When planning a trip to Spain in today’s world, or any other destination, we cannot deny the importance of staying connected online, be it for business or just to stay in contact with loved ones.
These days, the single biggest questions on almost any traveller’s lips when visiting Spain are: Where or how can I get a Spanish data sim card? What is the best eSim for Spain? What is the best eSIM for digital nomads? Or better yet, what is the single best eSIM for worldwide use?
Or maybe you just want to know what an eSIM even is to begin with.
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Are you planning a vacation within Spain or going on a cruise from Barcelona? Are you are an international business professional or a digital nomad backpacker? Maybe you’re starting an extended tour of Europe from Spain. Either way, mobile internet for travellers is a big thing. It’s about as necessary as fresh air.
Do you want to learn more about the possibility of using an eSIM in Spain and the advantages it offers? Perhaps you want to know more about which eSIM provider is the best to use in Spain, the rest of Europe, or the whole world?
After extensive research and first hand experience which has revealed a plethora of options, I will now explain why I use Ubigi and why it is the best and most convenient eSIM provider for Spain and beyond.
Why do you need mobile cellular internet in spain?
When on vacation in Spain you may want to share your travel experiences in real-time with loved ones back home, or like us, you also have a business to run and may not have time to look for WiFi (that works) in order to make an important call or answer an urgent email.
You may be on a sailing trip around Ibiza, or a cruise out of Barcelona, or a hike up Mt Teidi in Tenerife. I could even be writing this particular post on a cruise ship myself, but not by using the exorbitantly priced on-board satellite WiFi.
Our last cruise offered 1GB for the week, for US$80. Umm, no thanks. So how did we get around that, by each paying only $17 for 1GB for all Caribbean Islands over 7 days? I’ll tell you soon, so read on.
What’s the WiFi password? That used to be a thing, but who has time for that anymore? This is assuming the WiFi even works after you get the coveted password, the sign in procedure for hotel or airport WiFi often taking longer than it does to just buy and download an eSIM, before you leave home.
But even if the WiFi works, you don’t know who else is on the same network, snooping on your activities. No, public WiFi isn’t very safe, even if you used a password, which countless others may have also used.
However, we do still use public WiFi from time to time, but not without a VPN.
While local data SIM cards can be cheaper in many countries, the biggest catch is you first need to be physically present in the country. Then, you have to find a place that sells them. This of course depends on how you entered a country. Airports might seem like the easiest way, however, several hundred other tourists might also need a SIM at the same time. And so you wait, without a phone connection to tell your friends who are waiting outside why you’re taking so long.
Also, you stand a good chance at being royally ripped off at many airports, aka tourist traps. This can often be due to the language barrier, but even more so if you try get a local SIM in town.
Then of course the process of buying a local SIM with phone number varies wildly from country to country. Some countries still don’t require ID, but many now do, in which case the process can be painful, much like roaming charges from your home provider.
What is an e-SIM card?
Enter eSIM. An absolute game changer.
I got an iPhone 12 mini in 2021. It had/still has settings and menu items that mention eSIM, but I had little to no idea what an eSIM was when I got the phone, so I largely ignored it all and carried on collecting and fiddling with traditional plastic SIM cards. You know, these annoying little things that you often need a pair of micro tweezers to handle, and heaven help you if you lose the one from your primary home provider.
Where do you keep your physical SIMS when not in use?
It has happened to me, a few times, at airports and other places, trying to swap SIM cards, only to have one pop out again and go skidding off under someone else’s chair. “Excuse me, just need to retrieve my SIM card….”
Then I discovered what an eSIM actually is. My first thought was, where has this tech been all my life?
eSIM had been quietly lurking in the shadows since 2016, getting ready to be unleashed on the world of mobile communications.
Now it’s here, taking the world by storm.
What is the difference between an e-SIM and regular SIM?
Some of the key differences and advantages between eSIMs and regular physical SIMs:
- Embedded SIM: The only real difference between an eSIM and a regular SIM is the credentials that are usually stored on a traditional plastic SIM are now stored on a chip embedded in your phone, hence the name Embedded Subscriber Identification Module. That’s basically it.
- Ease of use: What could often take several hours, waiting in line at a busy airport kiosk, or maybe even weeks before you could get an international travel data SIM delivered to your house now takes less than 10 minutes. From the comfort of your own couch you can just simply download and install a single eSIM profile that can be used all over the world.
- Environmentally friendly: And this is a big one. Instead of mobile providers having to manually provision and distribute their plastic SIM cards by hand, bicycle, road, rail, sea and airfreight all over the world, with eSIM you just download and provision your SIM profile over the internet within minutes. This has a massive environmental benefit. They are small, but over time the amount of plastic waste and environmental damage ads up and those very little things become a very big problem. Every year, millions upon millions of plastic SIM cards and their plastic packaging is used only once, then thrown away in to a landfill site.
What is a digital e-SIM?
To correct a small misnomer. Even the first mobile phone GSM SIM which was invented in the early 1990’s was digital, so yes, an eSIM is also digital, but so was/is its predecessor. It’s a bit like saying I got splashed with some wet water.
There was/is no such thing as an analogue SIM card. I checked (Googled)
What is the best e-SIM for Spain?
My Ubigi e-SIM review
To be honest, after several months of research and trying out quite a few travel eSIM providers, the best and most convenient eSIM card for travellers visiting Spain, or any other country for that matter is an eSIM from Ubigi.
So who is Ubigi?
Ubigi is pronounced ‘ You-Bee-Gee’ No, they have nothing to do with The Brothers Gibb, although I’m sure many staff at Ubigi love listening to The BeeGees, as do I.
Instead, Ubigi originates from the latin prefix ‘ubig’ (“everywhere”) + ‘gi’ for “giga” (“see gigabytes”).
Headquartered in Paris, France, Ubigi is a consumer brand of Transatel who is in fact their own (virtual) network operator. They do not re-sell other network’s eSIMs. They sell their own data plans for use in over 200 countries/territories with the same single eSIM.
This should explain why your phone says it will be installing an eSIM from Transatel.
Transatel is a subsidiary of NTT Group (The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation) who is a Japanese telecommunications holding company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
NTT is (currently) the 4th largest telecoms company in the world in terms of revenue.
- Ubiquitous, always and everywhere
- Personal, affectionate, here to help me
- Reminds us of a cute Japanese animated character
- Fun, global and highly energetic, Ubigi makes everyone happy because all stress is now gone
Why use a Ubigi e-SIM in Spain?
Simply put? Complete ease of use, and no ID registration required.
Below is a summary of why I think Ubigi is your best option for a travellers eSIM:
- You only need 1 Ubigi eSIM per device for any and all countries they operate in, which is almost all of them.
- Ubigi eSIM profiles are free to install.
- Ubigi operates seamlessly and consistently worldwide on their own (virtual) network because they secured the privilege of an international mobile network code (MNC 901-37) which is supported by agreements signed with more than 200 Mobile Network Operators around the world. This in turn allows them to offer near local rates for data. Ubigi currently has some of the cheapest international eSIM data plans on the market that I can find.
- You can hot-spot / tether your phone to other devices, with any and all Ubigi data plans.
- Ubigi supports 5G, where locally available, for no extra charge. 37 countries and counting as of September 2023.
- You can move the same eSIM profile up to 5 times. So fear not if your phone is lost, broken or ‘repossessed’ with an active Ubigi data plan still in it. Simply install the Ubigi app on your new device, log in with your existing credentials, and re-install the same eSIM profile.
- Ubigi to offer unlimited data plans some time in 2024.
What is the best thing about Ubigi?
Apart from the above, and their pricing mentioned below, perhaps one of Ubigi’s biggest selling points is the Ubigi app is zero-rated.
This means that after you have first installed the app and eSIM profile using another internet connection, the moment the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac and the seat-belt signs are turned off, you simply switch on your Ubigi eSIM and the moment it connects to a local partner network you can open the app and buy a local plan.
You will be shown a selection of recommended plans based on where you are at any given time. You can choose from once off, monthly or annual.
You do not need to first find yet another internet connection to buy and download yet another eSIM. You do not need to worry about running out of data which would otherwise cut you off and prevent you from buying a new plan as with other eSIM providers.
The Ubigi app will stay connected to the internet even if your data plan has run out.
Ubigi e-SIM pricing (September 2023)
Ubigi currently offers 3 eSIM data plans for Spain, all valid 30 days. 5G is available with Ubigi in all major centres in Spain for no extra charge. At the time of writing, Ubigi partners with Orange for local coverage in Spain.
Ubigi accepts Apple Pay, PayPal, Union Pay, Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
When purchasing a Ubigi data plan, be sure to consider how long you will be in any particular country. The plans for Spain will only work in Spain. If you go to Portugal, France, Andorra, etc you will need to get another plan for those respective countries, or just get a regional plan that covers all areas you plan to be in for any given time.
Is my smartphone compatible with e-SIM?
Good question, because not all smart phones are. But this is changing, quite quickly.
Soon, all smart phones will be eSIM compatible, with many being eSIM only, such as the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 for sale in the USA.
The easiest way to tell if your phone supports eSIM is to simply install the free Ubigi app:
It (the app) will then tell you if your phone has eSIM capability. You do not have to first purchase a data plan. You can also look in your phone’s SIM settings and see if there is anything mentioning eSIM. You can also Google: Is *insert your phone model* eSIM compatible.
For a full list of all phones campatible with eSIM, updated monthly, click here.
How to install a Ubigi e-SIM
Basically, to access the internet with a single Ubigi eSIM almost anywhere in the world, just follow these simple steps:
The quickest way is using the app:
- Install the free Ubigi app on your eSIM compatible phone, tablet or laptop
- Install your free Ubigi eSIM profile
- Create your free Ubigi account
- Buy as many data plans as you like, using the same eSIM profile
- Enjoy the internet
Using a QR code:
- Go to ubigi on your computer (You can do this with the browser and email app on your phone, but then you still need to show the QR code to the camera on your phone in order to install the Ubigi eSIM, unless you have to 2 phones and you only need Ubigi on 1 of them)
- Buy the required plan
- Wait for the email
- Scan the QR code with your phone
- Follow the instructions
- Enjoy the internet
Less than 10 minutes from the comfort of your own couch at home you can install the Ubigi app and be ready to hit the ground running the moment the plane touches down. No more wasting time looking for local SIM cards at busy, expensive airport kiosks.
Best e-SIM for airline crew and seafarers
I mentioned earlier that Sabine and I took a Caribbean cruise and managed to connect to the internet while onboard, for only $17 for 1GB for the whole 7 day cruise, for all the islands we visited.
Sure, when we were deep inside the ship or very far off shore we had no signal, but this was actually a good thing as we wanted to also enjoy the cruise for ourselves a bit. We would anyway soon have land based cell signal again and could then update friends and family back home. However, there were a few occasions when we were out of sight of land and we could still access land based mobile data.
But apart from passengers, Ubigi is also an excellent international data eSIM option for all airline, ship’s and yacht crew. Maybe you are moved to another vessel or scheduled on another flight to another country you’ve never been to before on short notice. You may not have time to look for and install yet another local SIM. You may also not have an internet connection to download and install yet another eSIM. Your home carrier may also not work/roam where you end up.
Again, this is where Ubigi shines.
Upon arrival at your surprise destination you simply toggle on your Ubigi eSIM and open the Ubigi app, even if you don’t have an active data plan at the time. You will then be shown a list of recommended plans based on your current location. You can then buy the plan required without first having to look for another internet connection.
At the time of writing, Ubigi does not operate on satellite based GSM networks. In other words, many planes and especially cruise ships have an onboard GSM cellular network, but such networks are very expensive to use. So, you can only use Ubigi when you are within range of any land based / terrestrial GSM partner network. As already mentioned, Ubigi currently works in almost every country in the world.
Can I use a Ubigi travel e-SIM at home?
Yes, you can. I do, at home in Belgium.
You might still be searching for that one coffee house that along with decent coffee also offers bottomless, stable internet…
However, you may also be searching for an international mobile data provider that offers seamless, reasonably priced connectivity across borders to be used as a backup connection for when your local coffee shop or holiday hotel WiFi chokes.
Something that will always be there for you, no matter where you find yourself. Just as long as there is local network.
Can I use my home carrier together with Ubigi?
This depends on whether or not your device can support 2 active eSIMS at once, assuming your home carrier has also given you an eSIM.
But most importantly, your phone must be unlocked. Meaning, your home carrier allows you to use another SIM card in your device. However, this usually only applies to phones included for ‘free’ with long term contracts. If you bought your phone for cash from a carrier agnostic shop you should not have this problem. If you ever buy a used device, be sure to first check if it is unlocked.
When a carrier locks a phone it is mostly to prevent you from taking advantage of cheaper rates on a whim while travelling. This in turn allows them to charge you what they want for roaming. They may offer roaming plans themselves, but I have seen such plans to cost way more than 10 times what Ubigi offers. Some countries have now outlawed network phone locking, including my native South Africa, but this still doesn’t stop carriers threatening you with cancelling your guarantee if you put another SIM in a phone you got from them. Yes, some phone carriers can be real shysters.
Also, certain phone models sold in certain regions are either eSIM only or don’t have eSIM at all. The iPhone is one example. I need to look more into this, but I believe the iPhone 14 sold in China does not have eSIM, yet the iPhone 14 sold in the USA is only eSIM. As of September 2023, all iPhones sold in Europe still have both eSIM and physical.
So be sure to consider these things while travelling and you suddenly decide to buy a new phone in a region where you don’t normally live or spend a whole lot of time in.
Many years ago there used to be compatibility issues with phones between say the USA, Europe, Asia, Africa etc. Older phones used only a single frequency that only worked in one region. However, pretty much all modern phones will work on all frequencies in all regions, as long as they are not carrier locked.
In the event you are using a physical SIM for your home number you should be able to do so together with your Ubigi eSIM. My iPhone 12 mini has 8 eSIM ‘slots’, but I can only run one eSIM and the physical together.
Just be sure to set your phone to use Ubigi for data, as required. If you don’t, you may still use your home carrier for data when abroad which will most likely result in a nice roaming bill waiting for you at home, or a joyful sms reminding you how grateful they are for your business, together with a notice you have just reached $500 data use, in the first 2 days away.
Another thing to check with your home carrier is their roaming rates for incoming calls while abroad.
In most cases incoming texts are free no matter where you are from or where you are, but you are highly likely to be charged a pretty penny for incoming calls when roaming anywhere in the EU using a home carrier (SIM) that is not from the EU, and the other way around.
Any local country mobile plan acquired anywhere in the EU will roam anywhere else in the EU for no extra charge. In other words, if you do decide to buy a Spanish SIM from Vodafone, you can go to Greece, Austria, Portugal etc and keep using it as if you were still in Spain.
Does Ubigi come with a local phone number?
No, Ubigi does not come with a phone number, but there is a little work around I discovered which will allow you to receive unlimited calls on a choice of geographic numbers from 25 different countries no matter where you are, just as long as you have an active internet connection.
Skype Numbers can be rented for as little as $7/month or $55/year.
While some numbers may require you to live in the respective country, USA +1 does not.
Also, all USA Skype numbers are 2 way text/sms enabled which means you can use a USA Skype number to receive text pins for your online accounts, such as Google. I am not theorising, I actually did, and still do it.
Calls will ring on any of your internet connected devices with Skype installed, your laptop included. To make calls, either buy a Skype subscription or get some pre-paid credit, depending on how much and where you need to call.
You can then set Skype to show your Skype number to whoever you call (Caller ID) Call rates from Skype to Spain mobile are around $0,10 per minute. Skype to Spain landline about $0,03.
Skype numbers are particularly useful if you run a business and need to be reachable on the same geographic number as you travel the world. USA numbers are also some of the cheapest to call, from anywhere. Anyone with a Skype account can call a USA number for as little as 2,5 US cents/minute or $3.50/month for unlimited. (Prices subject to your local country tax and to change)
You can choose from any area code and a selection of numbers within. Just keep refreshing until you see a number you like. I have Ft Lauderdale 954 because it was the first USA area number I actively used while there, over 20 years ago. I know, I am sentimental like that.
What is mobile phone roaming?
To clarify the definition of roaming. Unless you got a SIM card direct from the network that owns the physical infrastructure themselves, you are roaming.
In other words, you are roaming with Ubigi, everywhere, even if you got a plan for Spain while in Spain. This is because Ubigi does not own their own network hardware, they are an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator)
Take Lyca Mobile (another MVNO) as another example. Even if you got a Lyca SIM in the USA and you use it in the USA, you are roaming, on T-Mobile. But get a Verizon SIM, and use it on Verizon, you are not roaming.
Major operators like Vodafone, Orange, AT&T etc have huge start up costs; the hardware, antennas, and securing radio spectrum licensing. That last item is a big one. There is only so much usable radio spectrum, so governments just love being able to license it out, for a hefty price.
The biggest advantage an MVNO has is they have much lower start up costs so they can bulk buy huge amounts of unused bandwidth and call volume (capacity) from local network operators. They then usually re-sell it for a much better price than major network operators charge their own direct customers.
So yes, Ubigi does charge you roaming fees on all their plans, just much less then what many other operators charge you to use their services on someone else’s physical network.
Best VPN for international travellers
Now even though a Ubigi eSIM is the best invention since sliced bread, you may still want to make use of free public WiFi in hotels, restaurants, airports or train stations. We do so all the time, but we do not use public WiFi anymore without NordVPN to watch our backs and to hide our activity from prying eyes.
Even if you needed to use a password you don’t know who else has that password. There is free ‘sniffing’ software that allows a user to ‘sniff’ around the network they are connected to and they can watch, or intercept what you are doing.
But free networks also track and profile you for advertising purposes. NordVPN will help protect you in both cases, and then some.
You can install NordVPN on up to 6 devices with a single account.
While a mobile data connection is countless times safer than public WiFi, you can also use NordVPN on your cellular data connection, especially in a country you may not trust.
Any questions I haven’t already answered? Any clarification needed? Drop a comment below and I’ll get right back to you!