Cell phones are expensive in Ecuador.
As a result, many expats and travelers bring a phone with them.
Not only is it less expensive but you can also have the latest technology. Importation restrictions and bans have limited the availability of reasonably priced phones.
If you are planning on bringing a phone, there are a few things you must know.
3 Things Your Phone Must Have in Ecuador
- GSM 850 (or 3G 850) frequency. This is important so that the phone can use Ecuador’s cell infrastructure. There are lots of frequencies used worldwide – but to work in Ecuador you just need the 850 frequency. Often the phones will be listed like this: “Unlocked quad-band GSM cell phone compatible with 850/900/1800/1900 frequencies.” In the cities in Ecuador you can get 3G connections. It seems that phones that work with GSM will also work with 3G. Just make sure that they use the 850 frequency. Phones that will work internationally should be listed something like this: “US/International 3G compatibility via 850/900/1700/1900/2100 UMTS/HSDPA plus GPRS/EDGE capabilities.” Ecuador also uses the EDGE network – it seems that it defaults down if 3G isn’t available in a specific area.
- Unlocked: This is pretty important. If it isn’t unlocked you won’t be able to connect to the network in Ecuador. In the US most phones that come with a plan are locked – or blocked. This means that you can only use them with that specific carrier. Unlocked phones are generally sold new as such. Sometime they can be unlocked by a piece of software.
- Accept a SIM Card (Mini, Micro or Nano): Without a SIM card (or “chip” as they are known here) your phone won’t work on any of the networks. It is a small postage stamp sized chip that connects your phone to the wireless network – and assigns your phone number. If you want to change phones (and keep the same number) just switch your SIM card to your new phone and it will work right away. Update: You can use phones that accept micro SIM (and nano SIM) cards here in Ecuador. A friend went into Claro to get a micro SIM card and they actually cut down the standard (mini) one to fit. You can do this yourself. Watch: How to cut your SIM card (Micro SIM, Nano SIM)
Another consideration: Buy an international phone. I don’t think that this is a requirement, but it should give you some peace of mind that it will work. If you are buying on Amazon.com you can search the reviews of a specific product and see if it works overseas. I’ve seen reviews from all over Central and South America on these unlocked phones.
The two main carriers in Ecuador (Claro and Movistar) work on both GSM 850 and 3G 850. Read more about Ecuador’s three cell providers.
Are Cell Phones Really More Expensive in Ecuador?
A couple of years ago I ordered a Nokia N8 via Club Correos. I paid around $270 plus $12 freight to Ecuador. The week after it arrived I found the same model in Cuenca with an advertised price of $764.00.
I should note that this was before the cell phone importation ban and it arrived without any problem. It was the best phone I ever owned – it had a quality 12 MP camera, GPS, 720p video and HDMI output. About a month after it arrived some armed thieves thought I would be better off without it. So I was back to my junky $40 phone.
Cell Phone Importation is Banned in Ecuador
Make sure you know the rules before you order your new phone.
First, you cannot ship a phone to Ecuador. It is prohibited. If it comes in by mail, you’ll have to ship it out of the country by mail. Or you could be fined. Or both.
Second, you have limits on what you can bring as personal effects in your carry-on luggage. Although the printed rules seem to differ, here is what is being enforced now: one used phone per person (including children) and one new phone per family group. When we re-entered Ecuador a few months ago, we had one phone each. We had bought them new a few weeks earlier but because we loaded on music, personal info and inserted the sim card they were “used”. And we didn’t bring the boxes and labels. It seems that the “one new phone” refers a new-in-box phone that can be resold as new.
While we were tempted to buy a true smart phone, we didn’t want something that could attract the attention of thieves. Instead, we bought the Nokia Asha 302 – it has great reception and a full keyboard. I don’t think I ever sent a text message before we moved here – now we send them on a daily basis. As you can see in the write-up, it is the international version of an unlocked GSM phone. We just inserted our sim cards from our old phones and it worked the moment we turned them on when we arrived at the Quito Airport.
Can I “Unlock” My Cell Phone in Ecuador?
Yes, some phones can be unlocked in Ecuador. But this isn’t 100%. I know some travelers who brought their phone only to have them not work. And the cell phone hackers were unable to unlock them. I think the safest best is to buy an unlocked phone before you come to Ecuador.
Did you bring a phone to Ecuador? What has your experience been?