Phone Service in Mexico

As attached as we are to our phones today, it may be difficult to remember a time when we didn’t have one clutched to our ear. When I first begin visiting Cuernavaca in 1982, I didn’t need a cell phone or a phone of any kind for that matter. I had left the U.S. lifestyle completely behind me and wanted no part of anything to do with telephones, computers or fax machines (remember those?). Eventually, the internet came along with it bombardment of emails and the requirement to check them. At first it was every few days, but that eventually moved to several times a day. And now, I can’t go an hour without checking to see who wants what.

Home Phone / Internet

Finally, I moved permanently to Cuernavaca and bought a home here in 2007. Along with the house, came the need for Internet and of course, it included a phone. I went to TelMex[1] and set up an account in perhaps 1/4 of the time that was needed in the United States. The cost of my combination, monthly high-speed, wireless Internet and home phone from TelMex is 339 pesos a month, plus IVA taxes of 16% for a total of 393.23 pesos per month. Currently that is $28.74 USD a month. I have the TelMex bill on auto pay from my Mexican bank account so I don’t have to worry about going to their office once a month to pay the bill. Auto pay is helpful for those times when I am traveling and won’t be able to pay the bill on time.

However, I froze the first time I tried to use the phone. What were all those numbers and do I dial them or not? I still did not know enough Spanish to understand the operator whenever I dialed the wrong numbers in the phone. Did she say “You need to pay your bill!” or “Your call cannot be completed as dialed!” Maybe she was lonely and intercepted the phone call to have someone to speak with. I did get a lot of what sounded like busy signals and while I assumed that meant the other party was engaged on their phone, I later found out that this was just a way of showing me that I miss dialed.

Finally, I broke through my self-imposed embarrassment and asked a bi-lingual friend to listen to the recording and tell me what she was saying. It was then that I realized that I could not impose upon my friend to always translate these messages. I felt powerless and alienated in foreign country for the first time. I was able to communicate with taxi drivers, restaurant staff, and more, but this machine was making my life miserable. I was determined to understand how to make it work flawlessly for me. It was then that I had an epiphany. I didn’t have to understand what the operator was saying if I never made an error in dialing. I asked my friend to explain the Mexican phone system to me.

He is a kindhearted soul and went over all the detail with me of how to dial both local and long distance within Mexico using my new landline. I was on top of the world. When he explained that the calling party must pay by the minute for the use of the phone, whereas the receiver is not charged, I knew I had to learn how to use telepathy to signal those who I wanted to speak with to simply call me. So far it works about 20% of the time, but I think I am improving. We’ll see!

Internet Telephony

If you have Internet service here in Cuernavaca (or elsewhere in Mexico) you should know that you can make calls back to the U.S. and Canada either free or for a very small monthly charge. There are several services that may want to consider. Most will allow you to both make and receive calls to and from the U.S. and Canada.

MagicJack™

MagicJack™ is the preferred Internet Telephony system for many expats living in Mexico. They have sold over 8-million units to date. It has many great features including:

  • Works with or without a computer (depending on model)
  • Free 30-day trial period
  • Best call quality
  • Ability to take your phone anywhere in the world
  • Free International calls
  • Use an existing number
  • Free Voice Mail
  • Unlimited recorded voice mail messages sent via email

MagicJack™ is not sold outside of the United States or Canada, but it can be ordered over the Internet and delivered via UPS or FedEx. You do not want to use the national postal service as it is extremely unreliable and things get lost. The original MagicJack™, that is still being sold, is a small device that either plugs into the USB port on a computer that is connected to the Internet and uses the microphone and speakers on the computer to turn it into a phone. You register the device online with a U.S. or Canadian phone number that is included in the price of the device (as well as the first year of service). You can choose any area code in the U.S. or Canada that you would like. This is convenient in that you can register the device with the area code of your home town in the U.S. or Canada and those people who wish to call you on their land line may do so without cost.

A big advantage to MagicJack™, over some other services is that is it small (measuring 1.5 in. x 2.5 in. x 0.75 in.) and completely portable. If you go to Acapulco or Singapore for a visit and stay in a hotel with Internet, you can use the device the same as you would at home. Take the MagicJack™ device with you when you travel outside of the country and you will have free calls to and from to the U.S. and Canada. No matter where you are in the world all calls to and from the U.S. and Canada are free. You can also consider buying MagicJack™ PLUS for someone you know that lives overseas and give the gift of free calls to U.S. and Canadian phone numbers. And, if you have a MagicJack in Mexico or else where in the world, they can call you at any time without cost. Yes, if you are from Europe, let’s say England, and want to stay in touch with your friends and family there, you buy them a MagicJack that will have a U.S. or Canadian phone number and the two of you can talk for an unlimited amount of time at no charge. They will also be able to call friends and family anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for free as well.

You do not need to have speakers or a microphone on your computer, as the MagicJack™ device has a port into which you can plug a landline phone and use that device to receive and make calls. In doing so, you will not be tethered to the phone and can move about your home while speaking on the phone.

There is a new MagicJack™ device, The MagicJack™ Plus, that does not need a computer to receive as good or better service than your regular home phone. You can use any phone—corded, cordless, portable, DECT by simply plugging it into your new phone jack in the magicJack PLUS, which can be plugged into a wall outlet for power. Of course you still have a choice to plug your phone into the MagicJack™ PLUS when you want to use it with your computer when traveling, at a second home, at your business or even your home.

After your 30 day trial, you can receive service for as little as $19.95 USD a year. That is right an entire YEAR of service for only $19.95 USD. That is less expensive than your taxes on your current U.S. phone bill for just one month. You can save well over $1,000 a year. This is 30X less expensive than your home phone service now.

The MagicJack to be used with a computer costs $39.95 USD, which includes your first year of service, free calls to the U.S. and Canada, U.S. or Canadian phone number – or transfer your current phone number, free voice mail, free email notifications with recorded message.

The MagicJack Plus, which can be used with or without a computer costs $69.95 USD, which includes your first year of service, free calls to the U.S. and Canada, U.S. or Canadian phone number – or transfer your current phone number, free voice mail, free email notifications with recorded message.

Once you are sold on the MagicJack, you can add an additional 5 Years of Free Local and Long Distance for just $99.75 USD ($19.95 USD per year). Plus, with this plan you will also receive their 5-year “No Questions Asked” full-service warranty.
If you find yourself having to make International calls to countries other than the U.S. and Canada, you can purchase pre-paid calling to use with Your MagicJack subscription. You may also one cell phone or landline phone number, from which you can make International calls using your pre-paid balance. You can expect the long distance prices to be as low as $0.02 cents per minute to more than 20 countries within the world.
For more information visit the website at http://www.magicjack.com online.

Free MagicJack App for iPhone, iPad and iPod

If you use an Apple Computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you can download the free MagicJack App from Apple iTunes you can make FREE Calls to U.S. and Canadian phone numbers – or to any magicJack number, anywhere in the world. MagicJack APP will NEVER use your mobile minutes and does not require a voice plan. WiFi or 4G is recommended for best service and connectivity. The MagicJack APP is 100% FREE and does not require any purchase. You can use your device’s stored contacts with the MagicJack APP.

If you do not have a MagicJack account, you have two options with magicJack APP.

1. Test drive it! No account needed. Make outgoing calls to U.S. and Canadian landlines and cell numbers and any MagicJack number.

OR…

2. Receive a free MagicNumber phone number to make and receive FREE calls and receive FREE Voicemail. A MagicNumber is unlike what we know as normal starts and ends with an asterisk/star, like so: *01234567* and can be dialed directly from any MagicJack.

You can use this number for MagicJack to MagicJack calls or have others call you from anywhere, by first dialing the access number 1-305-848-TALK (1-305-848-8255). After the prompt, enter the magicNumber including the asterisks/stars, like so: *01234567*

In magicJack APP, click the Account tab at any time to view your MagicNumber.

Tell friends to download magicJack APP and dial each other direct for free.

There is a caveat however, if you disable Apple notifications, you will NOT receive incoming calls. On your Apple device, choose Apple’s “Settings” and set “Notifications” to “ON”. Then scroll down and set “MagicJack” to “ON”.

If you are a regular MagicJack subscriber, you can sign in to the MagicJack APP with an active U.S. or Canadian phone number on your magicJack account, you may use it to make and receive calls with magicJack APP. You can use the same number on all your magicJack services and devices.

Skype

Skype (pronounced as ‘sk-ype’ like the ype in type not ‘sk-ype e’ as most in Mexico pronounce it) offer both a free and paid service. With the free service, you can make calls to other Skype users any where in the world, but they have to be sitting in front of their computer or using a cellular phone with the Skype App installed. If both parties have video capabilities you can do a one-on-one video call. There is also instant messaging and screen sharing. This is the free service.

For a fee of $9.99 USD a month or $119.88 USD a year y0u can make unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada, have group video and screen sharing.

This service comes with problems. Many users readily admit that the connectivity is greatly lacking. There are many dropped calls and the audio and video suffers from distortion. There is a reason for this in that your connection is being shared by others and it eats up bandwidth quickly, which leads to a deterioration of service.

While as a free service the video is a good reason to download and use to stay in touch with friends and family who also have Skype

Vonage

If you do not travel away from your home in Cuernavaca enough to need the portability of MagicJack and do not mind paying $119.88 USD a year for the service, you may want to take a look at Vonage. The steps are to sign the agreement form and wait for the Vonage Box to arrive in the mail. You plug the Vonage Box into your existing high-speed Internet connection and then plug your home phone into the Vonage Box. At this point, you can start making and receiving phone calls from the U.S.

The features of Vonage include:

  • Unlimited calling to landlines 60 countries
  • Unlimited calling to landlines and cell phone in 10 countries
  • 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  • Vonage Extensions™ – extend this calling plan to any phone, even mobiles, at no extra charge
  • Add a second Extension for only $4.99 USD per month / $59.88 USD per year
  • Unlimited long distance home phone service across U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico
  • Unlimited readable voicemail transcriptions sent via text and email

Cellular Service

Recently, I decided to get a cellular phone as I have to travel around Mexico on business and needed a phone to call out on, so all those that I was sending those telepathic signals to people to call me whenever I was away from the landline and they didn’t get the signal. I purchased one of the pay-as-you-go phones. I didn’t need all the iPhone and Android features, so I chose a Samsung for 700 pesos (about $51 USD), which included 100 minutes of initial minutes. I can purchase additional minutes conveniently at many of the larger grocery stores, such as Mega or Soriana, some department stores such as Liverpool or Sanborns, as well as many pharmacies and any OXXO convenience store.

Surprisingly, the cellular reception in Mexico is very good. I have not had any problem with dropped calls or dead spots, other than in the usual places, such as elevators and underground parking garages.

Whats the Cost?

The cost of cellular service will depend on whether you purchase a monthly plan for a phone you plan on using a lot, or a pre-paid phone that you will use only occasionally.

You should know that 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 do not have to pay the monthly fee. If you live in Cuernavaca on a full time basis, the monthly service plan is more convenient for people who plan to use their cell phone on a regular basis and you can choose to have it paid through auto pay from your Mexican bank account. However, for people on a short vacation, or who live in Mexico but use their cell phones only occasionally, the prepaid calling plan is the best bet.

You can purchase a Mexican cellular phone at many stores around town in just minutes. Or you can bring a compatible phone with you and obtain the appropriate SIM card for your phone in Mexico. You must choose among various providers, such as TelCel[1], MoviStar,[3] Unefon[4] or IUSAcell[5]. Be sure to take a close look at the special offers when considering the price, as well as where you can purchase additional minutes when you run out of minutes. TelCel allows you to purchase additional minutes at many places, such as the grocery store. If you choose a service that you will have to go their office to purchase additional minutes, it might be inconvenient, especially if you are out town. You may purchase as few 20 pesos of air time.

Telmex’s cell phone division is called TelCel. TelCel charges 4.19 pesos ($0.31 USD) per minute to make a call to another cell phone in the same service area. 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, simply hang up before the 5 minute limit and dial again. You must request this service at a TelCel service center or by dialing *264.

TelCel’s most popular monthly plan is the “Más Por Menos Tres” (“More For Less Three”) Plan. The monthly TelCel cellular service at the time of this writing is 363 pesos ($26.50 USD) 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.

After purchasing the cellular phone in Mexico, it must be registered so it can be activated. To do so you will need your passport and visa. The staff at the store where you purchase you phone will be able to register the phone, but you must ask. Once the phone is registered you will need to make a test call before you leave the store where you purchased the cellular phone.

Some Caveats

Mexico is divided into nine service regions. When you are in your local service area you are charged less for a phone call. When you travel outside of your local area, you will be charged a roaming service. Some ingenious people who find themselves living in Cuernavaca, but spending a lot of time in Mexico City will have two phones. If they make a lot of calls in one area they will have a phone with a plan registered in that area, and a pre-paid cellular phone in the area where they make fewer calls.

Roaming charges are complicated in Mexico and vary with carriers. You should consider contacting your carrier to have them explain the roaming charges. You will need 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.

The person who initiates the call incurs the charge, whether from a cell phone or land line, including local, national, or international calls. 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 (where your phone is registered). If you are outside your own service area when you receive the call, roaming charges apply to your billing.

If you decided to use the TelCel service, after one year of use, you should go to a service center (or you may call customer service on your cellular phone) and ask them to reduced your cost per minute. They charge more per minute for those phones that are registered for a shorter period of time to cover the cost of setting it up. Once you have a year of service, they expect that you will be keeping the phone number and will lower your cost per minute by about two-thirds. You have to request the service, but it is worth the effort.

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 Cuernavaca, which is a different service region from Mexico City. Once you leave the service area where the air time was purchased, you cannot upload them.

When you purchase minutes on your phone, they are good for one month. If you want them to roll over to the next month, the easiest way is to purchase minutes before the end of each month. You can purchase as little as 20 pesos ($1.46 USD) of air time to have your minutes roll over and keep the phone activated.

If you are planning on being out of the country for several months or don’t use your cell for up to two months, you should send a short text message at least once a month to keep the phone activated. Text messages are less expensive than a phone call. Your minutes will not roll over, but you don’t necessarily lose them. 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 then buy a new SIM card and register your phone again. So even if you keep your phone for emergencies only, make a call or send a text once a month to keep the phone active.

When using TeCel you may dial *333 for Status Information, including the amount of air time left on your cell. You may 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 if you are only renting the phone.

If you your car breaks down during your travels, you may dial *111 or *264 and the operator will help you with a tow truck. Dialing this number may also help with travel information, roadside assistance, or even legal information should the need arise.

Mexican Phone Numbers

Navigating the phone system in Mexico, when you have only just arrived can be difficult – no let me rephrase that – it can be downright impossible for the initiated. There is the maze of numbers that are quite different from many other countries, especially the U.S. and they are even written different.

First, let’s find out what each of those series of numbers represent:

Mexican Telephone System

In the America south of the border, Spanish-speakers usually space their phone numbers differently than those who speak English. They tend to memorize and repeat numbers in groups of two or three. U.S. Citizens  and Canadians remember normally remember their numbers in groups of three and four. Thus a Mexican phone number may be written in several different styles and all for the same number, which in this instance we are using a series of numbers from 1 through 0 as an illustration.

Local numbers usually only contain 7 digits except for the larger metro areas of Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara, whose phone numbers are 8 digits. Confused? It will become second nature in no time during your stay in Mexico.

When asked for their home or business phone number, a person will either give you a 7 or 8 digit number, “Mi numero de casa está 123-45-67” or “Mi numero de casa está 123-456-78″ if they live in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara.

If they are giving you their cellular phone number, they will include the area code, “Mi numero celular está 12-34-567-890”. Which is the cellular access code, area code and local number. 045 + area code + local number (EG: 045-442/256-0000).

You can and perhaps should always inquire whether it is a home, business or cellular phone.

You may see combinations, such as 12-34-567-890 or 1234-56–78-90. U.S. Citizens  and Canadians remember normally remember their numbers in the 123-456-7890 format. Surprisingly, it can be a bit chaotic at first as the different cadence or rhythm can be confusing.

How to Dial

Knowing how to dial phones in Mexico can be a frustrating experience for the initiated. We present the following information to help guide you through the process.

Making calls from a hotel or other public place you may find that the phone service will be blocked for outgoing calls, and you’ll get a busy signal. If this is the case, simply go to the lobby or reception area and ask to use the phone for an outside phone call. There may be a slight charge for the service. If you use the phone in an office or at another persons home, it is a common courtesy to offer to pay for the call without being asked.

It is less expensive to send a text message from your cellular phone to another local cellular phone than to call with either a cellular or home phone unless you are on a monthly plan. The cost is currently .89 pesos ($0.065 USD) per text, as opposed to 4.19 pesos ($0.30 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax to a cell phone in the same service area.


How To Dial from a Land Line to Land Line Phone


Land line to land line in same city (example: Cuernavaca to Cuernavaca)

You do not need to use a prefix. Simply dial the local number, i.e. 123-4567

The person who initiates the call will pay about $1.5 pesos ($0.11 USD) per minute plus IVA of 16%.  A home TelMex phone line will usually get the first 100 calls per month free. A business TelMex phone line pays for every call.


Land line to land line in another city (example: Cuernavaca to Mexico City)

You will need to dial the prefix first followed by the area code and then the local number, i.e. 01 (999) 123 4567

Any time you dial the 01 before the area code and phone number this is considered National Long Distance (larga distancia automatica nacional) and you will be charged long distance rates. Unless you have a special long distance (larga distancia) plan, the person who initiates the call will be charged about 4 pesos ($0.29 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax. during the day. At night, the charge drops to about 2.50 pesos ($0.18 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax.

There are many exceptions to the rules. In some cities, neighborhoods will have different area codes, but if you live in the city and initiate a call to those neighborhoods you may only be charged 0.50 pesos ($0.036 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax, instead of the national rate.


How To Dial from a Land Line to a Cellular Phone


Land line to cell phone in the same city (example: Cuernavaca to Cuernavaca)

You must dial the prefix first. Cellular phones in Cuernavaca require that you dial the prefix 044, followed by the area code and then the number, i.e. 044-777-123-4567.


Land line to cellular phone in another town (example: Cuernavaca to Mexico City)

You must dial the prefix first. Cellular phones in Mexico City require that you dial the prefix 045, followed by the area code, and then the number, i.e. 045-999-123-4567

This will be a long distance call from your landline and the person who initiates the call will pay for the call.  The cellular phone you are calling will not get charged for the long distance call.

For example, if you are calling a cellular phone based in Mexico City,  you will dial 045 999 123 4567. If the cellular phone is based in Mexico City, but the person you are calling happens to be in Cuernavaca (or another service area) at the time. you will use the same protocol. Your land line will be charged for the long distance call from your service area to the service area where they are presently located.

As an example if you make a call from your TelMex landline to a Telcel cellular phone based in Mexico City, it will cost approximately 2.85 pesos ($0.21 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax.


How To Dial from a Cellular Phone to a Cellular Phone


Cell Phone to Cell Phone in the same city (example: Cuernavaca to Cuernavaca)

You do not need to dial a prefix, but you must dial the area code, i.e. 777.123-4567

In this instance, the person who initiates the call pays for the call and the cost is dependent on the plan. The cheapest Telcel cost for this type of call is $1 peso ($0.07 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax; the Pre-Paid Amigo Plan charges are about 2.5 pesos ($0.18 USD) per minute plus 16% IVA tax.


Cell phone to Cell phone in another city (example: Cuernavaca to Mexico)

You do not need to dial a prefix, but you must dial the area code, i.e. 999.123-4567

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 person who initiates the call.


To call a Mexican Cell Phone from Outside of Mexico

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. As an example the sequence would be 011-52-1-123-4567.


To call the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, either to a cellular phone or land line

To call the U.S. or Canadian cellular phone or land line you would dial 001 (access code), area code, local number. As an example the sequence would be 001-123-456-7890


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

To call other countries from Mexico, you would dial 00 (access code), the country code for that country, area code and local number. As an example the sequence would be 00-123-456-789-0000


Emergency and Useful Phone Numbers

Hopefully, you will never need to make an emergency call, but one never knows. The card below can be printed out and carried in your purse or wallet for emergencies. Or, you can copy the information onto the back of a business card that can be carried with you. It is a good idea in Mexico to always carry a card with you that has your name (write My Name Is: ) and emergency contact information (Contact the person below in an emergency: ) in case you become incapacitated. There have been instances in the past where an elderly pedestrian from another country was hit by a car and laid in the hospital for a week, before the relatives were able to find him.

If you have anything helpful to contribute to this article, please take a moment to contact us by using the Contact Link at the top of this page. We would appreciate your help.

References

1. TelMex: This is the phone company that services your landline and Internet connections. There cellular division is TelCel, which is listed below. There are three TelMex locations in Cuernavaca. However, the central location is the easiest to access. It is located at Av. Emiliano Zapata 112, Col. La Pradera and it is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m to 3:00 pm.

2. TelCel: They have three locations in Cuernavaca, with the easiest to access being at Av. Vicente Guerrero No.110 Plaza Cuernavaca, Col. Lomas de la Selva. They are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

3. MoviStar: They are located at Av. Morelos Sur No. 904. They are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 pm, on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 pm and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

4. 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.)

5. IUSAcell: www.iusacell.com.mx