Can You Hear Me Now?
We sometimes wish there had been a video camera trained on us the first time we tried to use a cellular phone in the small town of Dolores Hidalgo in Mexico. We had bought a new cell phone package and a pay-as-you-go card, called an Amigo card. This was a new concept to us at the time, having come from the land of two year, ten page contracts. We were excited to use our new purchase.
Our complete lack of both speaking and understanding Spanish made it totally impossible to activate the Amigo card in order to use our newly purchased cell phone. We must have listened to that Spanish recording ten times before finally, with much exasperation and embarassment, we employed our best charades skills to ask the teenage girl at the cash register of a restaurant to do it for us. That was a moment of intense powerlessness, and we’ve never forgotten it, though we can certainly laugh about it now. Eventually we figured out how to activate the “English” setting on the phone as well, which helped a lot. And then finally, seven or so years later, we know enough Spanish that we can figure it out (or not) in either language.
Still Confused After All These Years
But despite our familiarity with our adopted home, we still are puzzled when it comes to telephones at times. The options keep multiplying, and they were confusing to begin with. We have a suspicion that we are not the only ones who struggle with this, so we researched the different protocols and we present them to you here.
A few notes. Most people in Mexico space their phone numbers differently. They tend to memorize and repeat phone numbers (and other numbers too) in groups of two or three. Americans and Canadians remember their numbers in the XXX-XXX-XXXX format. In Mexico, you might hear XXXX-XX-XX-XX or XX-XX-XXX-XXX. We use all of the different formats below so you can get used to the chaos. It’s amazing how just switching where the space goes in a number can confuse a person!
The instructions below are for phones purchased in Mexico. There are also, of course, calling cards that can be used at quickly-disappearing public phones. And yet another alternative is a new concept that turns out to be more convenient than traditional calling cards. Those are online phone card services, such as Rebtel, that is available in many countries, including Mexico. Once you own an account, you can exercise your credit from any of about 50 countries, making it easy to move between countries without the fear of losing any of your money or having to learn a new process.
In the instructions below, we are quoting Telmex and Telcel costs mostly, because we are most familiar with them and they are the most ubiquitous in Mexico. There are other companies for land lines (Cablevision, Axtel, Nextel) and for cel phones (Iusacel, Movistar, Nextel), and costs may vary.
If you have anything helpful to contribute or if we have made a mistake, please tell us in a comment.
How To Dial A Phone in Mexico – From Anywhere to Somewhere Else
Land line to land line in same city (example: Merida to Merida)
Prefix needed: No prefix, no area code
Complete dialed number: 123-4567
This is the simplest option anywhere. The caller pays $1.5 pesos per minute plus IVA. A house Telmex phone line will get the first 100 calls per month free. A business Telmex phone line pays for every call.
Land line to cell phone in the same city (Merida to Merida)
Prefix needed: 044
Complete dialed number: 044-99-91-234-567 (US Format: 044-999-123-4567)
When asked, a person will usually give you his/her cellular phone number with the area code (in the case above “999”). Thus, “Mi numero celular está ‘99 91 234 567’.
As an example, the price per minute from Telmex to Telcel in Merida is $1.84 pesos (about $.12 USD) plus IVA.
Land line to cell phone in another town (Progreso to Merida)
Prefix needed: 045
Complete dialed number: 045-99-91-234-567
This will be a long distance call from your landline and the calling phone will pay the entire cost of the phone call. The cell phone will not get charged for the long distance call.
For example, if the Progreso land line is (969)123 45 67 and you are calling a cell phone based in Merida, you will dial 045 999 123 4567. You will use the same protocol, even if the person you are calling happens to be in Progreso at the time, if their phone is usually based in Merida.
If this call is from a Telmex landline to a Telcel cel phone, it will cost $2.85 pesos per minute ($3.28 with I.V.A.).
If you are calling from Progreso to a Progreso-based cell phone and the person happens to be in Merida for the afternoon, you just dial 044 969 123 4567.
Land line to land line in another town (Progreso to Merida)
Prefix needed: 01
Complete dialed number: 01 (999) 123 4567
This is larga distancia automatica nacional (automatic national long distance) and you will dial 01 before the area code and the phone number. The caller will be charged about $4 pesos during the day and $2.50 pesos at night for this phone call (without a special larga distancia plan).
There are exceptions to this rule. In Merida, for example, Acanceh and Uman have different area codes, but the caller to numbers in those towns is only charged $.50 pesos per minute instead of the national rate of $2.50 to $4.00 pesos. These are called “neighborhoods”, and there are equivalents for every city. So we’re guessing that Cancun, for instance, might have Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos in its “neighborhood”, making those calls cheaper than calls to, say, Tulum or Felipe Carrillo Puerto which are farther away.
Cell phone to cell phone
Prefix needed: None
Complete dialed number: 999-123-4567
To call a cell phone from another cell phone, regardless of where the person is located at the moment, just dial the area code and the numbers without a prefix. The caller pays, and the cost depends on the plan. The cheapest Telcel cost for this type of call is $1 peso per minute; an Amigo card charges $2.5 pesos per minute plus IVA for the same call.
Cell phone to cell phone in another town (Merida to Playa del Carmen)
Prefix needed: None
Complete dialed number: 984-123-4567
Again, dial the numbers of the cell phone including the area code. The cost of a call like this depends on your carrier and your plan, but can be from $1 peso to $2.4 pesos per minute, and will be paid by the caller.
Cell phone to land line in the same town (Merida to Merida)
Prefix needed: None
Complete dialed number: 999-123-4567 or 123-4567
You can either dial the area code and the 7 numbers or just the seven numbers. The price will depend on your plan. It can range from $1 peso plus IVA to $2.50 pesos plus IVA per minute. If you have an Amigo card, and you call a land line, you will be charged $4 pesos plus IVA per minute. The caller pays.
Cell phone to land line in another town (Merida to Playa del Carmen)
Prefix needed: 01
Complete dialed number: 01-984-123-4567
Treat the number being called as a national phone number. The price depends on the plan you have, and will be paid by the caller.
Cell phone to US or Canada cell phone or land line
Prefix needed: 001
Complete dialed number: 001-408-123-4567
To dial an international phone number from Mexico to the United States or Canada, dial the prefix 001, followed by the area code (408) and the phone number. There is no difference in dialing protocol for dialing a landline or a cell phone number.
The price will depend on the plan you have, and will be paid by the caller in all cases. (In the US and Canada, the cell phone user may also pay to receive the call). For example, our contract charges $5.22 pesos plus IVA per minute for a call from our Telcel Mexico cell phone to a United States phone number. We believe that the Amigo plan charges between $11 and $15 pesos per minute for the same call.
US or Canada to cell phone in Mexico
Prefix needed: 011-52-1
Complete dialed number: 011 52 1 999 1 23 45 67
You will dial 011 to make an international call. Then dial Mexico’s country code, which is “52”. Follow this with a “1” to indicate that you are dialing a cell phone in Mexico. Then dial the area code and number.
If you are in the city where you have contracted for and/or purchased your cell phone in Mexico, you will not be charged for an incoming phone call. If you bought your phone in Merida, but are receiving this call on a weekend in Playa del Carmen, you will be charged something per minute (depending on your plan) for mobility (what we used to call ‘roaming’).
US or Canada to land line in Mexico
Prefix needed: 011-52
Complete dialed number: 011 52 999 1 23 45 67
You will dial 011 to make an international call. Then dial Mexico’s country code, which is “52” and then the area code and number.
Dialing a Toll Free Number in US or Canada from Mexico
Sometimes you really need to call a toll free US number from Mexico. It won’t be toll free anymore but being able to do it still comes in very handy! Dial 001 and then dial 880 if your toll-free number begins with 800. Dial 881 for an 888 number. Dial 882 for an 877 number and dial 883 for all 866 numbers. For instance, if the number is 1-800-555-5555, you would dial 001-880-555-5555. That’s it… magic!
Think You Can Remember All That?
That’s it! Easy, right? If you are anything like us, we suggest you bookmark this page. Happy dialing!
For information about buying a cell phone in the Yucatan, check out our article Shopping For Cell Phone Service in Merida.