Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cell Phone Woes

What seems like what should have been a rather simple task has proven to be a trying, soul-searching, several weeks-long event.

A couple of weeks ago, I used this blog to ask for advice about owning a cell phone abroad and didn't get any feedback. If you don't remember, haven't been reading that long and/or didn't feel like reading that post, I need a phone I can use in Mexico to call doctors in the United States and around the world, and the phone needs to have a recording mechanism. My current phone, over there on the right, has no such bells and whistles.

About the same time, I also tried reaching out to the people already working at post in Hermosillo to find out what the spouses do about a cell phone. Unfortunately, I came by the same advice, which was none.

Next, I turned to LiveLines, which yielded a couple of responses, but it came up short on the, "Well, this is what I did when I moved to Mexico," statement I was hoping to receive. As I was awaiting responses from LiveLines, I did some online research, which had the added benefit of locating this Web site, which has more information about Hermosillo than I have found any where else, and it at least got me pointed in the right direction regarding cell phones.

I was getting frustrated because I expected more help from the supposed tight-knit, supportive group that the Foreign Service family is supposed to be. I couldn't imagine that I was the first Entrepenural Freelancing Machine (EFM) to move to Mexico. My fruitless search for advice on this topic has been my worst experience with the Foreign Service to date because it was the first time I've felt isolated and, to an extent, lonely during this process.

(I realize I'm committing a faux pas by saying less-than-flattering remarks about current and future colleagues, and for what it's worth, Natalie isn't thrilled about this posting. But this is my blog about my thoughts, opinions and experiences, warts and all. That said, I'm exercising some restraint so as to not negatively effect her standing with her colleagues in case this gets read.)

So with what little information I had, Natalie and I went to the Pentagon City Mall to buy a new cell phone today. I knew enough from my research to know that Verizon did not have any good Mexican options, but as they are our current provider, I was ready to give them the first chance.

To no surprise, after we explained our condition, the salesman agreed that Verizon would not be able to help us.

So we went to the AT&T kiosk, and described our situation again, and the salesman described some rather undesirablely expensive options. Then he added his two cents that we would probably be best off buying an AT&T or T-Mobile phone, but hold off on buying a service plan until we reached Mexico and then signing a local contract with TelCel. (For full disclosure, AT&T and TelCel have some sort of financial relationship that I'm too lazy to understand, and definitely too lazy to understand and explain it. Also, only AT&T and T-Mobile phones can be used with a TelCel plan, as I understand it.)

I was impressed by both salesmen's honesty on the topic, and ultimately, Natalie and I decided not to get a cell phone for the time being.

But this still doesn't solve my current problem of trying to record interviews before we go to Mexico while I'm freelancing from home. Unfortunately, I can't buy an AT&T phone and use my Verizon plan on it; and doesn't this seem like a monopoly?

So on the way home we stopped at Best Buy to figure out what to do as a stop-gap measure. So I explained yet again my cell phone needs to a saleswoman and showed her my phone causing an audible gasp, a few giggles and perhaps a short look of horror.

After composing herself, she said she doesn't think there is anything that can be done as far as upgrades are concerned and led me to the audio recorders section. "You must really love that phone," she said during the walk. To which I explained that I'm indifferent, but it has served its purposes as a phone until now, which is why I'm ready to part with it.

In the endgame, I still have my same cell phone and will have to resort to putting docs on speaker phone during our interviews, which is not preferred but will have to suffice for a few months.

And I've had the unfortunate experience of feeling let down by the foreign service community, but I'm willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt this once that perhaps this topic is so complicated and full of bad news that no one wanted to be the bearer of bad news, that there is no simple, inexpensive, desirable way to be a freelancer in Mexico for an international trade journal.

I just hope I don't have too many more experiences with the foreign service community like this one because it did evoke feelings of helplessness.


  1. Have you checked out Google Voice? You can get a US number that forwards to your Mexican cell and you can also record calls and access them online:
    All free from Google!

  2. As far as cell phones went, our post gave mexican cell phones to all EMF's. We bought the MagicJack to use through our computer for US calls. I know this doesn't solve your issue of needing both options in one phone, but it's a start. The Google Voice sounds like it might be your best bet. Also look into Skype. Good luck!

  3. Before you get all down on the entire Foreign Service for not solving your phone woes, know this: maybe no one helped because they didn't know what to advise, not because they didn't care. Personally, I bought a cell phone when I arrived in Beijing (I bought it with the help of someone already at post). Now I have a phone that works locally as long as I buy phone cards to add minutes. I'm told I can change the SIM card and take the phone with me to my next post, but I have no earthly idea how to do it. I'll bring the phone with me, and when I get there, I'll ask someone on the ground how they made their phone work. Someone there will know, and someone there will help me. It just might take awhile to find someone who knows. You'll find someone who can help eventually. Or, if not, you'll figure it out on your own, and then you'll be the guy who can help the next person. Good luck. Wish I could help, but I simply don't know the answer. P.S. I'm a freelance writer, and when I have a call to make, I use Skype. Not ideal, and it doesn't record. My iphone records, I think, but I've never tried it. So if you do come up with a solution, I'd love to hear it.

  4. What I have done at all our overseas posts is buy my phone on e-Bay and when I got to post I just inserted the SIM card.

    If you buy a Quad-band phone, you should have no trouble using it in Mexico... or anywhere else in the world.

    Search on e-Bay for the Quad-Band and you'll be able to see all the particular features - thus enabling you to find that recording feature - or any others that will make you scream with delight. :)

  5. Sorry you have been let down. I do think it may just be one of those things that is just too complicated and too variable post to post for people to really be able to give a specific answer. For example, with our cell phone service in DR we can call anywhere in the US and Latin America as if we are just calling local. This may also be the case in Mexico - meaning it will be worth the wait. Of course, people calling you from other places could benefit from you having a US # - that would make Magic Jack useful, although I have to say Magic Jack has been a total fail for us when it comes to making calls - the thing rarely works and for some reason has a horrible time actually accessing our internet connection. We NEVER use it - but people from home do call it and leave us messages (which we receive in email form). We use Skype quite a bit. Also, btw, don't know if it's helpful, but my husband's phone here in DR - a Sony Ericson W595 - has a recording device in it. Maybe worth researching. Good luck.

  6. I think that the more specific your question, the less likely you are to get answers. I don't even know how to buy a phone in the U.S. anymore, let alone another fairly developed country. Too many overwhelming options! My only area of cell phone expertise is walking into the Tempo store here and plunking down 20,000 Burundian francs (about $18) for a prepaid phone. I can do that in Kenya and Tanzania, too. But that wouldn't have helped you at all this time. :)

    I'm also wary of giving advice sometimes because if it turns out to be incorrect for the person's situation, I'd feel terrible.

    Of all the issues that can get you down about the FS, please don't let this one be it. As others have noted, cell phones are one of those things best taken care of on the ground. If you get assigned to a sponsor, they may be able to give you some advice before arrival.

  7. Hi

    You could get a cellular phone in Hermosillo with prepay service, and recharge with cards (the phone price is from 20 to 500 usd, the recharge from 2 to 40 usd).. use this phone to make local call.. and receive call from around the world is free to you in you local area code.. but expensive to the person make the call from USA (+521662...).......

    If you like to call to USA from mexico, use a voip service (vonage, lingo, broadvoice) with local number of USA (from 13 to 30 usd /month) and you only need to get a internet service in Hermosillo (adsl/cable)..

    I live in Hermosillo and I've a voip service with local number of nogales Az, and pay 13 usd/month with 100 minutes in USA, free to 1800 number... if you call from the local telephone company (telmex) they charge 1 usd/min to call to 800 number in USA, too expensive..

    If you moving to Hermosillo, i think you will work in the USA Embassy, and the central office sales of celullar service TELCEL is next to embassy.

    Cuauhtemoc M

  8. if you're using a GSM phone that uses SIM cards, make sure that it is unlocked so it is not restricted to a US provider like AT&T or T-mobile. You can get phones unlocked at those cell phone stores normally in questionable parts of town ;) Skype on the iphone is great too.