Markets and Trade, Mexico Essentials, Money

Spotting Counterfeit Mexican Banknotes

Avoid getting landed with fake bills by learning about the security features on Mexican banknotes

Mexican Banknotes

Counterfeit banknotes circulate in Mexico, as they do in every country around the world.  Notwithstanding the prospect of a twelve-year prison sentence for counterfeiting money, some people still chance their luck by printing rogue notes in an attempt to pass them off as genuine.

Trouble may arise if you innocently offer a counterfeit note for payment and have the bill checked, refused, and possibly confiscated.  Most stores and all exchange houses have security devices on-hand to make an immediate check of the paper quick and simple.

Modern Mexican banknotes carry a range of security features.  Most are similar to those you see on banknotes issued world-wide, making it easier to spot a fake.  The latest series of notes being issued by the Bank of Mexico include some state-of-art anti-counterfeiting measures, most notably, a holographic features on the note face the image of which changes as the note is tilted.

Although credit and debit cards are widely accepted now, Mexico is still very much a cash-based economy, so even if you use your plastic extensively, there will be times when you will need to deal in cash.

To help you avoid getting caught out by fake banknotes, here is a summary of Mexican banknotes and the main security futures you should become aware of when you are handling them:

Paper/Polymer: The two lowest-denominated banknotes, the $20 peso and $50 notes, are printed on polymer, a special type of plastic paper.  All other notes are printed on banknote paper, which has that same crisp and distinct feel of genuine banknotes issued in all countries.  Banknote paper is made using fabric fibers instead of wood pulp and, unlike most commercially-available paper, it does not have any china clay or other dyes added to it, which is why banknote paper fluoresces differently under the light of an ultra-violent lamp than regular paper.  When you’re handling Mexican banknotes, be sure to feel the paper; it should feel the same as, for example, US or Canadian dollars, British pounds, or euros.  If the note doesn’t “feel” right —paper used for counterfeit notes is often thicker than genuine banknote paper— check for additional security features…

Watermark or Embossed Features: All paper banknotes in Mexico have a “watermark” added to them, and when you view the note through a back-light, the silhouette image should appear in an otherwise clear area of the note. On polymer plastic notes, the watermark is substituted by an embossed feature visible through transparent areas on the bill.

Holographic Features: Banknote paper is molded, allowing security features like watermarks and threads to be added during the production process. The current series of Mexican banknotes contain several state-of-the-art security features.  The principal and most immediately visible security feature on the $100, $200, $500 and $1000 peso banknotes is a distinctive holographic optical thread woven on the front (face) side of each banknote; as you tilt the note the image on the thread changes. On the latest series the holographic feature has been added to note’s value number printed in the top right corner.

Printing: Banks employ a very special printing process when they create their bills which presses the imagery onto the note; this process gives the printing a “raised” feel that is especially noticeable on new paper.  In any state of wear, the printing on the note should be crisp, clear, and never blurred; with definitive lines and consistent coloring. Related to this, Mexican bank notes feature “micro print” which is always clear and crisp when viewed under a magnifying glass.

Fake Mexican banknote?

If you’ve been given a fake banknote in Mexico, read Dealing with Counterfeit Mexican Banknotes for information and advice about what to do.

You can learn more about currency and see graphic representations of the latest Mexican banknotes on our complete guide to Money in Mexico.

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  1. Bliss Wilson says

    Be careful if you buy gas from Pemex at night. Their lighting is often too poor to check bills properly. I was careless and received 2 bad $200 peso notes. Also don’t accept torn or damaged notes from anyone even official moneychangers.

  2. Zander says

    Great. So what does one do if one receives a fake or out-of-circulation (older, worthless) banknote from an ATM, as I and others have? Bancomer sent me with my worthless note to the Bank of Mexico, who generously offered me 50 centavos for the $500 peso note.

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