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Internet Access: If you want internet access at your apartment, be sure to specify that when looking for housing. Internet access is frequently available, although not always, in student housing. There are internet cafés in Madrid (called “locutorios”) where you can connect to the internet as well as make phone calls back home and purchase international phone cards. There also are many WI-FI hotspots throughout the city (such as at the university, public libraries, newsstands, and even buses and metro trains).
Cell Phone Access: Most US cell phones will not work in Spain unless you make special arrangements with your provider. Many travelers report that using a US cell phone in Europe results in very high fees and surprise costs. As an alternative, you can buy a cheap, prepaid cell phone once you arrive in Madrid. Orange (pronounced “oh-rah-nj”) is a decent provider, with stores at the Alcampo shopping center (Estrella stop on Line 9 of the metro) and in the shopping center on Paseo de los Artilleros across from the Vicálvaro metro stop. To buy a cell phone, you will need to present your passport and probably pay in cash. Basic prepaid cell phones start at about 25€. The cost of calls vary depending on the plan you select, but calls within Spain are around 0.09€ per minute. Note that in Spain, you will not be charged for receiving calls on a cell phone; rather, the caller pays a higher price to call a cell phone.
Calling Home: Calling home is easy and can be cheap if you do your homework. Skype is free or very low cost if you have a computer and a good internet connection. If you want to call home from a Spanish cell phone, land line, or pay phone, investigate calling cards. One good option we have found is the Study Abroad Student’s Choice card offered by Zap Tel around 2.3¢ a minute to the US). With these cards, you call a local (Madrid) number, put in your PIN code, then enter the US number you wish to call. To call the US directly from a Spanish phone, dial 00+1 and then the area code and phone number you are calling.
Getting Calls From Home: This also can be easy and cheap if you do your homework. To dial directly, your family and friends should dial 011+34 and then your phone number in Spain (cell phones always start with a 6 and land lines always start with a 9). Skype might be a good option if you will have a computer with you and a good internet connection. Family and friends back home might want to purchase a calling card if they will be calling you a lot. Alternatively, you can purchase and set up a “virtual” or “online” US phone number that allows callers back home to call a US number that gets forwarded to your Spanish phone or computer.