Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions quoted above were correct at press time. However, rates can fluctuate considerably, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Since 2000, the official unit of currency in Ecuador has been the U.S. dollar. You can use American or Ecuadorean coins, both of which come in denominations of 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢. Otherwise, all the currency is in the paper form of American dollars, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. It's very hard to make change, especially for any bill over $5, and especially in taxis. If you are retrieving money from an ATM, be sure to request a denomination ending in 1 or 5 (most ATMs will dispense money in multiples of $1) so that you won't have to worry about breaking a large bill. If you are stuck with big bills, try to use them in restaurants to make change.
Small Change -- Before coming to Ecuador, and whenever you make a purchase, get some smaller bills and coins. Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and public transportation. Many taxi drivers and small shop owners have trouble making change for a $20 bill. Consider keeping the change separate from your larger bills, so that it's readily accessible and you'll be less of a target for theft.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine). The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use their card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5/£3.35 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2/£1.35). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks' ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
You can use your credit card to receive cash advances at ATMs. Keep in mind that credit card companies protect themselves from theft by limiting maximum withdrawals outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. Also remember that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time.
ATMs are ubiquitous in Ecuador. You'll even find them in remote areas such as the Galápagos. Some of the major banks include Banco de Guayaquil, Banco Pichincha, and Banco del Pacífico. Most ATMs accept cards from both the Cirrus and PLUS networks, but some can't deal with PINs that are more than four digits. Before you go to Ecuador, make sure that your PIN fits the bill.
If your ATM card doesn't work and you need cash in a hurry, contact Western Union (tel. 1800/989-898 in Ecuador; www.westernunion.com), which has numerous offices around Quito and other major towns and cities. It offers a secure and rapid (although pricey) money-wire and telegram service.
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can also withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. If you don't know yours, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, though some banks will provide the number over the phone if you provide some personal information. Keep in mind that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or U.S. dollars). But credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in such things as exorbitant ATM fees and the higher exchange rates and service fees you'll pay with traveler's checks. All major credit cards are accepted in Ecuador, although MasterCard and Visa will give you the greatest coverage, while American Express and Diners Club are slightly less widely used and accepted.
Because credit card purchases are dependent upon phone verifications, some hotels and restaurants in more remote destinations, such as the Amazon basin and Galápagos Islands, do not accept them. Moreover, some add on a 5% to 10% surcharge for credit card payments. Always check in advance if you're heading to a more remote corner of Ecuador.
To report a lost or stolen American Express card, call tel. 02/2560-488 in Ecuador, or tel. 905/474-0870 collect in the U.S.; for Diners Club, call tel. 02/2981-300 in Ecuador, or 303/799-1504 collect in the U.S.; for MasterCard, call tel. 636/722-7111 collect in the U.S.; and for Visa, call tel. 410/581-9994 collect in the U.S. When you contact your bank or issuing company, it might be able to wire you a cash advance off your credit card immediately; in many places, it can deliver an emergency credit card in 1 or 2 days. Odds are that if your wallet is gone, the police won't be able to recover it for you, but your credit card company or insurer might require a police report number, so file a police report anyway (after you cancel your credit cards).
Dear Visa, I'm Off to the Galápagos! -- Some credit card companies recommend that you notify them of any impending trip abroad so that they don't become suspicious of foreign transactions and block your charges. If you don't call your credit card company in advance, you can still call the card's toll-free emergency number if a charge is refused -- provided you remember to carry the phone number with you. Perhaps the most important lesson here is to carry more than one card so you have a backup.
Traveler's checks are something of an anachronism from the days before the ATM made cash accessible at any time, just about anywhere. Given the fees you'll pay for ATM use at banks other than your own, however, you might be better off with traveler's checks if you're withdrawing money often.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. American Express offers denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and (for cardholders only) $1,000. You'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%. By phone, you can buy traveler's checks by calling tel. 800/807-6233. American Express cardholders should dial tel. 800/221-7282; this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee.
Visa offers traveler's checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge ranges between 1.5% and 2%; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Call tel. 800/732-1322 for information. AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378. MasterCard also offers traveler's checks. Call tel. 800/223-9920 for a location near you.
If you do choose to carry traveler's checks, keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks, in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.