When Ecuador retired the sucre and adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000, not all Ecuadorians were thrilled about the change. Some felt that the country was abandoning its history. But the government decided it was necessary after a financial crisis in 1999 saw the foreign exchange value of their sucre drop 67 percent. Wealthy Ecuadorians started changing their holdings into U.S. dollars, which had the effect of unofficially dollarizing Ecuador. So, unpopular as it was among some citizens, to others the government’s action just made it official.
Paper Bills and Coins
The paper bills used in Ecuador are printed at U.S. mints. There is literally no difference between them and the bills used in the U.S. every day. However, Ecuador does mint its own coins. They’re called centavos. They come in the same denominations as U.S. coins; 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50. They’re the same sizes, shape and colors as their U.S. counterparts so it’s easy to keep them straight. But what if you just returned from a trip to Ecuador with a pocket full of coins or still have some old sucres lying around?
You can forget about the coins. While U.S. coins and centavos are used interchangeably in Ecuador, it doesn’t work that way in the U.S. When you’re outside of Ecuador, centavos are still considered fractions of the sucre, not the dollar. So Ecuadorian coins cannot be spent in the U.S. without exchanging them. Because the exchange rate for sucres to dollars is so poor, it can be difficult or impossible to find a place that will take them. The best thing to do is to spend all of your Ecuadorian coins before you come home. If you forget, some currency exchanges will take them as donations to featured charities that they’ve chosen.
Dollar Coins Are the Exception
The one exception to not being able to spend Ecuadorian coins in the U.S. is the $1 coin. One dollar coins abound in Ecuador. In particular, you’ll see a lot of copper and brass Sacagawea $1 coins in Ecuador. You probably won’t want to accumulate too many of them simply because of their weight. But they can come in handy for taxi fares and tipping while you’re in Ecuador. The difference between these coins and one-sucre bills is that the $1 coins are minted in the U.S. So the coins can be spent in the U.S. for their full dollar value, no exchanging necessary.
What to Do with Sucres
The currency exchange abbreviation for the Ecuadorian sucre is ECU. Since it was rendered obsolete almost 20 years ago, it’s value has diminished to the point that today 25,000 sucres are worth about $1. Sucres are scarce but they still show up on the streets of Ecuador where they’re sold as souvenirs to tourists.
Some currency exchanges will convert sucres to U.S. dollars for you, but they may have a minimum order and they do charge a fee or commission for their services. So unless you have an enormous number of sucres, exchanging them is probably not worth it. Currency exchanges also sometimes have maximum orders but for all the reasons we’ve covered, this is not likely to be an issue with sucres.