By Jonathan Mogrovejo
One of the most commonly questions asked by prospective expats is, “Will my cell phone work in Ecuador?”
When you first arrive in Ecuador, depending on your cell phone plan back home, you may have a signal. You will see “Claro” or “Movistar” on your phone’s display. This is because your cell phone carrier probably has an agreement with one of the two Ecuadorian cell companies.
But be careful! If you use the service, you will probably be charged international roaming rates.
To avoid paying exorbitant calling rates, or making your phone an expensive paperweight, here are the steps necessary to make your phone work locally.
The first step is getting your phone unlocked.
Most cell phones in the U.S. are purchased with a two-year plan and are “locked” into that plan. This means that the phone can only be used with the carrier that you purchased it from.
But many phones, especially those with SIM cards, can be unlocked. Keep an eye on the posts in GringoPost.com since cell phone hackers advertise their services there; they would know if your phone can be unlocked. If you don’t see a post advertising unlocking services, submit your own post looking for someone to help.
Another unlocking option is to pay a visit to Tecnocell in Cuenca, on Av. Remigio Crespo, a block from Av. Solano. Tecnocell has some of the smartest young people I know and they can quickly tell you if your phone can be unlocked and, if so, unlock it for you. The unlocking process can take several hours so you will probably be asked to come back later or maybe even the next day.
But once unlocked, you are ready to decide which cell service provider to sign up with. Your options are Claro, Movistar, and CNT.
Claro, known until three years ago as Porta, has been in Ecuador the longest and has, by far, the most customers. It also has the widest coverage area, including remote places in mountain valleys and in the Amazon area. Movistar is the second largest provider and tends to be the most popular among those living in major cities. Government-owned CNT has been through more changes than the other two and ranks a distant third in number of customers. If you ask people around Ecuador what company you should go with, Movistar and Claro will be the clear choices.
With an unlocked cell phone, you won’t have a problem finding a Claro or Movistar outlet in Ecuador. Just look for the signs. You’ll pay $12 for a chip, or SIM card, with your new phone number, and the $12 includes $6 of calling time.
When I purchased my iPhone5 in 2014, it could not be unlocked in Ecuador but the guys at Tecnocell put in what is called a Gevey chip. It installs right below the SIM card. It is my understanding that the Gevey makes the cell phone think it is still using the original carrier.
In my personal experience, Gevey chips are not a 100% solution for your phone. I can use my phone for most normal functions, but I am not able to check voicemail. For some reason, the voicemail button calls 911. But looking on the bright side, I have a dedicated button for emergency calls. There may be other Gevey side effects, but none that I am aware of.