When planning a vacation to Baja, we usually call our cell phone service provider and ask what we need to do to call family and friends back home while we are away. They explain international and Mexican calling plans, roaming charges, etc. etc., and sell us additional services. What they fail to explain, is that cell phones will not work unless there is a cell tower, no matter how many additional services or international calling plans you buy. Most of the Baja Peninsula, from the US border to Cabo San Lucas, is without cell service. It is for all intents and purposes, the “outback” of Mexico. Long stretches of scenic but barren land without electricity, water, gas, or cell phone service. There are very few places in the States or Canada that are as isolated, so planning ahead, in all areas, is very important. This is what makes Baja so exciting, but we must go back to our Boy and Girl Scout days to properly prepare for our adventure.
In reality, unless you are in a very large city, you will not be able to use your phone regardless of the service provider or your plan. Don’t fall into the trap of paying for expensive services you cannot use. The good news is that your cell phone is most likely a smartphone which means it is two distinct and independent devices: a cell phone and a computer with internet capabilities. When you access the internet via a cell tower, you pay data charges, but when you access the internet through the phone’s computer and a WIFI connection, you pay nothing. You can use your smartphone to make calls all over the world via the internet, without incurring any charges from your cell phone service provider. Since even very small towns now have the internet, this is the cheapest and easiest way to call home when you travel. All you need is VOIP software.
How To Get VOIP On Your Smartphone
VOIP stands for “voice over internet protocol.” For a detailed explanation of the technology, click on this link: How VOIP Works. To use your phone to call the US from Mexico or Mexico from the US is easy.
Download a VOIP App: Download one of the free or pay as you go VOIP apps onto your cell phone. Some examples are SKYPE, and VOXOX. I use VOXOX. The App store on your phone will have dozens of free Apps to choose from. I recommend trying a couple out before making a final decision. For other recommendations click on this link: Favorite VOIP Apps for Android and iOS
The Phone: Go to Settings and turn your WIFI setting to ON. (Tip – when you are not using your phone, turn the WIFI setting off to avoid draining your battery.)
Find WIFI: Any public or home internet WIFI will work. Depending on your phone, it should automatically scan for available WIFI networks. You may need to sign in depending on where you are. Make Calls: The VOIP app will look like a phone, complete with a dial pad, phone book, and call log. VOXOX is the VOIP service I use. I purchase minutes in $10 refillable increments. After each call the phone displays how much credit I have left. I can talk for an hour and only use about $1.00 of credit. $10 lasts about 3 months for me. I can call the States from Mexico, Mexico from the States, within the States, within Mexico, or any other country I visit. Dialing is easy with the built in dialing pad. VOXOX lets me pick a phone number that is registered in the United States. Friends call and leave voicemail messages that automatically forward to my email. Dialing is exactly like it would be from any US phone no matter where I physically may be. For Example: If your VOXOX phone number is (213) 615-2507, and you are in Mexico and want to call the States, simply dial the number you want 1 + (area code) + number. No need for a country code since the phone acts as if it is in the US. From within the US, it would be the same. If you want to call Mexico from the US, you need to add the international and country codes, plus the Mexican area code and number: 011 + 52 + (area code) + number.
Save Money – Suspend Your Cell Service
When traveling back and forth between Mexico and the States, there are additional ways for you to reduce your phone bill. I suspend my cell service the day I cross the border into Mexico and reactivate it when I return to the States. Just contact your service provider. I receive no bills while in Mexico; but my termination date is extended by the same number of months to meet the contract obligations. Since you don’t need cell service to use the computer in your smartphone, you can make your phone work for you, via the internet, without ever paying a dime!
Buy A Mexican Cell Phone
For those who live in Mexico for extended periods of time and want local Mexican cell phone service, Telcel sells very inexpensive, pay as you go cell phones. Minutes are refilled by purchasing credits or “saldo.” Telcel, OXXO, and many small stores sell saldo. You can purchase 100, 200, or 300 peso cards that provide a code on the back which you punch into the phone to recharge it, or you can give the cashier your phone number and request the amount of saldo you want to purchase. The cashier will take your money, punch a code in on her end, and when you hear your phone beep, it means the credit has been applied to your phone. Staying connected in Baja is easy, inexpensive and stress free once you know how
Where Does Your Phone Live?
Whether a cell phone, VOIP service, or old fashion land line, you must know your phone’s “address.” It does not matter where your phone physically is; it matters where your phone is registered. Therefore, even if you and your US cell phone are in Mexico; your phone thinks it is in the US. This makes calling a US number easy; you do not need to dial any of the international or country prefixes. Dial as if you are physically in the US calling the US. You want to call your sister in Nashville: Dial 1 + area code + number = 1 (615) 123-4567. It is that easy! If you have internet VOIP service on your smartphone, it works the same way, since the phone “thinks” it is in the US.
Know Your Codes
Figuring out exactly how to dial long distance from country to country and within a country can become confusing and frustrating. With cell phones, international phones, land lines, and VOIP internet calling, it can be complicated. Understanding what you are doing may make doing it easier. Let’s try to simplify the process. In order for you to communicate with someone, your phone has to know the person’s location or address, AND its own location.
You are IN THE US and NEED TO CALL MEXICO to reserve a whale watching tour in San Ignacio.
1. First, dial out of the US to another country using the international code = 011
2. Second, you must go to the correct country, Mexico, with Mexico’s country code = 52
3. Third, you must locate the city of San Ignacio with the area code = 615
4. Fourth, you must know the local tour operator’s number = 123-4567.
Now put it altogether: 011 52 (615) 123-4567 (calling from US to San Ignacio, MX)
This is the procedure for any phone or VOIP originating in the US regardless of the phone's physical location.
You are IN MEXICO and NEED TO CALL THE US from a Mexican land line or Mexican cell phone.
1. Dialing to US from Mexico use the international code = 00
2. Add country code for US = 1
3. Area code = 212 (NYC)
4. Local number = 123-4567
Now put it altogether: 00 1 (212) 123-4567 (calling New York City, US from a Mexican phone)
00 - Dialing TO the US from another country
011 - Dialing FROM the US to another country
1 - United States
52 - Mexico
Baja California Area Codes:
646 - Ensenada
686 - Mexicali, San Felipe
661 - Rosarito
653 - San Luis Rio Colorado
616 - San Quintin
665 - Tecate
664 - Tijuana
Baja California Sur Area Codes
614 - Buena Vista
624 - Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo
613 - Ciudad Constitucion
615 - Guerrero Negro , Mulege, San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia
612 - La Paz, Todos Santos
613 - Loreto