What Type of Cell Phone Works in Ecuador?

Posted in: Ecuador Facts, Ecuador Travel, Living in Ecuador
ecuador-cell-phone

Amazon is a great place to find unlocked cell phones for Ecuador.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. ecuador-cell-phone-serviceAccept 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.

ecuador-cell-phone

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?

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

39 comments… add one
  • Tom Dec 22, 2015, 10:45 am

    I may be late to this thread but…
    I just added a MoviStar sim to my Verizon Galaxy S5 at a Movistar store. (I purchased this phone in the US last Nov., 2014, so it was unlocked by default.) It took a while but the counterperson finally got it working. I still figuring it all out, but the biggest help was changing the phone’s language to English!!! Tap Apps, Settings, Language and Input, then choose.
    Unfortunately, MoviStar’s website is in Spanish only, so I’ll need some help to get my minutes and data balances figured out.
    First app added was “Easy Taxi.”

    • Amy Jay Sep 1, 2016, 9:32 pm

      One of the best things I figured out after getting Movistar and trying to set up my account is, Chrome will automatically translate the page that is in Spanish to English. Go in Chrome’s settings and there under Advanced Settings will be an option to do just that. I brought my unlocked 5s iPhone, and it worked the minute I got here using wifi. I used Skype to text to others until I got my Movistar sim card. Another thing that will come in handy, because getting your Movistar phone access doesn’t allow you to call internationally, is calling on Skype. You pay $2.99/month and can make any call you need to as often as you need to. You’ll find that the internet here can quite often be spotty, so take it with a grain of salt, if you know what I mean.

  • Mr. S Nov 29, 2015, 2:53 pm

    Hola, Bryan —

    You indicated in one of your responses that SIM chips are available for purchase at the Quito airport. I see that there is a mall (Mall del Ciela) attached to the airport, but the names of stores listed on the mall’s map do not indicate that they sell telecommunication-related equipment. Do you know what store sells SIM chips and where that store is located?

    Many thanks,

    Lawrence

    • Bryan Haines Nov 29, 2015, 4:13 pm

      It’s been six months since I’ve been in the Quito airport, so you’ll do better to wander than rely on my memory. 🙂 You are looking for either a Claro or Movistar logo. It’s possible that there isn’t one there now. You can ask where the nearest Claro or Movistar store is located – they are everywhere.

      Hope this helps!

  • Chris Oct 4, 2015, 6:17 pm

    I heard that Ecuador is now making a smart phone. Is this true? Is it
    any good, what is the cost?

  • Jeff Jul 30, 2015, 4:38 am

    Can I sell my iPhone in Ecuador while I’m there to help pay for my trip? Looking to make over what I paid in usa is this possible? If so who could I sell to thanks!

    • Bryan Haines Jul 30, 2015, 9:05 am

      No trouble to sell electronics – especially iphones and tablets. I know of some expats who bring their limit back each trip and it pays for their flights. There are some classifieds sites but it would be simpler to sell to someone you meet while there.

      • Jeff Jul 30, 2015, 2:21 pm

        Much thanks for the info ! I know there are limits so when I fly there I can only bring 1 cell phone so I might bring an iPhone 6 to sell as far as tablets I’m wandering what would sell good there for markup like a new MacBook air. I wander if I’m allowed to bring a laptop and a tablet? As far as selling goes the thing that worries me is getting robbed or something like if I post an ad how do I know the person isn’t coming to rob me? Is there like a safe place to do a transaction by a police station or in a bank or something? Or could I sell these items to legit business owners there who would then resell themselves? I will only be there a couple weeks so would have to sell these items within that time thanks again for info!

  • Jeff Jul 30, 2015, 4:36 am

    I was looking to help pay expense of my travel is it possible to sell my iPhone 6 in Ecuador while I’m there for profit above what I paid in use to help pay for my trip? If so who could I sell it to ? Much thanks all!

  • James Harvey Jul 25, 2015, 3:29 pm

    My suggestion is to find a dual-sim phone unlocked. This way you can keep your current carrier and still receive calls without paying roaming and then get a SIM from the local service so that you can make calls locally, again, without incurring intl roaming charges. This is the best and most seamless way to travel and communicate.

  • Rich Braun Jul 4, 2015, 12:52 am

    We brought 2 iPhone 6 units to Quito (end of June 2015). Language barrier and software-version problems led to us buying prepaid Claro on one, Movistar on the other. They both came up fine for voice/sms. But data is another story. Movistar worked fine–mysteriously, a full 24 hours later, it popped up. When flying from one city to another, I often have to power the phone off/on; airplane mode doesn’t reset sufficiently, but otherwise Movistar’s fine.

    Haven’t had ANY luck getting Claro data working after several days, even with the APN config setting from unlockit. This is going to take more effort than my poco espanol permits when I try to get help at mobile stores.

    My advice: if you want to bring an iPhone here, forget Claro and live with Movistar’s limitations.

  • Bill Jun 2, 2015, 4:18 am

    My family of six is coming to Ecuador for a month the last half of June and first half of July. We will be mostly in Quito, but also spend some time in Playa Same and Cuenca. My wife & I each have iPhone 6 Plus phones, one son has an iPhone 5s, and a second son has a phone that is not a smart phone. We want to bring the iPhones for camera usage and having the information on them available. Also, for having phone service in Ecuador, I am thinking of getting two other unlocked phones (the Nokia types you mentioned or something else) into which we will insert SIM cards upon arriving. We should be fine bringing those phones, right?

    We also have other electronics we want to bring with us consisting of 2 or 3 laptops and two iPads. Will those cause problems for us?

  • Sherry May 23, 2015, 10:08 am

    Hi Bryan. We are coming down in a couple of months for our exploratory trip. We’ll be there 22 days. I am looking to buy an unlocked international GSM-850 phone. A couple of questions. 1) Will the GSM phone frequency work in the US?? 2) Do I still need a SIM card from Ecuador when I get there?? Thanks and I appreciate the time and effort you put into your blog helping folks like me!!!

    • Bryan Haines May 23, 2015, 2:10 pm

      It should work in the US – you’ll need to confirm with your carrier. You will need to purchase a SIM card in Ecuador to get a local number.

  • Lori N May 22, 2015, 3:53 pm

    Enough already about phones. I want to know can I take chocolates and roasted nuts as gifts to the many folks
    we will be visiting in Ecuador. Any restrictions on these items. Thanks.

  • DAN GOOD Apr 26, 2015, 12:09 pm

    DEAR BYRAN
    I just read your article and it was a great help to me since I plan to buy phone and other items such as computer etc to bring back from USA to ECUADOR in MAY.
    I have some numerous questions concerning bringing in computers and other items from USA to ECUADOR.
    1.I would like to know if you should know do the same recent regulations apply to computers and tablets?
    2.If so does that mean 1 used computer?
    3.Should you then activate computer before bringing computer in and throw packing boxes and purchase receipts?
    4.Are you allowed both1 laptop and 1 tablet or just either one or the other?
    5.I f you dont have that info about computers and tablets then can u refer me to website in English or other site that would have info about any items you want to bring from USA to ECUADOR?
    6.Or maybe a blog or info that this website might have?
    7.7.Should you throw away all boxes and receipts for anything new in your suitcases like shoes socks pants cookware etc or save receipts for tax purposes?
    8.I understand with new aduana regulations in ECUADOR in last month or so that the goverment is now imposing taxes on certain items 3000 that you might bring into the airport from USA.Do you know where or what website in ENGLISH that might have on tax aspect?
    THANK YOU FOR A REPLY IT WOULD BE A GREAT HELP

  • Nancy Feb 4, 2015, 4:28 pm

    Hi Bryan,
    If I understand you correctly, I can bring one used phone in my carry-on luggage. What about another used phone in my checked luggage? I want to bring my smartphone for picture-taking, but have a borrowed international phone that I’ll buy a sim card for phone calls.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks, Nancy

    • Bryan Haines Feb 5, 2015, 7:19 am

      The limit is per person.

      You will be over the limit with two used phones – even if you don’t plan on using them both. A friend brought back a damaged phone for his son to watch videos on. This phone put him over the limit and he had to export the phone from Ecuador in the same way it arrived – by plane. You might not get caught – but if you do, you’ll have a problem.

  • Ed Boerst Jan 29, 2015, 10:07 pm

    Enjoyed the reading. Very helpful. have started visa process with Ecudorian Consulate in Houston, TX. I will probably visit on 90 day visa in March to find place to lease and area I want to reside in. Then I will have to come back to States to finish my residency visa. I am really looking forward to the prospect of a stress free quality lifestyle.
    Again thanks for the comments, specifically about the cell phones.
    Sincerely,
    Ed Boerst

  • Jorge Jan 25, 2015, 10:20 am

    Thank you for your article.
    I took my Verizon Samsung Galaxy S5 in my last visit to Ecuador in November 2014, I was under the impression that since this is a global phone it ‘ll work in Quito. Nope, I had so much hard time trying to to activate it, I even went to Guayaquil to “la Bahia” hoping that the will “bajar la banda” as they say which is nothing else that unlock it.
    First thing I was told was: Do not take your eyes from your phone or leave it as they ask you to do for a day or two since they will strip everything from the US phone and put cheap Chinese stuff in it. So the phone was not even able to receive e-mails even in WI-Fi places, fortunately some restaurants in downtown Quito have good Internet and I could at least connect through Facebook Messenger.
    I ended up replacing the phone because it became unresponsive when I came back to the states and I think this was a result of the many places I took it looking for a way to unlocked>
    In CNT (Corporación Nacional de Telecomnicaciones) I was told Verizon phones don’t work in Ecuador.

  • Tracy Dec 29, 2014, 5:03 pm

    Hello,

    Just wondering if there is movistar or claro at the Quito international airport? Hoping to buy a SIM as soon as I enter the country Thanks

  • Amy Sep 16, 2014, 2:03 pm

    Can you use your Ecuador cell number to access your Twitter account?

    • Bryan Haines Sep 17, 2014, 7:21 am

      Do you mean to confirm your account? Or to actually use the Twitter account? We’ve used our local numbers to confirm ownership of social accounts. And if your phone has the ability to access Twitter, you’ll just need a plan or WiFi to use the app.

  • Elisabeth Aug 6, 2014, 7:03 pm

    I am going to Guayquil for 10 days next month. Is it possible to just buy a disposable phone when I get there to use for 10 days? My smart phone is not a global phone and I cannot get it unlocked through Verizon. I can rent a global phone from them but it is $2.89/min!! Thanks for your help.

  • Kim Jul 5, 2014, 9:02 pm

    Bryan, I have read your postings and understand your not using a smartphone currently. But, I will confess that the ability to have an address book in the phone is something to which we have become addicted. Does your Nokia have an address book that you can sync with your computer? Also, I have read yor wife’s posting that talked about using her iPod. Is the iPod not such an attraction to thieves? Lastly, would a Blackberry be included in your definition of smartphones from the standpoint of interest to thieves?

    Thanks.

    • Bryan Haines Jul 7, 2014, 6:34 am

      I’m not sure if it can sync or not. I just manually enter the numbers. Dena uses her iPod at home. There isn’t much need to travel with it. She used it for studying Spanish. A thief is interested in any phone with a resale value. I’ve heard of thieves giving back those cheap $40 phones because they are literally worthless. Aside from that, I think any phone would be a good target.

  • oswald Jun 7, 2014, 12:22 pm

    My 4G Android phone works to my certain knowledge in Quito, Guayaquil, Montañita , Cuenca and in between with the exception of some very remote spots in the Andes.

    The government is promising true 4G service by the end of 2014 but the present service works very well for my needs.

  • Burt Jun 7, 2014, 12:15 pm

    My wife brought her iPhone 4S and I brought my iPhone 5, both Verizon models. We bought MovieStar SIM cards and they work fine. We keep the US SIM cards with our passports, and return to those cards when we hit the Miami airport. Works perfectly at both ends.

    Something went wrong yesterday in Miami and my iPhone 5 refused to connect to Verizon. Half an hour on tech support to Verizon led me to go to an Apple store. They verified the phone had gone bad, and handed me a new iPhone 5 (free due to having Apple Care). I connected it, downloaded the iCloud backup, and was fully back and and running before heading home that night (in San Francisco).

    • Dierdre Jul 28, 2014, 8:19 am

      Can anyone tell me the approximate cost of a movistar SIM card? And where do I buy the SIM card from? Somewhere at the airport? I would love to be able to use my iphone5 as well. It’s currently on a Fido plan in Canada. Will be staying in Quito and Otavalo. Thanks!

      • Bryan Haines Jul 28, 2014, 8:30 am

        You can buy a sim card at the airport and it should cost $6-8 (and come with around $3 of saldo).

  • Paul Jun 7, 2014, 10:34 am

    Just returned from the US. I brought a brand new in the box Samsung Galaxy S5, I also brought a New Blu smart phone $90.00, unlocked, dual SIM cards, slot for memory card 32G, dual cameras, works great here, this is the phone I use for my personal use, bought it on Amazon best phone out there for the money based on my experience. No problems at the airport in Guayaquil, did not even check my phones.

    Paul

  • William Wright Jun 7, 2014, 8:37 am

    I followed the rules to the letter. I had my used Samsung s3 mini in pocket. And I packed in my carry on bag, within new box, no chip, all the stickers and manual, an INTERNATIONAL unlocked GSM V of exact same phone as mine as a gift for mi amiga. I had no problems. It’s the only way to get a phone into the country. We went to Clara, got her a chip, $4 and Que Bien! Phones in Quito are quite expensive. (So are taxi’s when it rains, but I am digressing.) My phone worked on wifi only while in Quito. Using Whatsapp and facebook to communicate with friends back home.

  • Melissa Jun 7, 2014, 7:01 am

    I may have missed it, but can I bring an Iphone to Ecuador? You mentioned 3G which is a very old version of an Iphone. Can 4G or 5G Iphones or Androids work in Ecuador? Thanks.

    • Bryan Haines Jun 7, 2014, 7:11 am

      They are quite common – although I don’t know what version they are. Everything I’ve seen written about networks here are up to 3G. My phone shows 3.5G sometimes.

      I’m not an expert, but I think the important factor is your frequency – not what generation of technology you use. I believe that your 4G or 5G phone will easily work on a 3G network – it will just be slower.

      • Angela Jan 17, 2017, 8:53 am

        I came from Ecuador to visit the USA. I have my used cell phone but I would like to take back to Ecuador a refurnished unlocked cell phone. Would I have any problems at airport?? If I can take how would I take it, as a carry on or in my luggage??? Will be waiting for your respond. I would appreciate it if I can get an email, it would be easier to see your respond. I will be going back to Ecuador this Friday, January 20, 2017. Thank you

    • Alex Jul 3, 2014, 8:50 pm

      The iPhone model numbering scheme can sometimes be confused with the mobile network generation numbers but they are not directly related. There is no 5G network deployed anywhere in the world yet. iPhone 3G is an old dog but 3G networks are still common in the US and fast enough for most mobile applications including Netflix streaming. And iPhone 5 works just fine on 3G.

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