An iPhone in Mexico.


I moved to Mexico a couple years ago with the intent of retiring here and enjoying all the incredible and amazing things this country has to offer.

With me was my beloved iPhone 4s, still relatively new at that time, although I'd been using iPhones almost exclusively since their debut.

Crossing the border into Mexico, my iPhone dutifully chirped out a message informing me that I was heading into an electronic wasteland and that my billing rates would be adjusted accordingly.

To the staggering tune of:

Data:   $19.99 / MB
Text:   $4.99 / Message
Voice: $1.99 / Minutes

Seriously.  And without even acting a little ashamed.

I turned-off wireless data and headed south...

Over the course of the next couple months, and with several calls to AT&T customer support, I learned that my best option was to submit to their "Viva Mexico!" plan which offered the following rates,  while in Mexico, to my existing pricing:

Data: $4.99 / MB
Text: $ 0.50 sent / $0.20 received
Voice: $0.99 / min

Better, yeah?

Being hard-of-hearing/deaf, I was more interested in the text/data rates than the voice, but I decided to try to tough it out and see what commitment to wireless networks would do for my monthly billing.

Which was, as it turns out, a huge mistake...

My monthly bills more than doubled because of the data-rate charges.  All those cute little "must-have" apps like, foursquare, facebook and such?  Huge data sinks.  Sucking your data down quietly in the background and slurping roam-dollars faster than a Washington politico draining a PAC fund.

I paid the "substantial penalty for early-contract-termination" fee and closed my account.

I spent the next two years sampling different carriers, made more challenging by the fact that radio (remember?  beep-beep?) was, at that time, the most-popular communication method for most cell-phone owners.  Business, billboards, and business-cards all prominently displayed the radio number before the cell, or land-line, number.

So I ended up with a Nextel (Motorola) smartphone running android OS.  The radio was actually an app installed on the phone that gave me access to the radio network and I had 5gb of data, and whatever number of minutes.  For about 600 pesos per month. (The data plan really drove up the rates!)

Mexico doesn’t have a “substantial penalty for early contract termination”. Mexico has a “you can cancel but you’re going to pay your full monthly-plan rate for each month remaining in your contract in one lump sum” termination policy.

Then Nextel did something that screwed-over pretty much everyone - they migrated to a new network which required a phone upgrade or operating system tweak.  As in, if you wanted on the new network, you were supposed to bring your phone in to the office so their "techs" could tweak it and put you on the new network.

Problem was, once you got on the new network, your phone quit working in the States for the radio.  Mexicans avoided the conversion in record numbers.  Nextel extended the "free" enrollment.  Several times.  Until it just finally went away after almost a year because the secret was out - the new network was crap.

Of course this gringo was an early adopter and immediately lost his radio privileges while in the States at the office.

Plus, the Android OS on this motorola was never a good fit to begin with.  The phone rebooted itself constantly.  As in six to ten times per day.

I decided, thinking that, this month since my Nextel contract is getting ready to expire, that it's time to bring my iPhone back online...

(Side note: Mexico doesn't have a "substantial penalty for early contract termination".  Mexico has a "you can cancel but you're going to pay your full monthly-plan rate for each month remaining in your contract in one lump sum" termination policy.)

The first step, according to my research on the interweb, was to get my AT&T iPhone unlocked.

I made a request to the AT&T website and after only a couple calls to customer support, I got the approval for the unlock.

Although there's a ton of UNLOCK YOUR IPHONE GUARANTEED! websites out there, they're all pretty much a rip-off as Apple will only accept unlock requests from a recognized service provider.  (Yeah, that's some AT&T tom-fuckery, right there.)

Anyway, AT&T green-lighted my iPhone unlock, so I took the next step of going and getting my phone re-simmed.  There's tons of little electronic boutiques in Rosarito and it was to one of these I went, iPhone in-hand.  (You can even find these places at the weekend street fairs!)

$600 pesos later, I had a verified unlocked and re-sim'd phone, so it was off to the local Telcel office.

Getting a cell phone in Mexico isn't for the easy, or the faint-of-heart. Procuring a phone requires substantial amounts of tenacity and a willingness to tolerate blind bureaucracy.  At least to U.S. standards.  Since Mexico's population is ... fluid, identity theft or misrepresentation is fairly common - the phone company's take a extreme position of verifying that you are who you say you are before you're issued one of their phones.

For example, in order to get my Nextel smartphone, I spend several hours at the main Nextel office submitting my application which required copies of my lease, paid copies of my utility bill, three letters of reference, and a copy of my FM2 (Residence) card.

Then they run a back-ground check - which can take several minutes, or days, depending on who you get and what kind of mood they're in.  Then they sent someone to my house to visit me, photograph the house, as proof that I lived where I said I lived and for which shown utilities were being paid.

Then, about a week or so later, I get a call from the courier to meet me in a near-by town to pick-up my phone.  That's right, all that before I can get my hands on a phone....  I paid the courier 400 pesos deliver fee and finally got my phone.

I learned that if you bring in your own phone, (smartphones here are incredibly expensive -- say: Thank you, Bill Clinton and NAFTA!) -- for example, most smart-phone that are cutting edge sell, in stores, for around $12,000 pesos and I've seen prices on phones as high as $18,000 pesos putting said phones well out of affordability rates for most of the population.  

How'd you take it if the US telecoms didn't subsidize your phone and you had to pay up to $1,600 US for a new HTC or LG?

With my own phone, under Telcel, I had the option to signing-up for a month-to-month contract using published plans and rates for costs.  I ended-up with a very low-end plan:

Data:  3.6 GB / month
Text:  50 SMS
Voice: 250 minutes

For $608 pesos per month - about $45 US.  Additionally, my phone works in the US, at my office, and I can direct dial US numbers without having to use the international prefix.

I spent about 3-hours at the Telcel office waiting for the head-office to approve my application and then it was done!   I have my iPhone back!