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Shopping Cell Phone Service In Merida

Even in Mexico, it is hard to imagine life without a cell phone. Well, maybe especially in Mexico. Mexico is the poster child for how so-called third-world countries leap-frog over technologies and adapt new technologies faster than the their first-world neighbors. It is not uncommon anymore to see a Mayan woman in a huipile on her cell phone. Every teenager certainly has one. And Carlos Slim, the owner of both Telmex (land lines and Internet) and Telcel (cellular phones) is not only the richest man in Mexico, but last time we looked, is also the richest man in the world. Think about that!

One day, we set out to upgrade our cellular phone service (which by the way, in Spanish, is called celular (sell-oo-LAR) or just plain cel). For the previous three years, we had been using a Telcel pay-as-you go system called Amigo. With the Amigo system (and others like it, though Amigo is by far the most popular), anyone can walk into almost any tendejon in Mexico and buy a ficha or card. Scratch the back of this card like a lottery ticket to reveal the hidden code, then marca (dial) star-33 on your cell phone, enter the code, and your account is credited with the face value of the card. Easy! Even easier, just walk into your local Oxxo or other store that sells the cards, and give them your money and your phone number. They will automatically credit your account with the minutes you paid for. Amigo cards come in denominations between $30 and $500 pesos, but you can put any amount on your card electronically. Telcel sometimes has a sale on these cards where you can buy a $500 peso card that credits your account with $900 pesos. In general, calls in Mexico are now generally about $1 peso per call, with calls via WhatsApp or Skype costing nothing if you have internet service.

There are advantages to the Amigo system. You can buy a phone and a card the moment you get off the plane or drive over the border. No credit necessary, no address, nada. On the flip side, the cards are rather unforgiving. If you run out of time when you are in the middle of a call, the call is over and you need to buy another card. With no money on your phone, you can’t place a call, although you can receive calls and instant messages. On a recent cross-country roadtrip, we found out that the cards are coded by date and location. So if you buy a card in Yucatan, you can use it in Tabasco, maybe, but maybe not in Nayarit. And whatever time you buy with a card has an expiration date built into it. Also, if you have a business in Mexico, you can’t write off the cost for tax purposes unless you buy from a store willing to give you an official serial-numbered receipt, a factura. Tendejons and street vendors don’t provide facturas. After awhile, if you live here, the Amigo system becomes either inconvenient or expensive or both, so moving up to a "normal" cellular phone account makes sense.

There are five major cellular phone companies here in the Yucatan right now: Telcel, Nextel, IUSAcel, Axtel and Telefonica Movistar. Our first decision was which of these to choose. We chose to look into Nextel and Telcel, making sure that which ever company we chose, we could keep our Amigo phone number.

A very nice gentleman from Nextel came to our office and gave us a thorough and intelligent sales presentation in English about Nextel services. Once upon a time, Nextel phones acted more like normal phones and a Nextel cell phone number looks like a land-line number to other phones. The Nextel phones themselves had a walkie-talkie service that was available between Nextel customers. Nowadays, Nextel has become more like other cellular phone services, offering contracts or pre-paid plans. Nextel once had a very limited phone selection, but they now offer Blackberry phones and many other cel phones. And if they don’t have a phone you like, you can even buy a chip with a Nextel number and plan, and install it on any phone you bought elsewhere. Now they have plans where you can call numbers from other cell phone companies using your minutes (but once your minutes are up, those calls cost more than Nextel numbers). With the Nextel prepaid service, you can buy credit for your phone in stores (like OXXO, Extra, etc.). Nextel advertises now that “all your calls are local”. They have no national roaming charges and claim that there are no extra charges for calling to the USA. (We have not investigated this detail yet, but we plan to look into it).

Years ago, despite the great Nextel salesman, we went with Telcel. We may have been influenced by our past experiences with the Amigo service, which has wide coverage and exceptional reception. We may also have been influenced by years of watching those ubiquitous Telcel commercials with the big, blue hot air balloons imblazoned with the Telcel logo floating dreamily over various gorgeous landscapes of Mexico. In the end, we wanted to make sure that next time we went ballooning, we weren’t going to miss an important call. We can’t help ourselves… we want to Vive Libre con Telcel (Live Free with Telcel). Anyway, we do appreciate a good advertising campaign.

We visited the Telcel website to see what it would take to sign up for a normal account and made a list of the documents they required to establish our credit. Knowing the process would be a challenge, we prepared as much as possible ahead of time. Then we marched into one of the large Telcel offices with the following paperwork:

  • Copy of our company constitution (our cell phone is a company phone)
  • Comprabante (utility bill) for our company
  • Copy of our individual passport (just one for one phone)
  • Copy of a comprabante from our residence in our name
  • Copy of our business RFC (Mexican Tax ID)
  • Copy of the predial (receipt for property taxes paid by our company)

It used to be more difficult to get credit in Mexico as an expatriate, but it has become a lot easier now. Since we had all the paperwork, the process went very smoothly. When we entered the Telcel office on Avenida Itzaes (just north of the Bodega Aurera), there were two lines. The line to the right was for telling someone why you were there and receiving a ticket with a number. Once you had your ticket, you were to stand in the line on the left. On this day, both lines went smoothly and before we knew it, we were in front of a very competent young lady who answered all our questions, with the help of Beatriz (our silver-tongued assistant). She told us the costs of the service and the phones, took our datos (information), our documentos (paperwork) and told us to come back the next day to sign our contract and pick up our phone.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the structure of cellular phone charges here. These used to be more straightforward than the convoluted financial puzzles offered in the States. At Telcel, with which we are now most familiar, there are different billing levels depending on how many minutes you want included "free" with your service each month. There are no rollover charges, no free nights and weekends, no time differences. Just a set number of “free” minutes per month for an eighteen month contract. The minutes over your allotted minutes are charged the same on all accounts: $1.10 pesos (ten U.S. cents) per minute for anywhere in Mexico. Roaming charges are a thing of the past. There are separate charges for downloading emails from the internet, for getting a detailed bill with each phone number on it and for various other special services, none of which we felt we needed. We selected the National Plan with 160 minutes for $516 pesos per month, which includes administrative charges you don’t pay when using Amigo cards, but definitely saves money if you use your phone very much.

One day later, Working Gringa went back at 10 AM to sign the contract, following the hard-learned lesson that if you want to accomplish something official in Mexico, you start in the morning. Well, not so fast, gringita! Just when you thought you had it all figured out! No, the contract no esta lista (isn’t ready). Come back tomorrow. Upon hearing this, Working Gringa forgot everything she has learned in the past five years and lost her composure. Why did they tell her to come today? Don’t they realize she is a busy woman and doesn’t have time for this?

Lady, you want your phone? Then come back later.


On the way to the Telcel office the next day, Working Gringa took a deep breath, remembering what her good friend Georgia Charuhas told her. After living in Mexico for 30 years, Georgia says that the two most important things she has learned are patience and diplomacy. Patience and diplomacy. Patience and diplomacy. Reciting her new mantra, Working Gringa stepped into the Telcel office for the third time, hoping not to emerge without her new cell phone.

First the line on the right. A long line this time, with no one behind the podium. Determined to go with the Mexican flow, Working Gringa stood there, munching on a delicious coconut candy she had bought from the man just outside the front door. She looked around, enjoyed the photos on the wall. Tapped her foot to the music. Finally, a woman showed up behind the podium and the line began to move. When Working Gringa arrived at the front of the line, the woman took one look at her name and walked into the back to find something. More foot tapping. Humming to the music. Ah yes, 50′s music… How Sweet It is To Be Loved By You. La la la…. the woman came back, Working Gringa got her little ticket and went to the second line.

There was a Diario de Yucatan newspaper on the table next to the line. Working Gringa read all four sections, understanding what she read better than ever before. Plenty of time to parse each word.

Someone came to change the music. Now it was show tunes. "Oh, what a beautiful mooooooor-ning!" The line crept forward. Finally Working Gringa was the next in line. Four different representatives in the row of cajas went on breaks before finally one of them called Pase! and Working Gringa stepped forward.

Ten signatures. Three copies. Show the passport. Wait while they find the phone. Patience and diplomacy.

While she was waiting, Working Gringa thought that maybe they had switched the music to American Show Tunes just for her, the only gringa in the building! Oh, that would be too embarassing, especially because they were playing particularly obscure and awful showtunes from the Seventies. Finally it was even too much for them, and someone flipped the station to Mexican pop music, much better and much more foot tapping all around. Finally, the phone arrived. The woman in the caja put in the new chip, gave Working Gringa a copy of her contract, and she was fuera de alli (outta’ there)!

In retrospect, the whole process was quite efficient and ultimately successful. The people involved were not only incredibly knowledgeable and smart, but terribly patient and diplomatic. Patient and diplomatic. Patient and diplomatic. Once Working Gringa remembered to be that way too, a foot-tapping time was had by all!

March 2009 Update: Working Gringa made the unfortunate mistake of washing her cell phone in the washing machine, necessitating a new phone. Much to her surprise, the Apple iPhone turned out to be affordable ($1800 pesos after applying “points” earned for paying her bill on time for the last eighteen months). The two year contract gave her monthly phone service and unlimited internet for less than $75 USD per month. Sold!

Confused about how to dial a number in Mexico? Check out our explanation article, How To Dial a Phone Number in Mexico.

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61 Responses to “Shopping Cell Phone Service In Merida”

  1. Don’t understand insistence of Yucatan Living’s contributors to refer to Mexico as “a third world country”. A “third world country” with malls, ATMs, broadband, international chain stores, expressways? Maybe it would be more appropriate to refer to Mexico as “a developing country”?

  2. I refer to my blackberry as my leash, looking forward to the day I no longer carry a cellphone or blackberry….

  3. Dear Shelagh,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Just to be clear, we don’t believe Mexico (or any country) is third-world. We wrote that Mexico is a “so-called third-world” country. The term “third-world” often reflects the attitude toward Mexico of many U.S and Canadian citizens and remains a cultural barrier. By writing, “so-called”, we are attempting to point out the paradox between this common attitude and the reality.

    We believe the term “third world” is misused and outdated. It originally referred to those non-aligned countries that were neither allies of the U.S. nor the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The term has never accurately reflected the economic conditions of any particular country.

    We hesitate to use the term, “developing country”, because it too is an inaccurate political term that hides the fact that most countries are undergoing some form of development. There are regions in the U.S. that are not yet as economically developed as some regions of Mexico.

    The term also implies that countries that do not follow the development path of the U.S. are somehow not developing. The fact is, Mexico was “developing” for hundreds of years before there even was a United States of America. Many Mexicans may want cell phones, the Internet and shopping malls, but it is our observation that they will not abandon their heritage and native cultural diversity in a mad rush to become just another U.S.A.

  4. Hi Elle,
    great story. I guess the US is not the only place you can get to the front of the line only to find that you have arrived too soon. Patience is indeed a necessity.

    I’m e-mailing a link to a recent New York Times “Frequent Flier” article on how we “pass though.” Here’s the gist – “Aldous Huxley was right. To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” And it gets better from there. Enjoy, as I did your post.

  5. What a patient and diplomatic response! I love you guys!

  6. I always wondered about telephone service in Merida. Great story. I remember my 1st visit to Merida as a tourist in 1998. I didn’t know about using cards for pay phones, and looked in vain for coin pay phones. Strange, as I was in my last days of living in Merida (October 2005), some pay phones that accepted coins were being put up around town. My esposa, “Working Yucateca”, lol, play on words, said that a land line would cost about $3,000.00 pesos, or $300.00 usd. Guess the Cell phones are the cheaper route.

  7. Great article on info we need…… I have one question, do you get to choose the phone? or just take what they give you?

  8. Great question! Yes, you do get to choose your phone. They have a certain number of phones that you can get free with each plan. Most of those are perfectly serviceable. We chose to pay a little extra for something way cool. When you do that, the price for the phone you choose is different depending on the plan you choose.

  9. Question
    $516 pesos for only 160 minutes per month? Was this a typo? Did you mean 1600 minutes per month? $516 pesos (or roughly $50 dollars US) per month for 2hours and 40 minutes seems pretty
    expensive to me.

    Love your insight on living and working in Merida. Keep up the great work!
    Nels in Minnesota

  10. Being in the telecom industry over 30 years I would not go for a landline any longer (matter of fact all 4 of our adult children have cell phones only) and for my home I would go with a VOIP (voice over IP) phone either through cable interconnection or satellite.

  11. No, Nels, it’s not a typo. We didn’t say it was cheap, only that it’s cheaper. The first 160 minutes cost about 28 cents each and 10 cents thereafter, while the Amigo cards cost about 36 cents a minute. The phone itself, a rather sleek Motorola KRZR K1 was heavily discounted in the deal, plus now we can deduct the cost of cell phone service from our business taxes, which should be considered in the equation as well.

  12. Thanks for another very practical article.

  13. To Nels. Phone service in Merida is not cheap. While living in Mexico you may get more pesos bargin for your dollars. It adds up. My wife, Ariadna – “Working Yucateca”, says a home phone installed cost about $3,000.00 psos, guess about $290.00 or $300.00 usd? I told Ariadna I got homeservice installed here in Texas with ATT for just $80.00 usd. She gets so many calls on her TelMex home phone, I think 100 calls a month. I get unlimited calls for $40.00 usd with ATT. There are bargins in Merida. Good thing I had Working Yucateca to show me when I lived in Merida.

  14. Wow… I cannot decide which I like more: the “How-to” on obtaining a cell phone, or the discourse on categorizing Mexico. Great pieces, both of them.

    And how Lucky you are! Only to be told once that “la contrata no esta lista.” I must have made 3 or 4 trips, plus my helper made many phone calls only to be told “la contrata no esta lista.” at CFE (the electric company). Finally, on the next to the last trip, instead of “the contract isn’t ready,” I was told, “the secretary isn’t here.” As I looked around at all the cubes and all the workers, I wondered, “There’s only one secretary?”

    I’m vaguely connected to cell companies in the USA and the fact is that Mexican cell phone companies carry a number of cooler phones. I’ve brought back a few and wowed some people with models not available here. Believe it or not, they work perfectly fine in the US after you swap out the chip. (GSM phones only) And these were more low-end models, but with a different case or just not sold in the US for whatever reason.

    I use “Amigo” in Merida presently, but one day will brave TelCel for a contract and a monthly plan. Or… maybe I will just become ‘unavailable’ and while away some time with the nieve man and the neighbors (ice cream man on a tricycle – mmmm…. coconut!).

  15. Do you know what I do to avoid those ” come back tomorrow to see if the paper/contract/whatever-you-name-it is ready “? I ask for the name of the person that I talked to, company/office phone number in that office and open and close schedule and…call every day until the paper is ready…you save a lot of time…

  16. Did you find any ‘family plans’ like the ones in the US – share a plan with two phones, free to call each other? probably not, just wondering.

    Also, what connection was there between Nextel Mexico and Nextel US? My understanding is that you can use the walkie across the border…

    I’ve been contemplating cell phone services…including brining my own phone and using the Amigo services. I appreciate this article.

  17. No, we asked about a family plan and Telcel doesn’t have anything like that. They do have a program called El que llama paga (The one who calls, pays). If someone calls you on your cell phone, they pay for the call and you don’t.

    As for Nextel, yes you can use the radio across the border. The salesman told me that he uses it to talk to his mother in California for practically free. In reviewing the Telcel website, we notice that Telcel is now also offering a radio service, although we believe you have to buy the model of phone that will support that service.

    We don’t think you can bring your own phone from the US and use it with the Amigo system. You have to buy a phone here that is set up for the system.

    And Victor, thanks for the suggestion. Now that we speak better Spanish, that strategy does work sometimes. But understanding Spanish speakers over the phone is still harder than understanding them in person, and sometimes it still just doesn’t work for us (which is where the amazing Beatriz comes in…).

  18. Thank you for your many lovely posts.
    I am living in NY and travelling back and forth to Merida several times a year. I have Verizon Wireless North American Calling plan. I am able to place calls to and use my phone in Merida without any roaming or long distance charges. I have 800 anytime minutes and 1000 weekend, 1000 evenings. Of course if anyone in Merida calls my cell it is long distance. This plan is great for me as I am Canadian and can call US, Canada and Mexico.
    Once again thanks for your posts.

  19. When I go to Mexico I use Telcel exclusively (because you can buy Telcel minutes EVERYWHERE) and even though I use pre-paid, all the details still sounded right. Mexico is a place where patience and diplomacy reigns most important – even when dealing with a (truly) world-class company like Telcel.

    What I didn’t see anything here about cell-based VOIP, which saved me a TON of money calling home during my last trip to Cancun. I rented a Telcel phone from Mexitel (in the US) for a very reasonable price and paid the 36 cents per minute for my locals calls – and only 2 cents per minute added to that to call the US (using the Mexitel VOIP setup).

    I used to buy SIMS and unlocked GSM phones for this trip, but there’s no way you can beat the new deal which includes VOIP. (And besides, the SIMs I would buy would always die before I was able to go back and use them a second time.)

  20. Thanks for your input, Ron. We’d never even HEARD about Mexitel. There are so many options, it’s impossible to cover them all.

  21. This week I’ll be trying out my theory of swapping out the SIM card in my Cingular phone for a telcel SIM card. I have instructions to ‘unlock’ the phone (from Cingular – thanks to a change in US regulations) and have been told at the TELCEL store in Gran Plaza that the new # & SIM card will cost only $115.00 MN. Hopefully I’ll have success.

  22. Good luck, Ryan. and let us know the results!

  23. Success!! This is a good idea for traveling…with a new sim card and the new lower prices for Amigo calls ($1.15/min for my top 10 callers – after one year for all telcel phones), I’m all set to message and call my new friends in Mexico. I borrowed a SIM card, so hopefully the cost will truly only be $115 for a new SIM card.

  24. Iusacel may be good option if you make many local calls. In my work we have a plan with Iusacel that gives you free calls between other Iusacel cellphones, free calls to local numbers, like home phone numbers and offices, and this specific plan gives you free calls across the country, to other Iusacel cellphones or home phones… Iusacel has family plans, business plans etc. But it has high rates if you call cellphones from another company like Telcel… that’s why a lot of people in Merida have a Iusacel plan for calls between family, company etc. and a Telcel cellphone with Amigo cards for Telcel calls…

  25. Thank you for that information! The cel phone plans change so fast… it’s good to have know about that! We was told when we asked around that no one had “family” plans (calling between numbers for free). But obviously, they do! Thanks for letting us know.

  26. Hi all,

    Thanks for the info WG. Your site is tops!

    I’m writing this as a US traveler visiting Mexico, rather than as a resident of Merida, but it applies to residents, as well:

    More on VoIP (voice over IP, or using the Internet for phone calls) — You can get a Skype account over the Internet with your computer and get a Skype WiFi phone that you can use WITHOUT a computer. All you need is an open, public WiFi hotspot (wireless broadband) and the Skype WiFi phone and you can call anyone any where for VERY cheap, a few pennies per minute. You can call other Skype accounts for free. Check it out:
    Most hotels and many cafes have wireless broadband.

    Of course, if you travel with a laptop, you can use Skype with the laptop.

    If you have a broadband connection in your home, you can easily create a wireless network (hotspot) and use the Skype account and WiFi phone at home. And again, you do not have to go through a computer to use the phone.

    If you do not have a Skype WiFi phone, and don’t want to bring a laptop traveling with you, you can forward your Skype calls to your hotel room phone. You can do this in your Skype account on a computer. Anyone can call you for only pennies a minute, even from the US; it’s not billed as a long-distance call.

    Just a few suggestions.



  27. Thanks Working Gringa —

    Could you tell us when you wrote your original article? For some reason I can’t find any date information in this blog — neither for the article nor the comments.


  28. The original article was written in early 2007. Things change with lightning speed in the cel phone industry, so we’re sure many things are different already, but at least this gives you an idea of where to start!

  29. You are not kidding when you say lightning fast.

    The prices at the place where I used to rent cell phones that you could use to call the US very cheaply (see above) has changed – they’ve gone DOWN.

    I thought 36 cents per minute was good – now it’s a flat rate of $1 per call (up to 20 minutes). You can’t call the US from inside the US for that kind of money.

    Great for us tourist types.

    Thanks for the blog – excellent way to keep up.

  30. Woe is me. I lost my cell phone. Verizon is my carrier and I had an LG phone. Does anyone know how/if it is possible to replace this phone here in Merida and get my service connected to it?

    Thanks for any help.


  31. Beryl,
    Verizon uses CDMA technology. The standard throughout much of the world is GSM, so that makes it a little more difficult. You could try talking with IUSACell store in Merida to see if their phones are compatible with Verizon’s.

    The issue is not only the technology of the phone, but also the frequency. So, your Verizon phone may have had 2 or 3 frequencies, one of which worked in Merida. But, if you buy a CDMA phone in Merida, it may have 2 or 3 frequencies which work in Merida but only one (or none) that will work in the USA.

    Another thought: You can have a friend or relative purchase and activate a Verizon phone in the USA and FEDEX it to you in Merida. Pricy, but a quick solution that you know will work.

    Telmex may also have one CDMA frequency in Merida (450 MHz), but the best bet is with IUSACELL. IUSACELL uses 800/1900 MHz, which is the same as Verizon lists. But it is still no guarantee that the phone will work with Verizon. If you do buy a phone in Mexico, you will have to get in touch with Verizon so they can set up the phone to work on your account. They will need ID numbers or other information about the phone.

  32. I have been reading your articles and find them very informative. However, one thing you have not covered is internet service. I live on the net in the US and I have used internet in Mexico, but only at the cyber cafes. What about an ISP for your home? And, how much does it cost?

  33. Hola Bill,

    There are basically two kinds of Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Mexico. One is cable TV. The most dominant company around the Merida area is CableMas ( The problem with cable is that the speed depends on how many others in your area are using it and what they’re using it for. Also, the cable companies don’t seem to stand up well to hurricanes.

    By far the best service is provided by Telmex, the national telephone company that helped make Carlos Slim the richest man in the world. Their DSL product is called Infinitum ( and the price depends on the amount of bandwidth you want. Today, the price for 1MB/Sec is $299 pesos (about $26 USD) a month. If you already have telephone service, they will usually deliver a wireless modem/router and activate your service within three business days. And it’s very reliable.

    Hope this helps.

  34. Do you need to have Telmex phone service to get their internet? It has been a while since I have lived in Mexico, but when I did it was really hard to get a phone. You had to buy stock, and go through so much red tape I gave up trying.

  35. We don’t believe Mexico (or any country) is third-world

  36. I wonder if anyone has information about land line plans where you can call the US from Mexico for a reasonable amount? Someone mentioned a plan that allows you unlimited calls to the states, but I can’t seem to find more info. Yes, I use skype, but I need to do interviews that I record, and in my experience Skype is great for family/friends and short calls, but not great for longer conversations of this nature.

  37. Catherine,
    We use a Voice Over IP service called Broadvoice. You have to buy the hardware in the States. The hardware connects to your wireless router and allows you to initiate and receive calls to/from the US and around the world. The quality is excellent and the cost is about $35 US per month.

  38. [...] 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 [...]

  39. I find your blog very helpful. Most of the questions and answers are dated from 2007-2008. Is most of the information still current to 8/2009? My 20 yr old daughter will be staying in Merida for 3 months beginning Sept. We will want to keep in touch as best we can and need recommendations for how to go about doing that. We have ATT family/texting but it seems that according to the ATT website we will be hit with high roaming charges on her phone. Should she buy an inexpensive phone in Merida? What is your suggestion? You seem to be very knowledgeable about the phone situation and we are clueless.

  40. I response to the poster who was upset at you calling Yucatan “a so-called third world country”, as much as I love Yucatan and all of my wife’s family, I do agree that there is a concept which is difficult to shake when you consider that for all of there leaps and lurches to jump into the electronic age, one still can’t drink the water out of the tap in most places, electricity is often a hit or miss prospect in all but the largest towns and la revanga still raises it’s ugly head if you aren’t careful about what you eat and drink and where.

    All of this considered, I still would rather live there than anywhere else, but alas, my mayan wife who was raised in Dallas since she was 7 won’t consider moving back there. So I have to content myself with semi annual visits to our beach house at Chabihau. I enjoy your site. Thanks for taking the time.

  41. Thanks, Jack! We’re glad you enjoy it… we’ll keep doing it!

  42. i have family in mexico and want to know if i buy a cell phone can they get it activated? and if i can what kind of phone would i need to send like verizon, sprint,at&t , nextel or what?

  43. Hola Gringas,
    Well, at the risk of asking you to repeat yourself, here’s my situation. I’ll be coming to Merida and surrounding areas in January for about three weeks or so. I would like to have a cell phone or, if that isn’t practical, maybe purchase an “?” Amigo Card mentioned above?
    I have family in Cansachab, about 20 miles from Merida. Also in Dzitzantun ( a little further) and for some of the time I’ll be in Chabihau (I don’t think there’s a tower there).
    Considering it’s such a short time, what would you suggest with regards to a cell phone?

  44. Our resident expert here says to stop by any OXXO and by a $40 USD Amigo Kit, add a $200 pesos card to it on the spot and you are set to go. It should work everywhere you want to be.

  45. Monica, if you are still looking for an answer, the best advice is what the WG’s just gave to Jack: buy a cell phone for around $400 or so pesos and a $200 peso card for minutes.

    If you want your family to have a nice phone, send them the money for the phone, and let them buy it in Mexico.

    Now, if you want to dig into all the technicalities of it, to buy a phone in the USA, you need to insure that you buy an “unlocked” phone. (unlocked from any specific carrier) You cannot do that at the phone stores of any of the major carriers. And then, you must insure that the unlocked phone you buy matches the frequencies and technology likely to be used by the company your family signs up with in Mexico. (GSM, TDMA, CDMA, etc; 800, 950, 1800, 1900, etc)

    For example, GSM Quad-band phones will work both in the USA (but only on AT&T and T-mobile) and in Mexico on TelCel. Unlocked quad band phones are relatively expensive.

    But there are other carriers in Mexico: MoviStar and iUsa on different frequencies and technologies. They are sometimes preferred for various reasons – different data plans, free texting, etc.

    Long story short, there is only one ‘good’ way to do it: Send your family the money (or visit them) and then buy the phone in Mexico from the carrier that your family would like to use.

  46. Hi,

    We will be renting a house in Merida for the month of February 2010. Our house will have WiFi so we will be able to continue to work. We will be making phone calls back to the USA to clients and business associates during this period. We currently have iphones and don’t wish to upgrade to the expensive AT&T International calling plan. We wondered what would be the best solution (least expensive and least complicated) for these calls? Would it be best to buy a cheap cell phone in Merida and buy a Mexican SIM card? If so, would you have any idea what the cost per minute would be, Merida to US?

    Thank you for your time and for any suggestions.


  47. James–

    We bought a home in Centro this year, and are just finishing a complete renovation. Like you, I have a business in the US and cannot be out of touch for long. For all of our local communications, we have an Amigo phone, which works fine. I have not tried to use it to call the US. For long calls to the US, I use Skype and a USB headset (our house has WiFi). It works pretty well…yes, there are occasional dropouts and it’s sensitive to both your position relative to the wireless antenna, and other traffic on the network, but it’s the best thing I’ve tried so far. I also have an iPhone and the AT&T international plan at 59 cents per minute, which I use for short or really important US calls. Hope that helps!


    BTW, if anyone has more advice about calling to the US, I’d love to hear it too!

  48. MagicJack:

  49. Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much. Our house will have Wifi and I have a Skype account but most of our clients cannot be reached that way. I guess we will buy an Amigo phone when we get there.

    Thanks again,


  50. For a fixed line, WiFi-based service, I went with the Axtel plan that provides unlimited local (Mérida) calls, a total of 200 minutes/mo. for USA/Canada/national, and 30 min/mo included for calling cellphones, all for 405 pesos (plus taxes), with an additional 100 pesos/min for really quick Internet service. Axtel offers add-ons for extra bundles of service. Call quality, very good.
    For years I was, in the U.S., on the receiving end of Skype calls from Merida and elsewhere. I don’t want to inflict that on anybody! Yes, there’s Vonage and MagicJack also, but all have drawbacks…
    Haven’t decided on a cellphone provider yet. Outrageous charges, thanks to Salinas de Gotari y his pal Carlos Slim.

  51. I will be in Progreso for a month in June. Is it still possible a Mexico Sim card and if so where?

    My other question, I will be returning in September for a longer period of time, while waiting for an FM3. With the new laws what kind of cell phone will I be able to purchase while waiting for my papers.

  52. If my experience is accurate, the prepaid phones are a little more complicated now, because each mobile phone number has to be registered to a particular person. If you’re an official Mexican resident, you can register your phone using a text message or on the Telcel site, both of which look easy. If you’re a tourist, you have to register your phone in person at a Telcel office.

    Here’s how I got mine:
    1. I bought the phone at an OXXO. The cashier installed the SIM and did everything but register the number to my name.
    2. On the advice of a Telcel call center rep who tried to register me and couldn’t, I brought my phone and passport to the Telcel Centro de Atención al Cliente in the Gran Plaza mall. The office is across from Santander bank.
    3. The staff there used my passport to register the phone number in my name.

    If I understand it correctly, the plan I bought recharges my air time for three months. When those 3 months are up, if I don’t buy more credit (“saldo”), I’ll lose the phone number and will have to buy a new SIM and register a new number. Since it was a pain to register, I’ll try using to buy a little time each month while I’m in the US so when I return in 5 months I’ll still have the number.

  53. I just read Cathy’s post regarding having a number registered to an individual. There is legislation before the Congress in the United States to require registration for prepaid cell phones because they are often used by individuals who are involved in trying to hide their identities or for illegal purposes. However, here in the States, if that means that the businesses fear they will lose a little business by requiring that, I can see it being difficult to get through Congress.

  54. I live out of the city near Komchen and do not have a land line phone or cable service. – how can I get internet service???
    IUSA used to have a microwave service but I understand they have discontinued it (atleast to new customers) – any ideas/suggestions???

  55. There is a new plan offered by ATT to its American customers called Viva Mexico. It expends the calling territory to Mexico, meaning it considers the non-roming territory to include Mexico. So the US parties can called you on your American number and reach you in Mexico, with no additional digits to dial or extra charges. And you can call your American parties dialing with no extra digits (just the area code and number). The plan is a little more expansive than a regular US plan, but it works. I have been using it for two weeks from Chelem.

    Under that plan you can also call all the Mexican numbers (cells and landlines in any Mexican states).

    Warning: The plan is not widely advertized by ATT, so you have to ask for it by name and be patient until the clerck finds it in the system. It is called Viva Mexico and has several levels of free minutes available. ALSO, text and data are very expensive on that plan. Make sure the clerk BLOCKS the data and text features on your plan. Otherwise, those two words text from your kids are going to cost you a fortune.

  56. Before you buy any of the latest mobiles that do so much more than let you speak to someone else on the phone; consider that the world’s phone companies and network providers consume the equivalent power of 90 Nuclear Power Stations every minute of every day.

    They consume this amount of power to ensure they can provide instant and 100% availability at any time…

    The word is beginning to get out and governments are beginnings to mutter about such wasteful use of energy…

    If you had to redial a couple of times or had to wait ten seconds for a internet response is that really so bad…?

  57. Hi – we stay in Merida for two months each year and would like to know if anyone has tried the AT&T pre-paid go card, and if it works in Merida? We have an unlocked dual sim phone and have a sim card for Europe and need a sim that will take calls in Mexico and the States. AT&T offer non-roaming coverage in Mexico, but I would like some on-the-ground experience! Their website offers little help. We don’t want to carry two phones around all day, so that would be a solution.

  58. Hilarious

  59. Great article. I totally agree with you, patience and diplomacy are the secret tools for us in Mexico. Although I did lose my temper in my bank the other day and it worked!! After my Mexican debit card had not worked for the hundreth time in the cajero of my bank and in others, I went into the main lobby trying to get help. The receptionist came with me to the cajero, again no luck. He suggested I go to the internal caja but, of course, I did not have my passport on me nor my tarjeta de residencia and therefore they would not give me the money I needed. That’s when I exploded in front of customers, personnel, etc. In Spanish. And guess what – they gave me a new debit card, on the spot. Now I am not saying that this is acceptable behavior on my part but there are times when even Mexicans will understand that there are limits to their bureaucracy.

  60. We were in Merida for a few weeks and upon arrival our phone and plan from the U.S. did not work.

    We stumbled on the nicest, patient, knowledgable repair man who even dealt with TMobile on our behalf. TMobile could not resolve our issues so we had to buy a new phone and new service. Roberto did not take advantage but went out of his way to find us an affordable phone and plan. He deserves any business sent his way.

    Please recommend him.

    Roberto Arjona

    +52 (999) 121 9409 calling from US
    (999) 121 9409 calling from Mexico

    Reparacion de Celulares – Zona Cell
    Calle 54 Prol Paseo de Montejo between calle 40 and Av Campestre

  61. That’s a great recommendation… thanks, Carrie!


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