It’s important to stay connected with family and friends, especially when traveling or relocating to another country. What many people coming to Mexico may not know is that their cell phones or other mobile devices probably won’t work here. Our cell phone networks are based on the same technology, but the companies that operate them are as different from each other as AT&T and Verizon. This means you will probably need to contract for Mexican cell phone service once you are here.
It’s easy to purchase a cellular phone in Mexico. Nearly any brand and model you can find back home is available, including smart phones such as the Blackberry and iPhone. But in order to obtain service, you must provide a Mexican residence address, bank account and credit history, something most newcomers simply do not have. In addition, all cellular phone plans obligate the customer to a long-term contract with a deposit and monthly payments that may not be acceptable if you are only visiting or planning to reside in Mexico for part of the year.
For these reasons, the most popular cellular phone service in Mexico is a prepaid plan. Many companies offer this service, but the largest company with the widest coverage is Telcel. Their prepaid cell phone service is called Sistema Amigo, which lets you have cell phone service without the need to sign a contract. For short term or periodic use or to have more control over your budget, prepaid service is the way to go.
Sistema Amigo works with fichas (cards with prepaid air time). To apply the air time to your cell phone, you purchase a ficha, scratch off the surface to reveal a secret code, dial *333 on your cell phone to access your account, then push 2 to add air time and enter the secret code. If you dial *333 and push 1, you can get your saldo, or account balance, and the expiration date. Remember that the call to check your balance is not a free call.
To keep your phone active, you need to buy new air time credit periodically. If you don’t buy additional credit, your phone will be deactivated and you have up to six months to reactivate the service by buying credit. After six months from the last purchase, you lose your phone number and any credit balance you may have on your account.
It’s easy to purchase the fichas for Sistema Amigo service. There are always people selling them on the streets at main intersections, but you can also find them at convenience stores such as OXXO or 7/11, most supermarkets like Mega and WalMart, as well as at banks and ATMs operated by INBURSA, BBVA Bancomer, Banorte, HSBC, Banamex. You can also purchase them at Telcel distributors.
The standard value of the cards and their air time equivalent is spelled out in the following chart, though at times, Telcel will run promotions that might double or triple the time you can get for the same card denomination (look for people selling the cards at street corners and stoplights, with signs that advertise the promotion of the week):
|Denomination||Ficha Amigo||Air time|
|200||Fashion District LA cash advance valign=”top”>Yes||$300|
As you can see, rates go down if you buy larger denomination prepaid cards. To get this service, all you need is a cell phone. It can be any model compatible with the technologies and frequency bands used by the Telcel network. To activate the service, go to a Telcel distributor or branch office and buy a SIM card, which is installed in the phone and usually comes with some air time credit.
In Mexico, a basic cell phone costs around $300 to $500 pesos. Usually the phone includes some air time credit that in some cases will be free because you will receive as much air time as the price of the phone. However, don’t be surprised if they split the free air time over two or three months while you are buying more air time.
Prepaid service is also available from other companies such as IUSACELL, which offers Viva Kit. When you buy a phone, keep in mind that the associated service is locked to the provider. In other words, if you buy a phone from Telcel, you cannot later use that phone on the Iusacell, Movistar or any other company network. Try to use the same cell phone company as your friends. This will help you to save some money because calls between phones on the same network are less expensive or free.
Even if your current cell phone service supports international calls between Mexico and your country, using a Mexican cell phone will be less expensive. Keep in mind that if you are outside of your home area, you will pay the higher roaming rate.
For users of smart phones, there´s an internet-based prepaid service available, with rates payable by day, week or month as follows:
|Package||Price in Pesos
The advantage of this system is that you can control how much you spend. If you run out of air time credit, you don’t have to buy another ficha soon. The service allows you to receive calls and gives you up to three months to recharge air time.
All cell phones in Mexico must be registered with the government. This is a law that went into effect in 2010 as another measure to combat illegal activities in the drug trade. If you are a resident (with an FM2-3 visa) or a citizen, you must have and provide your CURP (Clave Unica de Registro de Población, the equivalent of a Social Security number which can be obtained at the Civil Registry on Calle 65 x 64 y 66 in Mérida) when you register your cell phone. If not, the phone will be registered at the place of purchase (using a RENAUT or Registro Nacional de Usuarios de Telfonia Movile) when you buy it. In order to register a phone that way, you don’t need a CURP, but you will need a photo ID.
As you can see, using a cell phone in Mexico is not a big deal, so check your options, compare rates from the different companies, do the math and stay in touch!