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Communications in Mexico
Guide about staying in contact using the telephone, cellular and internet services, the Mexican postal services and other couriers when visiting or living in Mexico.
Introduction to Telephone Services in Mexico
Mexico's telephone network is one of the most well-developed in Latin America. Penetration of land-lines never reached those of the US or western Europe, and are now never likely to as the introduction of mass-market mobile telephones in the mid 1990's meant that people turned to wireless connections and demand for land-lines declined, especially in more remote areas.
Today, Mexico offers a whole range of telephone services from simple land-line telephone services to high-speed internet (ADSL) services as well as the latest GSM and 3rd Generation ("3G") mobile technologies.
The advent of internet-based telephony and mobile networks have made a significant impact on Telmex's domination of phone call charges, especially for long distance and international calls. For example, the use high speed internet to make voice calls (known as VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol) delivered through user-friendly services such as Skype and Vonage means that users of high-speed internet can circumvent high-cost long-distance phone charges. Mobile telephony is transforming the way people communicate and people are no longer beholden to land-line connections to stay in touch. These and other developments are explained later in this guide.
Most major hotels in Mexico, from mid-range prices upwards, will provide an in-room telephone which can be used for local, national and international phone dialing.
As with all hotels worldwide, any calls other than local calls (which are sometimes free, but not always) may be charged at a significant premium: check the call charges and compare this to your cell phone's roaming charges (it might be less expensive) and if you are traveling with a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, consider using the hotel's WiFi to make long distance calls instead as this will be much less expensive.
If you have to use your hotel for long distance or international calling, we recommend you use a calling card which provides a toll-free or local-rate number to access the service and will charge you less than hotel charges for long distance calls. Check with the hotel to ensure that charges to access toll-free (01-800) numbers are fee-free, or at best, very low. Some hotels in Mexico often make a fixed-fee charge of around US$1 for a 'free' call, regardless of its duration.
Telmex manages most of the pay phones in Mexico. Coin-operated phones exist in very small quantities for local calls and reverse charge calls. Most pay phones in Mexico only operate with pre-paid phone cards.
In the days before cell phones, pay phones were everywhere in Mexico and there would often be a line of people waiting to use one. Today, even people on low incomes in Mexico have a cell phone and the demand for pay phone usage has virtually collapsed.
Most public phones that still exist use the pre-paid phone cards. You can buy pre-paid Telmex phone cards in denominations of 30, 50 and 100 pesos. They are widely sold throughout Mexico including convenience stores, hotels and news and tobacco kiosks. Look for a sign reading "Tarjetas Ladatel" in the window, or ask at the counter.
Although Telmex has moved to lower rates from public phones in recent times, their pre-paid calling cards are still a bit expensive. You will get cheaper long-distance calling rates by purchasing an "alternative carrier" phone card (see below) and using any private or public phone to make calls using the access numbers on these cards.
Local Calls - There is a fixed charge for a local call, regardless of how long the call lasts. Pay phones cost more. For the latest prices on telephony in Mexico connect to the Mexico Cost of Living Report.
National and International Calls - These vary in price according to time of day and distance. International calls are very expensive by US, European and Australian standards; most people today use Internet-based telephony and "alternative carrier" calling cards as an alternative to high fixed network charges for making international calls -- see below. For the latest prices on telephony in Mexico connect to the Mexico Cost of Living Report.
In order to place a reverse charge call from Mexico, dial the operator on 020 if the call is a domestic one, or 090 if the call is international. The operators on the international number will be able to speak English. Ask to place a "collect" call and give them the number you want to connect to.
Charges Warning: Reverse Charge International calls from Mexico cost a small fortune for the person receiving the charge, so if you need to make one, find a phone that accepts incoming calls and give the people you want to talk with the number you are dialing from so they can call you back on it.
Instead of buying a Telmex phone card for long-distance calls, buy one of the widely-available "alternative network" calling cards. They will save you a significant amount of money on your long-distance and international calls, whether you are calling from a hotel phone, a private phone or a public pay phone.
They are simple to buy and use:
Stop-by at any kiosk selling confectionery, cigarettes, newspapers, etc. You'll find these on street corners, bus stations, airports, etc. Some convenience stores (e.g. "Oxxo" also stock them) and you may even find that your hotel's kiosk or convenience store has them as well. They are not usually advertised, you will have to ask the store-keeper for them.
As for a "Tarjeta para llamadas de larga distancia de descuento " (calling card for discounted long distance calls), there are a number of different brands/companies. They are sold in denominations of $100, $200 or $500 pesos (currency converter) and will offer you significantly more minutes on Mexican long-distance calls, calls to mobiles and especially calls abroad, than the equivalent amount on a Telmex calling card (or even, from a private phone line serviced by Telmex).
The cards are delivered in a sealed wrapper and require you to scratch off a panel to reveal the card's calling code. Reject the card if the wrapper and scratch-panel are not intact when you buy it.
When you dial the access number, a voice will give you the option of choosing the language you want—all main languages are available including Spanish, English, French, German, Italian. Some also offer Japanese and Russian.
You'll be prompted to enter your card's calling code (the number under the scratch panel) after which you'll be told how much credit you have left. After each call, your new balance will be spoken out to you.
You can often use the same card to top-up your "account credit" over the internet by using a credit card—useful if you make a lot of calls and can't find another store to purchase more cards. Details and web-site will be printed on the card.
With the advent of "VoIP" (Voice over Internet Protocol) you can now make free and very low cost telephone calls in Mexico, by-passing the high-cost fixed network charges imposed by Telmex. Furthermore, VoIP offers one significant advantage over land lines: you can now enjoy video calls, which means you can see and hear the caller!
What is Internet Telephony?
Internet telephony uses the data transferred across the world's internet networks to carry voice and images. In simple terms, your voice and image is "packaged up" into digital signals, sent across the internet and "unpackaged" at the other end.
For voice-only calls, you'll need a computer (laptop, desktop, netbook, iPad, tablet, Android, etc.) or smartphone connected to a high-speed internet connection. To make a video call, you will also need a web-cam (either built into your device or attached as an external device).
Most of the computers and devices like smart phones and tablets (iPad etc) sold today come fitted as standard with all the equipment you need to make internet telephony calls (voice / video). You'll need some software to make and receive calls, which might well be pre-installed on your device, or is otherwise down-loadable for free.
Making Free and Low Cost Calls over the Internet from Mexico
There are many "Internet Telephony" service providers. The two best known as Vonage and Skype, (Skype is now owned by Microsoft). For iPad users, applications like "Facetime" also exist, so that you can communicate with other Apple device users across that proprietary network.
We'll use Skype for this example.
Download the Skype software which is free if it is not already installed on your device.
Once you download the software, you sign-up (free) for a Skype account. The software will enable you to make voice or video calls. You'll choose an ID, which people will use to contact you via Sype you and which others will see when you call them.
All your contacts and personal settings are saved on Skype's servers, so your "telephone book" is accessible from anywhere in the world using the Skype software—you don't have to use your own computer to access your Skype Internet telephony account.
The software is like a "digital telephone"; it enables you to dial out using a key-pad or direct from your list of contacts. For a video call, make sure your webcam is active (Skype will recognize most cameras automatically) and choose the video call option on the interface. Other services are available also and many more are being added. Here is a summary of Skype's features; most internet telephony providers offer similar services:
Calls between Skype users (i.e. Skype-Skype calls, including video-calls) are totally free of charge right now. Calls to non-Skype users, however, cost extra (see SkypeOut, below)
SkypeOut -- you can buy credit for your account using a charge card or PayPal. Call charges are low and enable you call from your computer to regular phone lines as well as mobile phones to most countries around the world. See Skype's list of countries and tariff for details.
VoiceMail -- for a small quarterly or annual fee (and free as part of some calling plans), you can have a Skype voicemail, so that when you are not online, people can leave you voice messages.
Skype ReDirect - you can opt to re-direct your incoming Skype calls to a regular phone line, so if you're not online, the calls are delivered to a regular phone number -- anywhere in the world. The re-direct charge is the same low rate per minute that Skype charges for SkypeOut calls.
Conference Calls - Skype enables you to conference with up to nine other people, whether they are Skype users (free) or on regular or cell phones (using SkypeOut and charged at low SkypeOut rates).
High Speed Internet Lines
You MUST have a high-speed or WiFi (wireless) internet connection to make Internet telephony calls. Dial-up internet access will not work. High speed internet lines are commonly available in Mexico and, if you are traveling, you will also be able to find plenty of WiFi "hotspots" you can connect to, e.g. at hotels, coffee shops, airports, etc.
You may use local internet cafe's to make long distance calls using your Skype account. Log-in to your Skype account at the cafe or ask the attendant if they have wifi you can connect your smart phone or tablet device to; or laptop if you have one.
Many hotels in Mexico now offer high speed internet access over WiFi or ethernet wired connections; some hotels make an additional charge for internet access. In either event, you may be able to make calls via Skype and other internet telephony services from your hotel room. Just log-in to your (Skype) account and dial in the normal way.
Public WiFi Connections
Coffee shops, hotel lobbies, airports and other public places are increasingly offering WiFi (wireless internet) access. You can usually use WiFi to make and receive internet calls using your laptop computer.
See Blog: WiFi Access in Mexico
About Using Cell Phones in Mexico
Mexico has an extensive cellular telephone network. Telmex spun-off its mobile operations into a separate company called America Movil and their service in Mexico is called 'Telcel'. The other main operators are 'IUSACell' and Spain's 'Movistar' (owned by Telefonica).
Telcel has extensive network coverage across Mexico. Outside of big cities and major towns, Telcel may be the only network available, although the others are developing their networks in more remote regions, particularly Spain's Movistar.
Rates from and to cell phones in Mexico are predictably high, especially in comparison with land-line calls. Mexico is divided up into "roaming regions" and when you travel outside of your phone's "home region" charges begin to escalate significantly.
Registering Your Mexican Cell Phone: A new law passed in the spring of 2009 requires all users of cell phones in Mexico to register their phones. Phones (including "pre-pay" phone kits) purchased after April 1, 2009 require the purchaser to supply official identification at the point of purchase.
The three big operators are often offering discount packages and deals so check locally to see what offer suits your personal needs best.
If you are in Mexico for a longer period of time, you may elect to buy a contract phone. Contracts offer lower call charges but come with a line rental and minimum contract terms (12-24 months minimum, are typical).
Pre-Pay phone "kits" offer easy access to the phone network without the need for a contract or minimum term. However, the call and roaming charges are the highest.
For between US$40-$80, you can buy a "phone kit" that comes with a phone, charger and, usually, up to half the cost price in air time included.
You can buy top-up cards in many places which can be used to increase your call credit any time (the credit must be used within 60 days), and the network system gives you the option to manage your account in English (check balances, add call credit, etc).
Credit Top-up cards come in denominations of MX$100, 200, 300 and 500, and there is often a promotion which will credit the amount on the card plus an extra percentage, effectively offering discount on your call charges. Check locally for details as offers are changing constantly.
A number of companies offer a "traveler's SIMM card service". SIMM cards are little chips which are the "brain" of modern cell phones. These chips hold the phone's number as well as call credit, account details etc. They are often inter-changeable between different phones.
This means that you may be able to use your own cell phone when you travel by substituting the SIMM inside of it while you are in Mexico. Some services offer deep discount rates in comparison to calls made with "phone kit" cell phones purchased locally (see above) and are certainly less expensive than roaming with your home-based phone in Mexico (see below).
If your phone is of the GSM (Global System for Mobile) type, the SIMM may be interchange-able right away. You pop your "home" SIMM out, pop the "mexico" SIMM in, and when you're in Mexico, your phone will be able pick up and use Mexican cell phone networks.
Most services enable you to "top-up" you Mexico SIMM call credit online, so if you run out of credit while you're traveling, you can add more using a charge card and any internet connection.
You can also get data-only SIMM cards, as well as plans that include some data allowance, so that you can also access the internet (including emails) while you are in Mexico. Stop in to a local cell phone store to ask about the latest products and deals.
There are various agencies which rent mobile telephones in Mexico. Many good hotels now have mobile phone rental agency booths in their lobby.
In order to be able to rent a mobile phone in Mexico, you must present identification and have a credit card. They will take an imprint of your credit card as collateral for the phone.
A small daily charge is made for the phone (which may or may not include insurance for it - so check!), and thereafter you pay for the calls. Charges vary depending on where you are calling to and at what time of day it is. If you roam with your phone outside of Mexico City, or make international calls, charges are likely to escalate significantly - so do check beforehand!
With the advent of "phone kits", "traveler's SIMM" services and international roaming, cell phone rental is not as widespread or popular as it used to be a few years ago.
If you have a "Tri Band" mobile phone, you can now take it with you and use it in Mexico using the GSM (Global System for Mobile) network in Mexico, provided that your service provider back home has enabled international roaming on your account and has a reciprocal arrangement with the operator in Mexico. Two of Mexico's wireless operators use the GSM system—Telcel, the local subsidiary of America Movil and by far the largest, and Telefonica, which operates under the Movistar brand in Mexico. This means that users of GSM phones (Europe, Australia, et al) can take their phones to Mexico and use them as if they were at home.
Beware! The roaming charges can be very high: If you are a company user with an allowance, your allowance may get used up faster than you think; if the phone is for personal use, it's probably best to keep the phone in hand for emergencies and short calls home.
In addition to voice calls, your mobile phone may also be able to connect to the internet across the mobile network. If you are roaming with your home phone in Mexico take note that data roaming charges are high; contact your cell phone provider to ask if they offer and international data roaming plan you can use while in Mexico, as ad-hoc (out of plan) use of the data network is execessively expensive. Cell phone contracts in Mexico (as well as pay-as-you-go plans) offer some data allowance. If your home carrier does not offer an international calling plan at reasonable rates, you might consider purchasing a SIMM card in Mexico for data use--it may be less expensive than using your home cell phone SIMM on roaming in Mexico (see Traveler's "SIMM" Cards for Use in Mexico, above).
Mexico has certain (complicated) protocols for dialing to and from cell phones. See the next section— Dialing Phones in Mexico— for full details.
Mexico Dialing Codes
In November 2001, Mexico's telephone exchange numbers underwent a major upgrade. Refer to the Telephone Dialing Codes Table for Mexico for a list of cities and dialing codes for cities and towns in Mexico.
Calls to and From Mexican Phones (Land Lines)
Local Calls - To make local calls, ignore the area code, and dial direct, just as you would do at home. Note that major cities' numbers have EIGHT numbers and other places have SEVEN numbers.
National Calls - Dial 01 which is the prefix for all non-local calls in Mexico, followed by the area code, followed by telephone number.
International Calls - To access a number outside of Mexico, you need to prefix the number with 00 (the international access code) then the country code, and then the national area code (omitting the first zero if there is one), and then the local number.
Dialing TO Mexico From overseas - Dial the International access code (in most cases this is 00, in the USA it is 001) followed by Mexico's country code (52), the area code in Mexico (see National Calls, above) and then the seven or eight digit local number.
Calling Toll-Free Numbers in the USA from Mexico:
If you are in Mexico and you want to contact someone in the USA who is advertising a toll-free number, you will need to dial:
"001" then the 10 digit 800 number excluding the 1
For example: 001-800 123 4567 or, e.g. 001-880-123 4567.
Calls to Mexican Mobile Phones in Mexico and from Abroad
Mexico has certain protocols (rules) for dialing to and from cell phones.
Dialing Cell Phones From a Land line in Mexico
If you are calling a cell phone from a land line within Mexico, the number will be preceded by a 3 digit access code, thus:
For calls to a local cellphone (that is, a cell phone with an area code which is the same as the land-line's), dial 044 then the 10-digit number of the mobile phone. The caller will be charged for the full cost of the call.
For calls to a non-local domestic cellphone (that is, a cell phone with a Mexican area code which is different from the land-line's area code) dial 045 followed by the 10-digit mobile number, and the entire cost of the call will be charged to the caller if the mobile phone is in its home area.
For the latest prices on telephone services in Mexico connect to the Mexico Cost of Living Report.
Dialing Cell Phones From a Mexican Cell Phone in Mexico
If you are calling a cell phone phone from another cell phone, just dial the area code followed by the mobile number.
Dialing a Cell Phone in Mexico from Outside Mexico
Under changes made in the calling-party-pays system, as of Nov. 4, 2006, if you are calling a Mexican cell phone from overseas, you should dial your country's international access code, followed by Mexico's country code (52), then add a "1", then the mobile phone's area code and its number. The full charge of the call will be made to the caller.
For example, if the cell phone number in Mexico is listed as 044 55 1234 5678, you would ignore the "044" or "045" (see notes above about these codes), and place a "1" in its stead. Then you would dial the area code (55) and then the number (1234 5678).
So, from the USA/CA, you would dial: 011 52 1 55 1234 5678
And from Europe you would dial: 00 52 1 55 1234 5678
High Speed internet lines (ADSL) are now widely available in most towns and cities in Mexico, which is making Internet access ubiquitous in many offices, homes and other public spaces.
Note about Port 25 for Email Access
Many Internet service providers world-wide are 'shutting down' Port 25, the port most commonly used to send email. Telmex, Mexico's dominant Telco, is one of them. Read this blog article: Email Access in Mexico, for details.
High Speed Internet (Broadband ADSL) in Mexico
Telmex, Mexico's incumbent and dominant telephone company, has invested heavily in the creation and delivery of a high speed internet network across Mexico. Their ADSL service, with a trade name of "Infinitum" is relatively expensive but good. Subscribers to their ADSL service may also use the "Prodigy" WiFI access, available at some shops, restaurants and most airports, free of charge using their client ID and password.
Internet via Cable in Mexico
In certain regions, cable companies offer excellent high-speed internet services in addition to TV channels. If you are in an area where cable is available, you may want to consider it as an alternative to Telmex's Infinitum product, as the upload/download speeds are faster and the monthly fees are about the same. The disadvantage of cable is that you miss out on the "Infinitum WiFi" access from thousands of hot-spots across Mexico, which comes included in the Telmex ADSL package. If you travel often and need use of WiFi hotspots, you may buy the WiFi service separately if you choose to go with the cable option.
WiFi Access on the move in Mexico City and elsewhere
A number of stand-alone WiFi services are available, which may be especially useful if you are traveling or don't have access to a land-based high speed internet connection.
eGo is a private company offering WiFi services in Mexico City in return for a subscription fee. Also, many coffee shops (especially the independent ones) offer free WiFi access to customers, mirroring the service provided in many coffee houses throughout the USA. Hotels and some restaurants are also beginning to offer the service—ask locally or use your Laptop to scan for available networks.
Note that, unlike the USA, most hotels make an additional charge for WiFi/Internet access at the hotel.
Internet Over Cellular Networks
Mexico now offers high speed internet access over the new "3G" cellular networks. Telmex, Iusacell and Movistar all offer a high-speed service which is accessed directly over smart phones and other devices e.g. iPad, or via a special "aerial" plugged into a laptop's USB port.
If you have an wireless internet plan with a phone company in your home country, you may be able to access one of Mexico's networks automatically. Check with your local provider about international data roaming access and charges. See also Internet Access on Cell Phones in Mexico on this guide.
Safety and Privacy Using WiFi Networks in Mexico
Important! Open WiFi networks (whether in Mexico or anywhere else in the world) are NOT secure connections, and what you send and receive may be eavesdropped by others.
See Blog: WiFi Access in Mexico
Just about every town and city in Mexico has at least one Internet Cafe, where you can surf the web and check for email online, for example, if you have a yahoo or hotmail email account, or if your Internet Service Provider enables you to access your email through a web page.
Look for signs reading "Acceso a Internet" or "Cibernautica" or "Cibercafe". Charges range from approx. US$1 an hour to US$3 an hour, depending on the location.
As more people travel with laptops, smartphones and other devices like iPads, and WiFi connections become more frequent, the role of the Internet Cafe has less importance now than it did a few years ago. However, many people still want to travel without lugging computer equipment (especially on vacation) and Internet Cafes also provide 'community services' for travelers, food and drink, long distance phone call services, and local knowledge and contacts for people, and are not likely to disappear any time soon.
Internet Access for Longer Stays in Mexico
If you plan to stay in Mexico a while, perhaps rent an apartment or share a house, live and work, enjoy a retirement in Mexico, or perhaps invest in your own home in Mexico, you can opt to rent dial-up or high-speed (ADSL) Internet access from Telmex (the biggest) or other service providers. With dial-up, you pay a monthly charge plus the cost of accessing the local call, regardless of how long the call lasts (or until the network logs you out).
Broadband / High Speed Internet (ADSL) is becoming increasingly popular and widespread in Mexico too (see first heading of this section for details). It's often better value for money than dial-up because in Mexico, you pay for each call you make to a dial-up internet service and, at the end of the month, the call charges plus the fixed service service charge for dial-up internet can often equal or exceed the high-speed "all inclusive" monthly rental cost.
If you are staying in Mexico City, the eGo service provides extensive coverage around the city. You will need a special modem (antenna) which connects to your computer via a USB port. The company provides the equipment as part of the service. The company offers monthly and yearly contracts.
You may also want to consider contracting a high speed internet via one of the cellular telephone companies now offering this service (see above for details).
You'll find a post office (Oficina de Correos) in almost every town and in every city in Mexico.
Stamps can be bought from post offices or stamp machines, located outside the post offices, at bus stations, airports and some commercial establishments (but not many).
Airmail letters will have to be weighed at the post office and stamps to the postage value bought.
If you're sending a package internationally (perhaps something you bought in Mexico that you want to post home to avoid carrying it), take the package OPEN to the post office, they may want to inspect it. Seal it up at the post office. Remember that the local customs office in your home country will inspect all inward parcels; so if the item is of high value, you could end up paying import duties and sales tax at your doorstep back home.
Delivery times will vary; but a letter or postcard from Mexico will take about a week to get to the US/Canada, between 1 and 2 weeks to make its way back to Europe or Australia. Parcels in the regular post may take a little longer. Couriers can get parcels to / from the US within 12 hours (best), Europe within about 48 hours (best) - but it is considerably more expensive.
Mexico's Postal Service often gets a "bad press", but in our experience the service is reliable for letters, postcards, greetings cards, et al. Items sent from abroad to Mexico City can arrive within a few short days; if they are being taken out to Mexico's provinces, this can add a week or more delay to their delivery time. Items which are critical or of high value should be sent by courier.
See Blog: Postman's Day in Mexico
Receiving Letter Post in Mexico
Despite the bad press, Mexico's postal service is not as bad as people make it out to be. It is fair to say that the service is more reliable in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey (Mexico's big cities), and larger, more industrialized cities, than in provincial towns and villages.
As for getting letter post delivered to your home, Mexico employs a small army of postal delivery personnel (the majority are men) who ride motorcycles delivering letters to domestic addresses. They will leave letters in your letter box, or slide them under your door. Some apartment blocks have individual letter boxes: usually the letters for a whole building are left 'en bloc' so that residents (or the porter if there is one) can sort them out.
If the postal worker has a letter or package to be signed for, they will either knock on the door if it's an apartment or, more frequently for house deliveries, blow a flute-like whistle (it has a distinctive sound). You will need to present some official form of ID to sign for documents. If no one can sign for the package, then a card will be left giving details of where you can pick up the item.
Note that foreign and Mexican driving licenses are generally not accepted as official ID now: you'll need to show your passport, your FM3/FM2 visa or, if you have one, the IFE card (Mexican electoral register ID). It's a good idea to take your passport and your visa if you are picking up an item from the local post sorting center, else you may have to make a return trip.
With the advent of global internet communications on computers and mobiles devices, faxing is becoming a thing of the past.
However, some things are still best (or required to be) sent by fax - especially copies of official documents, bank transfer requests, and other items that need to have a visible signature on them, for example. Some professions, especially lawyers, real estate agents and financial institutions are still making use of fax.
Papelerias are small stationery shops, and they often offer a fax bureau facility as part of their services. Also, look out for signs that read "Fax Publico" (Public Fax) at shops and kiosks. All major (and some smaller) hotels usually provide a fax service too, or will be able to direct you to a local store offering fax services.