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Communicating to and from Mexico has come a long way in the last few years. Until recently taking a trip to Mexico usually included a significant loss of contact with the folks and business associates back home. Telephone service was difficult to find, expensive, and the quality left a lot to be desired. E-mail was also difficult to find and access, and when you could find an Internet Cafe the rates were not very competitive. Faxes have been a working part of society in Mexico for quite a few years now, but finding a public fax was usually a challenge. In short, when you traveled to Mexico in the past there was a good chance you would be out of touch until you got back home.
Welcome to the new millennium. Communications are much better in Mexico now, even in the last 2 to 3 years. Public telephones are now common even in the smallest towns, the rates are much lower, and the quality has improved significantly. E-mail centers are now easier to find in Mexico than in many cities in the U.S., and rates have come way down. As for the fax machine, they are common in Mexico and can usually be found in most commercial areas for a reasonable fee. To summarize, heading to Mexico now allows you the option of keeping in touch with family and business back home.
The advantages of this easy communication is obvious, but the disadvantages may not be as easy to see. That wonderful carefree trip below the border can now be tainted by the petty problems back home with one simple phone call. This easy access can, and often does, put a different flavor on an otherwise fun trip. Our suggestion? Be aware of your communication options when traveling to Mexico, but don't go out of your way to use them. There's a lot to be said for really getting away from it all. And when you do, you'll be that much more productive when you finally do get home!
For the new dialing instructions from the United States to Mexico, as well as the new Mexico area codes you can call AT&T at (800) 869-1707 or drop by their Mexico dialing instructions web site at MEXICO DIALING INFO.
For discounted telephone rates for Mexico drop by the web site of ASTRU SERVICES.
For information on satellite telephone service for regular travelers to Mexico visit the web sites of SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS or GLOBALSTAR.
There are 4 different ways to phone home from Mexico. Almost without fail the cost involved is relative to the ease in which you can make the call.
MAFIA ~ Let's get the worst of these 4 choices out of the way so we can move on to your more viable choices. Whatever you do, do NOT try to use the telephones scattered throughout resort towns that have signs next to them stating "To Call the U.S. Simply Dial "0". To say that these gangsters charged rates like the Mafia would be an understatement. These telephone companies can charge rates as much as $5.00 U.S. per minute, and sometimes more. There is no question that in case of an emergency these telephones might be worth their insane cost, but only if no other options are available. If you have a choice, you are much better off with one of the following telephone options.
TELEPHONE STATIONS ~ Most towns in Mexico have telephone stations with affordable rates. They have to be affordable because the local people use these phones too, and they usually haven't got a whole lot of money. When in a commercial zone of a city look for the sign that says "Larga Distancia" or "Long Distance". These signs are usually in front of small stores, often farmacies. There are usually 2 or 3 phone "booths" inside the store, which the girl behind the counter will point you to after she dials the number you give her.
#1. Give the girl behind the counter the number you want to reach. If this is a number you are planning on dialing often it is not a bad idea to write it down on a business-sized card so you can just hand it to her.
#2. She will dial the number from her telephone center phone. When the phone service connects, she will usually point you to the phone booth that your phone call can be picked up at. As an example, if she says "numero dos" that means your phone call has gone through and you can pick up the receiver at telephone "number 2". Note that she starts her stopwatch to time your call once it becomes connected.
#3. When you are done talking hang up and walk back over to the counter where you started. If she is sharp she will have probably beat you to the punch and shut down the stopwatch or timer. If she doesn't see you get off the phone because she is busy selling perfume to someone, try to politely get her attention. She can always back out the extra time on the timer before she adds up your bill if she needs to. These phone calls run about $1.40 per minute. Most places will initially charge you in pesos, but they will almost always accept U.S. dollars in payment, as long as you have small bills.
#4. That's it, your done. Now be a nice tourist and say "Muchas Gracias"!
PUBLIC TELEPHONES ~ Public telephones have proliferated in the last few years in Mexico. And they are pretty easy to use, one you have obtained a phone card which can be obtained for about $5 at most small markets. This phone card is your "access" to use the telephone to contact AT&T, and the credit on the card itself will not be diminished if you just use it to dial the AT&T toll free number. So here are the steps to use your AT&T account from a phone booth in Mexico:
#1. Contact AT&T before you leave home if you haven't already established a long distance calling card account.
#2. Bring the AT&T access number and your calling card number with you on your vacation (writing these two numbers down on a business card and keeping it with your money is a good idea). The AT&T access number is usually (800) 462-4240.
#3. Buy a Mexican telephone card at any small market once you get to Mexico. They come in several different denominations, but since you will only be using it to access the toll-free AT&T number, buy the smallest denomination you can, usually $50 pesos (under $6.00 U.S.).
#4. Stick the calling card into the telephone. Most Mexican telephones will not work without money or a telephone card.
#5. Dial the AT&T access number. This number is usually (800) 462-4240.
#6. You will be prompted by that pretty girl behind the switchboard at AT&T (actually it's a recording) to dial the number you wish to contact.
#7. Dial the number you wish to contact, including the area code.
#8. After you dial the number you want to contact, you will hear that "boing" sound followed by "Please Dial Your Calling Card Number or Credit Card Number Now". The pretty voice at AT&T will thank you and the number you dialed will start ringing. Congratulations!
#9. When you are done phoning home and you hang up, don't forget to remove your telephone card from the telephone. That puppy can be used again the next time you need to make a call. If you hear a "beep...beep" after you hang up that is the telephone trying to tell you not to forget your telephone card!
HOTEL TELEPHONES ~ Most larger hotels in Mexico have telephones in the rooms. And just like the hotels in other parts of the world, they charge you a service fee each time you make a call. It's usually a good idea to ask at the front desk how much they charge to access the hotel telephone system. For the convenience and quiet environment, it might be worth it. Based on the cost they charge you per call you can either make the call or go downstairs to the nearest public telephone to use that new telephone card you bought. If you do decide that the cost and convenience of the in-room phone is reasonable, be sure to use the AT&T card to charge the call. If you dial direct from the room telephone and charge it to your room bill be prepared for a surprise at check out time.
Communication via e-mail has come a long way in Mexico over the last 2 years. This is especially true in tourist areas where there is a greater market for e-mail access. Internet Cafes are springing up from Cabo San Lucas to Cancun, and even in smaller towns such as Loreto and Cozumel.
Most of these Internet Cafes charge reasonable rates now, and often charge for a minimum block of time, such as 15 or 30 minutes. Although you will be charged the access fee in pesos, most places are able to accept payment in U.S. dollars if you have something close to the correct change.
Although web-based e-mails such as Hotmail can be accessed with any computer, even other e-mail formats such as AOL and Earthlink are usually accessible from these Internet Cafes.
Postal service in Mexico is good, but not necessarily fast. Most towns of any size in Mexico have Post Offices. If you are planning on sending post cards or letters from Mexico it can be a good idea to purchase stamps at the first sign of a post office. You can usually mail these items from the front desk of most larger hotels.
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