Like many aspects of life in Mexico, access and quality of service when it comes to telephone and Internet use has been growing in leaps and bounds over the past few years.
It wasn't all that long ago – particularly in small towns and villages on the Oaxaca coast – that landlines were non-existent, cell phone coverage was spotty at best, and going to a small Internet café would be the only way a resident could get online. Even then, download speeds could be very slow, uploading could be near to impossible, and system failures were very common.
Now as we hit the end of the second decade of the 2000s, the picture has completely changed. While there are still rural areas that are ‘dead zones’ for cell phones, by and large most of the country has coverage, and Internet access both at home and in public Wi-Fi zones is widespread.
In larger population areas such as Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, people making the move from Canada or the US will find virtually no difference between the access and speed of connecting from what they have been used to up north. In fact, the only real difference might be in the lower cost of communication services, especially for anyone coming from Canada, which has some of the highest telecommunication costs in the world.
Here’s a look at what you can expect from telephone and Internet services when you decide to make the move to long-term or permanent residence in Mexico.
Mexico Landline Telephone Service
It’s an interesting aspect of the history of Mexico in that while the country has for a long time had one of the most developed telephone systems in all of Latin America, penetration – to use the industry term – was never close to what it was in Canada and the US. That is to say, taking the country as a whole there were relatively few private homes with telephones, especially in rural areas.
Given the widespread and growing cell phone network that has developed over the past couple of decades, the use of landlines is unlikely to increase. That being said, as a homeowner in Mexico you still might find it handy to have a landline at home, if only for the low cost coupled with the package of services that may be included in home-phone services.
Once a government monopoly but now a private company, Telmex is by far the largest provider of home-phone service in Mexico with an estimated 80% of the landline market throughout the country (increasing to 90% in Mexico City alone). In addition to home phones, Telmex also provides cell phone service under the Telcel brand, and Wi-Fi service called Infinitum. Just like in Canada and the US, all of these services can be packaged in one bundle.
Getting a Telmex phone hooked up to your home is a fairly straight-forward process and can be done over the phone or online, but it’s probably best to visit a Telmex store in person to avoid any confusion. You will need ID such as your passport, and something that shows your address, like a CFE bill and they will likely ask for specific directions to where you live in order to send a technician.
Usually there will be a small fee for doing the hook-up, and from there the monthly cost will vary depending on the package you choose. Generally, basic home-phone service can start for as little as 300 pesos (around $15 USD) per month, including the cost of the phone rental. Be aware that depending on where you live, it may take up to a month to get hooked up.
No long-distance charges
One very nice thing about having a landline is that by law, all calls made from a landline to either another landline or cell phone in Mexico is considered a local call. In other words, there are no long-distance charges associated with landlines for calls within the country.
As mentioned earlier, Telmex essentially has the monopoly on landline service in Mexico, but there are a couple other options that you might want to explore such as Telum and Axtel. However, these companies only operate in certain regions or certain states, and so for the most part Telmex will be your only option.
If you happen to buy a home that already has a landline, it is possible to simply change the account from the previous owner’s name to yours, thereby keeping the number and avoiding any hook-up fees or delay in getting service. To do so you will need a letter from the previous account holder giving permission to make the change to the account. Make sure to check that there is no outstanding bill owing on the account or you might be responsible to pay it off.
Mexico Cell Phone Service
Cell phone usage and network coverage is booming in Mexico and unlike landlines, there is actually some competition among various companies, including Telcel, AT&T Mexico, Movistar and Virgin Mobile. However, that being said, the latter three tend to be mostly available in larger cities, and in rural areas Telcel will still likely be your only option.
If you are moving to Mexico, chances are good you will be bringing a smartphone with you, and then the process of getting a Mexican number and account is as simple as visiting the nearest Telcel office or a Telcel authorized dealer, and switching your cell provider’s SIM card for a Telcel SIM card.
Note that in order for the Telcel (or other Mexican cell network) phone to work, it has to be “unlocked”, but Telcel can do this for a small fee, if your previous provider hasn’t done so for you already.
Setting Up Your Phone
At the same time as you purchase and swap out your new SIM card, you can buy packages for your phone use that are very similar to what you would in the US or Canada, but at a much less expensive rate. If you are settled in Mexico but still travel frequently back up north, you can even use the Telcel package for internet use, messaging and receiving calls outside of Mexico.
For example, as of early 2020, Telcel is offering a package called the Unlimited Friends Package 200, which costs 200 pesos, and is good for 30 days. With this package you receive 3000 megabytes of Internet data and unlimited calls and text messaging in Mexico and to the US and Canada. Every 30 days you can either visit an authorized Telcel distributor to renew the package, or go onto the Telcel website and follow the steps to renew the package using a credit card.
If you need more data, Telcel also has the Friends Package 300 (4000 MB of data for 33 days at the cost of 300 pesos) or the Friends Package 500 (6000 MB of data for 33 days at the cost of 500 pesos).
All of the above applies to people who simply want daily cell phone use without a home phone and home Internet package. It also assumes you will be making the long-term move to Mexico and bringing a phone with you. If you don’t have a phone, you can of course purchase one from Telcel and make payments as part of your package of services.
We’re focusing a lot on Telcel because they offer the most widespread coverage in Mexico, but if you happen to live in an area with coverage from other carriers, you of course have some options to shop around. AT&T Mexico offers a series of plans with costs and add-ons very similar to Telcel, and if you need to buy phone they carry Apple Iphones as well as Samsung and Motorola products.
Virgin Mobile meanwhile, offers deals, such as their Todo Unlimited package that provides for 10 Gigabytes of data and 30 days unlimited calls and texting for 299 pesos per month, a 3 Gigabyte plan for 199 pesos, and a 2 Gigabyte plan for $150 pesos.
While most people these days are using some kind of smart phone, it should be noted that the absolutely cheapest and easiest way to get cell phone service in Mexico is to buy a phone from a convenience store such as OXXO for as little as 300 pesos that typically come pre-loaded with 100 minutes of talk and text but no data.
With these types of phones you can simply pay-as-you-go. When the minutes are used up, you visit any store that is authorized to add minutes, give them the phone number and indicate that you want to add time (say, 200 pesos worth) and you will then receive a text from Telcel confirming the transaction. Telcel will also send you a text to remind you when the minutes are close to be used up.
This might be a good option if you have a number of family members (ie; kids) with you, and you just want to be able to keep in touch as you go about your daily lives.
Mexico Internet Service
Of all the changes to communication services in the past few years, perhaps none has had more impact than the rapid expansion of the Internet. Especially in smaller towns, “getting online” used to mean lining up at an Internet café – if you were lucky enough to live close to an Internet café – where you would deal with incredibly slow download speed, and uploading documents or video streaming was more or less impossible.
Now, all that has changed, home Internet service has become widespread, WiFi zones are popping up everywhere, and streaming movies, holding video conferences and working remotely online is becoming a fact of life for more and more people who have chosen to move to Mexico fulltime.
Infinitum by Telmex
As stated earlier, Telmex holds a virtual monopoly on landline telephone service in Mexico, and so it follows that their Infinitum brand of Internet service is also the most widespread.
There are a wide variety of Internet packages that Telmex offers with different products – such as a Netflix subscription – as possible add-ons.
At the basic end, Telmex offers a fibre optic package than includes up to 20 megabytes of download speed, one home phone line with unlimited calling, the streaming music service Claro, and 100 gigabytes of Cloud storage for 389 pesos/month.
From there, packages go up to 30 MB for 435 pesos/month, 40 MB for 499 pesos/month with 200 GB of Cloud storage, 150 MB for 599 pesos/month and two telephone lines, and 200 MB with 300 GB of Cloud storage and three telephone lines for 999 pesos/month.
All of these packages can include a Netflix subscription for an added cost of roughly 50 pesos more each month.
Internet through Telcel
Telcel also can provide an internet subscription with your cell phone plan. You will receive a modem for your home (or anywhere you would like to put or take it) and as long as that place receives Telcel signal, you will be set to go.
HughesNet and others provide satellite internet service across Mexico. Check in your area which satellite services are available. Read our article about recent developments here.
Internet Service Providers
Of course, it is possible you may find yourself settling in a small town or more rural area not serviced by Telmex’s telephone line or fibre optic service. In these cases, you will often be able to find a local private contractor. They can get you hooked up either to a private internet service provider satellite or microwave network.
Typically this requires installing an antenna on the roof of your house to receive the Telmex signal and a router to provide WiFi in the house. While costs will vary for different providers and how difficult it may be to send the signal to your place (number of relays or obstacles to overcome), you could expect to pay between 5000-10,000 pesos for the antennae and installation, and around 500-1000 pesos per month for the service itself depending on the speeds available and desired.
Although maybe a bit slower than a fibre optic connection and more susceptible to connectivity problems (such as interference due to weather and growing trees) generally you will find these micro wave Internet services are usually adequate for basic net surfing, voice communication through something like Skype, and even streaming movies.
You're Always Connected In Mexico
While many people are choosing to move to Mexico permanently in their retirement, more and more are making the move while still in their working years. The recent advances in telephone, cellular and Internet communication services make setting up a home office in Mexico as easy and effective as doing the same north of the border.