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.
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
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:
- Cooperative JEP
- Banco Guayaquil
- Banco Pichincha
- Banco del Austro
- Banco Bolivariano
- Banco del Pacífico
- And more…
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.
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.
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.
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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