Credit card? How to pay with real money in Loja

Mix of U.S. and Ecuadorian cash - it all works 

Cash rules in Ecuador. That's not to say one can't ever use a credit card for a payment but the majority of stores here will only accept coins or bills. The good news is that legal tender includes both United States currency and coins minted in Ecuador.

The favorite coin is the U.S. dollar coin featuring the indigenous woman Sacajawea. The most coveted paper bill is the Lincoln $5 denomination. If you plan to travel to Ecuador from the states then you can make yourself instantly popular by bringing lots of $5 bills with you because they are used so extensively in Loja that they get worn and faded. New, or little circulated, paper money is very welcomed here.

Larger denominations, such as $50 or $100, might be handy for larger purchases (think kitchen appliances, for example) but otherwise they are not useful for day-to-day transactions. Even a twenty dollar bill will be difficult to use unless your total payment at checkout is close to that amount.

Cashiers, store owners, and vendors often have trouble making change of more than a few dollars so try to have close to the correct amount of the value of your purchase. It is not uncommon for a cashier to ask a customer to wait for a moment while they go to another shop or vendor to make change because they don't have enough in their own till. Patience, and carrying lots of small change, will make shopping easier on your nerves.

Taxi drivers, also, may not be able to give change for a bill larger than $5. After all, most taxi rides within the city will cost less than 2 or 3 dollars so be kind and come prepared with coins instead of paper money. Bus fares are especially cheap at 30 cents, or 15 cents for disabled, elderly, children or pregnant mothers. Having the correct fare for the bus makes getting on much quicker and easier when the conductor doesn't need to make change.

Many expats still find a use for credit cards and that is to withdraw funds from ATM machines. Depending on the rules of the "home" account and of the Ecuadorian bank that owns the ATM, fees for withdrawals can be very inexpensive or quite steep. If you have not already done so it is advised you ask about fees before being surprised at a cash machine.

And speaking of cash machines, you may have heard that there are some places in Ecuador where one can walk up to a change machine, insert paper money, and get coins in return. To date, these machines have not arrived in Loja. It behooves you to be your own "cash machine" - if you do, your life in Loja will be that much more tranquil.


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