The Utter Joy of Telcel

Having a cell phone in México is relatively expensive.  Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me when I bought mine two months ago, but it did.  So at the time, to offset the cost, I chose the cheapest package I could find, which was a pre-paid plan with a discount on the phone.  The cost is something like 1 peso (10 cents) for a text message and 2.5 pesos per minute of air time.  

Cost aside, the only real downside to the plan is that I have to recharge my phone by going to a Telcel office (a hellishly bureaucratic affair) or to one of a host of other third-party retail outlets.  When I bought my phone, I charged it at a Sanborns, which, like Telcel, is a chain owned by the well-to-do Carlos Slim and his sons… and since I’d rather that my phone not run out of credit every week, I put about $35 on it.  Perhaps I’m not as popular as I’d like to think, but after two months, I still had credit to spare!  (In my defense, the numbers I call most often are free for short calls.)

What I didn’t know when I first charged my phone is that Telcel deactivates a pay-as-you-go phone if you don’t recharge it every two months.  As in… you can use it, send messages, talk-blah-blah-blah every day, but if you don’t go in and drop another peso into the account, they turn it off for you — even if you’ve got plenty of credit.  So what a wonderful surprise when I got back to the D.F. on Saturday to find that I couldn’t make or receive any calls or text messages!

Of course, the first thing I did was to call the automated prompt to investigate.  The voice, in English, told me that I didn’t have enough credit to check the balance; though I was certain there was plenty left.  And so, Sunday morning, I trekked out to a Telcel office, stood in line for a while, stood in another line for a longer while… only to be told that the phone had been turned off because it had been two months since I had charged it and, oh, yes, there was plenty of credit left.  The nice lady told me that this had been done for security, either mine or somebody else’s.  But I’m not sure what it really accomplished, since I was able to reactivate the phone anonymously by paying in cash to add a little more credit.

Of course, the solution (adding more money to the account) was simple; but the lack of transparency, the bureaucracy, the failure to notify me, and the utter senselessness of why they would turn off a frequently-used phone…. well, that’s the utter joy of Telcel.


México, D.F.


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