Do Mexpats Really Need a Mexican Phone Number?

Mobile phones in Mexico

Before relocating to Mexico, I was convinced that an unlimited mobile plan for voice, text, and data with Cricket Wireless would satisfy all of my communication needs, based on the recommendations of several expats.

(We dumped Verizon upon learning they would cut us off after a few months if most of our calls originated in Mexico.)

My assumption that we could “do without” a local number was also reinforced by the advice I’d read in Retirement Secrets of Mexico, a best-selling book by Russell Blake. (I still recommend the book, but disagree with his recommendation on this topic)

All that notwithstanding, I decided to get a local phone number in Mexico after roughly nine months of struggles that included:

     

      • Not being able to use the local gas company’s mobile app to request service because it couldn’t handle a non-Mexican phone number.

      • Not being able to report an electrical outage on CFE’s mobile app.

      • Delivery guys who couldn’t figure out how to enter my U.S. number into WhatsApp to coordinate arrival times.

      • Megacable and TotalPlay not being able to accept a U.S. number when opening new accounts for internet service.

      • A volunteer coordinator of a local event not being able to add my number to their WhatsApp group to schedule participation.

     

    In my experience, few Mexicans are familiar with how to dial foreign phone numbers, and even fewer Mexican companies have designed websites or digital apps capable of accepting foreign phone numbers.

    Motivated by a desire to get daily tasks done more easily, I threw in the towel and decided to get a Mexican phone number. Little did I know how simple it is!

    Below is a run-down of how you can quickly and easily obtain a Mexican phone number:

     

    Option #1: Walk into any Oxxo and buy a pre-paid SIM card from Telcel.

    Even if you don’t speak Spanish, use this simple phrase to tell the cashier what you need:

    “Quiero comprar una tarjeta SIM para mi móvil.”

    There are like a zillion different Telcel pre-paid plans, but the one you should ask for is the “Paquetes Amigo Sin Limite,” which gives you unlimited data for 30 days for ~ 200 pesos or $11 USD.

    Now, simply grab your phone and swap out your old SIM card for the new one, and voila, you have a local Mexican phone number!

    The great thing about pre-paid SIM cards is that they do not require a contract or any service commitment at all.

    While I don’t use Telcel service, many expats swear by it for its reliable coverage nationwide, competitive prices, and ease of access.

     

    Option #2: Visit any AT&T store and buy their pre-paid SIM card for 200 pesos.

    If you aren’t a mobile whiz and aren’t comfortable replacing the SIM card in your phone yourself, this is a great alternative to buying at Oxxo. I have an AT&T store very close to my house, so that’s where I went to buy a SIM card.

    It’s also easy to reload a SIM card on AT&T’s mobile app. On the other hand, their website is a horror show that always triggers errors for me when trying to reload my card. (They forgot to add a feature on the website enabling users to edit or delete their payment info. Oops!)

    Alternatively, you can reload your SIM the Mexican way — pay in cash, and in person at a store.

    If relying on pre-paid cell service, you must reload your SIM regularly if you don’t want to lose your phone number. Mexican companies don’t care about inconveniencing you — they will resell your number after an unspecified period of disuse. (While these things are subject to change, my research has found that Telcel allows six months of disuse and AT&T allows three months before re-claiming a phone number)

     

    Option #3: Visit Moviestar — another cheap source for a pre-paid SIM.

    Moviestar is a popular, low-cost cell service provider throughout Latin America and operates the third-largest network in Mexico. Like Telcel and AT&T, you just need to buy the SIM card locally to get started.

    Moviestar operates its own standalone stores in Mexico, and also can be found at most Walmarts as a store-within-a-store.

    Best of all with pre-paid SIMs, you decide for yourself when and how often to reload it.

    Don’t be tempted to buy a SIM card at the airport, as you’ll almost certainly pay more. Wait until you get into whatever town you’re visiting and hit up the first Oxxo you see (or AT&T or Moviestar) to get a better deal.

     

    Additional Considerations

    Many of the newer mobile phone models do NOT accept physical SIM cards. For example, the iPhone 14 and later models rely exclusively on embedded SIMs, aka “eSIMs” that cannot be touched. Same goes for the latest high-end Samsung Galaxy phones.

    If your phone uses an eSIM instead of a physical SIM, there’s no need to worry. It’s easy to buy an eSIM for cell service in Mexico and get a local number from a standalone provider like airalo.com or directly from a local cellular provider.

    If you travel back and forth a lot with a phone that relies on eSIM, you may also want to look into getting a second phone for Mexico– or investing in a device that has two physical SIM card slots.

    Pro-Tip: To take advantage of any of the options shared above, you’ll need an unlocked mobile phone. An unlocked phone is able to recognize SIM cards from different service providers, whereas a locked mobile phone will not. For this reason, I strongly recommend bringing an unlocked phone to Mexico.

     

    Option #4 – Buy a post-paid plan.

    Post-paid SIM cards with a monthly billing plan are another option for those expats with residency visas and a fixed local address. While you can score some good deals, setting up a post-paid plan is a bit more complicated.

    You’ll have to visit a cellular provider’s store to initiate post-paid service, presenting your visa details and proof of address in the process.

    Because post-paid plans are a bigger service commitment (a contract!), I suggest testing out a pre-paid SIM first—and switching only if you find it’s not meeting your needs.

     

    Conclusion

    You may suffer fewer inconveniences without a Mexican phone number if you visit Mexico only a few months at a time, or are a long-term resident with a landlord who maintains all of the utility accounts.

    But if you’re like us and spend the majority of your time south of the border and own your own home– these quick and easy solutions should address your needs and eliminate plenty of headaches.

    Additional resources:

    What is a SIM card and how does it work?

    Do iPhones have SIM cards?

    Which mobile phones have dual SIM card slots?

    For background, Telcel (Mexico’s largest cellular network) is owned by Telmex, which is a huge media company headquartered in Mexico City with business spanning mobile and fixed-line phones, internet, data, web hosting, and cable TV service.

     

    About Live Well Mexico

    My name is Dawn Stoner. In 2022, my family sold our house and half of our possessions, then relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. We now live here full-time.

    Since then, we’ve learned how to navigate the real estate market, deal with the Mexican bureaucracy, and manage our finances as expats… all while having a pretty fine time!

    I created this blog to help newcomers solve the everyday challenges of living in Mexico, because it isn’t easy figuring all this out for yourself.

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