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Travel money guide: Ecuador

Pack your US dollars for travel in the Land of the Equator.

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The early 2000s brought a big change in Ecuador’s official currency, switching over from the sucre to the US dollar — the most accessible currency in the world. Known for the Galapagos Islands, the highest capital city in the world and some of the best surf in South America, Ecuador is a popular destination for backpackers, nature lovers and thrill seekers.

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Should you take a travel card, debit card or credit card?

As a general rule, always plan to have cash as your first method of payment. Although Visa and Mastercard debit cards and credit cards are accepted in larger cities, such as Guayaquil, Quito, Esmeraldas and Manta, a lot of other places don’t have card payment options – so have some green in your pocket.

A combination of cards and cash is the best way to approach any overseas trip. You’ll need cash for most transactions in Ecuador, especially if you’re traveling down the coast. Whichever combination of products you take with you to Ecuador, be sure to spread your budget across a few different cards and always have some cash for emergencies.

But if Ecuador is just one stop on a South American vacation, think about how you’re going to spend money in other currencies during the rest of your trip.

These are your options for spending money in Ecuador

Using a credit card

If you plan on using a credit card when you’re in Ecuador, look for a card that doesn’t charge for foreign transactions and offers travel insurance like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. You can use a your credit card to pay for flights and online bookings before or during your trip. Major retailers and restaurants in Ecuador also take cards.

  • Tip: Credit cards should not be used for ATM withdrawals — In Ecuador or anywhere else. Cash advance fees and charges can eat up your available credit limit quickly.
Pros
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Contactless payments
  • Interest-free periods and complimentary travel insurance
Cons
  • Withdrawing cash can be considered a “cash advance” and can attract fees and high interests

Using a debit card

Debit cards are accepted by few of the smaller merchants in Ecuador but can generally always be used for cash withdrawals from ATMs. Like credit cards and travel cards, debit card transactions are protected against fraud and unauthorised transactions.

The price of ATM withdrawals should be a significant factor in your comparison if you’re looking to apply for a travel transaction account.

Pros
  • Fraud protection
  • International ATM withdrawal fee waived on some cards
  • Unlimited free withdrawal at selected banks
Cons
  • Limited acceptance in Ecuador
  • International transaction fees still apply

Using a prepaid travel card

Travel cards come with an additional, emergency card in case the first one is lost or stolen. A travel card can be used to make over-the-counter purchases and ATM withdrawals in Ecuador. Note that the Ecuadorian bank or ATM operator may still charge a fee when you withdraw cash even if you have a card that doesn’t charge a fee for international ATM withdrawals.

Also keep in mind that the currencies of other popular destinations in South America such as Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Argentina can not be loaded on any travel card. If Ecuador is just one stop on a bigger trip, you may want to consider one of the other types of travel money products as well.

Pros
  • Make over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals
  • Emergency card replacement
Cons
  • Some banks may charge ATM withdrawal fees

Paying with cash in Ecuador

Cash is king in Ecuador, which means you’ll need to have US currency on hand to pay for things at most places. If you want to limit the amount of cash you have on hand for security purposes, make sure you have one or more cards that you can use to withdraw cash from ATMs while on your trip.

Pros
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
Cons
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

Using traveler’s checks

Security is the main advantage of using traveler’s checks. Each check has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. Fees are the main disadvantage. Banks charge you to get check and to cash them. You’re better off using a debit or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals.

Pros
  • Security
Cons
  • May be difficulty to exchange

Compare travel credit cards

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Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

2x miles on every purchase, every day, 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5x miles when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Earn unlimited 1.25x miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
2x miles on every purchase, every day, 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 10x miles when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023, 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
$395
Capital One's premium luxury travel card, featuring airport lounge access at Capital One Lounge and 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges.
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Exchange rate history

Ecuador began to us the US dollar as its primary currency in 2000 when it replaced the Ecuadorian sucre.

Exchanging cash

If you’re travelling from Peru, Colombia or Brazil and you have sols, pesos or reals, you can exchange the money to US dollars at some restaurants and hotels. You may not pay a commission on the transaction, but the rate will be much worse than what you can get a bank.

Buying currency in the US

No need. Ecuador uses the US dollar, so you don’t have to do much before you leave the country – just bundle up your greenbacks. There are no restrictions to the amount of cash you can bring with you to Ecuador.

There are many ATMs in Ecuadorian cities and key tourist destinations if you run out of money. ATM withdrawals may be subject to the Visa and Mastercard international exchange rate, which is often better than what you can get exchanging money in other ways.

Find ATMs in Ecuador

Cash pickup services in Ecuador

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 0.995 USD 991 WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups. Go to site Show details
$10 Within an hour USD 1.99 0.98 USD 978 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Within an hour USD 8.00 0.978 USD 970 MoneyGram has fast cash pick-up transfers to more than 350,000 agent locations worldwide. Go to site Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 0.975 USD 956 Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world. Go to site Show details

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Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

How much cash do I need for a trip to Ecuador?

Less expensive than neighboring Brazil or Colombia, Ecuador is a budget South American vacation destination. This means you can travel through Ecuador on a small budget. However, Ecuador can deliver a five-star experience as well — especially in Quito. All prices are in US dollars.

QuitoBudgetMid-rangeExpensive
AccomodationHostel
$5–$10 per night
2-star hotel
$10–$50 per night
5-star hotel
$50–$150 per night
MealsEmpanadas
$1–$2
Ceviche
$5–$10
5-star restaurant
$20–$40 per dish
ActivitiesWalk around the old town
free
Visit the balcony of the Basilica del Voto Nacional
$1
Guided tour of Otavalo Marketplace with lunch
$50

Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Case study: Peter's experience

Peter profile photo
Peter

Case study: Peter surfing the Ecuadorian coast

Peter recently backpacked across South America. He visited Colombia and traveled to the south of the continent. He started his trip in Esmeraldas, continued south to Guayaquil, Montanita and finally Quito before traveling to Peru. Peter spent one month in Ecuador in total.

Do you have any travel money tips?

  • Plan ahead. He recommends making sure you transfer money to your savings account in advance so you can withdraw money when you need to. The Internet in Ecuador is shoddy and Peter says it’s hard to find a reliable connection (particularly on the coast).
  • Everything is negotiable. Peter says not to be afraid to ask for a better price if you feel you’re being overcharged. Locals have been known to take advantage of travelers with a lack of knowledge from time to time.
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