It’s been almost a year now since we left Kansas City for the warm and sunny climes of the Riviera Maya. Over the course of that year we’ve learned many things about ourselves, Mexico and something else near and dear to my heart – technology. A while back I wrote a post detailing how we were Staying Connected In Mexico and we’ve had many questions since. “Can you use American cell phones in Mexico?, “Can you watch American TV?” and “What kind of camera do you have?” seem to have topped the list. Since we’ve had so many questions and a few things have changed for us I thought I’d take a minute to apprise at least my fellow nerds of our current technology status. If you’re not a nerd you’re welcome to read along as well, you may even learn something! And I promise, after this post we’ll get back to talking about beaches, cervezas, random parades etc. In an effort to cut down on the tech speak as much as possible I’m only going to highlight the changes or additions that we’ve made. For more information I encourage you to check out the original post.
Cell Phones in Mexico?
This was one of our more difficult challenges to overcome and frankly, it’s still a work in progress. What is the best way to keep in contact with our friends, family and clients in other countries while living in Mexico?
- Cell Phones – There are lots of short term options but we couldn’t find a good one for the long term – until now. After months of paying an arm and a leg to our old carrier we’ve recently switched to T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. With unlimited texting and cheap data and international rates this plan is perfect for us. If you use an Android device there’s also the added bonus of using WiFi to make calls when available. Since it uses the internet this great feature keeps you from having to pay for minutes or data. If you have an iPhone (and I do love my iPhone) don’t worry, just get the Skype app and voila! You’ve got WiFi enabled phone service too. Initially we were skeptical of this plan, it seemed too good to be true, but so far so good and they’re delivering on the price and services they advertise. Frankly I’m surprised that T-Mobile’s competitors haven’t yet adopted this global model.
- Home Phone – We use Skype on the good old computer. For a few dollars a month Skype gives you the option of having a phone number from the area code of your choice. You can do video or regular phone calling. Just be careful if you’re listening to music and have the volume turned up when a call comes in, it could make you jump enough to knock over something (not that it’s ever happened to us).
- Mexican Phone – The two phone options above take care of all of our connectivity to and from the United States but what about our local friends and clients? We can call and text them within our cell phone plan, but if they want to get ahold of us from their Mexican phone numbers they would have to call (and text) internationally and incur the associated fees. Not acceptable. Our first answer to this question was our Mexican “burner phone.” This super cheap prepaid phone was the obvious answer to our dilemma. Except for one problem – it didn’t work very well. It was like listening to a seagull screeching through a bullhorn. It was so bad that I never answered it and never carried it.
The next option? Use a phone that we already had, namely an old iPhone we had on hand.
Sorry but it’s going to get nerdy here for a second but I can’t figure a way around around it.
The phone had been shut off by our old carrier but still functioned as a WiFi device, just not a phone. In order to make it work like a phone it just needed a new SIM card. Leaving out all of the technical mumbo jumbo, a SIM card is basically what gives your phone it’s phone number and allows it to function as a phone. We wanted a Mexican phone number so we needed a Mexican SIM card and being in Mexico, that was no problem. A SIM card can be purchased for about $10-15 US at just about any TelCel store. Then you just add minutes as you need them. Now here’s the problem, when you purchase a phone from a carrier such as AT&T it is “locked” to that carrier meaning that it cannot be used on other networks (hence roaming charges). In order to switch SIM cards and, therefore, carriers your phone must be unlocked. How you can unlock your phone is dependent on your carrier. Some carriers unlock your phone for free after a simple request, others charge a fee. Another option would be to purchase an unlocked phone from a source other than a wireless provider such as Amazon.com. I’ve even heard that there are websites out there that will walk you through unlocking your phone yourself but since this is technically illegal I technically don’t know anything about it.
Still with me? Good. Now lets talk about watching TV.
How do you watch American TV/Sports?
When we moved in our landlord graciously provided us with a 50 pound behemoth of a TV complete with rabbit ears. That TV now resides under a table in our guest room. Since our only TV is under a table in a room we never go into, you can guess where watching TV is on our hierarchy of needs. However, I am a man from the Midwest and am genetically required to watch NFL football and NCAA basketball and Deidre and I both have some TV shows we enjoy so we wanted to come up with a way to watch these things. Enter the wonderful world of internet streaming. Since our office is in the living room and we’ve got a fairly large monitor we simply use the internet to watch TV. We still recommend Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon but we’ve added a couple of websites to our streaming arsenal. Copyright approved? Maybe not. But free? You bet.
- Wiziwig – This site has about every sport you can think of including EVERY NFL football game and NCAA basketball game. It’s got a lot of ads when you first begin to watch your game but once you click the little X’s they all go away. If your internet speed is consistent this is a great site to get your sports fix.
- Couch Tuner – This website has all of the latest TV shows including shows that you can’t get from the paid services mentioned above. HBO, Showtime and CBS shows are all here. Homeland? Check. Boardwalk Empire? Check. Modern Family? Check. Legal? Not so sure. But you get the point.
- VPN user tip – If you set your VPN to a Mexican IP (or just turn it off if you’re in Mexico) and access Netflix you’ll get a different set of movies and TV shows including all the Showtime series such as Homeland.
What kind of camera do you use?
Since we are currently living in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen we really wanted to be able to accurately share it with people. To do this we really needed a good camera such as a DSLR but we had two big problems. One, neither of us knows how to work a camera with all of the fancy bells and whistles and buttons and lenses and such. Two, we didn’t think we could afford a camera with all of the fancy bells and whistles and buttons and lenses and such. After a lot of research and input from photographer friends we discovered the perfect camera for us – the Canon PowerShot G15. It has all of the fancy doodads if we want to use them but we don’t HAVE to use them to get good pictures. It’s got a number of auto settings that we can use to get quality pictures and video in a myriad of lighting levels by just pointing and shooting. It’s also small enough (it fits in a cargo pocket) to allow us to photograph scenes like these that we might have missed if we were lugging around a big camera bag.
As time goes on and we continue to live abroad, the more cost effective and free technology we learn about and begin to use. Having all of this technology is what makes our lifestyle possible but we are also careful not to let it overwhelm us. It’s all too easy to get caught staring at your phone rather than your dinner companion or to miss a beautiful sunset because you’re texting someone that you’re watching a beautiful sunset. Remember that like the Ring in Lord of the Rings (I told you I was a nerd), technology is a tool that can be used for great good or unspeakable evil. Please use it responsibly and put your phone away during dinner.