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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.

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.

Quito Budget Mid-range Expensive
sleep Hostel
$5–$10 per night
2-star hotel
$10–$50 per night
5-star hotel
$50–$150 per night
food Empanadas
$1–$2
Ceviche
$5–$10
5-star restaurant
$20–$40 per dish
camera Walk around the old town
free
Visit the balcony of the Basilica del Voto Nacional
$1
Guided tour of Otavalo Marketplace with lunch
$50

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
  • Make over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Some banks may charge ATM withdrawal fees
Debit cards for travel
  • Fraud protection
  • International ATM withdrawal fee waived on some cards
  • Unlimited free withdrawal at selected banks
  • Limited acceptance in Ecuador
  • International transaction fees still apply
Credit cards for travel
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Contactless payments
  • Interest-free periods and complimentary travel insurance
  • Withdrawing cash can be considered a “cash advance” and can attract fees and high interests
Traveler’s checks
  • Security
  • May be difficulty to exchange
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

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.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $750 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a signup bonus worth $750 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases. Starting January 1, 2021, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x points).
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021)
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases
$450
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 or more within your first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021). Rates & fees
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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.

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.
Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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.

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.

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 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. 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.
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 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 0.975 USD 956 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

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

Get travel insurance quotes for your vacation in Ecuador

Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
Allianz Travel OneTrip Emergency Medical Plan
$50,000
$2,000
$1,000
Budget-friendly policy designed for international and domestic travelers who want medical protection. Trip cancellation and trip interruption not included.
Allianz Travel AllTrips Basic Plan
$20,000
$1,000
$600
Annual policy that offers affordable protection, but doesn't include trip cancellation or trip interruption.
Travelex Travel Basic
100%
$15,000
$500
$500
Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
Travelex Flight Insure
$10,000
$1,000
$100
Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
RoamRight Essential Travel Insurance Plan
100%
$15,000
$750
$500
Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
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