Lots of customers ask about the Cell Phone Experience in Mexico. Since cell phone companies are the equivalent of the Digital Highway’s used car salesmen, we held our noses, rolled up our sleeves, and dove into the morass of cell phone plans to get you answers. After cleaning up, we sifted the wheat from the chaff (to mix metaphors) and came up with these solutions for you all.
First, a caveat. Cell phone companies change deals as often as a streetwalker changes her shoes, so, while the information provided here was definitely accurate the day I wrote it, that drops to “probably” accurate a few weeks later and finally to “possibly more-or-less-true, but a good place to start,” a few months later.
The SIM-SIM Two-Step
If you want to keep your contacts and pictures and info you already have on your phone, but don’t like Mexico plans your cell provider offers, get an unlocked phone with dual sim card slots. You can buy a dual sim phone like a cheapie BLU for $40 to a Samsung Galaxy S10+ for $662 and a lot of choices in-between. There is even an adapter for Apple phones.
What, you ask, is a SIM card? Technically, it is a Subscriber Identification Module–a tiny portable memory card (think memory card in your camera only way smaller) that stores the data in your phone. Unless you set your phone up incorrectly, you can move the sim from the old phone into any compatible (GSM) phone and everything should work.
Put your existing sim in slot 2 and your brand new one in slot 1. Why this arrangement? You are less likely to accidentally make a call on the wrong phone if they are reversed. Trust me. I learned this from bitter experience.
You can get a fresh SIM card from your new carrier for Mexico. That’s all there is to it.
I used dual SIM card phones for years and put different Mexican phone company SIM cards in them (Telcel, Movistar and others) and everything worked perfectly. If you have fat fingers as I do, the always polite adolescent men or women at the Mexican cell phone stores will happily put your Mexico identity in your phone. There seems to be something James Bond-ish about having two phones. Or maybe I am just wacko.
This keeps changing all the time. Sometimes you (a foreigner) can walk into a cell phone store, Walmart, OXXO, etc. and buy a sim card from any major carrier. Or you can buy an inexpensive Mexican phone with a card. You can get a month-to-month plan or a pay as you go plan.
Sometimes foreigners are prohibited from buying cell phones. At one point, you had to have an RFC number. It’s a tax id number. No problem, the clerk gave me a number that probably belonged to the President. They stopped doing that. I’ve heard there are new restrictions if you are a tourist. It’s things like that that pushed me into getting a US carrier.
Another disadvantage to having a Mexican carrier is that customer service is a myth, not a policy. I speak Spanish, but I swear I needed a college degree to understand their representatives. I had a Mexican friend call them and he could not make heads or tails. Plus, Telcel and Movistar both solicited me to sign up for a special alternative plan every few days. It did not make me feel special.
The rates were spectacular. I paid about one or two cents a minute for voice or Internet. But in the end, I looked for a better way.
People are tied to their cell phone companies—legally and emotionally. They get shiny new phones as they come out for pennies on the dollar. You don’t think anyone really pays $1,000.00 for a phone, do you? So I understand why not everyone wants to jump on the dual SIM or Mexican phone bandwagons.
I know I did not cover every mobile phone carrier. These are the most popular. The general advice about common pitfalls applies to any phone company. They seek to bamboozle and nickel and dime the consumer, not offer the best service. Once I got a bill for $8,000 from one of the major carriers. I called to ask why. It was because I used the phone in Mexico while roaming. Al contrario, I whispered. I was in New Mexico, which is one of the 50 United States of America. It took several months for them to straighten that out. My story is not unique. You no doubt have some of your own. Cell phones are a necessity for modern life.
So when you read about an impressive deal for using your phone in Canada or Mexico, read and re-read the fine print.
Watch Out For Pitfalls And Gaps
A lot of US carriers will sell you a plan with “unlimited” calling–FROM the USA TO Mexico. If you want to call from Mexico to USA, the rate is fifty cents a minute. Telcel America suckered me in on such a deal once. They also had terrible customer service and gave me excellent advice—I should have read the terms and conditions before buying.
You don’t see this as much as you used to, but check if a carrier is still using the “Zone” system of charging for calls. If a town is in Zone 2, it costs one-fifth what Zone 8 will cost you. What, do they have to string extra wires?
Some cell phone companies still charge you more for calls to or from cell phones. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
Down To The Specifics
Simple Mobile—I use this little-known company 100% for my cell service and have for years. I found it by going to a local (TX) phone shop and explaining my woes with cell phones. The owner recommended it. I used it. I stopped looking. I have unlimited talk, text, Internet (3G) whether I am in Mexico or the USA or Canada or a bunch of other countries. I pay $22.00 a month. It is month-to-month. I hate commitment. Just don’t tell my wife.
AT&T–3 GB for $50.00 a month or 9 GB for $60.00 monthly. But you have to sign up for a yearly contract. CAREFUL–if you have an older plan, upgrade to an “Eligible Unlimited Plan” or you will get gouged on Mexico and Canada calls.
Boost–is a company that I might consider for myself if I ever switch from Simple. It is month-to-month for $35.00 for unlimited talk and text and 10 GB 4G data. That is the USA plan. If I want to use it in Mexico and Canada, I have to add the International Connect Plan for $10.00 a month. If I just want to call Mexico, I’d choose the Todo Mexico Plus Plan at $5.00 a month. Up to 8 GB of data roaming in Mexico.
Google Fi–with a flexible plan that looks like it would barely do and an unlimited plan for $70 a month. Yet it gets a lot of buzz. Pass on it.
Mint—is one of those I warned you about earlier. They have a splendid plan – $20.00 a month 8 GB with a Sim kit with “Unlimited calls to Mexico.” That is only TO not from. So pass it by.
Sprint—is more than a cell phone carrier. Sure, their unlimited plans start at $70.00 a month included unlimited calls to and from Mexico, but you’re also paying for Hulu and HD quality streaming. You get 4G, though. If you have a lower-tier plan, you already have “Sprint Global Roaming” on your phone. It has text and “basic data” (2G) free. Voice is 0.25 per minute. To upgrade the data speed to 4G will cost you $10.00 a week or $2.00 a day.
T-Mobile–has so many plans it boggled my little mind. They include Amazon Prime in one plan. The short version is that if you have their “Essentials” Plan, you already have unlimited talk and text in Mexico. If you have the “Magenta” Plan @ $70.00 a month, you also get 5 GB of 4G LTE data, which drops to unlimited 2G if you use it up.
They also have an addon called “Metro.” Pay an additional $5.00 a month to whatever plan you already have with them–if your plan is $40.00 a month or more. That gives you 5 GB LTE speeds in Mexico.
Verizon–has a variety of plans. Some of them say they have “talk and text TO” foreign countries. That does not mean FROM. For that, you need either their “TravelPass” Plan or their “Monthly International Plan.” The TravelPass is simple. Pay $5 and whatever plan you already have is good in Mexico. The “Monthly” is twice as much – $10.00 a day–but you don’t need it. The “TravelPass” is a special deal for Mexico and Canada.