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.
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