How to get a SIM card for your iPhone in Ecuador in 11 easy steps

They say you can show up in another country, buy a SIM card and pop it into any unlocked phone. How very wrong they are…

Here’s how you should actually do it if you have an iPhone 4 or later (or any phone which uses microSIM cards):
1. Buy and activate a regular Prepaid SIM card from Claro at the airport.
2. Find a Claro ‘atencion a clientes’ and ask them to sell you a microchip SIM card (which only come with regular plans) but to swap the prepaid number from the big chip onto the microchip. Voila!!!

Here’s how I actually did it in 11 easy steps (keep in mind these conversations were all in Spanish which is not my first language and imagine the difficulty for a non-Spanish speaker):
1. The Movistar at the airport told me that the iPhone 4 and later only take a microchip that they do not sell at the airport and that I could try the pharmacy.
2. The pharmacy told they neither sell the microchip but that I could buy a large one and find someone to cut it (avoiding the crucial metal parts of course!), or to try the other Movistar store in the airport, although he said Claro had a better network (Claro and Movistar are the main phone companies in Ecuador)
3. Movistar #2 told me that they were a small store that didn’t carry these microchips and I needed to go to the big store in San Marino.
4. I arrived at my hostel, wandered over to the Citimall and saw a larger Movistar store so thought I’d ask them – same story to go to San Marino.
5. I saw a Claro store in Citimall and they told me I needed to go to the other location around the corner in the rotunda.
6. The Rotunda Claro location told me I needed to go to a ‘Claro atencion a clientes’ which is in Citimall which I believe translates to customer attention. I explained I’d just come from there and she recommended I get the full name if the employee and file a complaint.
7. I returned to Citimall Claro to explain that they’d sent me back here, and they explained that they are not a ‘atencion a clientes’ location but this time they explained that there were 2 Claro locations in Citimall and I needed to find the other.
8. I locate Claro atencion a clientes and they inform me that they do no carry microchips for prepaid, only for plans, and I can’t get a monthly plan without an Ecuador citizen or resident number. I must buy a prepaid SIM card which is the normal size, and then bring it back to their store and they will swap the prepaid number onto a microchip. Except they don’t carry the normal size prepaid sim chips either so I must go back to the other Claro.
9. As I find out, the other Citimall Claro normally sells them but is temporarily out of stock.
10. I go back to Rotunda Claro and the employee there spends about 30 minutes activating it (first calling the central Claro to verify if she can register me the card with my passport number instead if Ecuador ID (luckily yes) and then how to handle the fact that I only have one last name instead of two. $7 later I have a SIM card which is activated but doesn’t fit my phone.
11. I return to Claro atencion a clientes and they are able to sell me a microchip and swap my prepaid number onto it.

I would say the moral of the story is s lesson in business customer service, except for the unfortunate fact that I represent a very rare and highly-difficult customer situation that could probably be lost without affecting Claro’s bottom line in the least, and at the end of the day I will probably remain loyal to them despite atrocious customer service because quite frankly I don’t want to go through the same thing again with Movistar!

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12 Responses to "How to get a SIM card for your iPhone in Ecuador in 11 easy steps"
  1. Anonymous says:

    May I ask – do you have an iPhone 4, 4S or 5? If by chance 5 was it AT&T or Sprint/Nextel? Also, in your opinion, would someone coming in to the country trying to duplicate your process be able to eliminate all steps after #1 if they had a SIM card cutter designed to cut down a regular SIM to micro-SIM?


  2. RoamingLisa says:

    I have an iPhone 4S from Verizon. The iPhone 4 and 4S apparently use a microchip, whereas the iPhone 5 uses a nanochip, even smaller!

    You could totally eliminate all steps after #1 if you brought your own sim card cutter. I just don’t trust myself to cut something so small without one (with scissors as I’ve heard some people do, especially for iPhone 5), and none of the locations had sim card cutters.

  3. Jim says:

    Thanks for the info. I’m still a little confused on what to do but this is a good start. Many thanks!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for the reply. The cutter idea came to me as I’ve seen them for sale on eBay. This may be the route to go.

  5. Terry Doyle says:

    True, I didn’t have a smart phone but my two step approach was as follows:
    1. Buy a quad band GSM phone from ebay for around $40.
    2. Walk out of my hotel on day one, look down the street and find the Moviestar store where, within 5 minutes, I had a new phone number and working phone. I expect the smarter the phone, the more difficult a time one would have.

    • RoamingLisa says:

      Haha, that sounds a lot easier. I think some people here in Cuenca are clearly better at these logistics than me. But then again, they don’t call it the Cult of Apple for no reason – there’s a certain number of us unfortunate souls who wouldn’t dream of using any non-iProduct for our every day electronic needs.

  6. Jose Robles says:

    I’m actually heading down to Guayaquil in a couple of days. I guess the SIM card situation is still the same in that I should probably bring down a SIM cutter just in case I can’t get a micro SIM for my Nexus 4? Ooh, one other thing I was wondering, do they offer decent pay as you go plans with data?

    • RoamingLisa says:

      No kidding, where from? Btw, all my friends from abroad have said unequivocally that they hate Guayaquil – i.e. if you have family/business there, cool, just fyi. Yup, bring a SIM card cutter, or you can take the swapping approach above, either way should work. Yes, Claro has prepaid plans (actually you can’t get a post-pay plan unless you have a cedula). I thought the data “plans” for prepaid kind of suck – you get a bunch of text messages that say to text a code to some number to get X MB of data for the day, for like $1. I usually just use WiFi and don’t buy data.

    • Jose Robles says:

      I’m coming down from Toronto, Canada. Going down mostly to tag along with my parents to visit family and stuff. I don’t anticipate doing much sight seeing but I will be down for a couple of weeks so who knows. So you think it’s not worth getting a PAYG SIM if data is my main use for it? Is wifi everywhere over there?

  7. DennyCrane says:

    I just went into am Internet cafe in Banos and the guy sold me a Movistar SIM and used his sim cutter to cut it down to micro size. He also loaded $40 credit on my behalf. I asked him about data and he said “yes” (big language barrier as I speak virtually no Spanish).

    But now I’m stuck as none of the data plan activation codes I’m finding online seem to work. And Movistar’s site doesn’t seem to have nay prepaid data plans listed. Really?

  8. Elijah says:

    I take my existing nano chip for i5 and just use it as a template to scissor down the big chips. Cutting the metal barely on the ends doesn’t damage the chip. Works in every country.

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