Do you need a Mexico sim card or you can just use your phone providers from back home? As expats living in Mexico for years, here’s our take on buying a Mexican sim card for your vacation (or for relocation purposes).
Buying a Mexico sim card is relatively easy once you are already here. It is widely available all over the country and it’s easy to activate! Here are the best-prepaid sim cards in Mexico for visiting tourists.
You might also like:
- Telcel sim card guide for foreigners
- How to open a BBVA Bancomer bank account as an expat
- How to pay your Telmex bill in 10 ways
- The unclear steps of CFE bills payment for expats, explained
- The truth about Internet in Puerto Escondido
- How to get a temporary resident visa in Mexico
🇺🇸 Will my US sim card work in Mexico?
Yes, but you have to call your provider before leaving the US. Many of my American clients have the impression that if they come to Mexico, their US sim cards will automatically work but this isn’t the case.
A lot of people get stuck and can’t even get an Uber upon arrival at the airport because their US data won’t work!
Verizon has excellent coverage in Mexico but compared to the data plan prices that you will pay here, Verizon’s roaming services are more expensive.
💲 How much is unlimited data in Mexico?
I had this reader from the USA who told me that she was charged $60 USD for a one-month plan while she read that I only pay $10 USD per month for unlimited data. Yes, that’s all I pay for my prepaid Mexico sim card!
Unlimited data in Mexico varies per company. Usually, for someone who uploads content on social media and travels regularly, the $10 USD plan per month has always been enough.
My post-paid Mexico sim card costs $30 USD per month and has higher Gigabytes but I realized I didn’t really need to pay that much since I only use the data when I am out.
📱 Can I apply for a postpaid sim card in Mexico?
No, you can only apply for a post-paid sim card if you have a temporary resident visa in Mexico. The process is super easy as a resident and it could be done within an hour!
Just go to the Telcel store, bring your passport and residency card, and right then and there, they will provide you with a postpaid sim card.
📶 Mexico sim card coverage
When I first came to Mexico as a digital nomad, I didn’t have any idea what sim card to buy so I went to the nearest store to ask. They gave me AT&T because, at the time, it was a more familiar provider for me. I have a US sim with AT&T as well so I thought it will be the same.
The first year that I was in Mexico, I was moving around places and learned that every area has a favorite provider. Meaning, not all of them work well in certain areas.
I ended up buying two other sim cards just to switch it depending on where I was. For example, Puerto Escondido was not very good with Telcel so I had to switch to AT&T.
However, through the years, I stayed with one provider because it’s so tedious to switch sim cards a lot, especially if you are already living in Mexico.
In this guide, we will go through the best Mexico sim card for you and I will give you easy-to-understand instructions on how to buy, activate, and reload.
🛒 Where to buy prepaid sim cards in Mexico
You will see mobile provider kiosks all over Mexico. You can purchase it right away at the airport but what I’ve observed is that the sim card at the airport is way more expensive than the ones in the downtown/center.
A Mexico sim card usually costs $5 USD including an activation fee. They will also ask you to top it up before purchasing. $10 USD unlimited data is usually enough as an initial top-up.
Oxxo, the Mexican convenience store is also the best place to buy your Mexico sim card. It’s easy to locate and is all over the country however, in states like Baja California, we have more Circle K convenience stores than Oxxo.
🤟 Spanish 101: In Mexico, a sim card is called “chip.” No one will really understand you if you say “sim card.” When you go to the Oxxo, say “Telcel chip, por favor,” or whatever provider you prefer.
You can also buy sim cards at Circle K. If you are in mainland Mexico, finding an Oxxo shouldn’t be a problem. As long as you can see the Telcel logo (which you will, I promise you), then that’s the place to buy a sim card.
Each city in Mexico has at least 3 Telcel kiosks (the official store). If you put Telcel on Google maps, it will direct you to many of their branches.
Supermarkets in Mexico like Walmart, Chedraui, Mega, and La Comer also sell Telcel sim cards but they’re not as accessible as the ones that are downtown. Oxxo is still your best option!
Many websites will suggest you pre-order on Amazon but you still need to go to the Oxxo to activate and reload so it’s better to buy it in person.
📳 Mexico sim card sizes
When you buy a Mexico sim card, they fit to all sizes whatever phone you are using. The mini-sim is the traditional sim card size for old-generation phones. There is also a micro-sim and the nano-sim (smaller size for iPhone 5 and below)
📡 Best Mexico sim card provider: Telcel
Telcel has the best coverage in all of Mexico and it works as a great hotspot if you are in small Mexican beach towns. It is the major provider in Mexico including home internet (Telmex).
However, bear in mind that the signals of Telmex and Telcel are all the same. There are many signal outages, especially in small towns. If the Telmex wifi in your accommodation is out, that almost exactly means that your Telcel mobile Internet won’t work. It sucks!
How to activate Telcel sim card
The moment you buy the sim card, put it in your phone and don’t wait til you go to your hotel. This way, you can verify that the sim card has been activated and won’t have to go back if it doesn’t work.
This happens to a lot of tourists especially if you don’t read Spanish! You don’t need to do any special tasks to activate your Telcel sim card.
As long as you paid for the sim card, activation fee, and top-up, you should be good to go. You can use it right away!
Telcel unlimited data prices
For Telcel, you don’t have to understand all the data plans. The only unlimited data plan that you need for this provider is “Paquetes Amigo Sin Limite.”
Please don’t bother learning about the other plans because they are not relevant to what you need as a tourist. Below is the information on what you’ll get for every price:
- $100 MXN ($5 USD): 1.2 GB Internet valid for 17 days
- $150 MXN ($7.36 USD): 2 GB Internet valid for 28 days
- $200 MXN ($10 USD): 3 GMB Internet valid for 30 days (this is what I use all the time)
- $300 MXN ($15 USD): 5 GB Internet valid for 33 days
- $500 MXN ($25 USD): 10 GB Internet valid for 33 days
Please note that all these unlimited data plans have unlimited use for Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Messenger and Twitter. Meaning, you can still use these social media apps even if you are low on data.
These plans also include unlimited calls and texts. I also use my Telcel chip to direct calls to Canada and US and I haven’t been charged extra!
What happens if my Telcel sim card is inactive for a few months?
So, I am sure you will come back to Mexico and wondering if you should keep the sim card. The Telcel chip is valid for 180 days without using it.
Before passing 180 days, you need to reload/top-up to keep it active. If it expires and you still want to have the same number, you have to go to the Telcel kiosk and they will re-activate it for you with a small fee.
Since this is a prepaid sim card, Telcel has the right to assign this number to other users which happens a lot in Mexico for inactive sim cards.
💰 Cheapest Mexico sim card: AT&T
I also have an emergency AT&T sim card in case Telcel fails, which is very rare (except Puerto Escondido). AT&T has good coverage in Mexico and is preferred by many expats.
How to activate AT&T sim card
Activating your AT&T Mexico sim card is super easy. Once it’s already inserted in your phone, wait until you see that AT&T has a signal. You will see 4G or 3G signals displayed on your phone.
Once you see that there is a signal, dial *228. A voice prompt will ask you to select an option but it’s in Spanish. So just select 1 and then 3 for the next voice prompt.
After this, the operator will tell you that your AT&T chip has been activated. You will then receive a text message confirming your AT&T mobile number. Don’t delete it as you will need it to top-up your data. Then that’s it – the Internet should work!
AT&T unlimited data prices
AT&T unlimited data prices are the same as Telcel but they have higher prepaid plans (up to $50 USD). Below are the prices you can choose from for your top-up:
- $100 MXN ($5 USD): 1.5 GB Internet valid for 14 days
- $150 MXN ($7.36 USD): 2.3 GB Internet valid for 25 days
- $200 MXN ($10 USD): 3 GB Internet valid for 30 days
- $300 MXN ($15 USD): 4.5 GB Internet valid for 30 days
- $500 MXN ($25 USD): 7.5 GB Internet valid for 30 days
- $1,000 MXN ($50 USD): 15 GB Internet valid for 30 days
Like Telcel, all these have unlimited calls and texts + social media and 1 GB extra for Spotify.
What happens if my AT&T sim card is inactive for a few months?
It will still be active without using for 90 days. Before that, you need to provide a top-up to keep it active. When the 90 days passed, you need to go to an official Movistar store (they’re usually in Walmarts) to re-activate otherwise, they will assign your number to a new user.
📳 Movistar Mexico
When you arrive at the airport, Movistar will offer you a free sim card, which is pretty enticing since you don’t have to pay for it. They also actively call people who are with Telcel and AT&T and give freebies if you switch to Movistar.
Just say “no hablo Español” and drop the call. It’s super irrelevant inbound call marketing. But anyway, I still know a few local Mexican friends who are using Movistar because it’s cheaper. As for the coverage, I feel like it’s the same with AT&T.
Movistar is also widely used in most Latin American countries (up to South America) but it doesn’t mean one chip will work in different countries. They don’t have the same data plans.
How to activate Movistar sim card
Once you put the sim card in, wait for the signal to appear on your phone (3G or 4G). Once the signal is on, you will automatically receive a text that your chip has been activated. You just have to switch it on and then it will be active!
Movistar unlimited data prices
- $100 MXN ($5 USD): 1 GB + 450 MB extra Internet valid for 21 days
- $150 MXN ($7.36 USD): 2 GB + 750 MB extra Internet valid for 28 days
- $200 MXN ($10 USD): 2 GB + 1,200 MB extra Internet valid for 30 days
- $250 MXN ($12 USD): 2 GB Internet +1,450 MB extra valid for 33 days
- $300 MXN ($15 USD): 2 GB + 1,800 MB extra Internet valid for 35 days
This includes unlimited Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp plus unlimited calls and texts to any provider in Mexico, the USA, and Canada.
💳 How to top-up my Mexico sim card
The easiest way to top-up your Mexico sim card is to go to an Oxxo. Just tell them the unlimited data plan that you want and you will instantly receive an activation text message once it’s done.
As for me, I do it with my bank app. I can top-up my prepaid Mexico sim card in minutes through my BBVA and Banorte mobile apps but you can only open a bank account in Mexico if you are a Mexican resident.
If you can’t find an Oxxo near you, you can go to any BBVA, Bancomer, or Santander ATMs to top-up your sim card. Just choose “recargas” and the ATM machine will provide you with data.
For me, the easiest is still Oxxo since there is a person who will assist you. They don’t speak English so the keywords that you need to remember are “Telcel recarga” or whatever provider you are using.
“Ilimitado” which means unlimited is also a crucial keyword. Lastly, if you are staying in Mexico for months, don’t forget the word “mensual” or “por mes” which means monthly.
If you know these keywords, the Oxxo cashier will definitely understand even if you are not forming complete sentences in Spanish.
🇲🇽 Mexico Expat Resources
- 📃 Legal documents: find all the legal documents you need to apply for when you move to Mexico!
- 🧾 Paying bills in Mexico: whether it’s Telcel, Telmex, or CFE, you will find step-by-step guides on how to pay your Mexican bills.
- 🏦 Banking in Mexico: best banks for expats including foreigner requirements for every bank in Mexico.
- 📶 Internet in Mexico: how to apply for Internet and wifi situation tips for every Mexican destination.
- 🏠 Housing Guides: find the best tips on how to rent apartments in the city you wish to live in Mexico
- 🤝🏽 Mexico Expat Group: join our Facebook community where we answer questions without a cost.
- 🚑 Mexico Expat Insurance: Check if the insurance company in your home country will still cover you when you get residency status in Mexico. If not, check the expat insurance link and see what works for you.
- ⚖️ Mexico Immigration Lawyer: 95% of us at Mexico Insider are foreigners so we hired an in-house immigration lawyer who helped us with our smooth move here. Get in touch and see how she may be of help!
- 📰 Latest Mexico News: subscribe to our newsletter and get honest and transparent updates about Mexico. You will love our monthly news in your inbox! NO SPAM. NEVER.
- ☕ Buy us coffee: readers who support Mexico Insider help us continue bringing you the most honest content about Mexico. Consider donating to our coffee fund if you like the content that we do.
Trisha traveled to Mexico in 2018 and after a year, she found herself obtaining a 4-year residency visa in Mexico. She is the Editor-in-chief for our Living in Mexico Series which has helped over 3,000 Americans move to Mexico with ease. Trisha currently resides in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.