Cheap Short-Term Data Plans for GSM Phones in Mexico
So you're going to Mexico for a short while—a few days, weeks, or months—and want to use your GSM phone (AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon) there but not want to pay through the nose by using international roaming. My carrier, T-Mobile, charges $15 per MB while in any other country than the US or Canada. Ouch!
Fortunately, the method below will give you 700 MB of 3G data access over the course of one week for just shy of $30 (a bit less or more if you're going to spend less or more time in Mexico). Yes, that would be $10,500 if you were to use the same amount of bandwidth through T-Mobile! It does take about an hour of time waiting in line at a Telcel "Centro de Atencion" but if you've got to have data access while in Mexico (checking email, using maps, and on-the-fly searches are 3 really compelling reasons), this is how to do it while not breaking the bank.
What you'll need
Get these things together before heading out:
- Your passport (no, other ID like driver's licenses will not work; you must have your passport)
- Cash (2011 prices):
- 230 pesos for 2 days' access (200 MB bandwidth)
- 350 pesos for 7 days' access (700 MB bandwidth)
- 450 pesos for 15 days' access (1.5 GB bandwidth)
- 650 pesos for 30 days' access (3 GB bandwidth)
- Your GSM phone (take out your own SIM card and keep it in a safe place until you return); any dual-, tri-, or quad-band phone should work (800/850 and 1900 MHz). I used my Google Nexus One (which is tri-band). If your phone is not already unlocked (a locked phone does not allow you to use any other carrier than the one you're contracted with) then you'll have to ask your carrier to temporarily unlock it, or find another way to unlock it. (Do your research, though; this can often invalidate a warranty if not done the right way)
Find the closest Telcel "Centro de Atencion"
Unfortunately, small cellphone sellers will probably not be able to help you out (but you can certainly try, if you don't live close to any of the centros de atencion with this link (lists are organized by states; Distrito Federal is Mexico City)
Voice but no data?
All set up and you see bars, but no E(dge) symbol? Your phone might need to have an APN (Access Point Name) set up for it. Create a new APN—call it whatever you like—with the following fields (ignore all the others):
- APN: internet.itelcel.com
- user: webgprs
- password: webgprs2002
- APN type: default
Enable this APN and connect again to Telcel. Should work fine!
What to do at the Centro de Atencion
Follow these steps. It took me about an hour and a half, but I waited until 6pm when it was busiest. If you arrive earlier, before the evening rush, you can probably wrap it all up in about 30 minutes.
- Register at the registration desk. Simply tell the person that you would like to sign up for Telcel Amigo. They will probably ask you if you brought your passport, before sending you to a window (ventanilla) for an agent to help you.
- Explain to the agent that you would like to buy the lowest-cost Telcel Amigo (prepaid) service, since you already have a phone. The lowest-value card had 75 pesos of voice call value, and, with VAT (value-added tax), costs 150 pesos.
- They'll take a copy of your passport, spend the next 5 minutes preparing paperwork. You'll have to sign about 5 forms, and then pay the 150 pesos at a cashier (caja).
- You return, fill out some more paperwork, and then the agent will tell you to buy a 200 peso electronic value card at the cashier (if you are getting the 7 day plan).
- Give that card to your agent, and he/she will spend about 5-10 minutes setting up your phone.
- You'll get your phone back and you'll get a text message from Telcel saying that you have exactly one week and 700 MB (or whatever you purchased).
Yes, it really is that easy! The best part is that you'll even have a phone number and 75 pesos' worth of voice calls, so friends and family can reach you in an emergency and you can make some calls (~18 minutes of calls within Mexico). Don't dare share that number with your office!
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