Ecuador Safety from US State Department

By US Department of State

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Summary: Ecuador Crime, Safety and Country Information from the US State Department.

Ecuador Safety  - From US State Department

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Ecuador is a Spanish-speaking country about the size of Colorado. It has a developing economy and a democratically-elected government. Ecuador is geographically and ethnically diverse. In general, tourist facilities are adequate but vary in quality. Ecuador has used the U.S. dollar as its official currency since 2000. Both U.S. coins and Ecuadorian coins, which are equivalent to the value of the U.S. coins, are used. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Ecuador for additional information.

SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP)/EMBASSY LOCATION:

If you are going to live or visit Ecuador, please take the time to tell our Embassy or Consulate about your trip. If you check in, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here's the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates.

The U.S. Embassy in Quito

Address for visitors:

Ave. Avigiras E12-170 y Ave. Eloy Alfaro; Quito, Ecuador

Address for local mail and package delivery:

Ave. Guayacanes N52-205 y Ave. Avigiras; Quito, Ecuador

Telephone during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) : (011) 593-2-398-5000

Emergency after-hours telephone: (011) 593-2-398-5000

Facsimile: (011) 593-2-398-5100

The Consular Section in Quito is open for American Citizen Services via an appointment system for passports, reports of birth abroad, notaries, immigrant visas adoptions and re-entry permits. You can find more information, including how to schedule an appointment, at the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services web page. We accept walk-ins Monday through Thursday between 1:30 and 4:00 pm for reports of death, to pick up passports and reports of birth abroad and for emergencies.

The U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil

Address for visitors, local mail and packages:

9 de Octubre y Garcia Moreno, Guayaquil, Ecuador

Telephone during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) : (011) 593-4-232-3570

Emergency after-hours telephone: (011) 593-4-232-1152

Facsimile: (011) 593-4-232-0904

In order to provide better customer service and reduce waiting times, the American Citizen Services section in Guayaquil uses an online appointment system. Appointments for passport and citizenship services are available from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Notary appointments are Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays. Walk-in service remains available for emergencies only. For more information, and to make an appointment, visit Guayaquil's American Citizen Services website.

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS:

The Galápagos Islands fall within the consular district of the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The U.S. Government also maintains a U.S. Consular Agent within the Galápagos Islands to provide support in case of U.S. citizen emergencies.

U.S. Consular Agent to the Galápagos Islands

Consular Agent: Mr. Jack Nelson

Location: Av. Charles Darwin, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island (At the former Hotel Galápagos)

Telephone: (05)252-6330 (From the United States, dial 011-593-5-252-6330)

Cellphone: 091-33-4815 (From the United States, dial 011-593-9-133-4815)

Contact the Consular Agent by E-mail

U.S. citizens living in or traveling to the Galápagos Islands are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may sign up directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Enrolling is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

If you are a U.S. traveler wishing to enter Ecuador, you must present a U.S. passport with at least six months remaining validity. Ecuadorian customs officials also require evidence of return or onward travel, such as an airline ticket. If you are traveling on a regular passport for tourism or business, you will not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or fewer per 12-month period. If you are planning a visit longer than 90 days, you must obtain a visa in advance of your arrival.

If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen in Ecuador, you must obtain a police report ("denuncia") of the loss or theft to obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil. After losing your passport and before departing Ecuador, you will also need to obtain an official record of your arrival and legal status in Ecuador. You can do this by presenting both your replacement passport and the police report to the main immigration office in either Quito or Guayaquil.

In order to depart Ecuador, you must present a valid U.S. passport. If you are departing via airplane, you will be charged an airport tax (payable in U.S. dollars only); the price depends on the city from which you depart. If you stay in Ecuador beyond 90 days or beyond the terms of your visa, you will be charged a substantial fine and will be barred from re-entering Ecuador for nine consecutive months from the date of your departure.

Ecuador's exit procedures mandate that minors (under the age of 18) who are citizens or residents of Ecuador and who are traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized and authenticated by the Ecuadorian Embassy or an Ecuadorian Consulate in the United States. It is not uncommon for local authorities to insist that these documents be apostilled (authenticated). Documents must be apostilled by the same U.S. state that issued the document. If the documents are prepared in Ecuador, only notarization by an Ecuadorian notary is required. This paragraph does not apply to children who enter Ecuador with U.S. passports as tourists, unless they hold dual U.S./Ecuadorian citizenship.

Visit the Embassy of Ecuador's website for the most current visa information, or for further information regarding entry, exit or customs requirements. The Ecuadorian Embassy is located at 2535 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 234-7200. Consulates are located in Atlanta (404) 746-5859; Boston (781) 400-1212; Chicago (312) 338-1002/03, fax (312) 338-1004; Dallas (928) 712-9107; Houston (713) 572-8731; Jersey City (973) 344-8837; Las Vegas (702) 384-8802; Los Angeles (323) 658-5146, (323) 658-6020, fax (323) 658-1198; Miami (305) 539-8215; Minneapolis (612) 721-6468; Newark, NJ (973) 344-6900; New Haven (203) 752-1847; New York City (212) 808-0331; Queens (718) 651-8797; San Francisco (415) 982-1812; San Juan, Puerto Rico (787) 999-5226 or Tampa (561) 544-8946. A new Ecuadorian consulate is expected to open in Phoenix e next year.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ecuador.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: For information about crime in Ecuador, including taxi kidnapping ("secuestro express"), please see the "Crime" section below. Political demonstrations occur frequently throughout Ecuador. During demonstrations, protesters often block city streets and rural highways, including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway. Public transportation is often disrupted during these events. Protesters sometimes burn tires, throw rocks, damage cars and other personal property and on occasion detonate small improvised explosive devices. Police response to demonstrations varies and has included water cannons and tear gas. U.S. citizens and U.S.-affiliated interests are not usually targeted, but you should avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress and be prepared with back-up transportation plans. Although political demonstrations have not been directed at foreigners in the past, peaceful demonstrations can turn violent with little or no warning, and you could become a target. Foreigners are prohibited from protesting in Ecuador and you could be arrested for participating in a demonstration.

Ecuadorian authorities sometimes declare a state of emergency or "exception" in provinces and regions affected by civil unrest, natural disaster, or other disruptions. During a state of emergency or exception, authorities are permitted to exercise expanded powers to restore order. They sometimes suspend certain constitutional rights, expand detention powers, or impose curfews. In late 2009 and early 2010 in response to rising crime, the Ecuadorian government issued a state of exception covering Quito, Guayaquil and Manta. They did not suspend constitutional rights, but gave the armed forces license to work with the police on anti-crime initiatives. For more information about natural disasters in Ecuador, see the "Special Circumstances" section below.

Due to the spread of organized crime, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking and incursions by various Colombian terrorist organizations in the northern border region of Ecuador, the U.S. Embassy in Quito advises caution when traveling in this region of Ecuador, including the provinces of Sucumbios, northern Orellana, Carchi and northern Esmeraldas. U.S. government personnel are under strict limitations with respect to traveling alone or over-nighting in these areas. In October 2009, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped and held for ransom for three weeks near Ecuador's border with Colombia. At least 11 U.S. citizens are known to have been victims of kidnapping in this region over the past decade, including one U.S. citizen who was murdered by his kidnappers in January 2001.

If you travel to Ecuador's beach areas, be aware that strong currents, undertow, and underwater hazards exist in many of Ecuador's coastal areas. These dangers are not always posted. Most beaches lack staffed lifeguard stations. Take safety precautions when surfing, boating or swimming.

Radicals in various locations in Ecuador, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, occasionally detonate small explosive devices that release political literature, known locally as "pamphlet bombs." Targets have included local and international businesses and various Government of Ecuador buildings. Pamphlet bombs are not as frequent as in the past, but multiple incidents have occurred within the last year. No foreign tourists have been injured in these explosions, but it is possible. Take common-sense precautions and avoid suspicious-looking packages.

The Galápagos archipelago is located more than 600 miles to the west of continental Ecuador. Geographic isolation and the lack of local resources place at risk those U.S. citizens who choose to travel to the Galápagos Islands.

The U.S. Embassy in Quito and U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil strongly recommend that U.S. visitors to the Galápagos Islands register online with the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil prior to their trip, and to always leave an emergency contact with their hotel or tour operator.

A significant number of Ecuadorian tour vessels operating in the Galápagos Islands are neither inspected nor operated in accordance with U.S. regulations, and do not meet U.S. safety standards. The Government of Ecuador requires that vessels carrying more than 16 passengers comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) code established by the International Maritime Organization. However, the quality of inspections, oversight, crewmember proficiency evaluation, and other requisites for safe vessel operation may vary substantially.

Tour boat accidents are more frequent among small vessels (those carrying 16 or fewer passengers), but travelers should inquire about safety features of any vessel, regardless of size. When boarding vessels be sure to look for the life boats, floatation devices and, if possible, take a moment to inspect the life vest you would be using if there were an accident.

In past emergency situations, including the February 2010 tsunami warning that prompted preventive evacuation orders by local authorities, the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil received unconfirmed reports that several hotels failed to inform visitors of the potential threat or to take appropriate actions to ensure the safety and welfare of their guests. In some cases, travelers reported to the Consulate that hotel staff evacuated themselves only and locked guests inside the hotel premises. In other cases, travelers reported that hotels charged guests to transport them to safety in the highlands. We encourage visitors to the islands to take safety considerations into account when choosing a hotel, and to ask about the steps that will be taken in case evacuation from coastal areas becomes necessary. We also encourage you to check the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil's web page for updated information on hotel safety in the Galápagos

Strikes and disturbances by local fisherman in the Galápagos Islands have become violent on occasion. While tourists have not been targeted, the incidents affected their movement and access to some sites. Such disturbances have been minimal since April 2004, but the issues remain unsettled and could resurface at any time.

Please see the Embassy's security and safety page, or the security and safety page of the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil for the latest safety and security messages. U.S. citizens may also keep informed of daily happenings by following the local news and police reports.

Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current the Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.

You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

There is nobody better at protecting you than yourself. Take some time before travel to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.

CRIME:

Crime is a severe problem in Ecuador. Crimes against American citizens in the past year ranged from petty theft to violent crimes, including armed robbery, home invasion, sexual assault and homicide. Low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – contribute to Ecuador's high crime rate.

Non-violent crimes, including pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, robbery, bag-slashing and hotel room theft, are the most common types of crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Ecuador. They occur in all parts of Ecuador and incidents have increased in the past year. Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in airports, restaurants, public transportation, crowded streets, bus terminals and public markets and grocery stores. Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery and "snatch and grabs;" business travelers carrying laptop computer bags are similarly targeted. Many travelers who travel by bus store their luggage below the bus or at their feet, where it is sometimes stolen. One particular method used by purse-snatchers in Ecuador is to distract the victim, sometimes by purposefully spilling liquid on the victim and pretending to help the victim clean it up, while accomplices snatch the victim's bag. Thefts from vehicles ("smash and grabs") have been known to take place not only when the vehicle was unattended, but also when it was occupied, particularly by a single female driver in slow-moving or stopped traffic.

To lower your risk of being a victim of petty theft or other non-violent crimes, consider leaving valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or not bringing them at all. Make use of hotel safes when available, avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry or designer clothing and carry only the cash or credit cards that you will need on each outing. Stay alert to pickpocketers when in crowds and when taking public transportation. Stay alert also to schemes to distract you, which could result in purse-snatching. We recommend that you do not store your passport in your luggage. Do not leave anything of value in plain view in a car, including sunglasses or sports equipment, and do not drive with purses, briefcases or valuables in plain view, such as on a passenger seat. Always be aware of your surroundings, and try to travel in groups.

Armed or violent robberies occur in many parts of Ecuador. Thieves and small gangs armed with guns or knives are active not only in Quito, Guayaquil and Manta, but also in smaller cities. In the past year, multiple U.S. citizen travelers have been robbed after using ATMs on the street and when exiting banks. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and flee the scene. Tourists have also been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails.

To lower your risk of being a victim of armed or violent robbery, you should avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry and watches. Use caution when making withdrawals from ATMs and banks and use machines only inside shopping malls or other protected locations. When using an ATM, stay on the lookout for anyone watching or following you. Avoid deserted beaches, hiking trails, and infrequently traveled roads, as well as the interior regions of large city parks, particularly at night.

Robberies and assaults involving taxis present a significant safety concern, most specifically in the Guayaquil and Manta areas, but increasingly in Quito since 2009. Carjackings have occurred in both rural and urban areas. Foreigners are often targeted specifically. In "secuestro express," shortly after a rider enters the taxi, the vehicle is intercepted by armed accomplices of the taxi driver, who is normally complicit in the crime. The accomplices enter the vehicle, stage a kidnapping, threaten passengers with weapons (typically guns and/or knives), rob passengers of their personal belongings and then drive to various ATMs to withdraw money using the victims' debit cards. In some recent instances, victims of secuestro express faced physical violence and/or were sexually assaulted.

To lower your risk of being a victim of carjacking or "secuestro express," drive with doors locked and windows rolled up. In the Guayaquil area, the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil both recommend that you use radio-operated taxi companies such as those listed on the U.S. Consulate General's website instead of hailing taxis on the street (see more information under "Crime: Guayaquil and Coastal Ecuador" below). In areas other than Guayaquil consider using radio-operated taxi companies or taxis associated with hotels. If you must hail a taxi on the street, increase your security by seeking out taxis that are officially registered and in good repair. Registered taxis in Ecuador are usually yellow, display matching unit numbers on the windshields and the side doors, each printed on an orange placard, feature a taxi co-operative name on the side, and an orange license plate. (For special information on taxi risks in Guayaquil, see the section below.)

Incidents of sexual assault and rape increased in the past year, including in well-traveled tourist areas. In many instances, criminals targeted women who had become separated from their group. Criminals sometimes use alcohol or incapacitating drugs such as scopolamine on unsuspecting tourists in order to rob and/or sexually assault them. So-called "date rape drugs" are put into drinks in order to drug the unsuspecting victim. The drug renders the victim disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems. To lower your risk of being a victim of sexual assault, travel in groups, be aware of alcohol or drugs, never allow a stranger to "buy" you a drink and never leave your drink unattended.

Murder of U.S. citizens occurs in Ecuador. Often, the suspects or perpetrators of the murders were personally known to the victims. Since September 2009, three brutal murders of U.S. citizens have occurred in Ecuador. The investigations of these murders have not proceeded with the speed and thoroughness many Americans expect. The Ecuadorian government recently opened the following emergency hotline that callers can use to inform police about murders or contract killings. The number is 1-800-466-424.

Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States,you may be breaking local law too.

Quito: Stay particularly alert on the crowded streets of south Quito, at the Panecillo, the Historic District and in the areas of El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, and Gonzalez Suarez. Quito's Mariscal Sucre district, a popular tourist area with numerous restaurants, bars, hotels, hostals and shopping sites, is increasingly a site of crimes; examples in the past year range from petty theft to sexual assault to shootings. In the Mariscal Sucre, travel in groups, avoid hailing taxis off the street or using unofficial taxis and exercise caution in the early morning hours. Due to numerous incidents in which U.S. government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized in the Mariscal Sucre, the U.S. Embassy has declared certain Mariscal Sucre bars off-limits and now enforces a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees. Stay alert if hiking to the summit of Pichincha as violent crime has been known to occur there. In 2008, groups as large as eight were robbed at gunpoint by masked men and female hikers were sexually assaulted. There have been no reported incidents since 2009.

Guayaquil and Coastal Ecuador: Throughout coastal Ecuador, the rate of violent crime against U.S. citizens continues to rise. In Guayaquil, visitors should exercise extreme caution in the downtown area, especially at night, and at all times in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city. The Malecon 2000, a riverfront park area in the city's center, and the passage up to the lighthouse in the Las Penas area are generally more safe and better patrolled than the surrounding areas. However, armed robberies have been reported at night and caution should be observed. There have been armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil. Guayaquil has experienced an increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with vehicular hijackings, although tourists generally have not been targeted.

The U.S. Government continues to receive an alarming number of reports of U.S. citizens who are kidnapped and robbed in taxis in Guayaquil and Manta, incidents known locally as "secuestro express," or "express kidnappings." Taxi kidnappings have also been reported in Playas and other coastal towns.

"Express kidnappings" have occurred even in the more affluent areas of Guayaquil, and target both local citizens and international visitors. Incidents involving U.S. citizens are most frequently reported at the north end of the Malecón 2000 near Las Peñas, outside of the San Marino Mall, and in the Urdesa restaurant/bar district, but have been reported in all areas of the city. Incidents have also been reported in the coastal cities of Manta and Machala.

Due to the seriousness of the taxi situation in Guayaquil, all personnel working for the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Ecuador have been prohibited from riding in taxis hailed off the street in Guayaquil, even yellow taxis. In addition to yellow taxis, local buses, and other forms of public transportation are also expressly off-limits to U.S. diplomatic personnel in Guayaquil. As an alternative, employees have been told to use their personal vehicles or to call one of the vetted taxi services listed on the U.S. Consulate General's website.

It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks associated with using taxis in Guayaquil, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if one becomes a victim of crime. U.S. citizens are urged not to hail taxis on the street, and to exercise caution when selecting a taxi in all areas of Guayaquil, regardless of location and/or time of day. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens in the Guayaquil area to use only vetted, radio-dispatched taxis, such as those listed on the U.S. Consulate General's website.

If you find yourself involved in a taxi kidnapping and/or robbery, it is best to be non-confrontational and cooperate with the perpetrator. Nothing material is as valuable as your life. Following a criminal incident, U.S. citizens are encouraged to file a "denuncia," or "police report," with the local police and to inform the American Citizens Services Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil.

Leaving the Guayaquil airport, there have been repeated instances of armed robbers following travelers from the airport and using multiple vehicles to cut off and intercept the traveler. There is some evidence that those most at risk are those individuals who appear to be returning from overseas travel laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.

Every year, between 15 to 20 U.S. citizens are arrested for attempting to traffic drugs between Ecuador and the United States, or between mainland Ecuador and the Galápagos. Suitcases with false bottoms and other packages are common methods of transporting illegal substances. Many of these U.S. citizens claim to have been unaware that they were transporting drugs. As in any other country, do not accept gifts, packages, or suitcases from other persons; even trusted travel companions have been known to take advantage of their friends and family to traffic drugs through Ecuador's airports. See the "Criminal Penalties" section below for more details about Ecuador's strict laws and sentences regarding illegal drug trafficking.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

If you or someone you know becomes are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police to file a crime report ("denuncia") at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates ). If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and help you get money from them if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. Posts in countries that have victims of crime assistance programs should include that information.If you are a victim of domestic violence, regardless of your gender, you may receive assistance from a local branch of the Commissioner's Office for Women and Family Issues. Click here for information on branches in different cities of Ecuador.

The local equivalents of the "911" emergency line in Ecuador are: 101 (for local police or ambulance, or to be forwarded to other help as appropriate), 102 (for firefighters or ambulance) or 131 (for the local Red Cross). If you are in Quito or Ibarra, you may also dial 911. If you are in Guayaquil, Cuenca or Loja, you should dial 112. The operators typically speak Spanish only.

Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence of alcohol could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods or engage in child pornography. While you are overseas, U.S. laws don't apply. If you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport won't help. It's very important to know what's legal and what's not where you are going.

There have been at least three cases in which small quantities of drugs have been placed by unknown persons in unsecured pockets of tourists' checked bags, including backpacks, en route to the Galápagos. Upon arrival, these drugs have been detected by police canine units, and the owners of the bags have been arrested and detained for months while the cases are resolved. Fishing in the Galápagos Marine Reserve is highly controlled by local authorities, and illegal fishing can result in fines and/or jail time. Visitors interested in fishing in the Galápagos should check with the Galápagos National Park prior to engaging in these activities to ensure consistency with local law. Travelers are advised to secure all parts of their bags thoroughly before checking them on flights to the Galápagos. International visitors who attempt to smuggle out the islands' plants and animals in their luggage or on their person face serious sanctions and jail time.

If you violate Ecuadorian laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ecuador are severe; jail sentences average eight years. If you are convicted for drug charges, you can expect a long jail sentence and a heavy fine.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Legal Status: U.S. citizen travelers in Ecuador are required to carry identification, including proof of U.S. citizenship, at all times. Americans are sometimes stopped by the Ecuadorian police. If you are stopped and cannot present evidence of identity and legal status in Ecuador, you could be arrested and ordered deported. Due to passport theft in Ecuador, you should carry a photocopy of your passport (including the personal data page and the entry stamp and/or visa) rather than the actual passport document.

Customs Regulations: Ecuadorian law imposes strict limitations concerning temporary importation into or export from Ecuador of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, electronic equipment, currency and donated goods. If you would like to import certain goods to Ecuador, contact the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, DC, or one of Ecuador's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Also see the U.S. Embassy in Quito's Customs Information sheet.

Dual Nationality: Children born on Ecuadorian territory are automatically considered Ecuadorian citizens at birth. Therefore, a baby born to American parents in Ecuador – regardless of whether the baby qualifies as aU.S. citizen – is an Ecuadorian citizen and must depart Ecuador for the first time using an Ecuadorian passport. In order to do so, parents should first obtain an Ecuadorian birth certificate at their local Civil Registry office and then obtain a national ID card ("cedula") for the child. With these documents, parents can apply for an Ecuadorian passport. Subsequent to the first trip out of the country, a dual national child may re-enter Ecuador either as an Ecuadorian citizen or as aU.S. citizen (as a tourist or on a particular visa). For additional information, visit the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Travel Documents website.

U.S. citizen minors who hold dual nationality with Ecuador must comply with special exit requirements if departing from Ecuador alone, with one parent, or with a third party. If your dual national child falls under this category, he or she must present a copy of his or her birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian upon departure from Ecuador. If one parent is deceased, your child may present a notarized copy of the death certificate in lieu of the written authorization. If the documents are prepared in Ecuador, you must have them notarized by an Ecuadorian notary. If the documents are prepared in the United States, you must have the authorization and the birth certificate translated into Spanish, notarized and authenticated ("apostilled") by the central authority of same U.S. state that issued the document (the central authority is part of the U.S. state's government, and is usually located in the capital of that state).

Legal Disputes: Occasionally, business disputes in Ecuador that would normally be handled by civil litigation in the United States are converted into criminal proceedings, especially when one party is charged with fraud. If you are charged with fraud or any other criminal charge while in Ecuador, you might be prohibited from departing the country, arrested or incarcerated while awaiting a hearing of your case.

When considering purchasing property in Ecuador, be aware that competing claims to property sometimes surface after an apparently legal sale has been made. Deficiencies in the Ecuadorian system for surveying and registering property and weaknesses in the judicial system mean that these disputes can last years. In several cases in the past few years, U.S. citizen land owners in Ecuador were threatened with physical harm and/or confiscation of their property by individuals claiming rights to the land. In at least one case, the building was razed. If you are considering buying property in Ecuador, carefully research land title issues and consider engaging a competent attorney before making a purchase.

Natural Disaster Preparedness: Ecuador has 19 potentially active volcanoes, including nine that have shown recent activity. Earthquakes occur frequently, sometimes with little warning. Tsunamis have occurred as well. If a volcano or earthquake occurs, your life could be in danger due to falling debris or lava, mud or gas flows. You could also be affected by failures of transportation, water, communications, and power systems due to damage to infrastructure or heavy ash fall. In the case of a volcanic eruption, your flight in or out of an Ecuadorian airport might be cancelled due to a temporary airport closure due to ash fall. Also due to ash fall, you could face potentially serious respiratory problems.

Three active volcanoes within 50-100 kilometers of Quito pose a significant threat to the city: Guagua Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Reventador. Other volcanoes active in Ecuador include Tungurahua, 120 kilometers south of Quito, Reventador, 90 kilometers northeast of Quito, and Cotopaxi, 50 kilometers south of Quito. In 2002, lava and mudflows caused by Reventador volcano closed a major Quito/northern-border highway and blanketed Quito with volcanic ash, shutting down the Quito airport for several days.

The town of Baños, a popular tourist destination approximately 120 kilometers south of Quito, is located at the base of the Tungurahua Volcano. Tungurahua has erupted explosively several times in the last decade. A 2006 eruption caused deaths and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. In May and June 2010, the volcano registered intense activity, affecting the provinces of Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Guayas, Bolívar and Los Ríos. If you choose to stay overnight in Baños, especially on the western side of the town, be aware that mud or lava flows could pose a significant and immediate threat. Baños' siren system might alert people to evacuate; be ready to evacuate on short notice. If in Baños when a volcanic eruption occurs, try to reach the evacuation shelters in the "Santa Ana" neighborhood on the east side of town, on the main road out of Baños towards Puyo.

Earthquakes in Ecuador or neighboring countries sometimes trigger tsunamis, which could affect you if you are in a coastal area of Ecuador or on the Galápagos Islands. A tsunami is a series of long ocean waves. Each individual wave crest can last 5 to 15 minutes or more and extensively flood coastal areas. The danger can continue for many hours after the initial wave as subsequent waves arrive. Tsunami wave heights cannot be predicted and the first wave may not be the largest. All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face. Extremely strong and unusual currents can accompany a tsunami. Debris picked up and carried by a tsunami amplifies its destructive power. Simultaneous high tides or high surge can significantly increase the tsunami hazard.

The National Risk Management Secretariat, the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute and the Quito City Government monitor Ecuadorian volcanoes, issuing regular reports on their activity, as well as on earthquakes and tsunamis in Ecuador. In the event of eruptions, pay close attention to the news media for updates on the situation. Further information is available via the Internet from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

You can readily obtain adequate medical and dental care in the major cities of Ecuador. In smaller communities and in the Galápagos Islands services are limited, and the quality is variable and generally below U.S. standards. Ambulances, with or without trained emergency staff, are in critically short supply.

Pharmacies are readily available in any city. However, you might find that the availability of some medications is sporadic, and formulations and brand names will differ from products available in the U.S. Narcotics and tranquilizers are extremely limited in availability. "Pharmacists" sometimes prescribe and dispense medications. These individuals often have little training and prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics and other inappropriate medications. You should not seek medical advice from them. Folk healers and traditional markets offer herbal and folk remedies. You should avoid these remedies, as the formulations are questionable and some components may interact with other prescription medications.

Malaria, dengue and yellow fever (which are transmitted by mosquitoes below 4,500 feet of altitude), leishmaniaisis (which is transmitted by sand flies), Chagas disease (which is transmitted by triatomine bugs) and tuberculosis (which is transmitted via respiratory droplets) are all endemic in Ecuador. Primary prevention (using insect repellants, clothing treated with permethrin and bed nets) helps to protect from all these diseases. In Ecuador, yellow fever is only found in the Amazon basin. Ecuadorian authorities might require you to show certificate of yellow fever vaccination when entering or leaving this area, or when continuing travel to other areas of South America. Antimalarial medication significantly reduces the risk of contracting malaria. There are neither vaccines nor prophylactic medications for dengue, leishmaniaisis or Chagas. If you become ill with fever or flu-like symptoms while traveling in a high-risk area, you should seek prompt medical attention. As onset of these diseases may be delayed, continue taking this precaution for up to a year after leaving the affected areas.

Tuberculosis, which is transmitted via respiratory droplets, is also endemic in Ecuador. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.

The UV index registered in Ecuador – not only in the highlands but also on the coast and in the Galápagos Islands – has been extremely high for the past two years. Sunscreen, hats and clothing that covers the skin can help you protect against strong UV rays.

Good Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, can be found via the CDC's page with health information on Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands or on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Highlands: If you travel to Quito (close to 9,400 feet) or other highland areas, you will typically require some time to adjust to the altitude, which can adversely affect your blood pressure, digestion, and energy level. Consult with your personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel. If you have heart or lung problems or the sickle cell trait, you may develop serious health complications at high altitudes. If you plan to travel to extreme high altitudes (greater than 10,000 feet), for example, mountain climbing, take precautions to avoid acute mountain sickness.

Galápagos Islands: Located on the equator, the Galápagos Islands have a hot, tropical climate. Travelers should be prepared for high temperatures and intense sun, and must negotiate rocky, uneven terrain at some visitor sites. Visitors should carry water with them and remain well hydrated. Consumption of local tap water is not recommended.

Medical resources in the Galápagos Islands are severely limited. Acute surgical, cardiac, and other types of specialty medicine are not available. There are two hospitals, located on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands. These facilities have limited personnel and resources, and often do not have the basic medical supplies required to treat serious injuries. Some cruise vessels have on-board physicians available for fee-based services.

Serious injury or illness in the Galápagos typically requires costly medical evacuation to the Ecuadorian mainland or the United States for treatment. Transiting by boat from Puerto Ayora to remote islands such as Darwin or Wolf takes approximately 22 hours, and an additional 17 hours to return. In the case of an incident at or around these remote islands, those affected may find themselves more than 24 hours away from even basic medical treatment at a local hospital facility. Medical evacuations by air ambulance are costly and take significant time to arrange. For that reason, the purchase of traveler's health insurance that includes air evacuation is strongly recommended.

Scuba divers in the Galápagos Islands should be aware of limited facilities for decompression. A privately-owned hyperbaric chamber is available in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. In the past, the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil has received complaints that divers suffering symptoms of the bends were not able to obtain prompt access to the hyperbaric chamber in Puerto Ayora. The Ecuadorian Navy operates a second decompression chamber at the San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil. Due to the high costs for these services and associated emergency transportation, divers are advised to obtain adequate medical evacuation and diver's insurance.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

You can't assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It's very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

Does my policy apply when I'm out of the U.S.?

Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation?

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors' and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn't go with you when you travel, it's a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

Ecuadorian hospitals and health providers do not always accept international travel insurance, preferring to ask for a cash or credit card payment instead. If you will be staying in Ecuador on a long-term basis, consider taking out a local insurance plan.

Galápagos Islands:Because serious injury or illness in the Galápagos typically requires costly medical evacuation to the Ecuadorian mainland or the United States for treatment, the purchase of traveler's health insurance that includes air evacuation is strongly recommended.

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

NOTE: Travelers should be advised that the Social Security Medicare Program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside of the United States of America.USEFUL LINKS

Additional information that may be helpful to those planning to travel to the Galápagos Islands can be found at the following websites:

Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve

Consejo de Gobierno de Galápagos

Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of Environment

Municipality of Santa Cruz

Chamber of Tourism – San Cristobal (CATURCRIST)

Chamber of Tourism – Galápagos (CAPTURGAL)

Charles Darwin Foundation

External links to the above listed Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the view or privacy policies contained therein.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.

Road travel throughout Ecuador can be dangerous, especially at night. Many roads are poorly maintained or unmarked. Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash out roads. Heavy fog is common in mountainous areas. Highways are often unmarked and do not have signs indicating destinations. Road safety features such as crash barriers and guardrails along steep mountainsides are rare. In the countryside, livestock are often herded along roads or graze on roadsides. Many roads are used for pedestrian and animal traffic as well as vehicular traffic. Speed bumps abound, even on major highways such as the Pan American Highway, to slow traffic.

Driving habits vary from region to region; however, country-wide, driving practices differ from U.S. standards and not all drivers obey traffic laws or observe traffic signals. Vehicles are reasonably well-maintained. On the coast, drivers have a more lax approach to vehicle maintenance and traffic regulations than in other parts of Ecuador. In all areas buses, both intra-city and intercity, stop at any point on their route to pick up or drop off passengers. Drivers often turn right and left from any lane and do not yield for pedestrians and cyclists. You might encounter intoxicated drivers at any time, though the chances of a drunk driving accident are higher on weekends and during Ecuadorian holidays.

Inter-urban and inter-provincial bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and sexual assault. Ecuador's frontier regions are largely rural, poor, and lack police presence. Because drug traffickers, criminal organizations, and smugglers of all types use clandestine border crossings to move their goods, consider driving on only the the most-traveled highways in these areas. For more information regarding the Ecuadorian frontier with Colombia, see the "Threats to Security and Safety" section above.

If you register a vehicle in Ecuador, you will be required to buy local liability insurance, called SOAT. Whether driving your own vehicle or a rented vehicle, be sure to have proper vehicle registration papers with you. If you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an automobile accident and the police find you to be at fault, you might be taken into police custody, especially if injuries are involved and if you do not have SOAT insurance. In such a case, you are almost certain to spend some time in jail until the local authorities have assigned responsibility and are satisfied that all financial claims (for example, medical treatment bills) have been settled. You may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more informationAlso, we suggest that you visit the website of Ecuador's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Ecuador's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ecuador's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

Please see our Office of Children's Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ecuador dated January 26, 2010 , to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, Victims of Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions and the Galápagos Islands.

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Comments about this Article

guest
Feb 25, 2012 19:37

Thank you for so much helpful information. I actually made of list regarding things that I had not thought of along with the answers to many of the questions that already had. Great article!

guest
Jan 27, 2013 05:21

For the most part, everything in this report makes Ecuador sound so much more safe than being in The United States. I have been to Ecuador 22 times in 12 years and have never had a problem of any sort. I cannot say that about my own home country, the USofA.

First Published: Jan 06, 2011

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