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Bringing Electronics to Ecuador

Last Updated: 8th March 2021
Written by Jason Scott
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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.

Related video: Your Must Bring Shopping List for Ecuador

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
  • Tablet
  • Multimedia digital receiver / video / sound player. I believe this covers stereos, blu ray players etc. 
  • VCR or camcorder
  • Satellite phone
  • GPS
  • 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
  • Binoculars
  • Telescope

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.

Importing TVs

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). 

Ecuador 32 inch tv price

Prices for 32" TVs in Ecuador are competitive, even for some better known brands. 

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:

Bringing a cell phone to ecuador

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. 

Importing drones

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



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15 comments on “Bringing Electronics to Ecuador”

  1. I recently travel to Ecuador . I was search in Guayaquil airport. I had 3 cells phones with me one new one and the other 2 used. I was going to give them to my cousin and uncle that didn’t have one. I also had a drone for personal used. I bought it for 1500 dollars. I wasn’t aware of the 500 dollars drone rule but I end up paying them around 450 dollars for everything which in my opinion. It’s a bit excessive. I don’t understand why you can bring more then one used phone for your family or bring a drone over 500 dollars for personal used. They definitely need to change this stupid rule they have otherwise they are going to lose lots of thrust with turists .

    1. Sorry to hear about your troubles Diego. Yes, customs can certainly be relentless when it comes to collecting taxes. The new President has signaled his intent to remove some of these taxes. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later!

  2. As far as laptops are concerned, can my wife and I each bring our own? Thank you sir for this important information.
    Have had a difficult time finding facts about this subject.

    1. Indeed you can Jeffrey 🙂 Each adult has their own allowance. You can even bring two laptops each if you want (one old + one new).

      1. Can you bring 2 used cell phones and 2 used laptops? the rules were a little confusing to me. or do you have to prove one is new? thanks in advance

        1. Hey Eric, you can bring one new phone & old phone (same for laptops). They are mainly concerned about you bringing in new phones to sell in Ecuador without paying taxes. So, whilst bringing two old phones may raise some eyebrows, it won't raise as many as bringing two new phones. It's still a gamble, but with better odds.

  3. I have read expats have begun having difficulty with cell phone connectivity (after using phone for a month in Ecuador), when the unlocked cell phone was from the States. Some expats frustrated and ended up buying a phone in Ecuador so they could have a functioning phone. Have you heard of any recent concerns with bringing & using a USA phone to Ecuador? Thx

    1. Hi Manuela. Yes, some expats do have problems when bringing in their phones from the US. So long as your phone is unlocked on the GSM network, you shouldn't have any problems. But, worst-case scenario is that you can find decent, cheap smartphones here between $100-$150 if you do run into trouble.

  4. I have been going to ecuador every year for the past 8 years. I have only brought 1 used laptop once and left it here(my husband works from the computer so we thought leaving here would be better) we actually ended up giving it to my niece last year when covid hit and my brother had no money for a computer with computer compatibility. Anyway in the past 8 years I have never been searched. Maybe because I only bring 1 backpack or 1 checked in bag (with my backpack in it to travel) I never bring any gifts or electronics besides my cellphone. Now I will be moving here and I'm a bit scared of some items I own. I want to get ready of my material things eventually but my makeup collection is extensive. Like at least 200 eyeshadow palettes...how do I explain that if I get searched? Yes sir I'm a makeup addict. All of this is actually mine...

    1. Thanks for sharing Andrea. Customs really only cares if it's clear you're bringing in products to sell. So, if your 200 eyeshadows are already used or you have various retail receipts for them (as opposed to buying from one wholesaler), then you should have a comfortable argument they are for personal use only. Basically, the stronger you can make your case that they are personal use only, the less likely they'll want to fight you on it. But, if you're super concerned, it can be useful to have a lawyer on standby that you can contact just in case things turn sour. I know several mules use this approach as the legal fees can be considerably less than the fine they make you pay.

    1. I'm not sure Tim. But, if it's clearly for household use and it's not an expensive item, then I dare say they won't hassle you too much.

  5. Where do you recommend buying a TV in Quito or in Ecuador in general. Last time I was looking at 32" TVs in Quicentro Sur shopping mall in Quitumbe they were asking over $300 for a TV I can get in US for $115. If I could get it for $200 in Ecuador I wouldn't bother but >$300 is little too overpriced. Wonder if there are better places than shopping malls.

    1. TV's have really come down in price. Lots of specials right now because of the football world cup. You should be able to find a 32" for $200. Here's one that popped up on my FB feed for $165.

      One store with locations nationwide that I normally check for electronics is Novicompu.

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