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)

That's it!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. Give that card to your agent, and he/she will spend about 5-10 minutes setting up your phone.
  6. 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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Comments 15 comments

sunforged profile image

sunforged 5 years ago from Sunforged.com

Interesting, I have a droid 2 Global through Verizon, which has GSM capabilities. But, I was under the impression that the carrier you are contracted made you jump through some hoops before being able to activate the phone for other carriers rather than pay them for global costs. I believe with Verizon you can ask nicely for an unlock code and even put your traditional plan on hold. Did you have any issues with your existing carrier when attempting to use the new SIM or were just able to pop it in and go?


Rudra profile image

Rudra 5 years ago

When I go to Mexico, I will take your advice. Thanks


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Sunforged - Good question! My phone was already unlocked. I would imagine if your carrier has a global lock then you'll have to either ask for an unlock code or (ahem!) learn how to do it yourself. Let me amend the Hub above to mention this. Thanks!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great Hub! I've been doing this in other countries for ages, which is why I've held on to my old GSM phones even after getting my iPhone. I haven't done any of the actual setup though, so this guide is super helpful! Way to your maximise vacation activities, hahaa.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Simone - iPhone setup is really easy using this method...provided you've unlocked it! :)


ocbill profile image

ocbill 5 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

I am in the market for a smart 4G GSM phone with video calling..what is the best one aside from iPhone


Michael 5 years ago

So I'm headed down soon. Is this still the way to go?


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Michael - I should say so! It's what I did this past April when I was in Mexico.


Michael 5 years ago

It worked, even though they said it wouldn't after they took my Droid 3 to "check if it would work." Thanks a lot!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Glad it worked out for you, too - happy surfing!


Dj Swift 5 years ago

Thanks a lot for this, I'm going to Mexico in about a couple weeks for a gig and staying the holidays, I talked to my carrier (tmobile) and yes they told me $15 per MB!!! its ridiculous. Being a DJ I'm on my phone all the time, downloading new mixes songs, uploading, doing facebook emails etc. So I download plenty more than a MB. Just one question though, just picked up a droid Samsung Galaxy s2, will i get the speed of 4g that i get here in the US or will it be significantly slower? And do you know if there will be a problem trying to connect a laptop with the access point (mobile hot spot) feature that i have on phone? Thanks.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

DJ Swift: Unfortunately, no. Not only will you not get 4G, you won't get 3G. You'll get 2G (Edge). I doubt very much at that slow speed it will be possible to make your phone function as a hotspot. Remember, it's $30 for the whole week, though. :)


primemover 4 years ago

Just wanted to confirm that the process described above worked great for an "International SIM unlocked" iPhone 4S that is Sprint CDMA in the US. Switched to Telcel SIM in Cancun and the GSM services (including 3G!) came right up -with the help of the agent - who was very comfortable with the iPhone and how to provision the prepaid data plan described above.

It took forever by taxi to take us to the Telcel "Centro de Atencion", even though we had the address for all four of them in Cancun, and by the time we arrived it was almost 6. The line was long but everyone remained civil as we crawled forward for 55 minutes.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

Wow, so it worked for a CDMA phone, too! Thank you for confirming, primemover.


primemover 4 years ago

So, I actually blew away 1.5 GB of data before my 15 days in Mexico ended. So, with the help of a taxi driver's bilingual, we proceeded to one of the thousands of Oxxo stores (think 7-Eleven in the USA, but one on almost every corner. He helped me pay 300 pesos to the person at the cash register, entered my MX phone number and I got a text on my phone in 5 seconds. I learned I was able to dial *333, listen carefully and press 2 for english. I have plenty-o-voice and data service credit. BUT, for reasons I have not figured out, I still have no internet access ... since I am not near any of the four Telcel Centro de Atencion locations in Cancun, I am going to try to actually to get an english speaking Telcel support person by dialing 483 and trying to resolve.

Next time I come to Mexico, I will learn the easiest way to get another 1.5 MB added if I need more data, rather then the 300 MB I got at the Oxxo by paying $300 MEX.

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