FAQ on connecting: phones and service in Loja Ecuador

telephone handset and cell phone

One the most common questions for both visitors/tourists and expats/immigrants is about telephony in Loja. Everyone wants to stay connected with friends and family, or to know how to call for emergency services, when away from their country of origin. There are lots of things to consider in order to find the best answer for each individual's needs.

Q1.  Can I bring and use the same cell phone I have now in my home country?
A1.  Yes and no - it depends. First, is your phone unlocked? If you have a phone purchased from a provider with a plan (such as Verizon or T-mobile) then you will need to have it unlocked so it can be used in Ecuador. Second, is it capable of accessing GSM 850 or 3G 850 cell service which is the standard here? Third, is it designed to accept a SIM card or chip? Most newer phones have that feature whereas older ones do not. Each phone service provider has their own chip which is used to access their network. If buying a phone, some people seek out models that can allow two chips to be inserted - one for while in Ecuador and a second for when returning home.

Q2.  Will I pay a tax to bring a phone into the country?
A2.  You are permitted to bring one used phone for each person in your traveling party, and one new phone per family unit. More than that and, yes, there will be an importation tax.

Q3.  Anything else I need to know about cellphones in Ecuador?
A3.  Here's a word you may not have heard before - homologado. That is Spanish for approved. To get service here your phone must be homologado. Ecuador checks the IMEI (serial number) of a phone to ensure it is not stolen (phones are the 'numero uno' target for thieves) and also checks that the brand and model is compatible with the country's network frequencies.
To verify your phone go to the Arcotel (Telecommunications Regulation and Control Agency) website and you will see two icons. One says "Consulta marca y modelo" and the other says "Consulta código IMEI." Click on each to enter your phone's information and verify that you can use your phone in this country.

Q4.  Is it better to just buy a phone in Ecuador rather than to bring one?
A4.  You need to know that phones here can cost 2 or 3 times the price of the same make and model in the US. However, that should not be your only consideration. If your phone requires repair under warranty then a phone purchased outside of Ecuador may not be covered and you will need to bear those costs yourself.

Q5.  What are the best phone companies to use?
young man texting
Texting is big in EC
A5.  Like so many answers, it depends. Will you be traveling all over the country or more staying in one place? Will you be primarily in the city or way out in the countryside? Movistar and Claro are the two largest providers countrywide and with them you might not experience roaming charges. Locally in Loja, other options include CNT and Tuenti.
Another part of the answer is related to how you will use your phone. Do you need internet access, text messaging, or other services or do you just want to make and receive calls? You should know that WhatsApp (a phone app that offers texting and voice calls using WiFi) is HUGE here. In fact, people are more likely to communicate by texting with WhatsApp than to make a phone call so that is a feature you should have in selecting a plan.

Q6.  Is it better to have a monthly phone usage plan or just buy minutes (refills = recargas) as I need them?
A7.  Many tiendas (stores) sell recargas and a lot of people prefer this method over a monthly plan. Plans tend to limit the amount of gigas (megabytes for internet access) or minutes, and often don't have a carry-over feature for unused minutes. The prepaid (pay-as-you-go) with recargas avoids those problems. Another thing - monthly plans are now taxed whereas prepaid minutes are not.

Q7.  How will I be able to call back to my home country?
A7.  Facebook Messenger is one option, using the "phone" feature to make voice or video calls to other people also on Facebook. Skype is another application with similar features. For many expats the answer is something called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) coupled with a device called magicJack. And there is also Google Voice, but you must set that up before leaving the US and use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service while in Ecuador. The point is that there are many free or inexpensive ways to call "home" that do not rely on your Ecuadorian cell phone service.

Q8.  What if I want just a plain old plug-into-the-wall telephone?
A7.  A landline is a good idea for emergency services since the 911 operator can determine your location when making the call. It can also cost less when calling other landline numbers in Ecuador. The state owned CNT (La Corporacíon Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) is the most common carrier for this approach, and a monthly phone bill will run about $7 depending on usage. You can also get internet service from CNT. TVcable is another internet provider that also offers plans which include a phone.

Q9.  How do I get help in an emergency?
A9.  Throughout Ecuador just dial the number 911.

As you can see, there are many things to consider and many options available when it comes to staying connected in Loja. If you would like help in sorting them out, or need a Spanish interpreter to accompany you and assist with purchasing a phone or phone service, then please contact Life in Loja. 

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