Tips for Buying and Using a Cell Phone in Sonora

If you plan to travel in Mexico for any period of time, it makes sense to purchase a Mexican cellular phone as a communications backup for your travels. A cell phone can provide a link to family and friends at home, a connection to emergency service providers, and a means of ordering pizza when your hotel room doesn’t have a phone.

Cell phone stores are easy to find, many can be found on a town’s main street, and several of them operate temporary kiosks in local grocery stores. Some of the main cell phone providers are TelCel, Telefonica Movistar, and Movitel.

In addition, some Oxxo convenience stores also sell cell phones.

Check for promotions, because oftentimes a cellphone service provider will have a special offer for discount airtime for calls to the U.S., inexpensive (or free) calls between phones in the same network, or similar offers.

Most cell phone stores offer inexpensive models (as cheap as $20), which is all you need for emergency communications. If you’re planning to spend more time in Mexico and want to have the latest and greatest though, the stores have a full selection of cellulars and PDAs, although some will require a contract.

Although Mexican cell phone services have contracted plans, opt for the servicio prepagado (pre-paid phone service). A couple of tips – use cash for your purchase (pesos are readily available at a local bank, ATM, or casa de cambio), and don’t sign any documents other than the invoice.

Like in the U.S., the cell phone purchase will include the phone’s activation. Typically the sale will include an initial saldo, or monetary balance for making calls. You can check your phone’s saldo for a nominal fee (typically a couple of pesos) by calling the phone provider’s service number, or you can check your saldo online at your cellphone service provider’s website.

Typically it only costs to send phone calls, and there isn’t a charge to receive calls (check with your cell phone provider though, because this is one detail that seems to change frequently). Also, calls may be relatively inexpensive if you make them to other cell phones in the town where you purchased your phone, while you are in that town. However, if you call other towns or make calls while in towns other than where you bought the phone, your saldo may disappear more quickly than expected.

Your Mexico cell phone can receive and send calls from and to the U.S. To call the States, first dial “001” then the 10-digit area code and number. In order to call a cell phone from the U.S., you’ll need to dial an extra “1” after the “52” country code. For example, a call from the U.S. to a land line in Mexico would be 011-52 then the 10-digit number. For a cell phone, dial 011-52-1 then the 10-digit number.

You can also purchase an international calling card online from a vendor like Pingo, Union Telecard or Calling Cards, so your calls to the U.S. just cost the airtime for a toll-free Mexican number and whatever the card charges.

To add money to your saldo is easy. If you can’t find a store for your service type (Movistar and Telcel stores are typically easy to find in the downtown areas of Sonoran towns) nearly every convenience store sells airtime for various amounts starting at a few dollars. Keep your cell phone number handy, because you’ll need to give it to the clerk to recharge your saldo. You can also recharge the phone online at the phone provider’s website.

And you’ll want to program some key local numbers into the phone: the local police and the Red Cross for starters. Also, there are some three-digitSonoran emergency numbers to be aware of:

The emergency three-digit phone number in Sonora is 066. Similar to 911 in the U.S., it is for emergencies only. However, the operators are in Hermosillo and you may not be able to find one that speaks English.

The three-digit number to reach the Green Angels, the state’s roadside assistance crews is 078. They continually cruise the highways of Sonora, so if you’ve got a roadside issue and call, they may not be far away. The Green Angels provide service free of charge, although you’ll need to pay for parts, and tips are always appreciated.

Since cell phone coverage is available in many areas of Sonora, a Mexico cell phone can provide you with an inexpensive means of communicating, giving you some peace of mind and a needed communication link while you are Exploring Sonora.