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Credit Card, Banking and Monthly Rent/Utility Payments in Ecuador

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Capricorn1
1/1/2020 11:31 EST

Happy New Year All,

Well, 2020 here we come.

Thanks everyone for your inputs over the past weeks in your support of our upcoming exploratory visit
and ultimate move later in the year to Ecuador as retired expats. Your inputs/comments have been very helpful. I had some banking type questions that I came up with over the past days that I would like your comments on. My questions are as follows:

(1) Given that the currency there is $U.S, does that mean that we can use our U.S. based credit cards (Visa, Mastercard etc.) to pay for day-to-day expenses (restaurants, entertainment)?

(2) How does one pay for monthly rent and utilities in Ecuador? Can this be done by check or credit card and over the phone and on-line etc?

(3) Are there ATM's readily available for quick cash etc? Are there ATM fees?

(4) Once settled in Ecuador as expats, do we need to open up a local bank account in country or can we conduct all our business via our exisiting U.S. bank accounts?

(5) Given that our exploratory visit there will be 90 days, can we cover our in country significant expenses (hotels, transportation) as tourists primarily with credit cards or do we need to have cash on hand for some major items as well ?

Once again,Thanks for your help.

John W.

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zootenval
1/1/2020 11:50 EST

Our experience in Ecuador:

Credit cards are not accepted at many places, especially away from cities. If they are, there is often a sizable service charge, 10% +/-. Although ATM's are available, especially in larger towns, they can be broken. We have always brought enough cash with us to cover our costs...we have visited as long as 6 weeks...I have brought as much as $5,000 in cash with me and never had an issue. I only carry enough on me for each day, the rest is kept back at where we are staying. Always enquire where you stay if there is a safe in the room or available for use. One more thing...bring plenty of $1's, $5's and $10's with you...many places will claim they have no change, and yo will be stuck paying $20 form something that costs $16 if you have no change yourself. Always offer to pay with larger bills, asking "Usted tiene cambio, por favor?" If they have change, you can add to your stockpile, if not, you can give exact bills needed.

Also, watch your coins received in change...US presidential and Sacajawea dollar coins are used a lot, and certain Disney tokens are about the same size...more than once, someone has tried to slip us one in a stack of change...

My $0.02

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cheshirecat4591
1/1/2020 12:08 EST

Most of your day to day expenses are best paid with cash. Depending on where you intend to live - in bigger cities, the bigger grocery stores / restaurants usually will take US cards, but not always (and sometimes their "International system" is not working) ATMs are all over in Cuenca, with varying fees. We do have accounts at Banco de Guayaquil, and we can take US card into the tellers there are get cash for no ATM fee (no fee from them either)...they are one of the banks that is a "Multi-Banco" (you don't have to have an account to get money at teller just card and ID) But to get a local bank account you are likely to be ask for your cedula, which takes a bit of time to get. JEP is one of the cooperativas (like a credit union) that is INSURED (not all are) and you can open an account there with a passport. For rent and utilities it varies....often one pays one's rent as a deposit (cash) into the owner's bank account, and if you live in a 'high rise' there is often also a bill for the building maintenance, and if you have centralized gas, etc that will be on that bill each month as well. Assuming you are renting, you will usually be given the account numbers (for the owner) to go to any one of a bunch of places to pay for things like electricity (Luz) and water etc. It's easy to do.
Definitely want to bring smaller bills as noted, most of the smaller tiendas,etc often have trouble breaking a $20 (and occasionally even a $10!) Also need to have $1 coins for a lot of things, taxis (you really don't want to give them a bigger bill because they may not have change for it!) and for purchases in the mercados or small shops.
If you have made reservations at hotels for your trip, contact them to ask if they can accept US cards, don't just assume they can!! (learned the hard way)
This all being said, if you come to Cuenca on your exploratory trip, feel free to contact us - always happy to chat about living here! (been here going on 7 years)

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cheshirecat4591
1/1/2020 12:09 EST

Most of your day to day expenses are best paid with cash. Depending on where you intend to live - in bigger cities, the bigger grocery stores / restaurants usually will take US cards, but not always (and sometimes their "International system" is not working) ATMs are all over in Cuenca, with varying fees. We do have accounts at Banco de Guayaquil, and we can take US card into the tellers there are get cash for no ATM fee (no fee from them either)...they are one of the banks that is a "Multi-Banco" (you don't have to have an account to get money at teller just card and ID) But to get a local bank account you are likely to be ask for your cedula, which takes a bit of time to get. JEP is one of the cooperativas (like a credit union) that is INSURED (not all are) and you can open an account there with a passport. For rent and utilities it varies....often one pays one's rent as a deposit (cash) into the owner's bank account, and if you live in a 'high rise' there is often also a bill for the building maintenance, and if you have centralized gas, etc that will be on that bill each month as well. Assuming you are renting, you will usually be given the account numbers (for the owner) to go to any one of a bunch of places to pay for things like electricity (Luz) and water etc. It's easy to do.
Definitely want to bring smaller bills as noted, most of the smaller tiendas,etc often have trouble breaking a $20 (and occasionally even a $10!) Also need to have $1 coins for a lot of things, taxis (you really don't want to give them a bigger bill because they may not have change for it!) and for purchases in the mercados or small shops.
If you have made reservations at hotels for your trip, contact them to ask if they can accept US cards, don't just assume they can!! (learned the hard way)
This all being said, if you come to Cuenca on your exploratory trip, feel free to contact us - always happy to chat about living here! (been here going on 7 years)

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Elexpatriado
1/9/2020 06:48 EST

I am going on vacation shortly to Ecuador. Will start out in Quito butbe sñending a lot of time in the mountains.

Question is..are there any ATMs that charge zero on screen fees?

I have a Canadian card that gives me the Visa international echange rate . In Colombia ( where I live) I go to Davivienda and Colpatria which gives me zero fees, so I get the Visa international exchange rate..Canadian dollars to COP or to $USD. Or whatever as long as I chose the " local" currency.

Someone mentioned Banco de Guayaquill . Does the zero fee work at the ATM or just at the bank teller? Are there other banks with no fees?

What are the limits per individusal withdrawal and daily limits for withdrawals?

Are there long lines for bank tellers like in Colombia?

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Elexpatriado
1/9/2020 06:49 EST

Sounds to me Ecuador has an even more antiquated banking system than Colombia.

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Restingnow
1/9/2020 19:25 EST

Two years ago when I used my USA co-op issued Visa debit card to withdraw ($400 at a time) from Banco Pichincha ATMs, there was no service charge from them. (There was a 1% service charge from my co-op though, for an international transaction.) You could try them. Many, many branches and ATMs. All the other banks that I've used have charged a very reasonable 35 cents per ATM use, with withdrawal limits varying.

Ecuador banking lines vary quite a bit. It definitely helps if you're 65+ (or pregnant). You're given priority (speedy!) line access.

Good luck to you.

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Elexpatriado
1/10/2020 07:47 EST

Thanks Restingnow!!

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Kimac
1/10/2020 12:02 EST

Actually, since Ecuador uses dollars, there's a real incentive to use bank transfers whenever possible, and that's how locals with any means like to operate. Especially with anything big, there's less paper currency floating around down here, apart from issues of security. Lugging around $1000 in $20 is tedious, and gathering up $100's for a larger debt would be even worse.

Of course, if you end-up living on a beach or in a smaller town this may be less necessary, true, or practical. But, for those living a middle-class or better life in Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil, it's common to pay for all sorts of things by direct bank transfer, and for other stuff using a debit card. As a teacher, virtually all my ss pay this way; employers far prefer to pay salaries via transfer rather than with check, although they must do so for less-affluent employees.

Except for petty amounts less than $5, I use a debit card from my local bank for pretty much everything, including at Supermaxi (the big, practically Western supermarket chain), and whenever I go out to eat. And no, this is hardly limited to Gringo Hangouts. Of course, for lunch at your neighborhood hueca, forget it; ditto down at the mercado. So, how much you can use a card or transfers will be a function of your lifestyle.

Otherwise, my US CC's never charge a foreign currency transfer fee, although I suppose they may plug that loophole at any moment. Most people also prefer I use my local debit card instead, because they are cheaper for them. (Amex may charge the merchant 8-10% (?)).

So, I use my local income to pay for most of my local expenses with a debit card from my local bank. From the same account I have paid rent to my last three landlords with bank-2-bank transfers, which I do on my bank's website. You will need to know enough Spanish to do this, but there's pull down menu for all the (credible?) Ecuadorean banks. Most people I've met, however, stay with a the top 5-6 banks. Opinions about trustworthiness you can find elsewhere here, but Banco Pichincha pretty much always heads that list.

You can, and should, minimize your cash transactions.

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desertcogo
1/10/2020 12:30 EST

I moved to Quito about a year ago and am retired and collect Social Security each month. I still maintain my credit union checking account in the United States as my Social Security check is deposited there each month. I do not have an account at an Ecuadorian bank but my Ecuadorian wife does. I have just wired enough money for the month through Western Union and it's worked out great for me. I am able to use my credit union debit card at SuperMaxi and at most restaurants and stores in the malls buy pay cash for everything else. It's very easy and inexpensive and I have no plans to change things.

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Restingnow
1/10/2020 14:12 EST

If you do decide to retire here, Social Security checks can be directly deposited to (last I heard) the only USA approved either Banco Guayaguil or Produbanco. BG charges $10 a month for receipt, Produbanco, about the same.

There are lots of positives to local banking, as have been suggested by these contributors. By the way, definitely steer clear of using $100's. At least one bank (all?) required listing their serial numbers for a deposit. Less than fun.

Major plus to Ecuador banking is the interest rate on savings, CD' s. To me, well worth the effort necessary in opening acounts. My guess is that the banks here are as stable as the ones in the US, and the Ecuadorian gov. does back insurance on up to 32K for accounts in many different banks and co-ops.

As you can see in looking over assorted postings here and under different headings, not one size fits all. First... come and see if you like it here.

And a final plug (come on you, spill! :-) ... can someone relate a simple way to renew an Investor's Visa CD deposited with the Central Bank? The most practical way for me to get to Guayaquil is via bus, and my old back resists enjoying the adventure. PM if you'd rather.

Have a good one...

Resting

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Kimac
1/10/2020 17:43 EST

The point about $100's is important. ALL the banks, I'm told, and have personally experience with two big ones, make you document each bill's # in order to deposit them: that's what I meant about tedious,

Banks are super-anxious about money laundering, hence the documentation, which includes forms they make you sign that say you're a good guy.

When you do bring $100's in, Supermaxi will be happy to take them with no hassle. They take care of the banking problem due to their clout, I suppose. You just have to pick a cashier whose been on station long enough to have accumulated a few $20's.

You do need to have one of their patron cards, which gives you a discount on purchases anyway. This only takes a few minutes to set up, and with that # you can download receipts or summaries of all your purchases from their website, which is angle retirees with cedulas can play to get a refund from the government of some of the taxes they've been paying.

Bank Deposits, believe it or not, usually incur a fee. This includes transfers between Ecuadorean banks. I'd always thought banks WANTED money. Go figure.

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ExpatsEcuador
1/23/2020 20:42 EST

Once you're setup in Ecuador, I've found the best approach is to transfer from your overseas bank to a local bank using an online service like WorldRemit (or Western Union - slightly higher fees).

This works well for amounts up to around $3K.

You can open an account with just a passport at some local banks such as JEP.

You can also use the same online services for cash pickup, but of course you then run the risk of having a decent sum of cash on you.

We've covered this topic in more detail here (https://expatsecuador.com/transfer-money-into/) if you need.

Cheers and welcome

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judyh
1/24/2020 07:46 EST

Once you have your visa and your cédula, you may open a savings account at any bank here.
I chose Banco Guayaquil because their online banking system is the most straightforward to use, and it is one of only two banks that I can send money to directly from my Wells Fargo account in the states
This is part of a remittance program called Express Send- you set up the first transaction in person at WF, and you can send the beneficiary ( in this case, myself up to 1,000/day, 5,000/month max) for a fee of 5/ transaction. Subse transactions can be done online
Money is available in cash the following day. I also have paper checks from my US account that I can deposit to my BG account for zero fees.
I pay for all of my utilities ( water, electronic, phone/internet) online, almost all events that I find on Facebook, like hiking/ climbing activities, special walking tours, etc , ask for payment via bank transfer, not credit card. I can do this from my BG account as well.
Banco Internacional requires Internet Explorer ( who uses That anymore!) to set up online banking.
Banco Pichincha, from what I've gathered has been coming up with all kinds of fees, and I constantly see complaints about them in other Expat forums.
I was able to use a credit card ( one with no foreign transaction fees) here in Quito, but other than that, I use cash. I do business almost exclusively with small businesses and shops- unless you restrict the to mega stores like Supermaxi and the more expensive restaurants, you will know that cash is King here.

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