Money in Ecuador
In September 2000, the United States dollar became the official currency of Ecuador. Prior to this change, the Ecuadorian currency was the sucre. Travelers from the U.S. will be happy to not have to exchange their currency here, although the switch has made Ecuador more expensive than it once was.
Ecuador’s coins are of the same denomination as U.S. coins but have different symbols — there are nickels ($0.05), dimes ($0.10), quarters ($0.25), and half dollars ($0.50). 100 cents equals one dollar. American and Ecuadorian coins are used interchangeably. Though there have been many constitutional changes, Ecuador enjoys a stable government and a growing economy, which means you should not encounter any significant issues during your trip.
Ecuador isn’t as cheap as it once was, but it still isn’t as expensive as other places in Latin America. Midrange hotels cost around $60 and dinner in an upscale restaurant will cost $15–20. Dining at local eateries will cost about $5 or less. Most tours cost anywhere from $50–80 a day, although top tours in the Galápagos can cost several hundred dollars.
Banks and ATMs
ATMs are common in Ecuador. Major Ecuadorian banks include Banco de Pacífico, Banco de Guayaquil, and Banco Pichincha. Most ATMs have a daily withdrawal limit of $500 or less.
Do note that in the Galápagos, banks may run out of money for brief periods of time. When visiting these islands, visitors are advised to bring extra cash, especially when planning to pay for more expensive tours. Credit cards may not be accepted in the Galápagos, and there's a $100 entry fee (per person) that must be paid in cash upon arrival.
Before traveling to Ecuador, tell your bank that you will be traveling abroad to avoid having them cancel your card due to apparent international fraud. You may also want to ask them about fines for using ATMs abroad — often you will be charged $5 per transaction. You can also use your credit card to get cash advances from ATMs.
In Ecuador’s cities you can use credit cards at nicer shops, hotels, and restaurants. All major credit cards are accepted here; Visa and MasterCard are the most widely used. In more rural areas, cash is often the only form of payment that businesses will accept. It can be tough to find places to break larger bills, so hold onto small change when you have it.
Traveler's checks are a safe way to carry money in Ecuador, although they are becoming increasingly less relevant in the world of ATMs. You can buy and cash these checks at most banks. Visa and American Express also offer traveler’s checks. Most checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Remember to write down the serial number on your checks in case they are lost or stolen.
American citizens will have no need to exchange currency, but if you’re coming from a country other than the U.S., you can exchange your currency at banks in Ecuador. It’s a good idea to have a small amount of U.S. dollars on hand in case there are any problems exchanging your own currency.
If possible, try to change money in major cities like Quito and Guayaquil, which have the best exchange rates. If the banks are closed, you can also change currency at casas de cambio, which are legal and credible but may have slightly worse exchange rates than banks. You can also exchange money at airports and larger hotels.
Taxes and Tipping
Upscale restaurants often add a 10 percent tip and 12 percent tax to the bill. More basic restaurants won’t include either a service charge or tax. If you feel the need to tip your server directly, hand him or her the money; don’t leave it on the table, as someone else could take it.
It’s good form to tips guides. If you’re on a group tour, a good tip is around $5. If you’re on a private tour, plan to double that. A dollar is usually a sufficient tip for other service providers, such as porters and bellboys. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip.