Mexico Essentials, Money

The Trouble with Travelers Checks

Traveller's Cheques and Pen

There was an era when travelers checks were an item on every packing list, alongside passports and travel insurance. Before ATMs became widespread, they were a safe and convenient way to carry currency on foreign trips.

While some people still bring travelers checks to Mexico, they are finding it increasingly difficult to cash them. Cashing travelers checks has always been a time-consuming activity here due to the verification processes involved; and the exchange rates on travelers checks are not as attractive as those offered in exchange for foreign currency in cash, or the rates applied by banks when you use an ATM to withdraw funds in local currency via your home bank account.

As fewer people use travelers checks, it becomes less cost-effective for banks and exchange houses to process them—so the death-knell of these financial instruments is ringing. We’ve noticed locally that an increasing number of exchange houses are no longer accepting travelers checks, and those that still do offer poor exchange rates in comparison to cash trades.

The present-day alternative to travelers checks—for those who really want to carry some “virtual cash”—is a prepaid cash card: with these, you pay an amount of money onto the card which is then available for withdrawal in local currency from ATMs world-wide.

Today, ATM cards linked to a bank account (or the prepay variety mentioned above) are by far the most effective way to get access to local currency when you’re visiting Mexico.

Here are some tips about using your ATM card:

  • If you plan to use an ATM to withdraw cash in Mexico, we recommend you use a debit card instead of a credit card: the latter will charge you interest on the cash advance from the date of the withdrawal, even if you pay-off the balance at the end of your charging period, in addition the ATM withdrawal fees;
  • Check with your bank to find out what charges it makes for using your debit or credit card in Mexico;
  • If you want to obtain cash in Mexican pesos using your debit card, but don’t want to use ATMs, some local currency exchange houses will give you a cash advance over the counter—be sure to take ID with you to present alongside your debit card. (Most demand to see a passport and won’t accept a driver’s license.) An additional fee might apply if you use this over-the-counter method.

See Also:

Access Your Cash Using an ATM in Mexico

A Tale of Two Airport Exchange Rates

Guide to Money in Mexico

You can learn more about Mexico’s currency, and the use of debit and credit cards in Mexico for foreign exchange on our comprehensive guide to Money in Mexico

8 Comments

  1. Patricia Wolf says

    Problem with using ATMs is that you info is often stolen and your account emptied. So many are bad that I just bring cash to Mexico and exchange it to pesos. I loved using there older way to keep my money safe. I dread using any ATM there.

    • James says

      It’s inaccurate to say “so many ATMs are bad” and that when using ATMs in Mexico “your info is stolen and your account emptied”.

      I have been using ATMs in Mexico regularly since the late 1990’s and have never once had a problem. ATM “card skimming” scams happen world-wide, although Mexican banks have installed modern ATMs which thwart those types of fraudsters. While I’m sure scams do happen, they are not common, and in my experience of using ATMs in Mexico I’ve found them as practical and safe as using them in other countries. They have effectively replaced the use of Traveler’s Checks.

  2. Maggy says

    I often use dollars/cash at SAMs or Walmart…but they do now cash $100 bills…even for purchases that total $100… Or more….Bring a lot of $50 s instead

  3. Billy Bob says

    I use ATM and while it is true Santander does not charge a fee, Bank of America charges a foreign transaction fee. But it is still the best way to go.

    • George says

      Unfortunately, effective August 15, 2016, the Bank of America will sever its relationship with Santander. We’ll be hit with all sorts of use fees afterwards. Ugh!

  4. Stan says

    I might add that I try to use ATM’s in Mexico that allow you to hold the card as you insert/swipe it, as opposed to those the grab the card and retract it internally until the transaction is complete. More than once, I have heard of cards not being returned, and I have somehow also left with my cash and receipt but the card (which was slow to emerge) left behind somehow…

  5. BJ says

    I also urge the use of ATM Debit cards and a TIP before leaving the US go to your bank and have them increase the amount you can withdraw at one time. My bank increased my ATM card limit to $1000/day.
    Some may think this is unsafe but it is my contention that frequent use of an atm in Mexico is unsafe.

  6. Wayne says

    I travel to Mexico several time a year. I never carry cash. I use ATMs. My bank stateside is Bank Of America. They have an agreement with Banco Santander. I make withdrawals from Santander ATMs with no extra fees. Plus, I get the most current exchange rate.

Comments are closed.