Money and Banking in Ecuador

Money and banking in Ecuador is similar to the United States with a few key differences. In this article, we’re going to share some tips about the best ways to transfer money to Ecuador, access your money from Ecuador and spend it once you’re here.

This is Part 10 in our series about living abroad in Ecuador. If you missed the other articles, you might want to Start Here…

Currency in Ecuador

Ecuador has been on the United States Dollar since 2000. Back in 1999, the value of the Ecuadorian Sucre crashed so the government decided to go on the dollar to stabilize the economy.

Paper bills in Ecuador (1’s, 5’s, 10’s, 20’s, 50’s and 100’s), as well as $1 coins, are the exact same money as the US so there’s no need to convert them or learn a new currency. All paper currency used in Ecuador is printed in the US and all $1 coins are minted in the US.

All coins minted in the US can be used in Ecuador, but coins minted in Ecuador (pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and 50-cent coins shown below) cannot be used in the US so you should convert them to larger denominations at a bank before you go back home. Coins minted in Ecuador are called centavos are are technically fractions of the old Sucre so they have virtually no value outside Ecuador.

Ecuador Coins

The main difference is that your dollars go a lot further on most things due to the much lower cost of living.

Dollar coins are much more prevalent in Ecuador than dollar bills, and leave your $50 and $100 bills at home because no one will have change to break them except a bank. Cab drivers rarely have enough change to break anything larger than a $5 bill so it’s a good idea to carry lots of coins and $5’s with you.

If you would like to make your cab drivers or vendors smile, bring some $2 bills. They’re considered good luck in Ecuador and service providers love getting them!

Ecuador is a Cash Society

While the US and most developed countries are moving away from cash, Ecuador is still largely a cash society. Most small businesses and service providers like cab drivers do not accept credit cards. That means you always need to have cash handy if you take taxis or shop at small neighborhood vendors.

Larger stores like Coral, Supermaxi and Tia accept credit cards, as do chain restaurants like Noe Sushi and Fabiano’s, but they will require a photo ID such as a passport or cédula. Rather than carry those with you all the time, we recommend taking a photo with your phone so you can show it to the cashiers. They just need to see your picture and enter the ID number to complete the transaction.

Best ATM Option for Expats from the United States

Since Ecuador is a cash society, you’ll frequently find yourself standing in front of an ATM machine. Most US banks charge hefty fees to withdraw money from foreign bank ATMs, and most ATMs in Ecuador also charge fees that range from $1.50 to $5 per withdrawal.

That’s why we recommend opening a Charles Schwab checking account before you visit or move to Ecuador. Charles Schwab doesn’t charge any ATM fees worldwide to withdraw money. Plus, they reimburse all ATM fees at the end of the month that are charged by the dispensing bank. They have saved us literally thousands of dollars in ATM fees since we moved to Ecuador.

We recommend opening your Charles Schwab account while you’re still in the US. We attempted to open our account after we moved to Ecuador, but they required us to visit a local branch back in the US to show a photo ID for verification. That meant we couldn’t use the account or get the ATM card until our next trip back home.

When you start the online account creation process, you’ll need to first open a brokerage account, and then you can open a checking account that comes with an ATM card. You don’t need to use the brokerage account or keep money in it, but Schwab requires you to have one.

Once you have the account setup, you can electronically transfer money to it for free from your other US bank accounts. You’ll have to setup the remote bank info and it can take a few days for the verification process to complete so plan accordingly.

If you click this link and open an account, we’ll get credit for the referral, which helps us continue providing valuable expat advice like this article.

Best Credit Cards for Expats from the United States

Most credit cards charge foreign transaction fees so you’ll want to carry a couple of cards that don’t, such as Capital One and Discover.

Even though Ecuador is a cash society, you can still use your credit card for larger purchases like tours, hotels, appliances, electronics, and higher end restaurants. Foreign transaction fees on these types of larger purchases can really add up!

CoOps and Banks in Ecuador

Ecuador has a lot of banks! We have a checking account and ATM card with Cooperative JEP, and that’s the bank most people use for the Investor Visa CD, but there are several more to choose from:

Most of these banks have 24/7 ATM machines, but not all of them accept ATM cards from US banks. Cooperative JEP, Banco del Austro and Produbanco don’t accept our Charles Schwab ATM card while Banco Guayaquil has been the most reliable bank for ATM withdrawals.

Big cities and most larger towns have a plethora of ATM machines, but small towns like Olón, Curía, San José, La Entrada and other small comunas along Ecuador’s coast do NOT have ATM machines so you’ll want to plan ahead if you’re going to stay in a rural part of Ecuador.

How to Transfer Money from the US to Ecuador

If you’re planning a long visit or permanent move to Ecuador, here are a few options for transferring your money here.

Are Checks Accepted?

In general, you won’t have many occasions to use personal checks from your US checking account. Very few people or businesses accept them, and you’ll need an Ecuadorian bank account to cash or deposit them. You can expect personal checks to take up to a month to clear and the recipient has little recourse if they don’t, which is why they are not a common form of payment in Ecuador.

When you open an account at an Ecuadorian bank, it will be a savings account with an ATM card by default. Once your savings account is setup and funded, you can start the longer process of applying for a checking account, which requires additional documentation and qualifications that vary by bank.

Very few people have checking accounts in Ecuador, and most bills are paid with cash, credit card or online bank deposits.

ATM Machines

When you first move to Ecuador before you have a chance to open an Ecuadorian bank account, ATM machines are the easiest way to transfer money from the United States to Ecuador.

Most ATMs have maximum daily withdrawal limits between $300 and $500 (including ATM fees), so you you may need to visit the ATM multiple times on multiple days to pay for things like rent or other high cost items.

Once you have an Ecuadorian bank account, the cheapest way to put money in it is by withdrawing cash from an ATM using your Charles Schwab account, and then depositing it into your Ecuadorian bank account. However, you’ll only be able to withdraw and deposit several hundred dollars at a time so if you need to deposit a larger amount, you may want to use an online service or a wire transfer.

Xoom, MoneyGram, PayPal, Western Union, Etc.

Xoom.com is an online funds transfer service that’s owned by PayPal. They claim to work with nearly every bank in the world, and we can confirm that it works with Banco Guayaquil, Banco del Austro, Banco Pichincha, Cooperative JEP and Banco Bolivariano. The fee starts at $5 to transfer $100 and increases based on the amount you want to transfer.

MoneyGram.com is a competitor to Xoom and offers better rates. This service was recommended by an Ecuadorian who lives in the US and uses it to transfer money back to Ecuador. It works with most banks, but it doesn’t work with JEP, at least JEP isn’t in the list. If you transfer from a bank in the US to a bank in Ecuador, there is no cost but it takes 3 to 4 business days. You can pay a small fee for a same day transfer.

You can also use PayPal.com to transfer money to many individuals in Ecuador, and some businesses. The recipient just needs a PayPal account of their own. Once you have their email address, you can transfer money to them. It’s free from an individual to another individual, but fees are charged for businesses, which may be passed on to you.

Western Union is also a very popular way to send money to Ecuador. They have offices all over Ecuador, including two in the small town of Montañita.

There are a number of other online transfer services with a range of fees, but these are the most reputable. Be sure to search for reviews before signing up on a money transfer website.

Wire Transfers

Due to the restrictive transfer limits and high fees charged by online transfer services, you may opt to do a wire transfer through your bank if you need to move a large sum of money.

For example, if you’re planning to apply for the Investor Visa, you’ll need to transfer $40,000 + $500 for each dependent. This amount far exceeds the transfer limits set by online money transfer services like Xoom.com.

You can expect to pay about $25 to $50 to do a wire transfer, so it makes the most sense to go that route when you’re transferring a large sum of money.

Conclusion

Money and banking in Ecuador are very similar to the United States with a few minor differences.

We lived in Ecuador more than two years before opening an Ecuadorian bank account, and still rarely use it. We currently only use it to pay our Claro mobile phone bill, and our Netlife Internet access bill.

We pay our rent using Xoom.com to transfer money directly into our landlord’s bank account at Banco Bolivariano. We use our Capital One credit card to pay for our private health insurance with Confiamed, as well as for groceries at the larger stores like Tia and Supermaxi. But most of the money that we spend in Ecuador at mercados, small stores, restaurants and for transportation is cash that we withdraw from ATM machines.

Transferring money to a foreign country can cause some anxiety, so please let us know if you have any additional questions about banking in Ecuador in the comments below.


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35 replies
  1. Phillip Soltan
    Phillip Soltan says:

    Hi Guys,
    I love your videos! I was wondering how you would pay for big purchases like cars or houses if the seller didn’t accept credit cards?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      Large purchases are usually done with a wire transfer. Lots of businesses will take debit cards, but they don’t accept credit cards, even for smaller purchases, due to the fees.

      Reply
  2. Boyd Jones
    Boyd Jones says:

    Excellent content as always! Some questions and comments:

    1. Do merchants who accept credit cards charge the buyer fees to cover the credit card transaction fees? I have seen this done in Asia (i.e., if you try to use your credit card, the vendor will charge you 3% extra).

    2. Interesting to know that $2 bills are appreciated! I asked a few Facebook groups and received comments that they were generally not accepted or understood down there.

    3. It would be interesting at some point to learn about the locally minted coins used in Ecuador.

    4. Really important, I think, is deposit insurance. It seems that the government of Ecuador insures deposits up to $32,000 for each TYPE of account — private bank, co-op and then public bank. I take this to mean one could have a total of $96,000 in deposits insured by the government if one broke that up into three separate bank accounts. Any input would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      1) Sometimes, merchants will markup the price to cover the credit card processing fees, but that violates the terms of the agreement with the cc companies so the big stores don’t do that.
      2) We’ve never used $2 bills here, but several people told us they’re considered good luck and people like getting them.
      3) I don’t think coins are minted in Ecuador. I can’t find any information on that after a cursory search. I think all of the money is brought from the US mints.
      4) This question is above our pay grade. We know for certain that the $32K applies to total deposits at a bank, not separate accounts at the same bank. But we don’t know if the insurance applies to the individual across all banks or just to an individual’s bank accounts at the same bank.

      Reply
  3. Christian
    Christian says:

    If you open an account in Banco Pichincha US while you are in Ecuador, online transfers don’t have any cost from US to Ecuador. I mean from Banco Pichincha US to Banco Pichincha Ecuador. Banco Pichincha US is based in Miami. Maybe that option can help you.

    Reply
        • Live Abroad Now
          Live Abroad Now says:

          Our contact at JEP told us that it’s only one wire fee from the originating bank to our JEP account in Ecuador. IOW, we pay one wire transfer fee to go from our U.S. bank account through Pichincha Miami, to JEP. We haven’t done it yet so we can’t say for sure.

          Reply
  4. op
    op says:

    can any tourist open a bank account there while on holiday, or is some residency requirement enforced?

    does the savings account pay interest?

    Reply
  5. Michael Dance
    Michael Dance says:

    Great Article. Couple questions:

    1. We have read of expats using personal checks to transfer funds from a US account to Ecuadorian account, by depositing their own US check in their Ecuadorian savings/checking. We understand it can take a little longer to clear. Any experience, either first or second hand, with this method?

    2. Are there fees within Ecuador between different baks/coops? Can you, for instance, use a JEP ATM card for a withdrawal from a Banco Guayaquil (or other) ATM? If so, are there fees?

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      1) We’ve heard that, too. It can take up to a month to clear.

      2) You can use most ATM cards at banks in Ecuador, but not Coops like JEP. Our Schwab card works at bancos but none of the Coops. We’re not sure about where our JEP card can be used because we rarely use it and have only used the ATM at JEP locations. The fees vary by bank from $0 at Banco del Austro to $5 at Pichincha. Banco Guayaquil charges $1.50.

      Reply
    • Henry G
      Henry G says:

      I have been told by an Ecuadorian who has lived in the US and still does business in the US that you can deposit your check written on your US account into your local account in Ecuador but that it takes 2 to 3 weeks or so to clear. Not sure if there are any fees involved as well. I will be finding out in the near future. I had been wire transferring funds from the US to a relative’s account in Ecuador while building a house to move to in Ecuador. The wire fees were a bit expensive – regardless of the amount transferred – anywhere from under $10K to over $100K we were hit with about $50 fee by the US bank and another $50 or so by the bank in Ecuador.

      Reply
      • Live Abroad Now
        Live Abroad Now says:

        We’ve been told you can deposit physical US checks, but it can take a month or more to clear. We’re not sure if electronic check deposits are possible, though. Please let us know what you find out.

        Reply
  6. Cynthia Guerrero
    Cynthia Guerrero says:

    Your videos are very enjoyable. Just for your knowledge, also, you can use your USA debit card (Wells Fargo) at the ATM’s Banco Internacional in Ecuador with no fee charges to your account in USA, and don’t need to even have an account with Banco Internacional for that transaction. Also Banco del Austro does not charge fees.
    Keep on the good job.
    Best regards,
    Cynthia
    PS. I’m retired, living in Ecuador, Otavalo, for 3 1/2 years and loving it together with my husband who is fromQuito.

    Reply
    • Manu Vital
      Manu Vital says:

      CYNTHIA, Do you use your Wells Fargo account for monthly Soc Se urity check deposit? I have to decide which US bank will be best for deposits before I retire & move to Ecuador next month. I also have an acct with BofA.

      Reply
  7. Michael Brown
    Michael Brown says:

    Sorry if I missed it in the in for above, but I’m curious as to what documentation (passport, birth certificate, etc.) is required to open up a bank account in Ecuador. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      We used our cedulas to open our bank account at JEP. They didn’t ask for a passport or birth certificate, but we did have to show a utility bill tied to our address in Cuenca.

      Reply
  8. JW Jensen
    JW Jensen says:

    Hi Guys,

    Thanks for the Schwab referral link. I got my account set up. Appreciate all the good information and Zoom Happy Hour.

    JW

    Reply
  9. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Thailand is a cash economy like Ecuador and over 10 years I have found the safest and cheapest way to move money is to wire transfer 2-3 month of living expenses at one time and avoid using ATMs at all.

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      Don’t you still need to withdraw the money somehow? Or are you wiring money to a place like Western Union? Wire transfers to Ecuadorian banks and Western Union are quite expensive. It’s much cheaper to use a Charles Schwab ATM card and then we only withdraw the cash we need for the week.

      Reply
      • Dennis
        Dennis says:

        I have a Thai bank account and a US bank account. Except for currency exchange fees, the receiving bank never charges a fee, only the sending bank. That holds true for Thai or US banks. The wire transfer fee is $30 for my Thai bank and $45 for my US bank and I have transferred as much as 40K US. So what you are saying is that your Ecuador bank charges a fee to receive money into your account. Is that correct?

        Reply
        • Live Abroad Now
          Live Abroad Now says:

          I’m confused. You said the receiving bank never charges a fee, but then you said both banks charge wire transfer fees. Those are the fees I’m referring to when you send a wire transfer to Ecuador. With a Schwab ATM card, we don’t pay any fees and we only withdraw the amount of money we need at the time so we’re not carrying a bunch of money. How do you get money out of your Thai bank account? I’m assuming with an ATM card. Does your Thai bank charge fees for those withdrawals?

          Reply
  10. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    I guess I never really answered your question. I only withdraw cash from a teller inside the bank using my bankbook. I never use the ATM so there is no chance for problems like coming up short, losing your card for some reason, skimmers etc. or getting robbed at gunpoint like I did in Argentina.

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      The CoOps are paying around 8.5% on 2 year CDs. The bank interest rates are lower. We’re not sure what savings accounts pay. It varies by bank and type of account.

      Reply
  11. Daniel Croddy
    Daniel Croddy says:

    Nice vids thank you! Be careful with your Capital One credit card. I live in Thailand and tried to access my account from a different computer which triggered an account verification which is only sent to a US phone number. I no longer have a US phone number, so I couldn’t access my account from then on. Later on I disputed a charge (which I couldn’t see on my account). They just cancelled the card and when speaking to them on the phone they refused to issue another card because I lived outside the US. They actually hung up on me!

    Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      Thanks for sharing! We’ll be careful! However, we have addresses in the US that we use for financial issues, and we still have our US-based phone numbers, so it shouldn’t be an issue for us. But it might for be a problem for others.

      Reply
    • Live Abroad Now
      Live Abroad Now says:

      The banks charge a fee for wiring money. We’re not sure how those fees are divided between the sending and receiving banks.

      Reply

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