What to do in Spain if: your phone gets lost or stolen

Ok, so in retrospect, it’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me ever. Or even in Spain. But flu + six-year-olds + stress makes losing a Smartphone way worse than it needs to be.

Think about it: people who have their contacts, photos and all-important Facebook at the touch of a button, a simple tap on a screen, become quite attached. My own love story started in March of last year when I decided to cortar la llamada with Orange, so to speak, and change to Europe’s biggest carrier, Vodafone, to get a Smartphone. I figured it would be handy to be able to Skype my mom from wherever, send tweets whenever I had the urge to and never get lost. And it was.

The greatest love I’ve ever known. That’s sad, right?

Nine months later, I’m struggling through a Thursday at work. The kids won’t behave, and it’s humid and cold out. My wooziness gets full-blown bad around lunchtime. Venga, come have something warm to eat, coax my coworkers, and I hate missing our Thursday standing date at the bar down the street. I check my phone for emails and saw that José María had messaged me. After ordering, I said goodbye to JM and put my phone in the pocket of my jeans.

Not an hour later, I’m back at school when I notice my phone missing. Not panicking (for once), I ask my coworker to call me, and her face drops. It’s off, tía, she responds, and forces me to hand over the class to run down to the bar where we’d eaten. Inquiries to the bar staff, construction workers and other patrons are met with nothing more than shrugs and sympathetic looks. It’s gone.

A few hours later, I’m in the Vodafone store in Nervion staring down a hipster named Miguel Angel. He patiently asks me what I was doing when the robbery occurred, if I have an htc account, etc. I’m dumbfounded (and still fighting a fever) that the sales rep who sold me the phone had not told me about the features built-in to smartphones to locate them, lock them and wipe the memory. I reluctantly hand over my debit card and choose a more rudimentary version of my old phone, 144 € in the hole.

Petty theft is perhaps the most common crime in Spain, so the age-old saying goes: watch your belongings. Don’t set your bag on the ground at a restaurant or keep it open while walking through a crowded plaza. Keep an extra copy of your flight information and passport at your hotel’s reception. Stay alert. I’ve been a victim of robbery twice now, and I can’t say it won’t happen again. But there’s a few things you can do to protect your phone.

Let’s start with the basics. In Spain, there’s a few options when it comes to cell phones. The major companies are Vodafone, Orange and Movistar, with Yoigo quickly becoming more popular. Major supermarket chains also offer discounted plans. I’ve had each of the majors and have never been 100% satisfied with any of them.

Companies typically offer two types of plans: prepago or contrato (pay-as-you-go or contract). Prepay will get you a SIM card, typically with a few euros of saldo (credit), and you’ll have to top-up when your credit gets low. All of the major carriers in Spain have pre-paid cards, and even European-based mobile broadband carriers are becoming popular for those who travel. Calls and messages usually cost more than a contract, which requires a residence card, bank account and 18 months minimum commitment, called permanencia. The benefit here is no pesky trips to the supermarket to get more saldo and reduced prices for calls and messages. What’s more, 3G has reached nearly every corner of the country, so you can Skype home from nearly anywhere (as long as you’re within your MBs, that is).

When switching companies, you’ll have to put in a claim stating that you’d like to change your portabilidad to another carrier. Then starts the war: for a week, your old company will call you and beg for your loyalty, even offering you a discounted iphone 4 or better rates. After a week, your choice carrier will activate your phone ans start charging you. 

V is for very inutil.

Anyway, I digress. When I switched companies last Spring, I was given a deal good for six months – my plan at 24,99 instead of 39,99, plus an htc sense for 75 euros. I took it, gleefully playing around on my phone and downloading apps. I had asked about insurance, and the sales rep joked around with me about how no one would ever think to rob it from a pretty girl, and I looked smart enough to not drop it. Ok, amiguito, but appearances can be deceiving. His flirtatious attitude made me grab my phone and run, and I now regret it.

When Hipster MA asked me how I protected my phone, I kinda just shrugged. “I bought a silicon case at a chino,” I replied, “and I don’t usually drop it.” He shook his head. “No, how do you protect it from thieves? Did you try and locate the phone? Or did you block it? Give me your insurance policy and let’s see how much we can get for you.”

Um, ¿cómo?

I felt like the dummy with a smartphone, and realized I’d broken my normal routine of buying insurance and sending in warrantee guarantees. In the end, I had to pay for a new phone (the plan would have been way overpriced without Internet), but this one has Alcatraz-style safety on it. Here’s some tips to protect your smartphone while in Spain:

Take out a security plan when you purchase the phone

Major companies offer security plans against forced robbery (robo con violencia), water damage, dropped phones, etc. for a premium each month. The 4 euros I pay monthly will just be tacked onto my bill each month, and iphones with Movistar are less than twice that (and those fancy new screens cost a loooot more to replace). When getting a phone, be sure to inquire about how much a plan costs per month, what is covered under the insurance and how to activate it. I also asked for duplicate copies of the plan to be sure I’d read it carefully this time. The charge should also come listed on your monthly factura (bill).

If you’ve got prepago or have a crappy little I’ll-never-break-sucker-no-matter-how-far-you-throw-me Nokia, I wouldn’t waste the money. No one steals those these days, anyway.

Download a phone tracker program

Little did I know that with an online account or app, I could track my phone to its geographical location. Could you imagine? Showing up at the door of the capullo who is enjoying my phone? When configuring most smartphones, you can add an account with the brand’s company and send a message asking the phone to be located. Within 15 minutes, you can find out if your phone is under your dirty laundry or if indeed someone has taken it. This account may also allow you to download more ringtones and wallpapers.

I have an htc sense account, which I found online at their website, as well as a free app called Android Lost. In the Market app, you can type in the name of the program and download it directly to your phone, or do it from a PC.

Call and block the phone

If you’ve got the box your phone came in handy, you can call customer service on most carriers and ask them to block the phone, making it useless. The operator will ask you for a code that can be found on the original box, near the bar code.

Put in a denuncia at the nearest National Police station

Just as you’d do if your passport was stolen, reporting it to the National Police can help you to get some of the value back for your lost phone, provided the robbery was committed with force. Simply head into the nearest sede, call, or take care of it over the Internet. 

Police dollars won’t get me all these, sadly.

When I went to Mexico with some friends during college, we left our bags near our chairs and jumped in the pool to cool down. Being the only one who spoke Spanish, I asked a pool attendant where our bags were a few minutes later, and he responded that he’d moved them. Lisa’s was missing, Jenn’s camera has been stolen and our room key lifted. The room keys all had the room numbers engrained on them. The five of us ran up countless flights of stairs and found the door ajar, Lisa’s bag in a nearby garbage can. I gasped, remembering that not an hour earlier, I’d wanted to come upstairs and take a nap.

The scene inside the room meant that someone had been there – overturned suitcases, change missing from the table. They’d taken our meal tickets, but we had hidden the safe key so well, our cameras and passports were still there. Sure, having someone lift your mobile phone is a pain in the culo, but I’m happy I wasn’t around to try and fight anyone for it.

Bottom line: just ask questions. I was too busy fending off a creeper to ask about anything more than when my phone would be activated. #oohguiri

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Sorry to hear about your phone, that sucks. Best of luck for drawing up a denuncia.

    I’m so glad to learn about Android Lost! I just read on their website that you can delete all of the texts and the SIM card info if your phone mysteriously sprouts legs.

  2. I didn’t know about Android Lost, either! Thanks for the tip!

  3. That really sucks….glad that it wasn’t a nastier situation and that you got it somewhat sorted out…

  4. Thansk, guys! If I’ve learned one thing in Spain, it’s that persistence (and a few palabrotas) can usually get the job done!

    • hi ! am using iphone and going to madrid next month, can you advise which simcard works better and have prepaid iphone internet service ?

      ur info is very much appreciated :)

      • Hi Angie! I don’t actually think you can get prepaid Internet service, just Internet thru a contract. How long will you be in Spain? Contracts are good for 18 months minimum, so if you won’t be here long, I wouldn’t suggest it (it can be expensive to break one!). I could be wrong on this, so I’d suggest checking at Vodafone, Orange and Movistar about the Internet with prepaid.

        Let me know what you find out!

  5. This is really useful Cat. I have yet to venture into the world of the Smartphone and was considering investigating it this week, so this post has been perfect timing for me. I hope you sort everything out. Best of luck with the policía!

  6. great tips. I had my cell phone stolen in spain the first week I was here. that’s 6 years ago now, but I still remember the hassle.

  7. brynedmonston says:

    Cat- Thanks, this comes at perfect timing. When I first got to Spain I was too afraid to get into an 18 month contract but after being here another year and assuming I’m staying I’m not so scared–was thinking of going this next weekend to look at vodafones. The only thing is if I do have to cancel it..

  8. Thanks a lot for the info and tips. I have a very similar phone to the one you used to have. Already downloaded Android Lost and set it up.

  9. I was wondering where I could get an insurance against theft for my iphone? My service provider is vodafone. Can you help Me? Thanks

    • Hi Radwa, sorry for the late reply. Do you have a contract with Vodafone, or are you doing a prepaid SIM? If it’s the former, Vodafone offers insurance for about 4 euros a month for most smartphones; iPhones may cost a bit more since they’re so fancy. Stop by the store and see if there’s a plan available (I’d suggest lunchtime if you can, less people!)


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