How to Exchange Money, Mexico

One question frequently asked by first time visitors is: “Do we need to change money or can I spend U.S. dollars in Mexico?” The answer to both questions is: “Yes.” Virtually every store and restaurant, no matter how small, will accept dollars in payment for any good or service. If the purchase is a small one, the exchange rate you get won’t matter all that much. However, since the peso devaluation in 1995, the rate in restaurants and shops varies widely making it advantageous to use pesos for any sizable purchases. And if you’re going to be paying cash for meals and souvenirs for a week, the premium you end up paying for using dollars even on small purchases will add up.

You should also be aware that the smaller or more remote the location, the more likely it is that the locals will not have a good grasp of the official exchange rate. As a result, if your travels take you to small villages, it would be very smart to bring along a good supply of pesos for your visit.

Most banks will change foreign currency and traveler’s checks during certain hours of the day — usually before 1:30pm. In addition, it shouldn’t be hard to find Casa de Cambios” (literally “house of changers”) that change foreign currency into pesos all day long and into the night. You need to keep an eye out for a service charge and be sure to count your change as there are some unscrupulous money changers out there. We find it interesting that quite often, the money changers will give a slightly better than bank rate during banking hours but a less attractive rate when the banks are closed.

No matter which airport you arrive at when you enter Mexico, you will likely find money changers there as well. Typically, the airport locations give a very poor rate. If you look, chances are you can find an ATM at any airport you fly into. If you feel you can’t wait for the nearest bank or ATM machine, change only a small amount at the airport to avoid taking a big exchange rate hit.

Likewise, the exchange rate at most hotels will not be very attractive.

Depending on the transaction fee your bank may impose, the best way to get pesos in Mexico is to make a withdrawal at an ATM machine. Virtually every bank and the larger supermarkets have them. Directions are in English and the exchange rate official. Some machines will even have an option for withdrawing U.S. currency. There is usually a small or in some cases, no fee from the Mexican bank providing the service and most U.S. banks will charge from $1.50 to $3.00 per transaction. One way of reducing the impact of the transaction fee is to withdraw as much money as possible whenever you access a machine. If you select the “other amount” option when asked how much you want to withdraw, most ATMs in Mexico will allow you to withdraw at least $3000 pesos and some will go as high as $5000.

For those that carry a Bank of America ATM card, you can withdraw money from your accounts via ATMs of the Mexican bank Santander as if you were using a B of A machine.

Another option if you run low on cash during your stay and you have an American Express card: most local AMEX offices in Mexico will take a personal check as payment for traveler’s checks for card holders.

In most hotels, car rental offices and other businesses in tourist areas, credit cards are widely accepted and generally offer a good rate of exchange. However, be aware that many businesses in Mexico will tack on an additional fee for credit card use. We find 4%-6% to be typical but we’ve seen fees as high as 10% added on to purchases. Likewise, if you use your credit card to withdraw pesos from an ATM machine, there will be additional charges over what you would pay if using a card that is tied to your checking account.