When we first started to seriously consider moving to Ecuador one of the many questions that came up had to do with banking.
Of course, ATM cards and credit cards work fine here, but what if a card got lost or stolen? What if our U.S. bank card expired between trips to the U.S.?
How would we access our money?
Also, we are really not that comfortable going to ATMs to pull out several hundred dollars for rent and other monthly expenses so we started looking for an alternative to the constant ATM card use.
Here are a few things we've learned about banking in Ecuador.
First of all, before traveling to Ecuador, you will need to contact your credit card companies and bank and let them know that you will be using your cards out of the country.
If you don't make your bank aware of your travel out of the country, you may find that your card is blocked when you try to use it the first time here.
After living here for a couple of years we opened a bank account with one of the national Ecuadorian banks and we are now able to manage and access the funds in our U.S. bank account in a much more safe and efficient manner.
Here is what we do: we write one check a month from our U.S. account and deposit it into our Ecuadorian bank account and in about 10 days the check clears our U.S. bank. We only deposit enough money each month into our Ecuadorian account to pay our rent and buy groceries.
We use our local bank card at the grocery store just as we did in the U.S. and don't have to worry about constantly going to the ATM to pull out money.
Also, our Ecuadorian bank offers online banking which enables us to manage our account and even pay bills online. We have been pleasantly surprised at the level of service provided by our Ecuadorian bank and have had no problems whatsoever managing our money in this way.
You will notice one major difference between the U.S. and Ecuadorian banks: armed guards with machine guns and tellers behind bullet proof glass.
It can be a little unnerving at first, but you get used to the beefed up security at the Ecuadorian banks and to tell the truth, I feel safer in the banks here because they are so well protected.
You don't have to worry so much about being taken hostage in an armed robbery while waiting in line at the bank here. Maybe the banks in the U.S. could learn a thing or two from the Ecuadorian banks….
This is a post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
Why Did We Open an Ecuador Bank Account?
So, why did we open an Ecuador bank account? Well, there are the obvious tax benefits, tax shelters and security of a Latin American country. Ecuador is the new Switzerland!
Okay, well, maybe not. But there are some good reasons to open a bank account here in Ecuador:
5 Reasons to Open an Ecuador Bank Account
- You'll need a local account for many services. Cell phone and internet plans require a bank account. Some will accept a foreign card, but not all.
- It's better to lose a bank card that can be easily replaced. If you are using a foreign debit/credit card and you lose it – you might go a few weeks (or more) without access to your funds. You will need to get your foreign bank to reissue and courier one to you. That's a headache you don't need. If you lose your Ecuadorian card, just go get another one. Okay, I'm sure it's not that easy, but it will be faster than international replacement.
- And if you do lose the card, your losses will be minimal. If you only keep a few hundred and up to a thousand dollars that all you can lose. That is, of course, if the finder/thief can manage to get any funds. If you lose your card to your foreign account, who knows what you could lose.
- There are a number of online banking services that are really useful. For example, if you use a prepaid cell phone or prepaid modem, you can recharge them both online. Its faster and much more convenient than going to a tienda to recharge.
- And finally, you'll feel like a local. Just drop by the bank and make a withdraw. Or a deposit. Or pay a bill. Just like at home. After all, isn't that what you want Ecuador to be?
Its true that the banks here haven't been very stable. A number of years ago, many crashed and lots of people lost lots of money. But as a foreigner, you're not going to keep all you money here, just enough for a month or two – so the risk is minimal at best.
And a basic account is free. So why wouldn't you open a bank account here in Ecuador?
How to Do Your Banking in Ecuador (for Canadians)
Moving abroad involves many fine details – visas, health, money, etc. Access to our money is something we take for granted “back home”, but in another country, it can be kind of challenging.
We heard a story about an American couple who moved here and were shopping for real estate. The catch came when they wanted to access their money back in the States. Their bank wouldn't transfer internationally, so they had no way to purchase the property.
Lesson: Sort out your banking before you move!
For Americans moving to Ecuador, the adjustment is almost non-existent. Ecuador's currency is the US Dollar, so it's a pretty straightforward adjustment.
But what about us Canucks? How should we do our banking here in Ecuador? Well, we recently opened an Ecuador Bank account. And while it's nice to have, it isn't completely necessary.
Before we moved here, we opened an account with a US bank called RBC Bank USA – through RBC Canada. This is simply their US version. So we have a US Checking account in Florida – but I've never been to Florida. The account is linked to our Canadian RBC accounts, so we can transfer back and forth.
When you open your RBC Canada accounts, ask for their USD savings account. We hold our US funds in that account, which keeps it from sitting in our accounts in the States. Its pretty simple really.
We have ATM cards (what we Canadians call debit cards) for our US accounts and we withdraw at the ATM's here. It costs $1.50 per withdraw, and RBC USA credits back up to $4.00 per month of these fees. They don't charge any service fees, with a minimum of $700 in the account at all times.
They will wire money internationally. Last week, as we were preparing to purchase our car, I called our US bank, and in less than 24 hours they had wired the money into my Ecuador bank account. I was very impressed.
Not all banks will do this. We have friends from the States and their US banks won't wire money internationally without them being present in the branch. It's rather inconvenient.
So if you are a Canadian planning a move to Ecuador, consider RBC Bank USA. If you are an American, you might also benefit from an account. They are flexible and reliable.
By the way, this isn't a paid advertorial – we just really like this bank.
How to Open an Ecuador Bank Account
A few weeks ago, we finally opened our bank account here in Ecuador. After 17 months, I'm sure you can tell that it's not a priority or necessity to have one. But it does make things more convenient. At least that's what we are hoping.
Banco Pichincha has a program just for us extranjeros (foreigners). Here is what you'll need to open an Ecuador bank account.
- Opening deposit of USD$300
- Opening Application (they fill that out during your meeting)
- Passport or color copy of Identity card (only color)
- Residence Card (Censo of registration from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
- Bill (copy) of a basic service: water, electricity or phone (home, not hotel). Must be less than 60 days old.
- If the foreign citizen is a member of a company, attach copy of contract or letter from the company stating its duties and the same time in the country. (foreign workers)
And even though it isn't officially included on the list – a letter of recommendation is also required. The brochure they had out in branch notes that you need a letter from someone who also has an account there, who will vouch for you.
You know, that you are an upstanding and all around great person. And they must sign it, with their bank account number and cedula or passport number. Not sure of what it actually means, but it is required.
- Monto de Apertura de USD 300.
- Solicitud de apertura
- Pasaporte a color o copia de Cédula de identidad (solo a color)
- Carné de residencia (Censo de empadronamiento en el Ministerio de relaciones exteriores)
- Copia de planilla de pago de un servicio básico: agua, luz o teléfono (de residencia, no de hotel). La planilla de servicios debe tene run máximo de 60 días de antigüedad.
- En caso de que el ciudadano extranjero sea miembro de una empresa, adjuntar copia del contrato o carta de la empresa indicando cuales son sus funciones y el tiempo de las mismas en el pais.(extranjeros empleados)
For more information, check out the Banco Pichincha site.
Pictured is the head office for Banco Pichincha here in Cuenca. It is on the corner of 12 de Abril y Av. Solano.
It's just a couple of minutes from the city center. You don't have to come here, there are numerous other branches, but this one is the largest in the city.