How to get money in Mexico is one of the biggest questions I get from readers. It’s really quite simple.
While traveling to countries with different currencies used to be a huge hassle requiring traveler’s checks and exchanging huge sums of money, there’s really no need to do anything like that anymore.
There should be no reason that you change your money habits much in Mexico than you do back home.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to prepare for your trip before you leave so that you don’t pay tons of ATM or exchange fees, what to do to get money in Mexico and how to keep it safe once you’ve got it.
What to Do Before You Travel to Mexico
You should call your bank or notify them via your online account that you are going to be traveling to Mexico.
You don’t want to use your bank card once and then have it blocked for the remainder of your trip or be stressing out and calling your bank in the middle of your vacation.
When you’re on the phone with them, it’s also worth asking what partner banks they have in Mexico.
Many banks have partnerships with other banks around the world which allows you to take cash out of those ATMs without incurring any fees.
If you travel frequently, I highly recommend getting a Charles Schwab checking account (for Americans only). They are the best option for travelers because they don’t charge any international fees for using the card in an ATM or at stores or restaurants in different currencies.
If you use your Schwab card at an international ATM and that ATM charges you a fee to take money out, at the end of the money, Schwab reimburses you those fees.
Getting Money Before Traveling to Mexico
I always recommend that people come to Mexico with at least a few Pesos that way you don’t have to run around at the airport looking for an ATM.
If you have to start looking for places to find cash whether it’s at the airport or around your hotel on the day you arrive, in my opinion, you’re adding unnecessary stress.
I usually recommend going to your bank a week or two before your trip to Mexico and getting about $50-75 USD worth of Pesos. This should come out to about 1,000-1,500 Pesos.
That’s more than enough to see you through your first few days in the country and then after a few days you can pick up some money in Mexico at a nearby ATM.
How to Get Money in Mexico During Your Trip
Most restaurants, hotels, and shops accept credit and debit cards.
You really only need cash in smaller towns and villages, at markets, and for street stalls. There are occasionally restaurants in larger cities that only take cash, so if you’re unsure and you think you might not have enough cash on you, simply ask, “acepta tarjeta?” Do you accept card?
That way, before you even order, you’ll know if you can pay with a credit card or if you need to pop out to an ATM to get some cash.
ATMs in Mexico are all over the place, but my favorite banks that I trust are BBVA Bancomer, Santander, HSBC, and CitiBanamex (if you have a Citibank account, you can take cash out of these for free).
You get the best exchange rate at a bank rather than taking loads of US dollars with you and looking for a place to exchange them (they all charge fees).
What are Mexican Pesos Worth?
Now you’ve got a wad of Mexican Pesos and you want to know what the heck each note is worth?
There’s nothing worse than looking at all different colored money and spending frivolously because you have no idea what it’s worth.
At the moment (December 2019), the Dollar and the Peso have stood pretty steady for more than a year. It usually hovers around 19.5-20 Pesos to the dollar. For easy math, I tend to think of it constantly as 20 Pesos to the Dollar.
While this isn’t exact, it at least gives you a very close idea of what each note is worth.
- 20 Pesos: the 20-Peso note is the smallest and it is blue. This is worth about $1 USD.
- 50 Pesos: The 50-Peso note is slightly wider than the 20 and it is pink. This is worth about $2.50 USD.
- 100 Pesos: The 100-Peso note is again slightly larger than the 50 and it is a sort of brownish-orange color. This is worth about $5 USD.
- 200 Pesos: The 200-Peso note is a common one to get at ATMs and is often the largest note that market sellers and small shops will accept. It’s green and is worth about $10 USD.
- 500 Pesos: The 500-Peso note is the largest you’re likely to see. It’s currently brown, but they are starting to make new ones which are blue. This note is worth $25 USD and you want to try to break it as quickly as possible.
- 1000 Pesos: If you get this note, then you should tell your bank that you don’t want it. Unless you are paying for something that is 800+ Pesos, then no one will accept this note. It’s nearly impossible to break. It’s a light purple color and is worth about $50 USD.
There are a few coins as well that are worth understanding.
- 1 Peso, 2 Peso, 5 Peso: These smaller coins look almost identical if you’ve never seen them before. They are gold in the middle with a silver circle around the outside. The only way to tell the difference is that the 2 is slightly larger than the 1 and the 5 is larger than the 2. Of course, they say the numbers on them which helps.
- 10 Peso: The 10-Peso coin is the opposite of the above coins with a silver center and a gold ring around the outside. It’s also much larger and thicker.
- 50-cents: The tiny little silver coins are frustrating to receive and are worth almost nothing unless you can collect a few and pay for things like a bottle of water or a 10-Peso taco.
Traveling with Money in Mexico
One of the reasons I recommend not carrying a ton of cash around in Mexico is simply because you never know. Just like when I’m in New York, London, or Paris, I never ever carry all my cash with me.
I always travel with at least 3 cards – 2 debit cards and one credit card (hopefully one that allows me to earn points).
When I go out for the day, I only take one of those cards with me. If I know I won’t use it, I leave all three at my hotel.
I try to think about what I’m going to do for the day and never take more cash than I’m going to need.
So if I’m going to head out for breakfast and then to a museum, and afterward I’ll want to take a break back at my room, I’ll probably bring my debit card and about 500 Pesos. That way if I accidentally leave my wallet, if I get pickpocketed or if I need a bit more money, I’m covered.
As a man, I always recommend that you keep your wallet and phone in your front pockets when you travel with money in Mexico.
This is especially important if you’re going to take the metro in Mexico City or you are going to be in really busy tourist spots where pickpocketing is more common. Keep your hands in your pockets on top of your belongings and that way no one can take your things.
As a woman, I usually just pack a purse that has a zipper. My favorite city bag when I travel is a little leather one I picked up on a recent trip to Italy. It has a zipper and then a flap that goes over the zipper so getting into the bag would be pretty difficult and obvious to me.
When traveling on public transport or in busy places, just be sure to keep your bag in front of you or your hand over it so that you don’t have to stress about losing any money in Mexico.