Living, Money

Safety Tips for Cash, Bank Cards, and ATM Use in Mexico

This article shares tips and common sense advice to help keep your money and bank cards safe when you are visiting or living in Mexico

Bank card and fishing hook safety and risk concept

A common sense approach will help you to avoid most problems and scams involving using your money and finances in Mexico.

The precautions highlighted in this article can help you to mitigate the inconvenience and hassle of falling prey to a thief or scam.

Carrying and storing cash

Whether you’re visiting Mexico or living here, you’ll discover that there’s a constant need for the use of cash in day-to-day routines.

Cash when you’re traveling or touring in Mexico

When you’re touring Mexico for leisure, it’s sensible to carry some cash with you wherever you go, but don’t carry substantial amounts, even when you’re out on shopping trip in a tourist area.

If you see something you want to buy and you don’t have all the cash, a small deposit at the store will always secure the item. Leave excess cash and all but one credit/debit cards at your accommodations.  When you store cash at a hotel or at home, consider using a safe, or find someplace out of sight where burglars, if they break in, won’t find it easily.

Cash when you’re living in Mexico

Day-to-day living in Mexico will call for a constant stream of cash in everyday interactions.  There are many situations where bank cards are not feasible and our article about the use of cash in Mexico describes them.

It’s also sensible to make change, as you’ll need it especially for tips and small trades where vendors don’t have a large cash float.

As with traveling and touring, it’s sensible to always carry some cash with you in addition to any bank card you might need for your errands. If you store cash at home for use over time, keep it in a locked safe or other hidden place that would be difficult to find in the event of a burglary as insurance companies place strict limits on the amount of cash they will cover when you make a claim.

Bank card cloning and skimming

Debit and credit card cloning (sometimes called ‘skimming’) is an issue in Mexico, as it is in many other countries around the world.

The fraud happens when your bank card’s magnetic strip is ‘read’ by a skimming device that stores the card’s number and other key information (e.g., expiry date) and the person perpetrating the fraud also records the CVV (security) number associated with the card.

Fraudsters pay the ‘skimmers’ a small fee and the card details are used to make fraudulent purchases on your account.

You can usually get compensated if it’s a credit card (harder if it’s a debit card) but it’s a headache and a hassle to deal with, nonetheless.

Tips to prevent your bank card being skimmed or cloned

Here are some tips to help you mitigate the risks involved with card skimming and cloning:

  • Never allow bank cards to be taken out of your sight when using them for payment.
  • If your card has a “chip and pin” ask waiters at bars and restaurants to bring the payment terminal to your table and cover your hand as you enter your PIN.
  • If the payment terminal is not portable, take your card personally to the cashier to pay—do not allow the store or restaurant attendants to take it out of your sight.
  • If you are paying for fuel at gas stations with a card, we recommend you only use a credit card (not a debit card) and be extra vigilant as gasoline stations are rife with skimmers.

Tip: Don’t carry all your bank cards at once

If you have more than one bank card, only carry the one(s) you know you will need.

Most of the time, you might be able to limit this to one or two cards, or none if where you are going is a cash-only business, for example a local produce market.

Carrying excess banks cards on trips and errands has no practical purpose and if you lose your wallet or purse, you will be faced with having to cancel and replace  many cards instead of one or two.

Care when using ATM lobbies in Mexico

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) offer a quick, efficient, and convenient way to access your cash.  Here are some tips about using ATMs while you’re in Mexico:

Wait to enter the lobby

It’s a local custom to wait outside until the lobby is free, or if there are two or more ATMs available inside, to wait until the next one becomes available for use.  Some lobbies at banks and shopping malls have half a dozen or more machines; in these cases if the lobby is busy, it’s customary to stand back and wait in line for the next available machine to become available.

Beware of fake ‘lobby access’ skimmers

Most 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 any ATM 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.

Beware of card skimmers on ATMs

Some fraudsters try to steal bank card details by installing a ‘skimmer’ to the card access slot on the ATM itself.  The gateway on the ATM that accepts your card should not have any unusual protrusions and should display a flashing light near the slot that receives the card. If anything looks unusual about the ATM you approach for use, don’t use your card there, and report it to the bank.

Protecting your card’s PIN

As we mentioned in a related article, most stores use ‘Chip & PIN’ machines for bank card payments now. There is no need to sign the receipt by hand and the trader will ask you to enter your card’s PIN number instead.

Whether you’re at an ATM or a store, cover the hand you use to enter your PIN with the other hand.  This will prevent anyone eavesdropping to see what PIN number you entered.  Some thieves try to see what PIN number a card user enters before pick-pocketing their target.

Don’t wait around for the ATM refill

When ATMs are being re-filled, you will see armed guards surrounding it. We recommend you find another ATM instead of waiting around for it to be filled: it can take 30-60 minutes for a machine to be re-filled, tested, and re-opened for public use.

Use ATMs during daylight hours

We recommend you use ATMs in daylight hours, at times when there are other people around.  Be mindful of anything that may look suspicious near the vicinity of the ATM and if you are in doubt, wait, or find another ATM.

Withdrawing money from cash machines at night, at hours when there are few or no people around is not recommended. Use common sense and your intuition and you should have no problems using ATMs in Mexico.

Learn about managing your money in Mexico

Mexperience offers you a wealth of information about Mexico’s money, banking services, and banknotes.

The information published in this article is provided for general information in good faith and is not intended as personal, legal, financial or investment advice.