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Mexico Guru

How to Phone in Mexico

As reliant as we are today on cell phones, it’s a pain in el trasero to travel without one. Hooking up with friends, obtaining movie information while you’re out and about, or finding out why your airport shuttle hasn’t arrived while you’re standing in the street with your luggage are all times when a cell phone is either handy or essential.

Fortunately you can buy a cheap cell phone for use during your stay in Mexico. Or bring a compatible one and obtain the appropriate SIM card. Many locals use prepaid cell phones; you can buy minutes in pharmacies, convenience stores like OXXO, grocery stores (Soriana, Mega, Chedraui, Comercial Mexicana, and so on) and department stores (Liverpool, Sanborns, Elektra, Coppel). Cost for an inexpensive cell phone starts at about 350 pesos and usually comes with enough minutes of air time to get you started.

Phones purchased in Mexico must be registered before you can use them. Ask the person who sells you the phone to help you register it, and make a test call before you leave the store. Officially an ID is required, but I registered mine with no identification by just writing down my full name and birthday. If you want help at the time you buy the phone, however, it’s best to have an official ID such as a passport, FM3, or drivers license with you.

It’s about four times more expensive by the minute* to use the pre-paid phone plan as opposed to a service plan, but of course you’re not paying the monthly fee. The monthly service plan may be more convenient for people who plan to use their cell phone on a regular basis. But for people on a short vacation, or who live in Mexico but use their cell phones only sporadically, the prepaid calling plan is the best bet. TelCel charges 4.19 pesos per minute to make a call to another cell phone in the same service area. Not cheap, but convenient.

Telmex’s cell phone division is called TelCel. TelCel’s most popular monthly plan is the “Más Por Menos Tres” (“More For Less Three”) Plan. Monthly phone rental at this time is 363 pesos and includes 200 minutes of air time. On this plan you are allowed to choose six friends or frequently called numbers for unlimited calls of five minutes or less.

Their pre-paid minutes plan is called Plan Amigo. On this plan, you can choose three local cell phone numbers for unlimited free calls of five minutes or less. If you need to talk longer than five minutes, just hang up and dial again. You must request this service at a TelCel service center or by dialing *264.

Dialing Cell Phones and Land Lines Within Mexico
and Beyond

Knowing how to dial land lines from cell phones---and vice versa---in Mexico can be frustrating and annoying. And on a bad day, just plain infuriating. For a list of useful swear words, check our Spanish-English slang dictionary at http://www.mexicoguru.com/mexican-slang.php. Or for a calmer, more Zen-like experience, consult the following info.

Mexican land line to cell in same service area:
044 + local number, including area code (EG: 044-415/152-0000). On most monthly land-line phone plans there is an extra charge to call a cell phone in the same service area from your land line. If you’re calling from a hotel or other public place this service may be blocked, and you’ll get a busy signal.

Mexican land line to cell phone long distance within Mexico:
045 + area code + local number (EG: 045-442/256-0000). On your monthly bill you will be charged 10.28 pesos per minute for this call.

Mexican cell phone to local land line:
local number only (7 digits except for Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara, whose phone numbers are 8 digits)

Mexican cell phone to land line elsewhere in Mexico:
area code + local number

Mexican cell phone to cell phone, same service area:
area code + local number

Mexican cell phone to cell phone, long distance Mexico:
area code + local number

It’s significantly cheaper to send a text message to your local friends then to call them on their cell or home phone. The cost is currently .89 pesos per text, as opposed to 4.19 pesos per phone call per minute (to a cell phone in the same service area).

To dial a Mexican cell phone from outside the country, dial 011 (access code), 52 (country code), and then a “1” before the area code and local number. If you don’t add the “1” you will get a busy signal and may not realize that you’re dialing incorrectly. (EG: 011521/415-152-0000.)

To call the U.S. or Canada (cell or land line), dial 001 + area code + local number

To call other countries, dial 00 + country code + area code + local number

Important Notes

  • The person who makes the call incurs the charge, whether from a cell phone or land line: local, national, or international. Therefore, if you take a call on your cell phone from a person calling long-distance within Mexico, or even from outside the country, there is no charge to you IF YOU ARE WITHIN YOUR OWN SERVICE AREA. Outside your own service area, roaming charges apply.
  • After you use your TelMex cell for one year, go to a service counter (or call customer service on your cell phone) and ask to have the cost per minute reduced. You have to request this service, which will cut the cost per minute by about two-thirds, making it well worth the effort.
  • Mexico is divided into nine service regions. If you purchase cell phone minutes in one service area you must upload them in the same service area. For example, if you buy minutes in Mexico City you must upload them before returning to Guanajuato, which is a different service region. Once you leave the service area where the air time was purchased, you cannot upload them.
  • If you don’t use your cell for two months, your minutes disappear.
  • If you have lost your minutes after not using the phone for two months, but purchase more minutes before four months from your last phone call, you recoup your lost minutes.
  • If you don’t use your cell phone for four months, you lose your minutes permanently.
  • If you don’t use your phone for six months, you lose your minutes AND your telephone number becomes inactive. You must buy a new SIM card and reregister your phone. So even if you keep your phone for emergencies only, make a call or send a text once in a while to keep the phone active.
  • Dial *333 for status information, including the amount of air time left on your cell. Dial *264 to reach the Help Desk for other information about your TelCel options (Plan Amigo, or Pay-As-You-Go) or *111 for info regarding monthly rental plan information. Dialing *111 or *264 can also apparently hook you up with a tow truck as well as travel, roadside, or even legal information.
  • Roaming. Roaming charges are a whole new ball of wax and too complicated to get into here. You can go to www.telcel.com/roaming and try to decipher the information there. You must know the make and model of your cell phone to obtain data about calling from service areas outside your own, and also know the city, municipality, and state where your phone was registered. Good luck on this one! Or send a specific question to roaming@mail.telcel.com.
Good Old-Fashioned Pay Phones Working pay phones are increasingly hard to find as use of cells increases. But you can rely on finding them in bus stations, airports, and other public places. Most use LADATEL cards which can be purchased at pharmacies and corner groceries. Public phones that take coins are almost non-existent. No card is required to dial Mexican toll free numbers (01800 + number) or emergency numbers (see above); just pick up the phone and dial away.

Emergencies and Useful Phone Numbers

These numbers work from a pay phone, land line or cell phone. There’s no charge to call.

066 or 061 (varies from place to place): Emergencies, police

065: Red Cross

078: Green Angels or tourist information

Charges may apply when you call these numbers.

020: Mexican operator

040: Information

090: International operator

If you want to purchase a Mexican cell phone, you must choose among various providers. Here are a few options, with phone numbers.

TelCel: Monthly rental plans: 55/2581-3333 (Mexico City); pre-paid (pay-as-you-go) plans: 55/2581-3344; www.telcel.com)

MoviStar: From a land line, 01800/888-8361; from your cell phone, *611; http://www.movistar.com)

Unefon: www.unefon.com.mx. (Unefon currently has a promotion that gives one minute of air time per peso, to either a cell phone or land line when you buy more than 150 units of air time.)

IUSAcell: www.iusacell.com.mx

*This and the following information is for TelCel. Information regarding other cellular phone companies may vary.