Using your cellphone from home in a foreign country gets mighty expensive but being phoneless until you can log onto WIFI can be equally frustrating so it’s worth getting a local prepaid SIM card while you’re in Quito. Ecuador has some great SIM card deals (all with 4G wireless plans) that are good value for money and don’t require contracts. Plus, if you’re planning to travel, you can use the same SIM card in other South American countries, thus also saving you some cash (= more money for beer). You just need a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible international cellphone. If you’re unsure, contact your service provider back home to check before you leave for Ecuador or pay to get it unlocked.
Where to buy a SIM
Your best bet is to go to an official store of one of the local cellphone providers (look out for Claro, Movistar or CNT shops), as the staff there will be able to better assist you and even do the work for you and register and install the SIM on your phone.
Prepaid SIM cards can also be purchased in most supermarkets, kioscos, pharmacies and Internet cafes. Just look for the logo in the window and ask if they sell chips prepago (pronounced 'cheaps') or SIMs prepago. If you have a smartphone, make sure you get a microchip otherwise you’ll have to cut the chip smaller yourself, which can be fiddly. You technically have to be an Ecuadorian citizen to buy a SIM card but most stores will activate a standard SIM for you in their name and transfer it to your phone. Some providers also offer tourist chips or chip turista (see below). Wherever you go, try registering the SIM card in store and check it works in your phone before you leave to avoid having to go back again.
In all cases, you will be required to show your passport and give an address in Ecuador to register. A chip is usually around US $5 and some will include starter credit.
Choose from one of these cellphone providers
The three main telecom providers in Ecuador are Claro, Movistar and CNT. For the most part, network coverage is good around Quito and the other main cities and towns, but you’ll struggle to get coverage in more remote areas with any plan.
Claro reportedly has the best coverage, particularly in more rural areas. They offer various prepaid SIM packs with different options for MB data and credit, depending on which you will use more of. Another option is to register online via www.miclaro.com.ec.
Movistar is the second largest provider in Ecuador. It boasts the fastest speeds in the cities and towns but slows down the further out you go. Movistar also offers various SIM packages as well as a tourist SIM card that comes with 2GB of data (including 500MB of data for WhatsApp usage) 50 minutes for domestic calls and 50 minutes for international calls to select countries. Unlike the other prepaid SIMs that you can top up when you want, the tourist SIM has a set price and is valid for only 30 days.
CNT is Ecuador’s national provider. If you’re going to go with CNT, beware that it’s only compatible with a number of cellphone models. Check with the store assistant to make sure your cellphone is compatible before handing over any money. Various data packages are also available with CNT and credit amounts above US$10 come with free WhatsApp usage. In addition, CNT also offers a tourist SIM card that comes with a choice of different data packs.
You can top up your phone at one of the numerous prepaid SIM card machines that you’ll find in many shops and kioscos around Quito or purchase a credit voucher. Just look out for the Recarge Aqui sign and the logo of your specific phone company. Credit is available in a variety of denominations from as little as US$2 or US$3 up to US$15 or US$30. Follow the instructions on the back of the voucher or on the machine but, if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
Once you’ve added the credit, you’ll receive a confirmation text message. Look out for other text message notifications too offering bonus minutes or data if you dial a certain number or top up a certain amount as they can be big money savers too if you use your phone a lot.
If you need further advice, TripAdvisor is a useful source of updated information about the different SIM cards available and how to use them.
Got any other useful tips for getting a SIM card in Ecuador? Share your experiences with our readers in our comments section below.