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Everything you need to know about purchasing a Mexican sim card

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.

🇺🇸 Will my US sim card work in Mexico?

mexico sim card

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 does a sim card cost in Mexico?

telcel 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.

Plan your trip to Mexico with us! Get expert travel advice and customized trip-planning itinerary from our local experts on the ground.

📱 Can I apply for a postpaid sim card in Mexico?

telcel 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

mexico sim card

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.

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🛒 Where to buy prepaid sim cards in Mexico

mexico sim card

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

mexico sim card

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

mexico sim card

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

telcel mexico

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

mexico sim card

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?

telcel mexico

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.

telcel mexico

💰 Cheapest Mexico sim card: AT&T

mexico sim card

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

mexico 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

mexico sim card

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.

📳 Other Mexico sim card: Movistar Mexico

mexico sim card

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

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.

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20 Comments

  1. I am planning to buy a Telcel sim card. Can I use this as a hotspot? I also have a tablet I want to use. Thanks for your help

  2. Very useful information for travelers in Mexico, including me! I have a question: how do you know if you have used up your alloted gigabytes? I recently purchased an AT&T sim in Mexico for $100 MXN. How do I know when I’ve used 1.2 GB and need to recharge? I wouldn’t want that the phone to suddenly stop working in the middle of no where. Is there a way to check how much remaining GBs are left?

  3. Thank you for the step-by-step of activating an AT&T SIM! I bought a SIM and couldn’t get it working for two days. I also don’t speak Spanish, so it was crucial that you told which button to press. Now it’s working!!

  4. You don’t mention that while in Mexico, using a Mexican phone to call the U.S. you must first dial 001 before the U.S. number.
    Also, a question: Years ago, I could use my Mexican phone while in the U.S. by simply dialing the U.S. number. Nowadays, you must first still dial 001 before the number. Is there a way to get around this ? Also, I assume people know that while you can use your Mexican phone in the U.S.,to call U.S. numbers, people cannot call you back unless they first dial 011 in front of your number ….. and it will be a long distance call/charge for them.

  5. Hello this is very useful information and well explained for someone who is coming first time to MEXICO. But as i am Marine engineer from India, My ship is keep on coming to any sea port in Mexico and i am using AT&T sim card with 150 MXN plan in which i got 2.3 GB data + unlimited data for social media like Facebook , Instagram, twitter, snap chat. I mostly use Facebook, Instagram and Whats app calling to my family and friends. i don’t know anyone here in Mexico so i don’t do use unlimited normal calling facility.
    My question is after using this sim card for 5-6 days Whats app, Instagram , Facebook messenger calling stop working every time. I am able to see reels, post on social media with no surfing. Even i can use whats app for chatting, photos – video download, voice recording but call is not connecting. I don’t know whats the problem? Then i realized my 2.3 GB data finished off that’s why calling facility on social account stopped and I did recharge again with 150 Mxn dollar but same thing happen again after 2 days only. This time i was sure I haven’t use 2.3 GB data on other apps.
    I just want to know if there is hidden terms and condition then please let me know or give me more details exact procedure to use so that i can not face any problem in future.

    Thanks in advance.

  6. Really useful information. I would like to register for a Movistar prepaid, since it’s the only carrier that issues esim for prepaid. Does anyone know how to keep the number active but with a minimum recharge (just to receive sms)? If possible, how much will it be?

  7. can you change the language on your cell phone (telcel chip) to english also what cell phones are compatible with telcel?

    Thank you

    1. @Maureen, As long as your cell is unlocked as worldwide or from your cellphone company ask them to unlock the network features.

  8. All I can say, if only cell phone providers in the US are as cheap as in New Mexico. I think Telcel is really great since the chip came with unlimited use of WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Messenger, and Twitter. I’m using most of these social media. And it’s good to know it’s easy to buy them from the nearest minimarts like Oxxo.

  9. Happy to know that buying a sim is easy. I think the fees are reasonable even though they are more expensive than the sim cards we have here in the Philippines. Will keep in mind to get Telcel in case we get a chance to visit. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. This is so informative and helpful. While traveling to different countries, I’ve usually just used my existing phone plan with international fees – but it’s cost me a bunch! I wish I knew how easy and affordable it is to switch in a SIM card this way. Now, thanks to you, I do!

  11. I love that Oxo is all over Mexico so that is easy to spot in any city that you travel to and getting a sim card is very easy to purchase and set up quickly, the only hard part is deciding how much bandwidth you will need.

  12. Many years ago I bought an international SIM card that works around the world so I did not have to buy a specific SIM in each country. Good to know that is is easy to get a SIM card in Mexico. And the rates are reasonable. Compared to the high costs of cell access in Canada.

  13. This is such useful info. As “connected” travellers, we can no longer live without our WiFi. So knowing what the options are, where to get it, the terms are all important information to know before heading to Mexico.

  14. Ah! I’m bookmarking this for future reference. I have a trip to Mexico scheduled, and I always have to rely on finding WiFi to send messages or connect with family. This is a great option, and I’ll come back to this info when I go. I also love Oxxo stores! They’re so fun.

  15. Really useful information and it is always a difficult choice which provider to use when traveling to a new country.
    I am planning to travel to Mexico in the near future so I will keep your post under the radar to chose the right SIM card.

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