Your complete Guide to Money in Mexico
In addition to explaining Mexico’s currency, this guide shares lots of local knowledge about managing your money in Mexico including banks, currency exchange, and how to make the most of your money in Mexico—whether you’re here for leisure, for business, to live, work, retire, or invest in real estate.
Mexican Bank Notes in Circulation Today
Coins and Small Change in Mexico
The Value of Old Mexican Bank Notes
Using Traveler’s Checks in Mexico
Using Credit and Debit Cards in Mexico
Banks and ATMs in Mexico
Exchanging Money in Mexico
Money Safety Tips
Prices in Mexico
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 $. To distinguish this from the Dollar, you sometimes see it presented as MX$ 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 fluctuates daily.
Banknote images are (C) Bank of Mexico
20 Peso Note
The new version is made of a plastic paper. A 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 – ATM’s 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
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.
See Related Blog: No Hay Cambio
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. You can get details about exchanging old money for new from the Bank of Mexico web site.
See Related Blog: The Value of Old Mexican Bank Notes
Until recently, travelers’ checks were de fe-facto means for travelers to port their travel money in a safe way, and exchange them for local currency abroad.
Traveler’s checks have mostly fallen out of favor with travelers, as the widespread use of ATM cards has made them less relevant to modern-day needs.
While traveler’s checks are still accepted at some places in Mexico, they are becoming increasingly difficult to exchange, the rates offered might not be as attractive, and it’s often time-consuming to exchange them.
See Related Blog: The Trouble with Traveler’s Checks
Electronic Debit Cards
Traveler’s Checks are being superceded by a new style of “electronic debit card”. These are like debit cards issued by your bank and linked to your checking account, but a key distinction is that they are not tied to any bank account.
Instead, you top them up with a cash balance from your bank account (or over the counter) and carry the card with you when you travel. When you need to draw cash from the balance on the card, you visit a local ATM to withdraw money in local currency.
They work similar to regular debit cards (see next section). Some electronic debit cards only allow use at ATMs, others also allow you to use them in stores; however, check with the card issuer about the foreign exchange charges they make for using the cards, as well as any other “per transaction” charges.
One of the other ‘hidden’ costs of these cards is that you earn zero interest on any balance you hold on the card (although the same applies to traditional paper traveler’s checks).
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 Mexican 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 4% of the transaction value for use of Debit and Credit cards in Mexico. The exchange rates used to convert the Mexican 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 ATM’s 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
Many stores in Mexico continue to use the “swipe” machines to take payment from plastic cards. With these, the machine prints out a slip and the card holder must physically sign the slip to complete the transaction. Increasingly though, stores are beginning to use the “chip and pin” payment method…
Chip and PIN in Mexico
Swipe machines print out a slip of paper that requires your hand signature, but the latest “Chip and PIN” technology is being introduced in stores across 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). In Spanish the PIN is referred to as firma electronica – electronic signature. 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. If you do not know your PIN, the establishment might still “swipe” the card and take payment using your signature and other identification. However, as Chip & PIN becomes more prominent in Mexico, it’s wise (and less time consuming) to know your PIN for making card payments.
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.
See Blog: Access Your Cash Using 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 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, now merged with IXE)
Using ATMs in Mexico
Cash Machines (ATMs) are now widespread across 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, AMEX, etc.
Exchange rates are generally favorable as you will get a rate based on the wholesale exchange rate less a percentage (usually between 2% and 4%) instead of the tourist rate, which can be quite different (not in your favor sort of different). Your bank may charge additional fees per transaction: check with you bank to find out what these are. In general, it’s better to take out larger sums in one transaction than several smaller sums.
Charges for ATM Usage in Mexico
As a guide, banks charge ‘currency exchange fees’ of between 2% and 4% of the withdrawal value when you take cash from ATM’s in Mexico, when funds are drawn from savings and current accounts in non Mexican banks. Most banks also charge a separate ‘transaction fee’ in addition to this when you are drawing money from your account abroad–check with your bank for details.
Note that currency conversion and transaction fees for cash-advances drawn down from credit cards tend to be higher than those where money is drawn down from savings or current/checking accounts. Additionally, interest is charged from the date of the cash withdrawal, whether you clear your credit card balance or not. Drawing cash from credit cards is usually an expensive way to borrow money.
Although banks have increased charges for ATM use abroad in recent years, they are by far the quickest and most efficient way to get access to local currency in Mexico from a foreign-based bank account.
See Blog: Access Your Cash Using ATMs in Mexico
All main towns and cities have institutions willing to exchange your foreign notes and traveler’s checks into Mexican pesos.
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.
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.
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 checks—exchanging them directly into Mexican Pesos will be straightforward and you will get a decent rate in exchange for them.
Where to Exchange Money and Currencies in Mexico
Here is a list of places in Mexico where you can exchange foreign cash and traveler’s checks:
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 Mexican 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 currency exchange kiosks at the airport, both on the “air side” and the “land side,” so you don’t have to use the first one you see. NB: Exchange rates “land side” (i.e. the public area, not the secure area) usually better rates than those “air side” (past security).
See Blog: A Tale of Two Airport Exchange Rates
Exchanging Money at a Casa de Cambio
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.
Currency Exchange at Stores and Hotels in Mexico
Since new money laundering laws were introduced in 2010, stores and other businesses can no longer accept US dollars in cash for payment. Further, hotels are prohibited from accepting any foreign cash in payment and no longer exchange traveler’s checks for local currency; some might still accept traveler’s checks for payment of your stay at the hotel, but check with the hotel beforehand to make sure if you intend to settle your bill this way–and ask them what exchange rate you can expect (it may not be favorable).
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 checks at a bank are considerably more cumbersome than doing the same thing at an exchange house (casa de cambio) —see Exchanging Money at a Casa de Cambio, 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 banks will make you line up twice to cash traveler’s checks: once to have the check authorized by a manager 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, perhaps much longer. Some banks have a “foreign exchange” window, or annex-room next to the bank’s main lobby, which makes the process of money exchange (including traveler’s checks) quicker because they operate in much the same way as Casas de Cambio operate—but most banks don’t offer this facility.
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 are established in Mexico. You can also consider wiring money to accounts in Mexico using electronic funds transfer services, provided via the Internet.
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.
Electronic Money Transfers to Mexico
When the amounts involved are larger, for example when you are purchasing a home or other “big ticket” item in Mexico, or when you are making regular payments, the over-the-counter option will not work. Fortunately, with the advent of internet banking and finance services, specialized companies now exist that offer the capability of transferring money between banks electronically from one country to another using internet-based systems.
These services offer fast and secure money transfer from one bank account to another and offer better exchange rates and lower transaction charges than over-the-counter money transfer transfer services as their operational costs are lower.
If you have a bank account in Mexico–or if someone you with a bank account in Mexico needs you to transfer money to them–these international money transfer services can offer very good value for money and expedite the funds much more quickly than sending checks, which need to be negotiated by the foreign bank before they can be cleared–a process that can take days or weeks.
Storing Cash and Traveler’s Checks
If you’ve taken traveler’s checks 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 wardrobes) 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.
Care When Using ATM Lobbies in Mexico
Most cash machines (ATMs) in Mexico are situated in small lobbies. In days past, you had to swipe your bank card to enter; however, due to con-artists using this feature to clone cards, the banks have removed the need to swipe your card to enter the lobby. If you see a card swipe/reader at the lobby door of an ATM in Mexico, DO NOT swipe your card through it. Doing so may cause your card’s details to be copied and compromised by fraudsters. It is local custom to wait outside until the lobby is free, or if there are two or three cash machines available inside, until the next one becomes available for use.
Withdraw Cash During the Daytime
Try to use cash machines in daylight hours, at times when there are other people around—especially so in Mexico City. Be mindful of anything that may look suspicious near the vicinity of the cash machine and if you are in doubt, wait, or find another cash machine. Withdrawing money from cash machines at night, at hours when there are few or no people around is not recommended, especially in Mexico City. Use common sense, as you would back home, and you should have no problems using ATMs in Mexico.
Armed Police at Banks
You may see armed police standing outside banks, and at ATMs when they are being refilled. Don’t be alarmed, this is quite a normal practice throughout Mexico. It takes about 20-30 minutes for the security team to refill and test an ATM, and if you see armed guards surrounding a machine you approach while it’s being refilled, it’s best not to loiter in expectation that it will soon be back in service; come back later or find an alternative machine.
If you are planning to travel through Mexico on business or for pleasure, or if you are thinking about living in Mexico, or investing in real estate here, it may be useful for you to compare the cost of things in your home country with those currently being charged in Mexico.
We publish a Mexico Cost of Living Guide, updated annually, that enables you to make comparison of living costs in Mexico with your living costs back home, based on your lifestyle choices. Download a copy today!