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Latest travel advice for Ecuador including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2017-03-28T15:42:06.247+01:00: Latest update: Natural disasters section (Rainy seasons) - the Metropolitan District of Quito declared an emergency on 23 March 2017 following heavy rains in the capital; there has been localised flooding and some landslides; heavy rains are expected to continue for several weeks; you should monitor local media and check with your tour operator to avoid disruption

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel within the 20km exclusion zone along the border with Colombia except for the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province. See Local travel.

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the areas of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve outside the 20km zone in Sucumbios. See Local travel

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the areas of El Angel Ecological Reserve inside the 20 km exclusion zone in the province of Carchi. See Local travel

Ecuador is situated in an area of intense seismic activity. There is a high risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. You should make sure you are aware of the risks and are familiar with the relevant safety and evacuation procedures. In the event of a natural disaster, you should monitor official channels – the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute and the National Secretariat for Risk Management (both Spanish only) – and follow the advice of the local authorities.

UK health authorities have classified Ecuador as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Cases of armed robbery are increasing and petty crime is common. See Crime

Around 26,600 British nationals visited Ecuador in 2016. Most visits are trouble free.

There is a low threat from terrorism. See Terrorism

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Safety and security

Crime

Muggings and pick pocketing are very common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the bus terminals and the old town including the main square and ‘El Panecillo’ hill. Avoid travelling to ‘El Panecillo’ hill on your own or by foot. Use one of the standard tours or reliable transport instead. In Guayaquil, be particularly careful in the Kennedy, Alborada, Urdesa and the Malecon Simon Bolivar districts and the bus terminal.

Don’t wear expensive jewellery when walking around and watch your bags on public transport. Wear your rucksack on the front of your body. Where possible, don’t store anything under your seat or in the overhead storage on buses.

Carry a colour copy of your passport, including the visa entry stamp page, and keep the original safe. Only take out as much money as you need.

Take care of your belongings in restaurants or cafes and watch out for thieves. Criminals sometimes squirt liquids (ketchup, mustard, water, etc.) on you and then steal your bag while ‘helping’ to clean you up. Other methods of distraction include requests for assistance, staged fights and pushing or shoving. Don’t resist a robbery.

Take care when withdrawing money from a bank or at an ATM.

Incidents of attacks and serious sexual assault against foreign women have increased in the city of Montañita (Santa Elena province in the east of Ecuador). All visitors, particularly women, should take extra care to find reputable and secure accommodation whether travelling alone or as a group. Avoid travelling after dark and be alert to the use of date rape and other drugs in drinks. If you feel unwell, seek urgent help from people you know.

Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug ‘scopolamine’ leave victims in a sedated, compliant state and cause amnesia. Be wary if you’re approached by a stranger offering you food, drinks, leaflets, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.

Armed robbery can be a constant hazard throughout Ecuador, but especially in Quito, Guayaquil and in remote areas. Seek local advice about the safety of the area you are visiting and travel in a group whenever possible.

Quito has a Tourist Police unit with branches in the north and old town of the city. The Ministry of Tourism has a tourist service complaints management system e-mail: denuncias@turismo.gob.ec

The Ecuador District Attorney´s Office (Fiscalia General) now has an English online tool for tourists to report robbery, theft and loss of belongings and documents.

Transport Safety

There has been an increase in robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially Quito, Riobamba and Baños tourist towns. Most incidents took place at night. Where possible you should avoid travelling by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported on the routes between Quito and Baños; Quito and Tulcan; Quito and Guayas; Quito and Cuenca; Quito and Puyo; Cuenca and Ambato; Otavalo and Quito, Lago Agrio and Guayaquil and also in the province of Loja. Avoid taking interstate buses with a reputation for stopping to pick up passengers at night as many criminals use this means to attack passengers.

Express kidnappings - short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim - also occur, particularly in Quito and Guayaquil. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. This type of crime can involve illegitimate and registered taxis. Ecuadoreans and foreign visitors are targets.

In 2012, in the old town and in La Mariscal in Quito, 2 British couples were attacked by taxi drivers and accomplices who boarded the taxis to assist in the robbery. The passengers were pepper sprayed. The victims were later released in an isolated area of Quito. On 28 December 2013, a Japanese tourist was murdered, and his wife seriously injured by a taxi driver in Guayaquil.

The use of unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of becoming a victim of crime, including armed robbery and express kidnapping. Try to book a taxi through your hotel or by calling a known radio taxi service. If you are using an authorised taxi (yellow cab) in Quito and Guayaquil make sure it has the municipality registration number sticker displayed on the windscreen and doors; the orange license plates or the new white plates with an orange strip on the top and video cameras inside. Avoid hailing a taxi on the street. Larger supermarkets and airports have taxi ranks.

In mid 2013, the Ecuadorean National Transit Agency launched the ‘Secure Transport’ project throughout Ecuador. This includes the installation of security kits - video cameras, panic buttons and GPS - inside interstate buses and registered taxis. You should only use the yellow registered taxis, with the ‘transporte seguro’ logo, if a radio taxi isn’t available.

You can also order a secure taxi from a new free smartphone application ‘Easy Taxi’, available for Android and iPhone. A photo, the name of the taxi driver and the vehicle description will be sent to the customer.

Volunteer and Adventure activities

If you’re joining a ‘volunteer’ or ‘adventure expedition’ programme, where possible make sure the UK organisation responsible for the travel has an official local agent in Ecuador with sufficient autonomy and resources to handle an emergency situation. Be wary of unauthorised intermediaries ‘enganchadores’ trying to offer you cheap hotels or tour deals.

If you’re planning to undertake adventure activities like canopy, bungee jumping or quad biking, make sure you use a reputable local tour operator and the equipment is in good condition. In May 2012 and January 2016, 2 foreign tourists died in Mindo and Bucay areas due to canopy accidents.

Hiking

Due to high altitude and unpredictable climates, you should be well prepared if you’re hiking in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. Don’t stray from established paths and avoid exploring remote areas without an experienced guide. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect you will be back.

The teleférico (cable car) from Quito to Pichincha, the volcano that overlooks the city, is a popular day trip from the capital. However, there have been numerous accidents, including fatalities from hypothermia. You should take warm and waterproof clothing – even on a clear day, the weather can change quickly – and take a recognised guide who knows the route well. Tourists have been killed by electrical storms while climbing Pichincha, so you should pay close attention to the weather, and re-consider your plans if conditions look bad.

Use of traditional hallucinogens

Traditional hallucinogens, often referred to as ayahuasca or San Pedro, are found in Ecuador. These substances are often marketed to tourists as ‘spiritual cleansing’, and typically contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a strong hallucinogen that’s illegal in the UK and many other countries. There are many risks involved. Consumption isn’t regulated. Intoxicated travellers have been assaulted and robbed. Health risks are not well understood, and on occasions people have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases deaths after taking these drugs, which are often taken a long way from medical facilities making the risks even greater.

Local travel

There is a 20 km exclusion zone along the entire northern-border with Colombia under army control. The FCO advise against all travel to this area except the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province. Guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and criminal gangs are active and there is a risk of kidnapping and a high risk of crime. Foreigners, including oil workers, are potential targets.

If you’re crossing the border at Tulcan (Rumichaca land official border point) you should enter and exit the town via the main highway. Lago Agrio (also known as Nueva Loja), the main town in the border province of Sucumbios, and San Lorenzo, in the border province of Esmeraldas, both lie within the 20km zone.

The FCO advise against all, but essential travel to the area bordering Colombia in Carchi province inside the 20km exclusion zone. The border area in Carchi province is home to various eco-lodges, near El Angel Ecological Reserve. Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are present in the area. If you’re travelling to this area, make sure you travel with a reputable operator with good communication systems, emergency plans in place and an official guide.

The FCO advise against all, but essential travel to the area of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve in Sucumbios. In February 2012 a group of tourists including British nationals were assaulted at gunpoint by a criminal gang in the Cuyabeno reserve. In September 2012 a group of tourists were robbed and 2 tourists were kidnapped in the Cuyabeno reserve but subsequently released.

There is a higher risk of crime in southern parts of Sucumbios province, including Coca (also known as Francisco de Orellana). There are popular eco-lodges in the area along the Napo river, between Sucumbios and Orellana provinces. Use only reputable operators to visit this area. Some lodges are a long distance from the nearest major hospital and helicopter evacuation may be necessary in an emergency. Reputable eco-lodges in this area have good communications and emergency plans in place.

The Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism and the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) have launched a Tourist SIM card (“travel SIM”) available for purchase for smartphones or tablets, aiming to provide tourists with various services during a 30 day period. It includes 1GB of data, free Facebook and Whatsapp, and voice call/SMS credit.

Road travel

You can drive a hire car using a UK licence or International Driving Permit.

The Ecuadorean police recommend that you also get a local temporary driver permit. Always carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance with you when in the vehicle.

Road conditions are variable. Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash away roads, which can cause significant delays and accidents.

Serious accidents are very common, mainly due to careless driving, speeding and badly maintained vehicles. Ecuador has one of the highest rates of road accidents in Latin America. In May 2014, near Papallacta region, a road collision involving a bus carrying foreign tourists caused the deaths of 2 British nationals and injury to others.

If you’re a passenger in a vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.

Where possible, avoid travelling by road outside major cities after dark. If you take public buses, check the reputation of the bus company and make sure it’s insured with a ‘SPPAT’ (formerly SOAT), mandatory traffic accident public insurance. There is an online interstate bus booking system.

When taking yellow registered taxis in the major cities make sure the taxi meter is reset. As of May 2015, the minimum charge in Quito is US$1.45 during the day and US$1.75 at night, even if the meter registers less for your journey. If you or the hotel called a taxi, agree a price before you get in.

Rail travel

The national rail company, Tren Ecuador, offers a range of train routes along the Andean and coastal regions in Ecuador. Most of the rail system has been repaired.

Travelling on the roof of trains is no longer allowed due to serious risks posed by overhead cables and bridges.

Air travel

The new Quito ‘Mariscal Sucre’ International Airport is in Tababela, at about 37 km towards the north-eastern part of Quito. The main connecting roads have now been completed. Journey times from the airport to central Quito can vary from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the time of day.

Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.

Sea travel

There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Ecuador’s waters. Sailors should be vigilant and take appropriate precautions.

There have been several serious accidents in the Galapagos Islands involving boats operated by tour companies. You should ask about safety features before making a booking, and check that life boats and the life vests are provided before boarding.

Political situation

Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on Sunday 19 February 2017. There were significant protests in Quito and Guayaquil following the first round of elections. The second round of presidential elections will be held on Sunday 2 April 2017. You should monitor local media and avoid all large gatherings.

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism. Be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Drug production and trafficking has spread into Ecuador from Colombia and Peru. Any involvement in the trafficking or use of illegal drugs is a serious crime. The penalties are harsh and prison conditions are very basic. Over 90% of foreign prisoners are in jail for drug-related crimes.

It is a legal requirement to carry ID. You should keep a photocopy of your passport pages including your photograph and Ecuadorean immigration entry stamp with you at all times.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

You can visit Ecuador without a visa, but you may be asked about your reason for travel and to provide evidence of a return or onward flight/bus ticket when you arrive. On arrival in the country, you’ll normally be allowed to remain in Ecuador for up to 90 days per year. If you’re planning to stay for longer, you should apply for a visa from an Ecuadorean Embassy in London (or from another Ecuadorean embassy overseas) before you travel. In certain circumstances, you may be able to apply for a visa at the Ecuadorean Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the 90 days expires.

If you wish to work or study in Ecuador, check visa requirements with the Ecuadorean Embassy in London before travelling.

If you enter Ecuador via the border with Peru or Colombia you must insist on being given an entry stamp at the border showing the date of your arrival. There have been cases of buses not stopping at the border, which has caused great difficulties for foreign visitors who may need to return to the border entry point to get the required stamp.

Foreign visitors who overstay will be deported. You will not be able to return to Ecuador for 9 months and your name could remain on immigration records.

If you intend to marry to an Ecuadorean citizen in Ecuador contact the British Embassy in Quito for further information on how to apply for a proof of single status document. A local regulation states than an Ecuadorean visa is required.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry; this is a strict legal requirement from the Ecuadorean government. Without this minimum validity entry to the country will be denied.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETD) are also accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Ecuador. Your emergency travel document must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Ecuador.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

UK health authorities have classified Ecuador as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

As with other medical matters, travellers should assure their own healthcare arrangements. This might include obtaining access to anti-viral medicine or to seek medical advice. Good medical treatment can be expensive and is not always available outside the main cities. Private hospitals will demand a credit card guarantee for admission. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. For life threatening emergencies, in principle every private or public health institution is obliged by law to assist patients.

There are limited facilities on the Galapagos Islands. If you travel to the Galapagos make sure your insurance includes evacuation by air ambulance. In December 2014, a new public hospital opened in San Cristobal island. If you travel to the Galapagos Islands by boat you may be asked to state your blood group in the medical and emergency contact information collected when you board the ship.

Parts of Ecuador (including Quito at 2,800m) are at high altitude. If you plan to travel to altitudes over 2,500 metres discuss the risks associated with travelling to high altitude with your GP before you travel.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.  

Ecuador has an Emergency Integrated Response Service (SIS ECU 911) to respond to any emergency incidents that may require immediate assistance from emergency agencies. Dial 911 to report or request emergency help. Consider using the new ECU 911 free smartphone application to report various types of emergencies. Download this application and get registered for emergency assistance.

Natural disasters

Ecuador is situated in an area of intense seismic activity. There is a high risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. You should make sure you are aware of the risks and are familiar with the relevant safety and evacuation procedures. In the event of a natural disaster, you should monitor official channels – the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute and the National Secretariat for Risk Management (both Spanish only) – and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Earthquakes

Given the high risk of earthquakes across Ecuador, you should familiarise yourself with safety procedures and particularly the instructions in your hotel. Further information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake is available from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

There was a major earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) on 16 April 2016, which caused extensive damage and hundreds of fatalities. The coastal provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas were the worst affected, though the earthquake was felt strongly in the capital, Quito. Aftershocks are still occurring.

Seismologists assess the risk of earthquakes in the province of Esmeraldas on the north-western coast as particularly high because of its proximity to the convergence of the Nazca and South American plates.

Tsunami

There is a high risk of tsunamis along the coast and in the Galapagos Archipelago. There is a network of sirens in Esmeraldas and Manabí provinces which will sound in case of a tsunami alert. You should familiarise yourself with evacuation routes maps and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Volcanoes

There are numerous active and potentially active volcanoes in the highlands of Ecuador and the Galapagos Archipelago, some of which are currently in a state of eruption. Ash fall from active volcanoes can disrupt national and international flights across the country and can also pose health hazards, especially for travellers with existing respiratory problems.

There is a high risk of ‘lahars’ around glaciated volcanoes such as Cotopaxi. These are flows of water, mud, lava and debris which can be extremely destructive. The town of Latacunga and low-lying areas in the valley to the east of Quito are particularly vulnerable (Los Chillos and Rumiñahui).

Ecuadorean law stipulates that anyone wishing to climb a glaciated mountain must be accompanied by an officially accredited guide.

You should review your itinerary taking into account information from the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute and the National Secretariat for Risk Management. There are currently alerts and access restrictions in place for the following active volcanoes:

Rainy Seasons

Rainy season usually runs from December to May. The irregular ‘El Niño’ climatic phenomenon occurs every few years and can cause unusually heavy rains, widespread flooding and a hotter climate across Ecuador. The risk of landslides is higher at times of heavy rainfall.

Several provinces (Manabí, Guayas, Santa Elena, El Oro, Azuay, Pichincha and Amazon region) have experienced heavy rains since January 2017, resulting in flooding and landslides. This has affected road access in some areas.

The Metropolitan District of Quito declared an emergency on 23 March 2017 given the usually heavy rainfall in the capital. There has been localised flooding and some landslides. Heavy rains are expected to continue for several weeks.

You should monitor local media and discuss your itinerary with your tour operator to avoid disruption. You should avoid crossing rivers due to potential strong currents and take care in affected areas. In the coastal region you should seek local advice on tidal activity and take appropriate precautions.

Forest fires

Forest fires occur in many areas of Ecuador, but especially in Pichincha province. This is due to high temperatures, strong winds and little rain, but also people lighting fires. If you see a fire call 911.

Money

Apart from Ecuadorean-minted 5c, 10c, 25c and 50c coins, which are used in parallel with the US equivalents, the US Dollar is the only legal currency in Ecuador. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are generally accepted in cities.

The maximum tax free cash limit that can be taken out of the country has been reduced from US$10,000 to US$1,098 (equivalent to 3 minimum salaries). You may be asked to declare the amount of cash you’re carrying when leaving the country. If you wish to take more than this amount of cash out of the country you will be required to pay 5% tax.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

See also

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  • British Embassy Quito

    Title:British Embassy Quito
    Email:
    Address:

    Citiplaza Building,
    Naciones Unidas Avenue and República de El Salvador,
    14th Floor
    PO Box 17-17-830
    Quito
    Ecuador

    Contact: Switchboard: (593) (2) 3972 200
    Visiting:Email:
    Consular Section for British nationals: ecuador.consulate@fco.gov.uk

    General enquiries regarding the Embassy activities: britishembassy.quito@fco.gov.uk.

    Wheelchair access at the British Embassy Quito - (Report COD: SP6-PV027 Dirección de Servicios Integrales)

    The British Embassy Quito has a 60,32 accessibility percentage (medium accessibility index), and it can reach 94,60% (high accessibility index) by implementing changes.
    Services:Emergency Travel Documents service (Assistance Services)
    Transferring funds for prisoners / for financial assistance service (Assistance Services)
    Lost or Stolen Passports (Assistance Services)
    Registrations of Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Documentary Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
    Issue certificate of no impediment (Documentary Services)
  • Department for International Trade Ecuador

    Title:Department for International Trade Ecuador
    Email:
    Address:

    British Embassy Quito
    Naciones Unidas Ave. and Republica de El Salvador
    Edificio Citiplaza, 14th floor
    Quito
    Ecuador

    Contact: Switchboard: (593) (2) 2970 800
    Switchboard (alternative): (593) (2) 2970 801
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