Cotopaxi

Buying a SIM Card in Ecuador

In Get Connected by Chris Vervaeke4 Comments

I never owned a smart phone when living at home (sorry, Blackberry doesn’t count), but I’ve found mine incredibly useful in Central and South America for keeping track of expenses, planning my next move, and generally providing entertainment when I’m traveling solo.

As long as you have an unlocked cell phone, buying and activating SIM cards throughout Latin America is relatively painless – but each country has its own little quirks.

Ecuador operates on the US dollar, and all prices are quoted as such.

Companies


  • We recommend Movistar for most travellers
  • Consider Claro if you’re heading to more remote areas

Whenever I enter a new country I make a point of asking around to find out which cell company is best. In Ecuador, Movistar seemed to be the most common answer – but I later learned that Claro has better coverage in remote areas.

The information provided is based on my experiences with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and Movistar at the time of writing.

How


You technically have to be an Ecuadorian citizen to buy a SIM card. Don’t let that stop you — just find a store that will activate it in someone else’s name, and then transfer it to you a few days later.

The store will still want identification however, so bring your passport or a copy of it.

You’re best to go to a dedicated cellular store, as they will be the most knowledgeable and helpful.

 

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Costs


A SIM card can be purchased for $5.00 from any operator and comes with $3.00 worth of credit. I also was able to get the full-sized SIM cut down to fit my Galaxy S3 in-store for an extra dollar. That was well worth the cost, considering how badly I’ve butchered SIMs trying to do the same thing in the past.

Casual Rates: National $0.17/min, $2.00/MB

Data Packages: I found Ecuador to be expensive for data. 15MB valid for one day costs $1.00 and 500MB/30 days was $20.00. One oddity was that my data pack took about two days to actually activate, and I’ve heard the same complaint from others as well.

If you own an iPhone it’s worth noting that data packages can only be activated in official company stores, which are typically located in large cities such as Guayaquil, Ambato, and Quito.

If you don’t already own a cell phone or yours isn’t unlocked, a simple phone can be purchased for about $35.00 and comes with a SIM card. I wouldn’t recommend trying to buy a good phone in Ecuador however, as even a low-end smart phone can be rather expensive.

Topping Up


Adding credit can be done just about anywhere, look for stores showing the sign of your service provider and add any amount you want. Seriously, I’ve seen people add just a dollar. A confirmation text message will be sent to you letting you know the credit has been added.

There are also specials every few weeks where you will get bonus minutes by adding credit, keep in mind however these minutes are only good nationally.

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Coverage and Data Speeds


Download 1.90Mbps, Upload 1.10Mbps — tested on a 4G connection almost anywhere I was in the country.

Helpful Spanish Terms


Given that English may not be spoken by the people who can help get your phone working, it’s always good to know a little Spanish as well. Here are a few terms to get you on your way.

Puedo comprar una tarjeta de SIM de Movistar/Claro/CNT? (or) Puedo comprar un SIM card de Movistar/Claro/CNT?

Can I buy a SIM card for Movistar/Claro/CNT?

Puedo recargar mi saldo del celular?

Can I buy credit for my cellular?

Puedes cortar esta SIM más pequeña?

Can you cut this SIM smaller?

Puedo comprar un celular?

Can I buy a cellular?

Cuanto vale… / Cuánto cuesta …?

How much….?

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author

Chris Vervaeke

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Chris Vervaeke is a hiker, photographer, and blogger who found himself slow-travelling after breaking his foot in Guatemala and being forced to see the light. Follow Chris’ adventures, musings, and mishaps as he travels the world on http://www.anywhereing.com

Comments

  1. 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.

    1. Thanks for the update, Morgan — sounds like the process has got easier all round. We like that!

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