Money & Shopping
Ecuador adopted the United States dollar (USD) as its currency in 1999. Other types of currency are not readily accepted.
Ecuador has its own coins. These are exactly the same size and weight as American coins, and both are accepted. U.S. dollar coins are widely used, and preferred to $1 bills. American bills are used for higher values, Ecuador does not print any itsef.
Many merchants examine large bills ($10 and above) carefully to make sure they aren't counterfeit. Frequently, businesses will not accept fifty dollar bills or hundred dollar bills at all. One must usually go to a bank in order to break hundred dollar bills. Outside of tourist areas and Quito, many merchants do not keep large amounts of money on hand, so getting change for bills large and small may be difficult. This is especially true on cheaper buses. Take lots of one and five dollar bills with you; you will also want to bring the newest possible bills. Worn bills are often regarded with suspicion, and it is not uncommon for a merchant to ask you to pay with another bill if the one you handed them appears old or worn.
Travelers' checks can be exchanged at some (but not all) banks for a reasonable fee (usually not more than 3 percent). They are also accepted at some hotels that cater to tourists, although it is difficult to use them elsewhere. There is often a surcharge added to use traveler's checks.
Credit and debit cards are accepted at many places that cater to tourists as well as at some upscale shops. However, many places charge a commission for their use as reimbursement for what the banks charge them. You may be asked to show your passport when using a credit or debit card.
Automated teller machines are widely available in major cities and tourist areas. Most claim to be tied in with major international networks, in theory making it possible to withdraw money from foreign accounts. Depending on the transaction fees charged by your bank at home, ATMs offer very good exchange rates. Be aware that you may have to try quite a few different machines before receiving money. TIP: Banco Austro is the only national bank chain that doesn't charge a withdrawal fee. The others have learned a cue from the States, and typically charge $1 or more per transaction. Avoid using ATMs on the street as their users are frequently targeted by street thieves. Hotels or other places with a guard nearby are your best choices.
Bars, restaurants and hotels include a 10% service charge in the bill, so tipping is not required. In the case of restaurants, it is customary to leave some spare change in reward for good service. Some restaurants will include a small piece of paper along with the bill, in which the client can specify a tip if they are paying with credit card.
Prices vary widely in Ecuador. Costs at upscale hotels and restaurants seem to be close, maybe 10 percent less, to what they would be in the United States. Outside of tourist areas, costs are much less. It is possible to get a meal at a clean restaurant for under $2 or to pay less than $10 for a clean but basic hotel room.
Even though Ecuador is a very beautiful country, it does not know how to sell itself very well. In Quito, a very famous touristic site is El Mercado Artesenal where many souvenirs can be found but after a thorough look around you will realize that there is a bit of redundancy in the items in the sense that everyone is basically selling the same thing. Therefore, after buying a few main items it becomes difficult to find much more variety. Almost everything that can be bought has a price that can be bargained. If you are not a native, they will try and get higher prices out of you, which is why it is recommended to go with someone who is either fluent in Spanish or native to bargain more effectively.