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Travel money guide: Ecuador
Pack your US dollars for travel in the Land of the Equator.
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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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.
$5–$10 per night
$10–$50 per night
$50–$150 per night
$20–$40 per dish
|Walk around the old town
|Visit the balcony of the Basilica del Voto Nacional
|Guided tour of Otavalo Marketplace with lunch
Exchange rate history
Ecuador began to use the US dollar as its primary currency in 2000 when it replaced the Ecuadorian sucre.
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.
How to send money to Ecuador
A quick summary of travel money options for Ecuador
|Travel money option||Pros||Cons|
|Prepaid travel money cards||
|Debit cards for travel||
|Credit cards for travel||
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How travel cards, credit cards, debit cards and cash work in Ecuador
Using a travel prepaid 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What cards did you take with you?
Peter took only a Simmons Visa® with him to Ecuador.
Where could you use your card?
Peter says he didn’t expect to be able to use his credit card much in Ecuador – excluding flights and one meal at a nice restaurant, every transaction on his trip was made in cash.
Hotels he stayed at (especially in places such as Esmeraldas, Atacames and Montanita), meals and drinks, and travel between towns and cities all had to be paid for using cash. Peter says he didn’t spent much time in the urban centres of Quito and Guayaquil, but he expects more businesses are setup to accept card payments in these places.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Peter says he regularly made ATM withdrawals in Ecuador as everything was cash only. The most common ATMs he saw were operated by the Bank of Guayaquil. He says he withdrew $300 at a time from whichever ATM machine he could find. He paid an international ATM withdrawal fee of $5 and a local ATM withdrawal fee of $1.50 every time.
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.
Why we like: Travelex Money Card
Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.
- Not linked to your bank account for safety.
- Convert currency with a 5.50% foreign exchange fee
- Contactless payments
- Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.
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.
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
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.
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