Getting a Cell Phone In Mexico. 800 Service
Long-Distance Phones in Mexico. Phone Service. Obtaining a Cell Phone
You can get a Mexican cell phone while traveling, though you are better off ordering a SIM card for your unlocked cell phone before leaving. You can call a USA based toll-free number from Mexico, but it is confusing. All is explained below. You can get a home phone in Mexico today much easier than a few years ago.
If you have an unlocked phone you use in your home country, you can get a SIM card to use the same phone in Mexico. The good people at Mexico Sim Card offer a card with great coverage (Iuscell or TelCel) and a fair price. You can order it before you leave and if you need to "top up" you can do so at an OXXO store. Vincent there is the owner and he provides excellent personal service. One note: you have to be IN Mexico to activate the SIM card. So do so near where you can call Vincent for help if you need it (though most people do not need any help. The steps are self-explanatory.)
If you don't have an unlocked phone, the good people at Cellular Abroad can rent you one. Below are details about renting an unlocked cell phone to use while in Mexico. While you can buy a cell phone in Mexico, I no longer do. Buying a SIM card or renting a phone from CellularAbroad is less hassle and more dependable.
You can rent a cell phone from Cellular Abroad or even buy one. However, if you want to get an unlocked smart phone, you will have to get it elsewhere. Guess what? I have the elsewhere covered. Click for the unlocked cellular phone page of my Amazon store.
Because high-speed Internet is almost everywhere in Mexico today, so is VOIP telephone service. Cell phone service in Mexico is good and almost reasonably-priced. Long distance calling to Mexico or from Mexico is cheaper, using Skype or calling cards. Long distance through broadband phone services or VOIP like Vonage have made calling to and from Mexico actually free (for a monthly fee). Yes, you can use any VOIP phone in your home in Mexico if you have a broadband connection. No, they will not ship a VOIP adapter to you in Mexico. You have to bring your adapter down. If you sign up for Vonage on their refer a friend program and give them my number - 956-467-1930 I get a free month and you get a good deal. Sign up for Vonage.
Cell Phones In Mexico
Some US cell phone companies now offer a Mexico calling plan. Supposedly, for about ten bucks a month, you can call back to the States for a quarter a minute. However, double-check the fine print. I used a friend's ATT cell phone with an "international plan" and it still cost us fifty cents a minute. I think a better alternative for a traveler is to rent or buy an 'unlocked' phone. The folks below at Cellular Abroad have been in business for years and tell you exactly what you get and how much it will cost. They have partnered with AA&T (which uses TelCel, but is much cheaper than plans the use TelCel directly) to get the best cell phone coverage for all of Mexico. If you have an unlocked phone, they can sell you a SIM Card. If you don't have a cell phone, they will rent you one for a reasonable fee.
BTW, you get a $10 discount if you use "Mexicomike" in your online order or if you call them at 800-287-5072.
For a story how this combination of ATT and Telcel came together, see this page.
To call a Mexican cell phone from the USA
To call a Mexican cell phone number, add an extra "1" to the number when calling from the States.
To call a Mexican cell phone within Mexico
From a land line, add 044 to the city code + the number. If it is long distance, dial 045 - the city code - the number.
To call a land line within Mexico
Simply dial a 1 then the city code and the phone number.
If you have a Mexican cell phone in Mexico
To call from a Mexican cell phone from Mexico, if the call is local, just dial the phone number. If that does not work, try 045 + city code + phone number.
To call the USA or Canada
Piece of cake! Dial 00 then 1 (country code) then area code and number.
If you sign up for Vonage on their refer a friend program and give them my number - 956-467-1930 I get a free month and you get a good deal. Sign up for Vonage.
To Call USA 800 (Toll-Free) Numbers in Mexico
Firstly, be aware that calling a toll-free (800, 866, 877, 888) number in Mexico will NOT be free. You will be charged the same international rate as if you dialed a landline directly. However, it is sometimes the only contact you have for businesses, so this is useful (if confusing) info. For your credit cards, calling their "collect" numbers on the back of the card is a much better deal and you get faster service.
If the prefix is -888- dial 001-881 - then the rest of the number
If the prefix is -877- dial 001-882 - then the rest of the number
If the prefix is -866 - dial 001- 883- then the rest of the number
If the prefix is -800 - dial 001- 880- then the rest of the number
Free Calls to Government Agencies USA or Canada
IPANGov is a nonprofit organization that enables American and Canadian tourists, expats or businesses to call government agencies (like the Social Security Administration, IRS, Customs, etc.), banks and private businesses like banks, insurance companies etc. It is voice-enabled, so you don't need to know the extensions to reach someone. Click IPANGov for more details.
USA or International Phone Options
You can probably call home with your US carrier (ATT, Sprint, Verizon etc.). Just check for a plan that has good rates calling FROM Mexico. Lots have good rates TO Mexico, but put you on roaming while in-country. Believe me, that can be an expensive surprise.
If you have an unlocked phone or a GSM or if you want to buy or rent an international phone, you can get a phone or a SIM card from Cellular Abroad above. I should warn you to be leery of really cheap deals and be sure to read the fine print. Some of the SIM cards sold on Amazon have some real "gotchas."
Get a Mexican Cell Phone - Maybe
In 2011, I went to a couple of local offices of cell phone providers and could have walked out with a brand-new cell phone without any trouble at all. Some did not ask for my passport, some did. Later, I went to a Wal-Mart and bought a Movistar cell phone. Towards the end of the transaction, the clerk asked me for my CURP. That is a federal identification number that all Mexicans have. Being a gringo, I did not have one. My friend said, no problem, use mine. I asked the clerk what would have happened if I not had a Mexican friend. He said he would have let me use his. Go figure.
In the summer of 2010, the Mexican government added a new wrinkle to getting a Mexican cell phone. You can still get one in an Oxxo or convenience store, but you have to jump through the hoops described. A customer wrote me that he got a cell phone at an Oxxo store in 2012, using a passport only, but it was a hassle and the clerk was glad to see him go.
But, now, you have to present your passport to the clerk who enters the passport number into a database (supposedly to deter drug dealers from buying them - hah!). In the first few months this was done (Mexicans show their identify card), the lists of identify cards and information were sold. Hmm. The CURP of President Calderon was associated with hundreds of phones. There seems to be a flaw in the system.
This same scheme is being implemented in the USA - you must present ID to get a disposable cell phone. Boy has that cut down on drug dealing in our cities and towns!
I have found it easier and less expensive to either rent a cell phone from the folks above or get a SIM card for an unlocked cell phone from the USA. However, if you want to have the adventure of getting Mexican cell phone, do so at a phone company store, not a convenience store (though it can be done if you find a willing clerk). Activating them requires a little work and the phone clerk can do it for you. Movistar is less expensive than TelCel. It has a better plan for calling the USA. It has less coverage in Mexico and way fewer stores. But when you find one, the Movistar employees are helpful. In some parts of Mexico, you can "top up" with a card from most convenience stores. However, in some parts of the country, you can only buy TelCel cards. Would I recommend Movistar? Yes - with the caveat to buy more time than you need when you get it. They do aggravate you with calls to remind you of special deals, but I don't know if TelCel does the same thing.
Calling Mexico Without A Plan
I have never been a fan of plans. Wing it, I say. If you only occasionally need to call Mexico from the USA or Canada, try a calling card from the link below. The way it works is you buy a virtual "card," get a pin via email and dial an access number (usually an 800 number, but sometimes a local number where you live). Then you dial 01152 to get to Mexico then the phone number. Instructions are on the site. Caveat - all these cards and the ones sold in convenience stores, claim rates of 1.2 cents or 0.9 cents or 2.1 cents per minute. That ain't true. They are cheap and the actual call does costs the stated cents per minute, but there are other fees.
Many of you come to this page directly. If you are all interested in Mexico, you will find much of interest on this site: hot springs, driving, maps of Mexico and eclectic items you won't find elsewhere. Please peruse. If you are moving to Mexico, or driving to Mexico, remember, I am available for consultations.
Your best deal for residential long-distance phones in Mexico or in the U.S. is a VOIP phone. One advantage is that even if you live in Mexico, you can have as many US phone numbers as you want so family and friends can call you with no international charges.
Phone Service IN Mexico
Thanks to competition, you can now get a new phone line from Telmex in a matter of a few days -- in some cases -- and more often within a week or two-- if there is not already a phone line installed in your new home. If there is, the info below still applies. While you are still in the States, you have two main choices to get inexpensive long distance to Mexico and the world, as well as U.S. long distance.
When you rent or buy a habitat, if there is an existing phone line, the phone line comes when you buy or rent an abode. Seriously. I don't mean the physical instrument. The actual line and connection to the phone company.
Casetas de larga distancia (long distance offices) are almost all gone now. I found one in rural Oaxaca recently.
Today, to make a call in public you need a phone card to use the new phones. But since everyone except me has a cell phone, it is getting harder and harder to find a pay phone. And you have to buy phone cards to make them work.
Calling Cards -- From Mexico to the world
To make calls from Mexico to the rest of the world via a pay phone you can use either a Telmex card (expensive but available everywhere in Mexico) or plan ahead and get one of the several calling cards from the company above. There are several different calling cards and plans.
In the past five years, pay phones have been disappearing at an alarming rate. When you find one, it is often broken. So, while it is always good insurance to have a Telmex card in your wallet for emergencies, you might want to look into a cell phone.
Telmex only bills in full-minute increments and is more expensive than any other option (except for hotel phones).
I used to hate Skype. The quality was awful. Internet connections were undependable. And I thought is was just something for those cheapskates who expect everything for free, not for people with class like me. Well, things change. I started using Skype in 2010 for real and am still using it. It costs a few cents a minute to call back to the USA, but it is reasonable. And calls are free to other Skype-ies. Plus, you can use it to call in Mexico less expensively than if you used a hotel phone. So, yeah, go ahead and sign up.Contact Mike