Staying connected while traveling has become so much easier over the years. In addition to nationwide coverage, many cell phone carriers in the United States include coverage across North America in their service plans.
That means you can travel to Mexico and Canada using your plan at no additional cost.
While you’re still in the planning phase of your trip to Mexico, check to see if your service provider offers this great perk. Make sure to read the terms of service to ensure that you understand how to use your international service in Mexico.
If it is part of your current plan, you’re all set — share this post with someone who actually needs it!
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If service in Mexico is not part of your plan, you have three options:
- Upgrade your plan to one that includes coverage in all of North America. This may increase your monthly bill, but it could be worth it if you frequently travel to Mexico (and/or Canada) or plan to in the future. See cell phone plans for travelers.
- Order a prepaid SIM for Mexico and have it delivered to your casa before you travel. You can get 30 days with 30GB unlimited data for way cheaper than a month’s worth of Global Day Pass on Verizon.
- Buy a local SIM card in Mexico (the most affordable option). We recommend Telcel, which is Mexico’s number one cell phone service provider with the widest range of coverage. This post describes how to get one and set it up when you get to Mexico.
Related: How to Visit Tulum on a Budget
How to Set Up a Telcel SIM Card in Mexico
To use a local SIM card, you must unlock your smartphone. Use our instructions to unlock your phone before you travel to Mexico. Remember to keep your cell phone in airplane mode until you have a local SIM with a plan set up to avoid roaming charges.
Once you arrive at your destination in Mexico, find a Telcel store, or an OXXO store (like a 7-11), or another convenient location to buy a Telcel SIM card. You may need to have your passport with you.
Depending on where you buy the card, they may activate it for you, or you will have to do it yourself.
How to Activate a Telcel SIM Card
To do it yourself, turn off your phone, install the new SIM card in your phone (read more about how to change a SIM) and turn it back on. Keep your other SIM card in a safe place until you return home. A good place to do that is taped to a card in your wallet.
Choose the data plan that suits your needs and budget. Scroll through the “Internet Friend” options on the Telcel website (translate to English). There are several data-only packages with a range of data amounts and length of time to use it. Once you find the one you like, click the “I want it” button to get a code – see below.
Then text the code of the chosen package to 5050 to activate data on Telcel. Once you send the text, you should receive a text response stating that data is running and its expiration date. After that, you’re all clear to use your favorite travel apps and enjoy your time in Mexico!
Add Credit to Your Telcel Package
Also known as “topping-up” your data if you run low before you return home. This can be done online with a credit/debit card by creating an account with Telcel or at any Telcel customer service center. Or at various “recharging points,” including participating OXXO stores, convenience stores, and other locations.
Additional Telcel SIM Card Tips
- If you need voice calls and text messages in addition to data while in Mexico, scroll through the Unlimited Friend Packages that include a mixture of all three.
- Incoming calls and SMS (texts) on Telcel are free, and if you run out of credit, you can still receive calls and texts.
- If you have an old Telcel SIM card that hasn’t been used in while, add 10 pesos credit. If it’s still active, you’ll receive a text that says the amount of credit you added and your previous credits will be reactivated.
- If your smartphone has hotspot capabilities, you can tether your laptop, tablet, or other devices and share your data allowance.
Read about what happens to your regular number and how to keep your phone number for long-term travel for more information.
How to Make Calls and Check Balances
Here’s how to check Telcel balances and make calls using your Mexican SIM card.
- Call landline phones in Mexico: Dial 045 first, then enter the phone number.
- Call US numbers: Dial +1(area code) OR 001(area code) first, then enter the phone number.
- To receive calls to your Telcel number from the US, tell your friends and family: Dial +52 (1) (your Telcel number) OR 011-52 (1) (your Telcel number)
- Check your balance by text: Dial *133#, then press send. You’ll receive a response text.
- Check your balance by voice: Dial *333, then press send and listen.
Do you have recent experience using your current cell phone service or experience getting a local Telcel SIM card in Mexico? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This is a feature from BMT reader Alvin Dimalanta. Alvin travels to Baja several times a year and has shared how to set up a Telcel SIM card in Mexico. This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.