The iPhone 5 introduced a new SIM size to the world: the nano. This brought with it a new set of challenges for the Apple traveller, namely finding countries that have providers that carry it and then finding one of those said providers that will sell you one without requiring a contract.
Of course, it is possible to cut down a micro SIM to a nano size but the idea of stuffing something I’ve hand-cut and filed into the delicate innards of my very expensive smartphone held surprisingly little appeal to me, so here in Mexico I decided to do it the old fashioned way.
In Which Complicated Things Turn Out To Not Be Complicated
When we first arrived in Playa del Carmen, we attempted to hunt down one of these elusive cards at a few mobile resellers but to no avail. We were advised that we would have to go to the official Telcel offices but as free WiFi was everywhere we never quite got around to it.
Finally, 6 months later in Guanajuato, we decided that it was probably time we join the mobile revolution and sought out the official store, still unsure if they would a) have the SIM and b) have it in a Pay as You Go flavour.
The process involves going to an official Telcel Centro de Atención a Clientes. The first stop was reception, where we initially requested an Amigo prepago SIM (Amigo is the name of their prepaid plan) for our iPhone 5.
It’s a good idea to take your passport just in case they ask for it, although they didn’t ask to see ours.
Instead of recoiling in horror at the request, the receptionist simply asked if the phone was locked and warned us that there were no refunds if it turns out it was locked and the SIM doesn’t work.
We were then given a ticket and told to go and queue for an assistant who would actually get the SIM for us. However, while we were queueing, someone else came up to us and took us aside to go and sit in a cubicle.
I’m guessing that’s because we were a pair of lost looking gringos getting in way over our heads again.
The lady in the cubicle once again confirmed that the phone was, indeed, unlocked and then got the SIM at which point we were told to head to another window to actually pay, and bring the receipt back to her. Having done so, she activated the SIM and did the initial set up for us before sending us on our way.
The whole thing was easy and took about 30 minutes. We were well taken care of but they didn’t seem to speak a word of English in there so having some level of Spanish definitely helps.
Once you’re all activated, you can check your credit and top up at Mi Telcel, although topping up online didn’t work for us.
Telcel or Movistar?
There are other mobile operators here in Mexico with Movistar being the second biggest. We went with Telcel in the end because they have greater coverage, but Movistar is slightly cheaper (their 1GB data plan costs MX$100 less than Telcel’s, at MX$199) and you can see their range of options here.
Costs: SIM cards cost MX$149 and include MX$50 of phone credit. The data on this credit costs a crazy MX$0.10/kB, but you can ‘convert’ your top-up credit to get better data rates. First, top up with regular credit (which has validity ranging from 1 hour to 30 days). Once it’s on your phone, you can visit Mi Telcel or send a text message to convert a portion of it into data (Google Translate is your friend) which is valid for the same length of time as the original top up: MX$299 for 1GB, MX$339 for 2GB or MX$399 for 3GB (these prices are for the one month phone credit—make sure you have more credit than the amount you want to convert).
How: Find the nearest Centro de Atención a Clientes, take your passport down and ask for an Amigo prepago SIM para iPhone cinco. Make sure you mention the iPhone 5 so you get the nano size.
Topping up: It’s supposedly possible to do this online, but when we tried the service wouldn’t allow us to enter the UK postcode associated with our credit card causing the transaction to fail. Otherwise, the ubiquitous Oxxo stores throughout Mexico all sell top ups (cash only). You hand over your phone number to the cashier and it’s automatically added to your phone.
Coverage: Telcel’s coverage is slightly better than Movistars and covers all of the major towns and cities throughout Mexico. We’re currently in the sleepy beach town of San Pancho and we’re still getting 3G.
Data speeds: 4G LTE service is available if you have the right model iPhone (North American/Canadian GSM iPhones can get LTE service with Telcel), otherwise it’s good ol’ 3G for the European models.
Note: If you don’t need a nano SIM, buying a regular or micro SIM in Mexico is even easier.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.