Movistar iPhone Mexico

Note: the following iPhone information is for unlocked iPhones and the Mexican prepaid costs are all as of December 2012. I have found two decent options when traveling in Mexico with my Verizon iPhone. The first option is available as soon as you land in Mexico via a delivered text message from your carrier. You can easily purchase 100MB of data for $25, billed automatically through your Verizon account. That’s not much data for $25 (about 10 times the normal global rate for 1GB of prepaid data), but, if you are planning to only check emails during your trip it might be right for you. No SIM card modification hassles and you only have to reply “yes” to Verizon’s soliciting text message. This data offer is the same for traveling in Canada. You might want to reset your cellular data usage counter to monitor your meager 100MB allowance. If you need calling in Mexico (including calling the USA) then you can try Mexico’s discount carrier Movistar. They offer prepaid minutes at very reasonable rates. Verizon’s Mexico minutes are around $1 plus per minute, while Movistar minutes are less than 8 cents a minute (more if you call to the US). With prepaid calling you just run out of minutes, no bill surprises, and with international calling rates there are always strange extras on your monthly bill. On an average week long Mexico visit, I usually spend less than $10 per visit with Movistar. Switching over to a local Mexican carrier isn’t without challenges; including getting a Movistar SIM in your iPhone. There are now three possible SIM card sizes. If you’re lucky, the local SIM will fit your SIM slot without modification. The standard SIM card and micro SIM can be trimmed, the newest nano SIMs may need trimming and sanding to create a slimmer card.

iPhone in Mexico

Movistar Mexico in 2012 continues to be an excellent value when traveling in Mexico with an iPhone. You will need an older model jailbroken/unlocked iphone (3G, 3GS, 4) or an unlocked iPhone 4S including Verizon’s 4S iPhone. An unlocked Verizon 4S iphone comes with a Verizon SIM card which allows it to work in GSM countries. Most Verizon employees I have talked to are unclear about the iPhone 4S’s GSM capabilities. I think Verizon would prefer you use their included SIM cards internationally, but don’t, the international roaming rates are very expensive; when your Verizon iphone detects that you have arrived in Mexico, you will receive a text message from Verizon with their Mexico roaming rates: Global Data is $5.12/MB, texts are 50 cents each, and voice calls are $1 per minute. Your calls with a Movistar installed SIM are two cents a minute.

Getting a Movistar SIM card is a quick and fairly simple process but you must find a Movistar office that sells their SIM cards. All Movistar stores sell extra minutes but many of the smaller kiosks do not have SIM cards in stock. Movistar Mexico does not sell any GSM phones with the so-called micro SIM cards, though this probably will change, as most carriers are now selling the punch-out SIMs, which allows you to punch-out either the traditional or micro-sized SIM shape at purchase. This means you need to trim the traditional SIM down to the micro size. This takes some care, but not surgical skills. First time you attempt this procedure, under-trim the card initially, and if necessary, shave the card more until it just fits into its SIM slot.

A prepaid Movistar SIM card costs $12 or 170 pesos and your new account will also be credited 100 minutes. Have the Movistar sales agent activate your new SIM card with the agent’s personal phone in the store. If you need to check your Movistar balance dial *12536, you will receive a text message with your current balance. You can use cellular data with a prepaid account on Movistar’s EDGE network which is fine for email downloading, but limit your cellular data roaming. If you use WIFI for most of your heavier data needs, you can easily continue to use your iPhone in Mexico for a reasonable price.

Dial *12536 and you will receive a text message with your current balance
Dial *12536 and you will receive a text message with your current balance

iphone in Mexico

Mexico's discount career

This is a post about my experience using an iPhone in Mexico this fall. This is the second year I have used my unlocked iPhone in Mexico. I have a Movistar SIM card which allows me to use Movistar as my prepaid carrier in Mexico, so no contract necessary with Movistar.
The process is pretty easy once your iPhone has been unlocked. If you don’t have a Movistar SIM card this will cost you about $15, and can be reuse for future trips to Latin America (but not Costa Rica yet). I recommend going to a larger Movistar store, with alot of employees and hopefully where someone speaks English. The smaller Movistar stores or kiosks are usually manned by employees that may not understand iPhones, or not have SIM cards in stock and maybe only capable of selling additional Movistar minutes. If your Spanish is weak or you are using Movistar for the first time, make sure you complete the entire process in the store. Have the Movistar employee activate the SIM card, add minutes to your phone, and make a test call from the store.
There are only two major carriers in Mexico: Telcel and Movistar. Telcel is more expensive (AT&T of Mexico) and Movistar (TMobile of Mexico). Movistar is a Spanish company and they sell cell coverage all through Central and South America, as well as Spain. I never had any coverage problems in Baja or on the Mexican mainland.
So when I arrived in San Jose del Cabo (Baja), I immediately removed my TMobile SIM card to avoid any potential international roaming charges. I purchased 200 pesos ($15 USD) worth of Movistar prepaid minutes. That week Movistar was offering double minutes, so I immediately received 400 pesos of Movistar minutes. After 6 weeks in Mexico, calling and texting the USA most of the time, I still have 256 pesos worth of time and I probably will not be able to burn all my remaining minutes. I did not pay for the data option with my prepaid plan, but data can be added on later and works like other “metered” data plans.
If you need to “up” your Movistar prepaid minutes, this is very easy too. Every small town has a Movistar kiosk and most grocery stores or “Super Minis” also sell the Prepaid Movistar cards in increments of 100, 200, 300, or 500 minutes. Just rub-off the number on the back of your prepaid card and follow the dailing instructions to call-in your newly purchased minutes. You will also receive a text message from Movistar confirming your new balance. To get your current Movistar balance just dial: *133#.
Movistar is a great deal and I will definitely use this carrier again when in Mexico.