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.
Frequently asked questions
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- How Much Are Meals, Drinks, Taxis and Other Daily Expenses in Ecuador?
Prices in Ecuador have risen ever since the government replaced the sucre with the U.S. dollar, and Ecuador is now one of Latin America's midrange countries to visit. Put simply, it isn't dirt cheap, but it also isn't super expensive.How much you spend in Ecuador depends on how you'd like to travel. Budget travelers can find set meals for under $5, while better restaurants typically serve food for anywhere from $15-40. Taxis in Quito and Guayaquil are usually around $10-15. Beers cost anywhere from $1-5, with imported brews being more expensive than local options. Souvenirs - including chocolate, coffee, alpaca socks, and Ecuatorian hats - can range from $10-30.
- What Kinds of Gifts and Souvenirs Can I Find in Ecuador?
Travelers can find excellent souvenirs in Ecuador. Clothing made from alpaca is especially popular and includes sweaters and socks — the indigenous market in Otavalo is a great place to find these items. Ecuador has a long history of making chocolate, and you're sure to find some delicious varieties here, especially in Quito, Mindo, and Guayaquil. Ecuador also produces wonderful coffee, which can be found in places like Loja. And interestingly enough, Ecuador is a great place to buy a Panama hat - be on the lookout for them in Cuenca.In most markets it's acceptable (and even encouraged) to bargain, so don't be afraid to ask for the vendor's best price.
- Should I Leave Tips in Ecuador?
It isn't required to leave a tip (known as a propina), but it is a nice thing to do and it typically won't cost you much money. Nicer restaurants often include a 10 percent service fee to your bill; if they don't, you might want to leave this amount anyway. It's also good practice to tip porters, taxi drivers, and guides 5–10 percent.
- Are Credit Cards Accepted in Ecuador?
Credit cards are accepted at many restaurants, hotels, and shops, especially if they are of the higher-end variety. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted types, although American Express and Diners Club are accepted by some establishments. Do note, however, that some businesses will add a 5 to 10 percent surcharge for using a credit card. Small stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and remote hotels often only accept cash.Before traveling abroad, we recommended contacting your bank to let them know where you will be traveling. This way your bank won’t freeze your credit card when it sees transactions made in a foreign country. It is also advisable to check with your credit card company to see if there are additional charges for international transactions, including ATM fees.
- Where Can I Exchange Money in Ecuador?
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so if you're coming from the States you won't need to exchange money. Travelers from other countries can exchange money at banks and exchange houses (casas de cambio). Major cities like Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca tend to have the best exchange rates. You can also exchange money in airports and at major hotels in Quito and Guayaquil; these tend to be open later than other options.
- Can I Bargain in Ecuador?
The prices are fixed in grocery stores and department stores, so you cannot bargain in these places. However, in open-air markets where produce and handicrafts are sold, you can bargain. Foreigners are often quoted 20 to 50 percent of the local price for these goods. To bargain, you can ask for a better price or simply walk away. Oftentimes, if you walk away the seller will approach you with a better price.
- How Much Cash Should I Carry in Ecuador?
The amount of cash you carry each day will depend on what you want to do. If you plan to eat at more upscale, traveler-oriented restaurants, get drinks, and maybe even buy souvenirs, each person should have around $100-150. However, if you're going to eat at more local establishments and have a fairly mellow day, $50-75 should be fine. If your hotel offers breakfast, this will reduce the amount of cash you need to carry.Many smaller businesses will not break or even accept large bills, so try to carry smaller denominations whenever possible.
- Are Traveler's Checks Accepted in Ecuador?
Traveler's checks can be changed into cash at some banks and exchange houses (casas de cambio) in Ecuador. Very few businesses will let you pay for goods and services with traveler's checks; the businesses that do accept them are usually of the upscale variety.If you decide to bring traveler's checks, remember to write down the serial numbers of all the checks. This will help you recoup money if the checks are lost or stolen.
- Are There Tourist Taxes in Ecuador?
There is a departure tax on flights leaving Ecuador. The amount depends on if you leave from Quito or Guayaquil, but typically ranges from $25–$40. This tax, however, is usually included in the cost of your flight. Additionally, restaurants, shops, and hotels add a 12 percent IVA (value-added tax) to your bill. The tax should be noted separately on the bill.