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.
VICTORY IS MINE!!!
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!