Grant MacKenzie Sr.
Luxury Home Specialist

Phone in Mexico


With the advent of "VoIP" (Voice over Internet Protocol) you can now make free and very low cost telephone calls in Mexico, by-passing the high-cost fixed network charges imposed by Telmex. Furthermore, VoIP offers one significant advantage over land lines—video calls, which means you can see and hear the caller!

What is Internet Telephony?

Internet telephony uses the data transferred across the world's internet networks to carry voice and images. In simple terms, your voice and image is "packaged up" into digital signals, sent across the internet and "unpackaged" at the other end. You will need some easy-to-install software (widely available on the web) and some basic hardware to take advantage of internet communication services. See Equipment Needed, below. The small investment in the basics is worth the cost-savings that you will realize using this latest technology.

Equipment Needed

For voice-only calls, you'll need a computer (laptop, netbook or desktop) connected to a high-speed internet connection and a headset with a microphone (you can buy these online and at many retail stores). To make a video call, you will also need a web-cam (either built into your system or attached as an external device). In today's tech market, many laptops and netbooks come with a built-in microphone and webcam. Be sure to check the computer's specifications before purchase if this is what you are looking for. Headphones are still necessary if you want to keep the conversation private; otherwise, you (and your neighbors) will hear the caller speaking through your computer's loudspeakers.

You'll also need some software, which is down-loadable for free.

With all these features in place, you will be able to use your computer like a normal phone line or, if you want to feel closer to your caller, use video calls for a more realistic experience.

Making Free and Low Cost Calls over the Internet from Mexico

There are many "Internet Telephony" service providers. The two best known as Vonage and Skype, (Skype is owned by Ebay).

We'll use Skype for this example.

Download the Skype software which is free. It looks very much like "Chat" software (e.g. MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL Messenger) and works in the same way.

Once you download the software, you sign-up (free) for a Skype account. The free software will enable you to make voice or video calls; you don't have to download separate software. You'll choose an ID, which is also your "Skype telephone number" -- the ID people will use to call you and which others will see when you call them.

All your contacts and personal settings are saved on Skype's servers, so your "telephone book" is accessible from anywhere in the world using the Skype software—you don't have to use your own computer to access your Skype Internet telephony account.

The software is like a "digital telephone"; it enables you to dial out using a key-pad or direct from your list of contacts. For a video call, make sure your webcam is active (Skype will recognize most cameras automatically) and choose the video call option on the interface. Other services are available also and many more are being added. Here is a summary of Skype's features; most internet telephony providers offer similar services:

Calls between Skype users (i.e. Skype-Skype calls, including video-calls) are totally free of charge right now. Calls to non-Skype users, however, cost extra (see SkypeOut, below)

SkypeOut -- you can buy credit for your account using a charge card or PayPal (PayPal is also owned by Ebay). Call charges are low and enable you call from your computer to regular phone lines as well as mobile calls to most countries around the world. See Skype's list of countries and tariff for details.

VoiceMail -- for a small quarterly or annual fee, you can have a Skype voicemail, so that when you are not online, people can leave you voice messages.

Skype ReDirect - you can opt to re-direct your incoming Skype calls to a regular phone line, so if you're not online, the calls are delivered to a regular phone number -- anywhere in the world. The re-direct charge is the same low rate per minute that Skype charges for SkypeOut calls.

Conference Calls - Skype enables you to conference with up to nine other people, whether they are Skype users (free) or on regular or mobile phones (using SkypeOut and charged at low SkypeOut rates).

High Speed Internet Lines

You MUST have a high-speed or WiFi (wireless) internet connection to make Internet telephony calls. Dial-up internet access will not work.

Internet Cafes

You may use local internet cafe's to make long distance calls using your Skype account. Either carry your headset with you and log-in to your Skype account at the cafe or ask the attendant if they have headsets you may borrow or rent (many cafes have headsets and web cams fitted as standard now).

Hotel Connections

Many hotels in Mexico now offer high speed internet access over WiFi or ethernet wired connections; some hotels make an additional charge for internet access. In either event, you may be able to make calls via Skype and other internet telephony services from your hotel room. Just log-in to your (Skype) account and dial in the normal way.

Public WiFi Connections

Coffee shops, hotel lobbies, airports and other public places are increasingly offering WiFi (wireless internet) access. You can usually use WiFi to make and receive internet calls using your laptop computer.

Cell Phones - Mobile Phones in Mexico

Mexico has an extensive cellular telephone network. Telmex spun-off its mobile operations into a separate company called America Movil and their service in Mexico is called 'Telcel'. The other main operators are 'IUSACell' and Spain's 'Movistar' (owned by Telefonica).

Telcel has extensive network coverage across Mexico. Outside of big cities and major towns, Telcel may be the only network available, although the others are developing their networks in more remote regions, particularly Spain's Movistar.

Rates from and to cell phones in Mexico are predictably high, especially in comparison with land-line calls. Mexico is divided up into "roaming regions" and when you travel outside of your phone's "home region" charges begin to escalate significantly.

Registering Your Mexican Cell Phone: A new law passed in the spring of 2009 requires all users of cell phones in Mexico to register their phones. Phones (including "pre-pay" phone kits) purchased after April 1, 2009 require the purchaser to supply official identification at the point of purchase.

Contract Cell Phones

If you are in Mexico for a longer period of time, you may elect to buy a contract phone. Contracts offer lower call charges but come with a line rental and minimum contract terms (12-24 months minimum, are typical).

Pre-Pay Cell Phone Kits

Pre-Pay phone "kits" offer easy access to the phone network without the need for a contract or minimum term. However, the call and roaming charges are the highest.

For between US$40-$80, you can buy a "phone kit" that comes with a phone, charger and, usually, up to half the cost price in air time included.

You can buy top-up cards in many places which can be used to increase your call credit any time (the credit must be used within 60 days), and the network system gives you the option to manage your account in English (check balances, add call credit, etc).

Credit Top-up cards come in denominations of MX$100, 200, 300 and 500, and there is often a promotion which will credit the amount on the card plus an extra percentage, effectively offering discount on your call charges. Check locally for details as offers are changing constantly.

Traveler's "SIMM" Cards for Use in Mexico

A number of companies offer a "traveler's SIMM card service". SIMM cards are little chips which are the "brain" of modern cell phones. These chips hold the phone's number as well as call credit, account details etc. They are often inter-changeable between different phones.

This means that you may be able to use your own cell phone when you travel by substituting the SIMM inside of it while you are in Mexico. Some services offer deep discount rates in comparison to calls made with "phone kit" cell phones purchased locally (see above) and are certainly less expensive than roaming with your home-based phone in Mexico (see below).

If your phone is of the GSM (Global System for Mobile) type, the SIMM may be interchange-able right away. You pop your "home" SIMM out, pop the "mexico" SIMM in, and when you're in Mexico, your phone will be able pick up and use Mexican cell phone networks.

Most services enable you to "top-up" you Mexico SIMM call credit online, so if you run out of credit while you're traveling, you can add more using a charge card and any internet connection.

Cell phone and Mobile Phone Rental in Mexico

There are various agencies which rent mobile telephones in Mexico. Many good hotels now have mobile phone rental agency booths in their lobby.

In order to be able to rent a mobile phone in Mexico, you must present identification and have a credit card. They will take an imprint of your credit card as collateral for the phone.

A small daily charge is made for the phone (which may or may not include insurance for it - so check!), and thereafter you pay for the calls. Charges vary depending on where you are calling to and at what time of day it is. If you roam with your phone outside of Mexico City, or make international calls, charges are likely to escalate significantly - so do check beforehand!

With the advent of "phone kits", "traveler's SIMM" services and international roaming, cell phone rental is not as widespread or popular as it used to be a few years ago.

Roaming with Your Home Cell Phone

If you have a "Tri Band" mobile phone, you can now take it with you and use it in Mexico using the GSM (Global System for Mobile) network in Mexico, provided that your service provider back home has enabled international roaming on your account and has a reciprocal arrangement with the operator in Mexico. Two of Mexico's wireless operators use the GSM system—Telcel, the local subsidiary of America Movil and by far the largest, and Telefonica, which operates under the Movistar brand in Mexico. This means that users of GSM phones (Europe, Australia, et al) can take their phones to Mexico and use them as if they were at home.

Beware! The roaming charges are really high: If you are a company user with an allowance, your allowance may get used up faster than you think; if the phone is for personal use, it's probably best to keep the phone in hand for emergencies and short calls home.

Calls to Cell Phones and Mobiles in Mexico

Mexico has certain (complicated) protocols for dialing to and from cell phones.

Mexico Dialing Codes and Protocols

Mexico Dialing Codes

In November 2001, Mexico's telephone exchange numbers underwent a major upgrade.

Calls to and From Mexican Phones (Land Lines)

Local Calls - To make local calls, ignore the area code, and dial direct, just as you would do at home. Note that major cities' numbers have EIGHT numbers and other places have SEVEN numbers.

National Calls - Dial 01 which is the prefix for all non-local calls in Mexico, followed by the area code, followed by telephone number.

International Calls - To access a number outside of Mexico, you need to prefix the number with 00 (the international access code) then the country code, and then the national area code (omitting the first zero if there is one), and then the local number.

Dialing TO Mexico From overseas - Dial the International access code (in most cases this is 00, in the USA it is 001) followed by Mexico's country code (52), the area code in Mexico (see National Calls, above) and then the seven or eight digit local number.

Calling Toll-Free Numbers in the USA from Mexico:

If you are in Mexico and you want to contact someone in the USA who is advertising a toll-free number, you will need to dial:

"001" then the 10 digit 800 number excluding the 1

For example: 001-800 123 4567 or, e.g. 001-880-123 4567.

Calls to Mexican Mobile Phones in Mexico and from Abroad

Mexico has certain protocols (rules) for dialing to and from cell phones.

Dialing Cell Phones From a Land line in Mexico

If you are calling a cell phone from a land line within Mexico, the number will be preceded by a 3 digit access code, thus:

For calls to a local cellphone (that is, a cell phone with an area code which is the same as the land-line's), dial 044 then the 10-digit number of the mobile phone. The caller will be charged for the full cost of the call.

For calls to a non-local domestic cellphone (that is, a cell phone with a Mexican area code which is different from the land-line's area code) dial 045 followed by the 10-digit mobile number, and the entire cost of the call will be charged to the caller if the mobile phone is in its home area.

 

Dialing Cell Phones From a Mexican Cell Phone in Mexico

If you are calling a cell phone phone from another cell phone, just dial the area code followed by the mobile number.

Dialing a Cell Phone in Mexico from Outside Mexico

Under changes made in the calling-party-pays system, as of Nov. 4, 2006, if you are calling a Mexican cell phone from overseas, you should dial your country's international access code, followed by Mexico's country code (52), then add a "1", then the mobile phone's area code and its number. The full charge of the call will be made to the caller.

For example, if the cell phone number in Mexico is listed as 044 55 1234 5678, you would ignore the "044" or "045" (see notes above about these codes), and place a "1" in its stead. Then you would dial the area code (55) and then the number (1234 5678).

So, from the USA/CA, you would dial: 011 52 1 55 1234 5678

And from Europe you would dial: 00 52 1 55 1234 5678