Sunset in Puerto Vallarta

Buying a SIM Card in Mexico

In Get Connected by Dave Dean49 Comments

Last updated: 21 February, 2016

Stunning beaches, great surfing, ancient ruins, dense jungle, incredible food, friendly locals. There are so many reasons to plan a trip in Mexico, it’s surprising even more people aren’t doing it.

With a very wallet-friendly cost of living, especially outside the tourist areas, there’s no need to rush — it’s best experienced over weeks or months, rather than days.

If you’d like to stay connected on your travels around this large country, the good news is that buying a local SIM card is a reasonably straightforward and inexpensive process. Here’s what you need to know.

Companies


  • We recommend Telcel for most travellers

There are three cell service providers in Mexico: Telcel, Movistar and AT&T Unidos. Telcel is most expensive, but has the most subscribers and widest coverage, so that’s the company I went with.

Movistar has a less-congested network and cheaper plans, but you won’t get coverage in as many places. AT&T (formed by the merger of three small providers) is a recent addition, with a very limited coverage area.

How


I’ve visited Mexico twice, and purchased a Telcel SIM each time.

From the Oxxo

On my first visit, I flew into Puerto Vallarta airport and didn’t notice anywhere selling SIM cards in the terminal. There may well have been, but in the end, it didn’t matter — I was able to do everything I needed in the Oxxo store a couple of blocks from my hotel.

Similar to the 7-11 convenience stores, there seems to be an Oxxo on every corner in Mexico, offering alcohol, snacks, groceries and – most importantly for me – phone services.

Unless you are able to speak a reasonable amount of Spanish, you’ll probably have the most success purchasing a new SIM card in tourist areas where English is more widely spoken.

It’s apparently possible to get the SIM card working yourself by calling the Telcel activations department, but since it took the guy behind the counter about ten minutes of rapid-fire Spanish, I was pretty happy I’d asked him to do it for me.

To buy the card, simply walk into the store with your phone and ask to buy a new SIM card. If you have an existing one, show it to the operator to make sure there’s no confusion about the size you need. You’re able to buy full-size, micro and nano SIMs in both official stores and at the Oxxo.

When the process was complete, a confirmation message arrived by SMS and I was good to go. No passport or other identification was required.

At the Airport

On my second visit, I arrived at Mexico City’s sprawling airport, and purchased my SIM from the Telcel store on the first floor of Terminal 1 as soon as it opened (it operates from 9am until 7pm).

If you’re looking for it yourself, head up the escalator between the international and domestic sections of the airport. The store is pretty big, with the company logo emblazoned all over it, so is easy to spot.

Telcel Store Mexico City Airport

The Telcel store in Mexico City Airport, Terminal 1… before it opened.

The process was a little confusing — telling one person what I needed, being served by a teller who did most of the set-up, paying a third person at a cashiers desk, then returning to the teller to be given the actual SIM — but it all worked smoothly enough, and I had a working service within fifteen minutes.

Not everyone spoke English, but a different staff member stepped in to translate whenever necessary.

I was asked for my passport, from which the teller copied my name and other details to use on the contract I needed to sign.

 

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Costs


The card (called a “chip” in Mexico) costs 150 pesos (around $12 USD), including 75 pesos worth of credit for calls and SMS. Telcel offers close to 20 different data packages, ranging in size from 10MB to 3GB and in validity from an hour to a month.

I opted for the 1 month/1GB plan, priced at 299 pesos – run this page through Google Translate to find the one that fits your needs.

If you’re buying from a Telcel store, they’ll likely activate the data package for you. If not, or you’re buying elsewhere, just send an SMS to 5050 with the code for the package you want, taken from the above page.

In my case, I texted bajo30 and, within a minute, received a confirmation text that it had worked successfully.

Either way, make sure cellular data is turned off on your phone until you’ve purchased a data package, as the casual usage rate is an eye-watering MX$0.10/kB.

Topping Up


Buying credit was a simple process, and even my kindergarten Spanish was enough to get the job done anywhere in Mexico. I topped up at an Oxxo with a little over 300 pesos each month, then sent the same SMS for another 1GB of data.

 

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Coverage and Data Speeds


If you have a reasonably-recent North American phone, you’ll get 4G/LTE where it’s available (check the unhelpful coverage map). If not, and in any other town or city of reasonable size, expect to get 3G signal, dropping back to EDGE in rural areas.

3G download speeds were good in Mexico City, less so (but still acceptable) in Oaxaca and other smaller cities. Upload speeds were pretty poor almost anywhere — you’ll be able to have an audio Skype call, for instance, but don’t expect much from video.

LTE upload speeds were much better, and download speeds were fine as well. You’ll have no problem with video calling if you’re using it.

Mexico City Telcel 3G speeds

Mexico City Telcel 3G speeds


Oaxaca Telcel LTE speed

Oaxaca Telcel LTE speed

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

Buying a prepaid SIM card in Mexico is usually a pretty straightforward process, but there are a few things to be aware of. Here's how to do it.
About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a wanderer for nearly 20 years and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Do you know if they have 4GLTE service? Or just 3G…?

    thanks…

    1. Author

      The first result on Google for ‘Telcel LTE’ was this page — looking at the coverage map linked from there, it looks widespread.

  2. Hi,
    Good article. I read the information below on another site which would seem to make things rather difficult. Is this true?

    “In a move to curtail drug cartels and their use of burner (single-use) phones, it’s now mandatory that SIM card purchasers are registered to their Mexican home address. A hotel address isn’t good enough, which is understandable, but not very helpful for tourists.

    After visiting official mobile phone shops, electronics retailers and a warren of tiny phone shops and touts we were still out of luck. In the end I found a market trader who had no qualms about registering my SIM card under his name and address.”

    1. Author

      That was very much not the case in September last year when I bought mine, but I can’t speak for what may have changed since then…

    1. Author

      Oxxo didn’t have nano SIMs when I bought mine around this time last year – you had to go to a Telcel store or cut it down to size yourself. It’s worth asking about it in-store, though, in case that’s changed in the last twelve months.

  3. What can you say about roaming within Mexico? I bought a SIM card to use in Mexico City, can I go ahead and use the same one in Puerto Vallarta?

    From what I can tell, the only difference will be that I will be charged for incoming calls that aren’t from the same region as my SIM card. Outgoing calls will be charged the same. I do not know about texting or data- and texting and data are what I use the phone for mostly.

    Thanks

    1. Author

      With Telcel at least, I bought my SIM in Puerto Vallarta, then used it in Sayulita, Gunajuato and all over the Yucatan without a problem. I may have been being charged for incoming calls, but since I received so few of them, it made no difference to my monthly spend. Data and SMS worked fine.

  4. hi im bringing my own cell – iphone 4. i want to get a sim card with phone min and i want to be able to text unlimited internationally. Can i get this at oxxo? or do i have to go to telcel? approx how much would that be? gracias

    1. Author

      I can’t speak for the cost — I don’t know if there are any plans that offer unlimited international SMS, as it wasn’t something I was in the market for. In terms of being able to buy a SIM for your iPhone 4, though, you should be able to do that at the Oxxo. Just make sure your phone is unlocked, otherwise you won’t be able to use it.

  5. What if you dont want to unlock your phone? Won’t that void my Verizon warranty? If so, what are options then? Buy a phone and plan from Telcel? I’d love to be able to do this but really don’t want to tamper with my phone. Or am I confused?

    1. Author

      If Verizon won’t unlock your phone for you, and you don’t want to do it yourself, then yes, your only options for using a local SIM card are to either buy a phone and plan from a local provider, or buy an unlocked phone before you go and use it instead of your existing Verizon one. I recommended a few of the best (unlocked) budget smartphone options for travellers recently, if that’s what you decide to do.

  6. Thank you for this. Were you able to sign up for a voice / SMS plan as well? Do you know what the different packages / costs for those are?

    1. Author

      I didn’t sign up for a voice/SMS plan, as I use Skype/Google Voice/WhatsApp for almost all of my voice and text. The few calls and texts I sent and received made no noticeable difference to my spend.

      My Spanish isn’t good enough to work out whether there are any voice and text packages available with Telcel, or whether you just pay a standard rate — sorry!

  7. FYI, here is the Telcel web page for their Amigo(Pay as you go) packages. Click on the Paquetes Amigo 100 y 200 option. Unfortunately, the “conditions” page states that Blackberries are not compatible on the Amigo system.
    http://www.telcel.com/portal/servicios/servicios_amigo.html?mid=1405
    This page gives their methods of recharging. #8 is the list of distributors of their products.
    http://www.telcel.com/portal/personas/amigo/recarga/recarga.html?mid=1113
    Has anyone tried the Telcel SIM in Oaxaca state?

  8. Dave…great info, thanks!! One question. I was told that an iphone4 was not compatible with Telcel’s plans. Do you know? May have been a sales pitch my friend got. We have unlocked an old iphone4 and want to be sure we can use it there. Can’t find any info online. Any help…much appreciated!!

    1. Author

      I’m not aware of a technical limitation on Telcel’s side, but it sounds like the kind of thing a Verizon rep might say regarding an iPhone 4 sold by that company, since they didn’t start including SIM slots in Verizon iPhones until the 4S model. If your iPhone 4 has an unlocked SIM card slot, however, it should work with Telcel for calls, texts, 2G and likely 3G data.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience with buying a SIM card in Mexico! I will be traveling to the Yucatan next week and am looking to buy a card for an unlocked iPhone 4S. I speak very basic Spanish… Did the people working at OXXO where you bought your card speak any English?

    Thanks!

    1. Author

      I bought my SIM card in Puerta Vallarta, which is quite touristy, and the person behind the counter spoke pretty good English — certainly more than enough to help me buy and register the card.

      I’d expect you’ll find someone who can speak English at many OXXO stores in the Yucatan, especially Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and probably elsewhere as well. If not, maybe write down what you’re after in Spanish with a bit of help from Google Translate and see what happens. 😉

  10. Thanks to this post, when I saw an Oxxo I went inside and ordered a Telcel SIM card. It didn’t work on my unblocked (African) phone, so I bought a Telcel handset also. No activation seems to have been required for the SIM, I just wrote my name and signature on a form.

    I also bought some credit, which gave me a little tag that is somehow tied to my number. Apparently, this needs to be scanned to send new credit top-ups to your phone.

    Texting the code Alto30 to 5050 billed 399 pesos and topped me up immediately with 3GB data for 30 days.

    Thanks again!

    1. Author

      Pleased it helped! It’s interesting there didn’t seem to be an activation process — maybe they’re coming pre-activated now, or it’s something the teller can do themselves instead of making a call. Either way, anything that speeds things up is good!

      I’ve seen those little tags too — you don’t strictly need them to top up your phone, it’s just easier to quickly scan it rather than read out and confirm your number to the teller. 🙂

  11. All;
    Thanks for the info. Live in Vancouver BC and just bought a sim card at Sanborns in Roma Sur in the DF.
    150 MXP gets you the card and a 75 MXP credit for calls/sms/data. Certainly enough for casual use for a week. An extra 150MXP gets you 350 MB data for 30 days. I’m just about to explore what it takes to keep the sim card alive for longer periods via web topup. I have a US sim that I keep alive by trickling 10$ in at a time. Great help when you land somewhere to be able to be connected.

    1. where did you get the US sim card? i am bringing an iPhone 4s that i bought in mexico, back to the US and want to “trickle 10$ at a time”. i don’t use the cell a lot, but may want to use the internet a bit more than i have in the past.

  12. Brilliant information. We are going to Cancun from the UK in a couple of weeks and you’ve helped a GREAT deal. The data plans seem very cheap – great for the tourist (and the wife that loves to instagram!)

  13. I used the Amigo pay-as-you-go paquete last December but the 30 days ran out. Can that SIM still be used again and recharged online? or do we need to buy a new SIM?
    Also, does anyone know if there is a Telcel store in terminal 2 at MEX airport?

    1. George, the Amigo kit pay-as-you-go plan is good as long as you use your chip. By making calls, sending messages and recharging your chip. An unused chip will be deactivated in about 6 months. Credit on your chip will expire in about 60 days after purchase whether used or not. A few of our guests will take their phone/chip home and make calls once a month and add credit, others, we have 4 now, leave them here and we make calls and add credit until they return.
      We avoid DF airport at all costs sorry can’t help you but if I were to guess you should find one somewhere close.

  14. ….purchased a new unlocked Acer phone at a Costco in Canada, and brought it to Mexico with me. A new sim from a vendor in Colima, there was no hassle, address or passport needed, at least for me, but your milage may vary. A new sim cost 100pesos and there was even 50 pesos worth of ‘time and calls’ to use up. Telcel has now gone sin LADA and and sin fronteira, meaning no long distance and no frontiers anywhere in or from Mexico, Canada or the USA with their new plans and packages. This means Telcel has negotiated a no roaming fees agreement with major providers in Canada or the USA. The good part is price. For 50 pesos you can have 15 days of unlimited calling and texting and WhatsApp, and data to Mexican, USA or Canadian numbers OR from while in Canada or the USA to Canadian USA or Mexican numbers all for less than $3.50 for the 2 weeks. If you need longer, 100 pesos gets you a month of the same with a bit larger data package. Check the PACKAGES not plans on the TelCel Amigo website. Text the 5050 SL50 or SL100 packages when you buy the Amigo Card or get a Telcel vendor to do it for you if your not sure.

  15. Hi All,

    Just back from Puerto Vallarta and Gudalajara (May 2016). Your original article helped a ton, although I opted for an AT&T (iusacell) SIM. This was due to easier activation and simpler Canada/US roaming — or my understanding thereof — after reading the websites.

    The AT&T SIM was $80 pesos, and I added $100 pesos. The $100 pesos provided 350 MB and unlimited talk & text to/in Mex/Can/USA, for 28 days. See prepaid plans here: https://www.att.com.mx/planes-att-prepago.html No ID/passport was required to purchase from the AT&T store in Plaza Caracol.

    There are Telcel authorized distributors almost everywhere in PV, and in central GDL. I asked several to see if any were perhaps independent and also distributed AT&T SIMs; none did, but all were reasonably friendly and told me where to find AT&T.

    I was happy with AT&T coverage in PV and GDL. 3G data seemed faster than at home on Telus. My phone isn’t 4G, so no info about that. Outside citites and towns AT&T coverage was minimal; I gather Telcel is preferable if you’re staying in rural areas.

    The AT&T sim worked 100% with no configuration changes in LAX, SEA, and YYC. Roaming was on AT&T in the US (duh), and Telus in Canada. No additional SMS, activations, APNs, or calls to customer service were necessary to roam. Voice, SMS and 3G data all worked flawlessly when roaming. Having checked my account, there do not appear to be any extra charges for roaming; as advertised.

    I’d happily go with AT&T again, but a Telcel SIM would be easier to acquire if you’re not near an AT&T store. I’m planning to keep the AT&T SIM for travelling in Mexico and the USA.

    Cheers

  16. Should I unlock my phone before going to Mexico or can I do it there with no problem?

    1. Author

      It’s best to start by asking your carrier to unlock it for you, so it’s probably easiest to do that before you leave.

  17. All LTE3 and after iPhones are unlocked.

    Verizon now has very inexpensive coverage anywhere in Mexico and Canada when you get their “NEW PLAN,” which means subscribing to 8GB plan minimum.
    With that plan, you are getting unlimited calls and texts, and since the plans are pro-rated, just switch back to what you were using when you return to the states.
    They also have another plan for only a few days’ trip, which is $2.00/day, and you use your current plan’s data and voice subscription.

  18. Hello there
    I had a hard time trying to get a Telcel chip work from Oxxo in Valladolid, Yucatan. There were two choices either a 3G chip for 29 pesos or 4G chip for 150 pesos. I asked for the cheap one and asked for a 100 pesos paquetes plan. I inserted the chip onsite in my phone. The chip was recognized by the phone and the service never activated. When the employee tried to top up my number she received an error. The manager called Telcel support but after many trials (among them one with another chip) we gave up and they fully refunded me. I did not try the 4G chip as the manager told me Telcel support thought something was wrong with my phone… I ended up using WiFi provided by every hotel I visited even the one close to Calakmul bisophere park in the middle of the jungle. Overall phone failure but made friends with Oxxo staff !

  19. Does your phone need to be set up in anyway for it to work? I’m about to arrive in Mexico and
    Meant to get a international SIM card before leaving (because I’m also going to Peru, Colombia and Belize) but didn’t end up having time so now I’m in a bit of a frantic trying to figure out if I can get a SIM card for my Mexico City portion since I know I’ll
    Be taking Uber’s around the city. I have an iPhone 7. Thoughts?

    1. Author

      Your phone needs to have GSM support, which your iPhone 7 will, and be unlocked (either because you bought it that way, or because your carrier has done so for you). Check out this post for more info. Otherwise, no, there’s nothing you need to do beforehand.

  20. I bought a moviestar sim card and topped up a coupleof times. That was almost a year ago. Surprisingly i was able to receive phone calls and texsts both in Mexico and Canada though I couldnt make outbound phone calls. Just wondering how long this will last without topping up again as i like to have a Mexican phone no and i use fongo or talkatone to make calls. Any ideas?

    1. Author

      It’ll last until Movistar deactivates the SIM card, but I don’t know how long that is — it varies by company. You’ll need to ask them, I’m afraid. Longer than 12 months is unusual, though.

  21. Hi i am from Philippibe.My concern s, If they installed the sim on ur phone is the wallpaper of the phone will gone too??

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