Bringing Electronics to Ecuador
Whether you're just passing through as a visitor or starting a new life as an expat in Ecuador, you're eventually going to ask yourself:
Should I bring electronics to Ecuador?
Indeed, I'm asking myself this question again right now as I'm visiting family and pulling together my latest Amazon wish list.
The price of electronics in Ecuador has decreased over the past couple of years. At long last, the government is slowly decreasing taxes on items such as cell phones and computers in an effort to ensure Ecuadorians don't get left behind in an increasingly digital world.
So, whilst a few years ago the answer would have been an easy 'yes', the closing price gap makes it a little more difficult to answer today.
So, should I bring electronics or not?
Short answer is still: Yes, you should bring in electronics to Ecuador.
But, you will need to pay close attention to the limits that customs places on electronics for personal use so you don't get pinged with paying import taxes.
What are the rules on bringing electronics to Ecuador?
The below limits apply for passengers entering the country via airports. If you are applying for a residency visa, you might be better off shipping some of these under the household goods allowance. But, that is a topic for another day.
The National Customs Service (Aduana) does update limits from time-to-time, so it's always best to check the list before travelling at their official site.
Below is a summary that as correct as of the date of writing (March 2020). Note, the underlying premise is that these items need to be for personal use only. So, if you come in with say, a very specialized tool that is clearly only for professionals, you are at risk of paying import taxes.
You can bring 1 new AND 1 old of the following:
- Laptop and peripherals (mouse, headphones, stand etc)
- Cell phone
- Photo camera
- Games console & maximum 2 accessories
- Multimedia digital receiver / video / sound player. I believe this covers stereos, blu ray players etc.
- VCR or camcorder
- Satellite phone
- Electronic calculator
So, as an example, you can bring in a total of 2 laptops. One that is clearly old and another that is new.
Ideally, you'd have a receipt for the new laptop as proof and you'd make sure the old laptop doesn't look like you've just purchased it (ie remove stickers and take out from box etc).
And, 1 new OR old of the following:
- Desktop computer and peripherals (mouse, headphones, keyboard etc)
- Computer monitor up to 24"
- Printer (up to $300).
- TV up to 32"
- Drone (up to $500)
- Projector and screen
- Telephone (fixed) or fax
Notice that you can only have 1 of the above items, regardless of whether it's new or old. If they find 2 of any of these items you are liable for import taxes on the 2nd item.
The limits on some of these are clearly not great. For example, I really want to bring a 27" iMac desktop computer with me. But, the monitor is clearly over the 24" threshold so if I go ahead and purchase it I am at risk.
Can I possibly wing it and plead ignorance if caught? Yes, but I'd be at the complete mercy of the customs officer.
Given the personal allowance only applies to TVs up to 32", I don't think I'd bother trying to import a TV. The price of TV's has come down a lot, and you can find a cheap 32" TV for $200 or around $300 for a better quality brand (Sony etc).
I saw a 40" for $300 the other day too. So, unless you really want a high end TV, I'd save myself the headache and buy once I arrived in Ecuador.
Importing cell phones
You can bring in one new and one old cell phone. This may seem generous, until you realise you'll most likely have your current (used) phone on you, so you'll be limited to bringing in one spare.
Should I buy a cell phone in Ecuador or bring with me?
Bring it with you. Especially if it's a high end model like an iPhone. The prices in Ecuador are coming down, but you will still get it cheaper in the US and have more options to choose from. Just make sure to get it unlocked first.
Should I just have a cell phone muled to me in Ecuador?
There is a thriving muling community that brings in various goods, with a focus on cell phones. In my experience, the mules whack on a premium for cell phones of around $100 to bring in.
This tells me that there is still a significant price difference in cell phones between USA and Ecuador as clearly the market is willing to pay $100 extra and put up with the inconvenience of arranging for a mule (with the associated risks) rather than buy locally.
I've purchased several low-end Android based phones such as Xiaomi 7 in Ecuador and the purchase price was around $150. Clearly, it's not worth paying a $100 premium on a phone like this unless I can find it in the US for less than $50.
A mid-range example is included in the image below:
As you can see, the US purchased cell phone is $91cheaper than the same model purchased in Ecuador. But, clearly this doesn't allow a $100 margin for the mule to bring it in.
The economics do change with some high end phones such as new iPhones, but then you're entrusting the mule with a significant investment and you aren't exactly covered by any consumer protection laws...
So overall, I would suggest buying a phone in your home country before leaving and not trying to rely on mules once you arrive.
It is unfortunate that the limit of $500 applies to drones as there are clearly many drones for personal use that cost significantly more than this $500 limit. This is another case where legislation has not kept up with technology.
I do wonder how many travellers with their drones have been caught by this rule and forced to pay taxes. If this is you please let me know your story in the comments.
Can I load my kids up with electronics too?
Nope. Sorry. The personal effects rule applies to a 'family group'. Meaning minors are counted with one of their parents. However, only one parent is required to form the 'family group', so if there's two parents, the second is counted as an individual passenger with their own allowance.
What happens if I go over my personal limit?
Any electronics that do not fall within your personal limit will be classified taxable goods and will be liable to taxes.
How much will I be taxed?
This is a little complicated as it will depend on the tariff category the item(s) fall under. But, most consumer imports have a 25% tax, which is subject to an additional 12% VAT and 1% other minor taxes.
So, as a rule of thumb I'd be looking at paying an additional 38% in tax. Pretty steep huh? Yep, welcome to Ecuador's tax system on foreign goods!
Do I get a bigger allowance if I become a resident?
Sorry, no. It's a one size fits all policy that covers residents, citizens & travellers etc.
How likely am I to get searched?
I couldn't find any statistics on this. From my experience and some friends I've asked, we've had a 10-30% chance of our luggage being searched upon arrival at Quito or Guayaquil airports.
But, knowing my luck, my odds would increase to 100% if I decided to chance it and bring in 3 cell phones!
Do you regularly travel in/out of Ecuador? Would love to hear how often you get searched upon arrival in Ecuador (please comment below).
Once you've sorted out what electronics you're bringing in, the next step is to understand the best ways to transfer money into Ecuador.