The Mexican mobile market is currently served by 3 major mobile providers: America Movil is a subsidiary of Telmex and covers the mobile market through its ‘Telcel’ service. It has the biggest mobile network and also covers remote areas, however calling fees are often more expensive than those from competitors.
The other main operators are Movistar (owned by Telefonica) and IUSACell. Both providers often offer cheaper alternatives to Telcel and are working hard to extend their network, with Movistar leading the race. When you look for a mobile provider in Mexico you should first check their coverage on their website and then decide whether they could be a suitable option for you (also consider the possibility of travelling around when making that decision).
Using your mobile phone from home in Mexico
Telcel and Movistar operate on a GSM-network, so most Europeans can use their mobile phone with a foreign SIM card in Mexico if their provider has a roaming agreement with one of these operators. However be aware that international roaming fees in Mexico are extremely high! If your mobile phone bills are not paid by your company, and you are not fortunate enough to be in a position to spend a couple of hundred or even a thousand Dollars on a monthly phone bill, use your home mobile phone in Mexico only in case of emergencies.
If your mobile provider from home has not locked your phone you can insert a Mexican SIM card into your phone (i.e. a cheap prepaid SIM card) to start calling at significantly lower rates. If you phone is locked you can unlock it at many phone stores.
Mexican mobile phones – Contract and Prepaid
Calling rates from and to mobile phones in Mexico are relatively high compared to calls from landlines. However mobile rates are constantly falling. With the price gap between mobile and landline calls narrowing, many people nowadays only use their mobile phones for calls.
Mexico is divided up into different ‘roaming regions’. When you get a new mobile number (either prepaid or contract), it will be assigned to your home roaming region. If you travel outside your region, rates for outgoing calls increase significantly and you will also be charged additional fees for incoming calls.
When getting a Mexican mobile number you can choose between a prepaid SIM-card and a mobile contract. While SIM-cards offer more flexibility, contracts tend to offer lower rates.
Contact: Mobile contracts usually come with a minimum contract period (normally 12-24 months) and monthly fee and/or minimum charge per month. They are often accompanied by free or subsidised mobile phones (which will be locked to the respective mobile provider). Calling rates of contracts are usually lower than those of prepaid cards and there are many ‘packages’ available. A typical package will include a free amount of calling minutes. In some cases international calls are treated just as any other call for the free minutes, so look out for such a package if you want to make occasional international calls from your mobile.
Prepaid mobile cards: You can either buy a single SIM card for a prepaid number or a basic ‘phone kit’ which includes a phone and a certain amount of minutes to start with (US$50-100). Cards for topping up your credit can be bought at most stores, gas stations and other outlets. Card denominations go from 100 to 500 Pesos. With higher charges you will often receive a special discount which will give you additional credit free of charge. These discounts change frequently, so look out for current promotions when buying a card.
Traveller’s SIM cards and rental phones
Some companies offer traveller’s SIM cards which can be used in Mexico. These cards can be cheaper on international calls compared to SIM cards purchased locally, so look around and compare.
If your phone does not work in Mexico you might also want to consider renting a mobile phone. With mobile prices decreasing and more and more mobile phones being able to operate in different networks, mobile phone rentals have become less common in recent years.