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    Easy Cell Phone Service in Mexico

    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
    20 $20
    30 $30
    50 $50
    100 Yes $120
    150 $200
    200 Fashion District LA cash advance valign=”top”>Yes $300
    300 Yes $600
    500 Yes $1000

    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
    (Tax Included)
    2 days $79.00
    7 days $199.00
    15 days $299.00
    30 days $499.00

    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!

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    20 Comments

    1. Stan
      January 20, 2010

      Is there any problem with the new CURP (Clave Única de Registro de Población) requirements? Is that waived for the prepaid service phones?

    2. Veronica Zelniker
      January 20, 2010

      You can also go to any Walmart, Mega, Soriana or Chedraui to reload your phone, this is called “tiempo aire” where they automatically put the amount you want on your phone. I find this better than the scratch cards as I have experienced a couple of times dud cards.

    3. January 20, 2010

      Hi Stan, this regulation applies to both prepaid service phone lines and long term contracts. It is mandatory to register your cell phone line and to do so you can do it by two methods: by sending a message or calling an operator, give him/her your CURP and saying you want to register your line.
      If you decide to do it through text messaging service (SMS), you must send the following information to the number 2877:
      1. The word ALTA followed by period.
      2. Name or names separated by a space and followed by a period.
      3. Father’s last name, if compound must be separated by a space and followed by a period.
      4. Mother’s last name, if compund must be separated by a space and followed by a period.
      5. Birth date in this sequence: (dd / mm / yyyy).

      You will receive a text message (SMS) informing you that your registration was successful or one indicating that it is necessary to verify the information and send it again.

      If you decide to follow the operator method, call *111 for a long term line with Telcel or *264 for prepaid lines with Telcel. If you have Iusacell , Unefon, Movistar or Nextel, dial * 611.

    4. Dorothy Kaytor
      January 21, 2010

      Hello…. we have just heard that ROGERS cell phone service works in Mexico so wondered if anyone has any experience with this?

    5. Jan Morgan
      January 21, 2010

      Great information, thanks. You can also check your saldo (remaining pesos for airtime) by dialing (*133# send). It will tell you on your screen what your balance is, and when it runs out. I think the cost is only 15 centavos. You can also give airtime to another phone in increments of 99 pesos. This is good if you have too much time and your friend or loved one doesn’t have enough time! Just send a message to 7373. On it you put YOUR 10 digit phone number then a space, then the amount. Max is 99 pesos. So if you want to send 300 pesos to someone else, you will have to do it 3 times.

    6. Ray
      January 24, 2010

      Dorothy I have found that Rogers and TELUS can work in Mexico and of course there is the roaming charges. Rogers uses the GSM platform which is used in Mexico making it more compatible however.

    7. Beth S.
      March 31, 2010

      I have heard that AT&T prepaid phone service works in Mexico for 25 cents per minute both incoming and outgoing. Does anyone have any experience with this?

    8. Tammy
      April 26, 2010

      Does anyone know if Sprint works in Palenque?

    9. April 29, 2010

      Hi Tammy, Sprint works in Mexico, but only in some areas; Palenque is not covered under Sprint coverage.

    10. Val M
      October 21, 2010

      I have a Nokia cell locally purchased in Cozumel, I come down about 3 times a year. I have been keeping it active by having a friend who lives on the island buy airtime to input when the creidt is about to expire. The other day she put in 40 pesos and the message was it expires November 3rd. How much time do I need to purchase to ensure a lengthier time before expiration of credit?

    11. October 21, 2010

      Val, each prepaid card has a validity of 60 days. After 60 days if you have credit left it will be “frozen” until you charge another prepaid card. The credit left before will be added to the new credit.

    12. Val M
      October 22, 2010

      Thanks for your response Adriana. I guess it is best to go back to prepaid cards. That’s what I did in the past, until I found out the grocery stores, etc. will allow you to put in pesos and they just key it in. Problem with that is that your credit expires earlier.

    13. Phil
      March 25, 2012

      If your visit is short a good option is to rent a cell phone from Ralf at lawsonsyucatan.com. There was a $30 refundable deposit and the cost of the phone was a very reasonable $1.50/ day. Ralf personally delivered the phone to the hotel we were at (Centro) and was very personable- answering our questions about the area and giving us tips on what to see and then checking in with us to make sure that we had no issues. We will rent from him again when we are there next.

    14. Paul Van Stedum
      March 28, 2012

      I just heard that verizon has a plan to use their phones in mexico. Do you know anything about that? Also the only posts I saw were all from 2010. Is the info on this page up to date?

    15. Yucatan Expatriate Services
      April 11, 2012

      Paul, it is practically impossible to keep cel phone information up to date. The best we can do is give you an idea of how things work, but you have to go talk to the companies about your own situation and their specials and deals at the time.

    16. checar puntuacion infonavit
      November 3, 2012

      Quería aprender algo referente a casas infonavit acapulco cuando hallé esta pagina.
      Me da gusto haberla encontrado.

    17. Yucatan Expatriate Services
      November 6, 2012

      Checar Puntuacion Infonavit thanks for the comment.

    18. June 13, 2013

      We stumbled over here different website and thought I might as well check things
      out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to looking at your web page again.

    19. Ally
      July 3, 2016

      I found a locked TelCel phone, Nokia, on eBay for $20. Does anyone feel this will work in the Yucatan?

    20. Yucatan Expatriate Services
      July 7, 2016

      Ally, you can buy a new Telcel phone at convenience stores, such as “Oxxo” at less tan 20 USD and with prepaid minutes. We think that will be a better option for you.

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