Mobile Internet Options in Mexico
The hurdle for international mobile internet is not that other countries don’t have plentiful options. However, for RVers and cruisers just passing through, and who are looking to get connected as nonresidents, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
While Mexico is a very large country, with large swatches lot of wild unpopulated areas, connecting while traveling Mexico is doable.
Traveling to our southern neighbor seems to be decently accessible for bandwidth junkies, as long as you are willing to deal with slower speeds than you’re used to in the States.
We have heard of some issues with obtaining enough fast internet for online working nomads in some of the more remote coastal areas like Baja.
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Wi-Fi in Mexico
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available across Mexico, even in some of the country’s more rural areas.
Relying on Wi-Fi is the simplest way to stay connected in Mexico, since you do not need to secure any special hardware or plans in advance. Wi-Fi works exactly the same in Mexico as it does in the USA, and you can use all your current equipment.
When traveling outside the USA, Wi-Fi is likely going to be your cheapest and easiest connectivity solution, especially if you’re only going to be in an area for a brief time when it may not be worthwhile tracking down other options.
Aside from campgrounds, Wi-Fi hotspots are often accessible from cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, breweries, and more.
As with all public Wi-Fi, the usual caveats apply. Expect intermittent speeds, be prepared to connect in crowded public places lacking in privacy and quiet, and take precautions to keep your connection secure. Using a virtual private network (VPN) may be a smart way to protect yourself when regularly surfing on public international Wi-Fi.
Of course, public Wi-Fi hotspots will vary from free to paid, and the quality of connection will vary substantially.
Having Wi-Fi repeating gear on board can help improve your connectivity situation if the prime issue is increasing the range that the gear in your RV can pick up a hotspot signal. Often, no amount of gear will make any difference. Very often it is the upstream connection itself that is very limited – especially in small remote towns. And no amount or type of gear will increase the speeds or availability of the Wi-Fi access point itself.
We are also huge proponents of being especially considerate of others sharing the same Wi-Fi network as you. Streaming video should only be attempted if you have gotten an explicit 'OK' from the network manager. Don't be the one who drags the internet to a crawl for everyone. In some rural areas, there is just not a lot of connectivity to go around.
For more info and tips on extending your Wi-Fi capabilities: Getting Better Wi-Fi – Selecting Long Range Wi-Fi Extending Gear
Wi-Fi Calling Tip: Every one of the big four cellular carriers now supports Wi-Fi Calling on compatible phones. If your phone supports this, you can make and receive text messages and voice calls over Wi-Fi, even if you have no cellular service.
Make sure to set up Wi-Fi Calling before your trip to Mexico, and then you can leave your phone in airplane mode (but with Wi-Fi turned on) to still be able to make calls when you need to, assuming you can find Wi-Fi that is.
Roaming on a US Cellular Data Plan
Roaming is when a cellular carrier has agreements with other networks to utilize their towers, helping the carrier provide connectivity to their customers who are just passing through areas they don’t directly service themselves.
Behind the scenes, the carriers may be charging each other for any usage while roaming onto their networks, thus the carriers manage their costs by having specific roaming policies on their plans.
There are two main types of roaming - domestic and international.
When roaming internationally, many US carrier plans differentiate between North American roaming and global roaming. This means that their policies may be completely different when traveling in Canada and Mexico, then when traveling further afield.
It's very important to know the exact terms of your plan. Some plans might roam just as if you're at home, some might include a daily or monthly cap when across borders and other plans might not include any international roaming at all.
Also, since roaming agreements aren't intended for primary international use - many plans have limits for how long you can travel abroad before roaming is shut off.
All of the US based cellular carriers have vastly improved their international roaming agreements in recent years - making it even easier to stay connected when you cross borders.
Warning: If your plan doesn't have generous international roaming limits, be extra careful when traveling near borders. Your cellular device may pick up on international towers and you may unintentionally be roaming. Even with within a few miles of a border.
The roaming setting on many devices only turns off domestic roaming, not international roaming. So be sure to TURN OFF any devices that don't have international roaming allowances when near or crossing borders.
Data Saving Tips for Capped Plans
As noted above, most US based plans that permit data roaming into other countries place data usage caps on the roaming portions of those plans. If you are purchasing a local SIM card to use in another country, you may also find yourself dealing with data caps. Satellite based plans also often have data caps.
So how can you make the most of your data limits?
We've got a complete resource - with tips to lowering data usage - in our guide:
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US Carrier Mexico Roaming Policies by Plan
Each carrier and plan has its own roaming policies. In this section, we track the Mexican roaming policies for current and legacy plans on each of the major US carriers - including Google Fi.
Cellular Frequency Bands
Getting the best cellular service means having equipment optimized for a carrier's network - this section tracks the cellular bands utilized by the Mexican carriers.
Getting Local Service on Mexican Cellular Carriers
For extended stays in Mexico, it may be best to seek out a local plan - which isn't necessarily easy without a Mexican billing address.
Satellite Internet in Mexico
Satellites have coverage maps too - this section tracks which mobile satellite services have you covered up north.
VPN Service: Virtually Getting Back to the USA
Once you cross the border, you may find your favorite websites and streaming services block international traffic. This section has some tips on getting around those blocks.
Summary: Connectivity Requires Planning and Flexibility
The allure of our neighbor to the South is magical for many US based RVers and cruisers. If Mexico has caught your eye, rest assured that you can explore the vast country of Mexico while still maintaining some semblance of connectivity. Be prepared to research, plan, and be flexible, but know that for most, maintaining a decent mobile internet connection is possible.
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