Money in Mexico
Complete Guide to Money in Mexico
The Mexican Peso
Mexico's currency is the Mexican Peso. There are one hundred Mexican cents (centavos) to every peso.
The symbol for the the Mexican Peso is $. To distingush this from the Dollar, you sometimes see it presented as MX$ or the value with the letters "MN" after it, e.g. $100 MN. The MN stands for Moneda Nacional, meaning National Currency.
Mexican Bank notes are printed in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 pesos. The most commonly seen and used are the 50, 100 and 200 peso notes.
Value of the Mexican Peso
The Mexican Peso is a "free floating" currency in Foreign Exchange Markets and like other similar currencies, its value fluctates daily
Mexican Bank Notes in Circulation Today
20 Peso Note
The new version is made of a plastic paper. A limited-edition 20 peso coin is also in circulation.
50 Peso Note
Very commonly used and seen. A new plastic paper version was introduced in 2006
100 Peso Note
Probably the most common note used today.
200 Peso Note
Very common and often seen - ATMs dispense these a lot of the time. This new version appeared in September 2008
500 Peso Note
These are sometimes hard to get change for, especially from street traders.
1000 Peso Note
This new version was launched April 2008; Not often seen and hard to get change from these.
Coins and Small Change in Mexico
Mexican cent coins are minted in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 centavo (cent) pieces; however, it's very rare to see coins of less than 50 centavos these days.
Peso coins in denominations of $1 $2, $5, and $10 are used frequently in Mexico, especially for paying small tips. There is a limited edition $20 peso coin in circulation but these are rarely seen as people collect them.
Making Small Change in Mexico
Getting change always seems to be a perennial problem in Mexico: try to make as much change as possible to use with independent traders by spending larger denomination notes in big stores; you will need the smaller notes for taxis, local buses and other small purchases where the traders often don't have the available change to hand.
Old Mexican Bank Notes
People with old $1,000 or even $100,000 peso bank notes wonder if they may be exchanged for new money. Well, they can be, but the value will vary depending on which bank note you hold and from what year. Old notes may be exchanged at the Bank of Mexico for new ones; traders and shops won't accept them.
Traveler's Cheques in Mexico
- Travelers' Cheques are a safe way to carry 'virtual cash' with you to Mexico, and will complement the use of a cash-machine card if you have one (see using Credit and Debit Cards, later in this guide).
- Most exchange houses and banks do not levy additional fees to cash traveler's cheques in Mexico; you get the face value of the check multiplied by the day's rate of exchange.
- If the place you go to cash your traveler's cheques does charge a fee, find somewhere else: it's NOT normal practice to levy commission charges or fees to cash traveler's cheques (or foreign currency cash) in Mexico.
- Tip: Even if you have a cash-machine card, you may consider carrying traveler's cheques as a back-up to your bank card, should it get lost, damaged or retained by an ATM for some reason.
If you carry traveler's cheques, here are a few tips for using them in Mexico:
- Carry well-known branded checks; American Express or VISA are the best known in Mexico
- Although in the past, US or Canadian Dollar traveler's cheques were the best option, these days both Sterling and Euro traveler's cheques are widely accepted and the rates of exchange are favorable. Australian Dollars are still not as widely recognized in Mexico
- You'll have trouble cashing traveler's cheques on Sundays as banks and exchange houses (except main airport branches) are generally closed. Plan ahead or use an ATM card
- Keep the cheques safe - you may want to leave them at the Hotel Deposit Box if they're just for emergencies
- Some places ask for two forms of identification to cash traveler's cheques (e.g. passport AND driver's license); go prepared to the exchange booth
- Hotels will take payment by traveler's check (or cash them for you) but their rates will generally be unattractive in comparison to banks or currency exchange houses
Using Credit and Debit Cards in Mexico
Major credit and debit cards are accepted at hundreds of thousands of hotels, shops, restaurants and travel service providers in Mexico. Your purchases will charged in pesos, and your bank will convert the amount back to the equivalent in the local currency where your account is held and charge it to your account.
Charges for Use of Cards
Banks make a "foreign exchange charge" which can be up to 2.75% of the transaction value for use of Debit and Credit cards in Mexico.
The exchange rates used to convert the pesos back to your local currency when making a purchase on the card are usually the same as if you were drawing cash from a cash machine using your card (see ATMs section, below). You can ask your bank what charges apply, as they vary from bank to bank (and between different kinds of accounts).
Card Signatures in Mexico
Most establishments in Mexico now have the "swipe" machines like the ones used in stores in the US and Europe. The old "carbon copy" desk imprinters are all but obsolete now, except in special circumstances when the electronic systems are down. Swipe machines will require your hand signature, but the latest "Chip and PIN" technology is now being introduced in Mexico.
With the latest cards, the stores or restaurants enter your card into a special device that reads the encrypted chip now embedded onto many bank cards. Instead of signing a voucher, you are asked to enter your card's PIN number (cover your hand when you do this). Some establishments also ask you to sign the voucher that the machine prints out, but it's not necessary. Your bank won't charge you twice if you do.
Credit and Debit Card Safety in Mexico
If you're planning to use your Credit / Debit card in Mexico, take a moment to read the paragraph on Money Safety later in this guide.
Banks and ATMs in Mexico
Banks in Mexico
Mexico's banks offer a network of ATM machines that can be used to withdraw local currency. Although some banks offer cash and traveler's check exchange, they are not the ideal place to undertake this kind of business: go to an exchange house instead. If you need to transfer money to or from Mexico, this is probably best done through an agency set up for the purpose (see Money Transfers, later in this guide).
Principal Banks in Mexico with Retail Operations:
- Bancomer (owned by BBVA of Spain)
- Banamex (owned by US banking giant Citigroup)
- Banco Santander (part-owned by Bank of America)
- HSBC (Formerly Bital)
- Scotiabank (Formerly Inverlat)
- Banorte (Mexican-owned bank)
Using ATMs in Mexico
Cash Machines (ATMs) are now widespread in Mexico. They are almost always open, very reliable and will dish out Mexican pesos to anyone with a card connected to one of the global networks, like VISA, MasterCard, American Express, etc.
Exchange rates are generally favorable, as you tend to get the "wholesale bank rate" (or very close to it) instead of the tourist rate, which can be quite different (not in your favor), although other service charges do apply (see below).
ATMs are by far the quickest and most efficient way to get access to local currency in Mexico.
Charges for ATM Usage in Mexico
As a guide, banks charge up to 2% of the transaction value when you withdraw cash from ATMs in Mexico from savings and current accounts. This percentage can be more for cash-advances drawn down from credit cards. In addition to the above, some banks also make a "foreign exchange charge" which can be up to 3% of the transaction value.
Note About UK-Issued 'Switch' Cards
If you live in the UK and use a 'Switch' card, note that most 'Switch' cards issued in the UK will NOT work in Mexican cash machines, and commercial outlets will not accept them either. Your card should display one of the international logos like Visa (Delta) or MasterCard, etc. Check with your bank before traveling if you plan to use a 'Switch' card in Mexico.
Exchanging Money in Mexico
All main towns and cities have institutions willing to exchange your foreign notes and traveler's cheques into Mexican pesos.
Most exchange houses and banks do not charge commissions to exchange currency, but make money through the spreads - the difference between the rate at which they sell pesos and the rate at which they buy them. The spread is usually larger for money orders than travelers' checks or cash. In tourist hot spots, where there are plenty of exchange houses, it's worth checking several to see who is offering the best rate.
Where to Exchange Money and Currencies in Mexico
Retail banks, currency exchange houses, certain stores and hotels are the most common places where foreign currencies may be traded in Mexico.
Exchanging Money at Retail Banks
Although you will have no trouble finding a major bank in Mexico's towns and cities, most of them are NOT "foreign exchange friendly"; the procedures and time it takes to exchange foreign cash and traveler's cheques at a bank are considerably more cumbersome than doing the same thing at an exchange house (casa de cambio) -- see below.
Some banks will only exchange foreign currency if you have a local bank account; others have limited time windows during the day when they will transact foreign currency exchange. Most of them will make you line up twice to cash traveler's cheques: once to have the check authorized and again at the cashier's desk to get your money. Lines at Mexican banks can often be very long and you can expect to spend at least 45 minutes exchanging a traveler's check at a bank in Mexico.
Some banks have a "foreign exchange" window, or annexe room next to the bank's main lobby, which makes the process of money exchnage (including traveler's cheques) quick and efficient -- because they operate in much the same way as Bureaus de Change operate (see below) -- but not all banks offer this facility.
Exchanging Money at a Casa de Cabio
Look for the words "Casa de Cambio", although the signs are invariably in English too. Rates are often favorable, sometimes better than those offered at banks - check the competition locally, as different exchange houses and banks' rates will differ depending on the institutions' need for different foreign currencies. Some exchange houses have shorter opening hours than the banks, although in recent times they have been extending their operating hours to compete more effectively.
Exchanging Money at Mexico City's Airport
If you are arriving to or departing from Mexico City's international airport, and you need to change money on arrival, or sell pesos as you leave, you will find rates here are among the most competitive in the country, and rates are similar to those offered at downtown exchange houses. There are many exchange booths at the airport, both on the "air side" and the "land side," so you don't have to use the first one you see.
Currency Exchange at Stores in Mexico
Certain stores, for example Wal-Mart stores and some of the larger department stores in Mexico will accept US Dollars as well as Mexican Pesos. The cash registers automatically convert the total at the day's 'house' rate: that is, the rate which the store is offering for receipt of payment in US Dollars. Note that they do not accept Canadian Dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling. If you're aware of that day's exchange rate and good with math, you may be able to calculate how good or bad the exchange offer is when the 'converted amount' flashes up on the cash register. If the store does not have sufficient US Dollars in the register you will be offered change in Mexican Pesos.
Currency Exchange at Hotels in Mexico
Many hotels in Mexico offer currency exchange but, as with hotels worldwide, the rates tend to be unattractive in comparison with exchange houses and banks - both in exchange for cash and in settlement of the account. We recommend that you use Hotels as a last resort for money exchange.
Currencies Traded in Mexico
Mexican banks and exchange houses will buy and sell all major currencies. US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Pounds Sterling, Euros, Australian Dollars and Yen can be readily sold across the counter at exchange houses and many banks.
Money-Saving Tip! There is no point in buying US Dollars for exchange in Mexico if your home currency is the Canadian Dollar, Pound Sterling, Euro or Yen, as it will involve an additional exchange transaction (extra cost) before getting your Mexican Pesos. Just take your Canadian Dollars, Pounds, Euros or Yen with you in cash and/or traveler's cheques - exchanging them directly into Mexican Pesos will be straightforward and you will get a decent rate in exchange for them.
Transferring Money To and From Mexico
If you find yourself in Mexico and need to wire money back home, or if you need money wired to you in Mexico a network of agencies who specialize in doing just that has been established in Mexico.
Transferring money can be expensive (especially in smaller amounts), but it is convenient. An alternative, if you have an ATM card, is for someone to deposit money in your bank account at home, which you can access locally via an ATM, but this isn't free - read about ATM charges above.
How over-the-counter money transfer works
If you are transferring relatively small sums and want to use over-the-counter money transfer services, here's the general process:
The person sending you money goes to their nearest agency and makes the payment plus associated charges, telling their local branch what city the money should be sent to. The money is wired to that city and, to claim it, the recipient goes to an establishment that represents the agency (e.g. Western Union), shows a photo identification and claims the transferred amount.
To send money from Mexico to a destination overseas, it's the same process in reverse.
Money Safety in Mexico
Storing Cash and Traveler's Cheques
If you've taken traveler's cheques for emergency use only, and have cash that you don't need all at once, then leave these at your hotel when you're out and about - preferably at the hotel's safety deposit box ("caja fuerte").
Most of the better hotels in Mexico now provide safes in each room. These safes are secured inside the room (usually in one of the cupboards) and you can choose your own PIN to lock the safe's door.
If your hotel has no safety deposit box, and there is no safe in your room, you will need to decide whether it is best to take them with you or keep them somewhere in your room. Remember that if traveler's cheques are lost or stolen, they can be canceled and replaced, usually within twenty-four hours.ATM Lobbies in Mexico
Most cash machines (ATMs) in Mexico are in small lobbies. In days past, you had to swipe your bank card to enter; however, due to scammers using this.
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