SIM Cards for Foreigners in Mexico

Friday, February 1, 2013

Last year I first posted about how foreigners travelling to Mexico might obtain a SIM card in advance, through a service offered by a company called Travelers Telecom.  While I still stand behind my usual method of paying a slight premium to obtain a pre-activated SIM card prior to departing for a new country, I did receive a lot of feedback on that post and felt it was prudent to provide an update.

The purpose of my blog is to inform how one might pre-purchase SIM cards for any given country, so you can begin using your phone the moment your airplane hits the tarmac, without paying the onerous data roaming fees levied by your home carrier.  I have a surplus of frequent flier miles and often travel vast distances for short periods of time, and simply don’t have time to waste hunting around for SIM cards after I land.  It’s also important to me to be briefed in the latest cat même’s before I get off the plane.

Not everyone is as crazy as I am however, and some of you vacation for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, providing plenty of time to set up an account after you arrive.  There have also been some recent changes in Mexican law that make it easier for foreigners to set up mobile phone accounts on their own.

Until 2011, the Mexican government required that all mobile phone (technically, SIM card) registrations needed to be supported by a CURP number.  A CURP is functionally similar to a US Social Security Number or Canadian Social Insurance Number.  Unlike a SSN or SIN though, CURPs can be issued to foreigners who are seasonal residents of Mexico.  A foreigner would obtain a CURP by visiting the local city hall where they’re residing in Mexico, and show their passport and FM2 or FM3 Visa.

Having said that, a CURP is no longer legally required to activate a SIM card, however it is necessary to show your passport to activate it.  I use Telcel, but I presume a similar process will work with the other carriers.  SIM cards in Mexico are available at a number of sources – grocery stores, Oxxo, etc.  Normally these are activated through the phone itself or online, but those processes require a CURP.  To activate with a passport, you’ll need to actually visit the local dealer’s office.  You can find the local Telecel offices here.

If the office is in a major tourist centre like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, you may be fortunate and be able to speak to someone in English, and you may also be dealing with someone who is used to activating accounts for foreigners without CURP ID’s.  If, however, you encounter an office that refuses to accept anything but a CURP even though it’s not required anymore (according to postings by expats in Mexico in related online forums, this is common) or if you don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English, you may be out of luck and should have instead pre-planned based on the info in my earlier post.

Either way, whether you buy your Telcel SIM before you leave, or after you arrive, you’ll save a fortune relative to what your home carrier would gouge you to roam there.