Those of you familiar with international travel know that exchanging your regular currency for the currency of the country you are traveling to is almost like a ritual. You either do so in the airport before you leave or after you arrive at your destination. The reality is that you really don’t have to exchange your currency before you leave. Modern banking is more a matter of moving numbers around electronically than dealing with physical money. As long as there is an ATM machine around, you should be able to get your money.

But there aren’t always ATM machines available.

And exchanging your currency is a ritual that is kind of fun. You look at the board to see the different exchange rates and then give the clerk your money. Within seconds, voila, you have a brand-new currency!

But if you’re planning on taking a trip to Ecuador from the United States, don’t bother exchanging your currency; they use the US dollar down there.

For most of its history, Ecuador used its own currency, the sucre. The country switched to the US dollar, however, after a financial collapse in the late 1990s. The move has helped to revitalize and stabilize Ecuador’s economy and has made things much easier for American tourists and retirees. But, at the same time, it makes the fiercely independent Ecuadorans somewhat dependent on the United States. Unlike most nations that have their own currencies and can therefore move some decimal points in computers and/or physically print more cash, Ecuador needs to keep a steady stream of US dollars coming into its borders.

So, how have they been able to do this?

One of Ecuador’s biggest exports is oil, which they sell in US dollars. Ecuador also receives millions in remittances from its citizens living overseas, as well as from tourists visiting their mountains, rainforests, and beaches. (Since going to the US dollar, Ecuador has become an increasingly attractive place for American retirees.)

Although the switch to the US dollar was initially opposed by a vast majority of Ecuadorans, the move has mostly been a success. “Dollarization”—as the switch to the dollar is referred to by economists—has brought Ecuador monetary discipline, severely reduced inflation, and has proven to be a boon for foreign investment.

Although some people in Ecuador have suggested bringing back their old currency, most experts don’t believe that will happen anytime soon.