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Do Cell Phones Work in Rocky Point?

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Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco): Cell Phones

Cell phones facts when entering Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) 

A lot of people want to know if their American cellphones will work in Penasco, and/or in the surrounding areas on the way down and back up into the US.

Cellular Phones

To call a cell phone you must dial 044+1+638+number. We have found that most U.S. cellular phones do not work in Rocky Point. AT&T/Cingular (International Plan) Works the best and is up 99% of the Time. You can get an unlocked phone and switch chips as you cross the border either way. If you spend a fair amount of time here, you may want to look into getting a TelCel phone as it is cheaper than the US Int’l plan. TelCel provides contracts and prepaid cards, which can be purchased almost anywhere.

Telefonos de Mexico (TelMex)
Juan de la Barrera and Calle 18
Office open 8:00 AM
Phone  383-2288

Another option during your vacation will be to RENT a cell phone. Save yourself some time and money and just rent a cell phone online.

A a reminder, any telephone number in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) that doesn’t start with a 383,388, 382 or 102 is a cellular phone. The Rocky Point city is code 638. In order to call Rocky Point cellphone from a land line, you must dial 044+1+638+7 digit number

Tips if you need to call from different cities/countries:

Call Mexico from U.S. & Canada
Dial 011+52+638+7 digit local number

Call U.S. & Canada from Mexico
Dial 001+area code+7 digit number

Collect from Mexico to U.S.
Dial 090 for a bilingual operator

Call overseas from Mexico
Dial 00+country code+city

Call within Mexico
Dial 01+city code+number

AT&T Operator
Dial 001-800-462-4240

Long Distance


To make a long distance call, your best bet is to purchase a prepaid phone Card (LADATEL) from pharmacies or businesses, and use one of the many pay phones along the  streets – follow The instructions on the phone. If you use your calling card and dial and 800# that is not toll free withing Mexico, you will be charged twice for this call – once
for calling the 800# and then again on your phone card. You may also use one of the long distance services to call the U.S. And Canada.

VOIP Lines

Thanks to the Internet, many local Business now have U.S. phone Numbers (VOIP Lines) that ring in their offices here in Mexico.

How to dial 800’s

800 numbers are not free of charge Unless it is a Mexico Toll Free #. The Charge for calling an 800# is apx. $1 USD per min.

CALL 800 #
Dial 001+880+last 7 digits of number
CALL 888 #
Dial 001+881+last 7 digits of number
CALL 877 #
Dial 001+882+last 7 digits of number
CALL 866 #
Dial 001+883+last 7 digits of number

SIM Cards in Mexico (Rocky Point)

For those visitors needing to buy SIM cards for their phones, they can be found just about anywhere in Rocky Point for about $10.

The big 3 questions

Q: I already have a cellphone – will it work in Penasco/Sonora?
Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?
Q: Do you have coverage maps?

Will my cell phone work in Sonora?

Yes and no – it depends on a few factors:

Your phone may not work at all
Several major providers – Qwest Wireless, Alltel, Nextel’s non-GSM models, to name a few – simply don’t work across the border in Sonora. They use different technologies and frequencies, and/or they may require activation to work on the Mexican cellular network. Many older (non-triband) phones simply won’t work, period.

Rules of thumb:

Cingular, T-Mobile, – yes, they can work in Penasco – but you have to call your provider and activate international service ahead of time (1 week ahead is a good idea). Verizon does not work in Penasco most of the time. Verizon’s roaming partner switched technologies in Summer of 2007, and I don’t believe any Verizon phones work at all in Puerto Penasco now.

With Cingular, if you are in Penasco and want to reach a US number, dial 001 + (areacode) + (number). When you’re in Penasco and calling a Penasco number, you just dial 638 + number.

If you’re calling 1-800 numbers in the United States from Mexico, there’s something funky about that too – you must dial “001-880” and the 7-digit number you want to reach (the last 7 digits of the 1-800 number).

Call your cellphone provider and ask about SIM cards – some readers have emailed to tell me that certain providers and phones will take new SIM’s that let you use your phone in Mexico. I’m trying to compile some info on exactly which models and providers have this capability.

With all other cellular phones …

Your phone may ‘roam’
… but not recieve incoming calls or text messages. This phone is essentially useless if someone has to get in touch with you in an emergency, since it becomes an ‘outgoing only’ phone.

Your phone may ‘roam’
… but your cellular plan may hit you with excessive roaming charges. We’ve seen Mexican/International roam rates as high as $3/min (US). And again, depending on your provider, text messaging and data services may not function.

Your phone may ‘roam’ in analog mode
… but this is an amazingly bad thing to do. It is both expensive, eats up your battery, and isn’t a ‘secure’ method of communicating.

There is good news! If you have a GSM phone – or one of the newer quad-band PDA’s like a blackberry – it will probably work just fine! (See below, under ‘cell technologies.’) Depending on your GSM provider, you may have to activate your phone for out-of-country roaming, and there may be some fees associated with that activation. Again, it depends on your carrier. Refer to our compatability matrix, below.


Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?

Here is a compatability matrix we have assembled:

Provider Technology Works in Sonora? Rate(s) Notes
Alltel CDMA No
Cingular (&AT&T) TDMA/GSM Yes, w/ activation 49 ¢/min, 20 ¢/txt Int’l activation fees vary. 72 hour activation process.
Cricket CDMA No
Nextel iDEN No Unconfirmed reports of GSM offerings from Nextel
Qwest Wireless CDMA No
Sprint CDMA (Some GSM/GPRS models) Only if phone is triband/GSM capable: i.e. a Treo VERY phone specific – Int’l activation required, $4/mo
T-Mobile (& VoiceStream) GSM Yes, w/ activation $1.49/min Int’l activation free, high rates
Verizon CDMA – triband(?) Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco
Virgin Mobile CDMA No


This compatability is constantly changing. Please email us if you have new compatability info you would like to see included here.


Q: Do you have cellular coverage maps of Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and Sonora in general?

Yes, we do. These maps are not perfect, but have been compiled using data from providers and personal trial and error. We try to keep them as accurate as possible!


Northern Sonora / Puerto Penasco detail

This map is provided courtesy our Telcel. Coverage centers around highways and major cities, with a certain amount of nautical coverage around major ports. On this map, for example, you can see coverage extending into the Sea of Cortez south of Puerto Penasco. Anecdotal reports put this coverage at about a mile out to sea.

Sonora general coverage

If you are interested in San Carlos, or perhaps Hermosillo or Culiacan, or other parts of Sonora, this map shows very general GSM coverage areas. (We are currently awaiting finer-grained maps for San Carlos, Culiacan and Guaymas)

US Network coverage

This is a general GSM coverage map provided by Cingular.


Non-scientific personal report(s)

On my last trip, I had coverage from Tucson to Kitt Peak with my Alltel service. After Kitt peak, it hit spotty Analog Roam mode until we were in Sonoyta, then on into Penasco, and then stayed on Analog Roam.

My companion’s T-mobile serice, however, was kaput after Kitt Peak, and that was it.

Many people have their phones set ‘not to roam’ in non-digital areas, and sometimes just un-setting this mode is the trick to getting service. You will, however, pay dearly for it, as Analog Roaming in a foreign country is not cheap, no matter what plan or service you have.

06/01/2007 – Alltel used to have some coverage in Nogales/Sonoyta, but as of 06/01/2007 they sent their customers a notice that they were killing their coverage in these areas. Gee, thanks Alltel.

John Fleming’s excellent has a writeup re: Using a cell phone in Penasco that mentions how to get your phone ‘flipped’ to a Mexican number with a number of set prepaid minutes, and indeed there are many TelCel ( Juarez Blvd./383-3300 ) and Movitel ( 29 Juarez Blvd./383-5058 ) offices in Penasco and Sonoyta, but I personally have not tried this with any of my own phones.


[a motorola FRS radio] If you’re just looking for a way to stay in touch with one another in and around Penasco, we’ve had good luck with FRS radios – those little walkie-talkie style handheld radios. They’re a total lifesaver for car-to-car communications on the way there, for example, and if you’ve got groups of people wandering around town or the beach. These radios have become really, really popular among RV’ers and vacationers all over because they are relatively cheap, easy to use, and very handy to have lying around.

CAVEAT! GET THE 7-8 MILE VERSIONS! Remember, you get what you pay for! I’ve used about 4 or 5 different models of FRS radios so far, and I’m a big fan of Motorola‘s units. The Uniden GMR325’s we picked up for $20, for example, were total crap. They are billed as 3 mile radios, but they have low battery life, low range, bad audio quality, and their signals wouldn’t even penetrate the cars we were riding in, which effectively killed our ability to talk to one another.

I prefer something a little more robust, like the 2 watt, 7-mile Motorola T7400AA or the T7400R, which is just the NiCad rechargeable version. These things are the way to go if you just want a cheap, portable way to keep in touch with people in your group while you’re on vacation.

If you have different information re: cellphones in Penasco, please email me, as I admit this is one area I am weak in …


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