable internet access throughout your stay, don’t worry!  There are reliable alternatives.  The first is a startup called AllDayInternet which will send a router with internet access directly to your hotel (snazzy, we know).  As Julio R. Astarloa, one of the project’s founders, explained to us: ‘As soon as the traveller arrives at their hotel, there is a router waiting for them in reception. All they need to do is turn it on and they will already be connected to the internet.  On the contrary, if they decide to use a card, they need to go to a Movistar or Vodaphone store, make themselves understood to the sales staff (who most likely don’t speak English), sign a contract, and so on.  A pain.  And if they want to use that card in their phone, it probably won’t work unless the handset is unlocked, and if it does work, it will have a different phone number and so on.”  At the going rate, AllDayInternet charge €43 for 4 days usage with a total limit of 2GB.  When the traveller checks out, all they need to do to return the router is pop it in the pre-paid envelope and post it back to the company (look for the yellow box marked ‘Correos’).
  • The other option is to buy a mobile router. This comes with a little package of problems: the long queues, poor customer service, baffling contracts and lack of foreign languages usually on offer in phone shops.  A simple SIM card for your phone is easier to purchase but a Spanish address and proof of ID are usually required.
  • Another option is FON, a business that defines itself as the first global Wifi service, with almost 13 million users.  Subscribers buy the FON router, and agree to donate some of their home bandwidth to other FON subscribers who happen to be visiting the area, and who can then access the net.  The connections are allegedly separated by firewalls that de not allow data from the various users of the FON hub to mix.  This also works when FON users travel abroad, and enables them to connect to Wifi in other countries for no extra cost, provided there is a ‘donor’ network nearby. For UK travellers, BT has a reciprocal agreement with FON and therefore BT customers can access FON networks in Spain at no extra cost – we would recommend getting in touch with your provider before travelling to check your account details, and for further information on how to connect.

Foto: Flickr / Kristina Alexanderson 

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