Ecuador may often get overlooked for its flashier neighbors, but this small South American nation packs a punch. Mountain, ocean, jungle, cities, Ecuador offers it all in a neat little package.
From the glitzy streets of Mariscal Sucre in Quito to the rapid currents of Río Negro where the Andes meet the Amazon, there’s a surprising amount to see and do for a country that gets missed off many travelers’ itineraries.
You know what else what surprising about Ecuador? Just how efficient, reliable and fast its mobile data network is. If you’d like to stay connected while you’re there, read on.
The main mobile phone companies in Ecuador are Movistar and Claro, with a smaller chunk of the market taken by state-owned CNT.
There are a number of resellers slowly showing up, including Tuenti and Virgin Mobile, but their presence and offers are still quite limited.
How to Buy a SIM Card
Movistar has a presence at the airport in Quito, but if you don’t get one there, the old town is packed with options to buy a SIM card. They’re available from official customer service centers, cell phone stores, and phone repair shops.
In my case, I walked into a Movistar customer center to ask about options. The representative spoke very little English, so some Spanish will get you far.
He explained the available pre-paid plans, and I settled on the tourist package (explained below), which for my two-week trip seemed like a good deal.
In order to sign up for the plan, I needed to show my passport, which I didn’t have with me. No problem: a photo of it on my phone did the trick. I didn’t need to provide a local address or any other information, and paid cash.
After activating the account, the sales rep inserted the SIM card into my iPhone for me. He asked me to turn off my device and turn it back on after an hour, which is how long the account would take to be fully operative. I did so, and voilà! Ready to roll.
Prepaid SIM Costs
The tourist package set me back $25 (Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency), for 2.5GB of data, 50 minutes each of local and international calls to a few countries (including the US), and 500 texts, valid for a month. In two weeks of travel, I didn’t run out of data (and certainly not minutes).
That package can’t be renewed after the month is up, since it’s aimed at travelers just passing through the country.
The SIM card itself remains active, though, so you can still top up your account and either use data/minutes at default rates, or sign up for a different prepaid plan. Movistar offers several different options, costing $1-10 depending on the duration and what you need in the way of calls, texts, and data.
Claro typically has slightly higher pricing, but often has better coverage in remote areas. It can be a good option if you’re heading well off the beaten track.
Topping up is straightforward and widely available, from anywhere displaying the sign Recarga aquí (“top up here”).
This includes convenience stores, supermarkets, cell repair shops (of which you’ll find plenty around the country) and official customer service centers.
Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage was pretty consistent all around the country, including Quito and the Amazon entry town of Baños.
It was also very consistent during the bus trip from Quito to Baños. I was very surprised to see how fast 4G/LTE data was in Ecuador.
Although it’s not rolled out everywhere yet (it was spotty anywhere in the Andes), download speeds reached 40Mbps anywhere it was available. That’s unheard of in many parts of Latin America.
For the rest of the country, 3G/HSPA+ was always available. Data speeds were much slower, but service was consistent and reliable.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
Updates on this article:
I just got a new cheap phone and SIM card in Quito today from an official Movistar store. I’m a British citizen and although I needed to give them my passport number, I wasn’t required to do it under someone else’s name and transfer it later. Probably a law change.
Also, the SIM I was given came the same way as European SIMs, full size with a pop-out smaller SIM in the middle so no need to cut it down.
Thanks for the update, Morgan — sounds like the process has got easier all round. We like that!
Do you know if it is possible to get a sim card at Quito airport?
I believe Movistar, at least, has some sort of presence there.
Hi guys, thanks for the post. Hope to buy the tourist SIM later this year.
Great article which eased my mind, overall. But I have one remaining dumb question…what about costs for texts/calls from outside the country? I’m not concerned in most instances, because I am happy to use WhatsApp as well as accessing WiFi as available, but I can’t control who might text (or have to) call me from home. Where does this internationally based (incoming) texting and calling fit into the equation?
It’s rare (outside the US) to be charged for incoming calls or texts unless you’re roaming. Double-check with the vendor to be certain, but I’d be surprised if there was a cost. If you don’t have any extra credit loaded on your SIM, there’s no money to take off you in any case. 🙂