When visiting Mexico, or any foreign country for that matter, managing money can be a bit confusing. Your head is likely spinning from trying to figure out things like exchange rates, when or if to tip, and how to ensure you have enough cash on hand at any given time.
All of this advice was compiled based on hard-lessons-learned on my part, and in response to misinformation I’ve seen floating around online. With that said, here are all my best tips for managing money in Mexico.
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Always have change handy
It’s important to have access to small change and small bills when traveling in Mexico. Most taxi drivers, small restaurants, and convenience stores won’t be able to easily make change for bills larger than 200 pesos. Some may even refuse to try. Keep an assortment of small bills on hand for these instances, and save larger bills for larger stores and restaurants.
Coins also come in handy for tipping or accessing pay per use bathrooms. Many public restrooms in Mexico charge a small fee in exchange for access and it’s really frustrating when nature calls and you can’t scrounge up the change to relieve yourself.
Additionally, many individuals, such as those who bag groceries at the supermarket don’t earn a salary, they live off of tips. Be sure to give leave them a token of appreciation when you do your shopping.
You can use credit and debit cards in many places
It is often assumed that all business in Mexico must be conducted in cash. While cash transactions are typically preferred, carrying a large quantity of cash on you isn’t ideal, and most ATMs do charge a fee to withdraw money from a foreign bank account.
I like to use a card for larger purchases and save my cash for smaller transactions or places that don’t accept cards at all. Of course, this is just a personal preference. I don’t like to carry large amounts of cash, so using my card as much as possible enables me to maintain the small amount of cash that I am comfortable with carrying.
Which ATMs are best?
If you prefer to deal with cash, the following ATMs are the ones that seem to charge the lowest fees for withdrawing cash. Keep in mind, my bank accounts are in Canada and the US; I’m not certain if the fees are different for banks in other countries.
Here are the banks I use, with their approximate fees (these seem to vary slightly by location, but not much):
- Santander – usually the fee is around 30 pesos
- CI Banco – usually about 17 pesos
- Ban Bajio – about 23 pesos
- BanaMex – about 25 pesos
I avoid HSBC and Bancomer because the fees tend to be high– around 90 pesos. Also, Bancomer is a really popular bank for Mexican nationals and as such it often has a long line (I really hate waiting in line).
Avoid ATMs around payday
Most workers in Mexico are paid on the 15th and the 30th of the month. During this time, the lines at ATM machines are exceptionally long, as many people need to withdraw cash right away to cover their bills and expenses. I’ve waited as long as 30 minutes to use an ATM on payday. Not my idea of a good time. If you need to withdraw money in Mexico around this time of month, plan to go the day before payday.
Additionally, thieves are on high alert during these times of month, because they know that many people are liable to be carry large quantities of cash. It’s important to be vigilant about this. If you do visit an ATM, be sure to visit one in a well-lit, populated area, preferably during the day when there is less risk of robbery.
How much to tip in Mexico
It is customary to tip in restaurants in Mexico. Most Mexicans will tip 10 – 20% depending on the quality of service. I generally tip 15 or 20% unless the service is particularly bad. Just like in Canada and the US, wait staff in Mexico are often underpaid with the assumption that tips will make up the rest of their wage. On top of that, minimum wage in Mexico is around $90 MXN per day. I don’t think it’s necessary to tip more than 20%, but you should keep in mind that a few pesos could make a big difference to your server.
But servers aren’t the only people who will be expecting a tip. You should also plan to tip tour guides. The amount obviously depends on your experience and the type of tour you’re on, but I’d say no less than $50 MXN.
Other people you’ll encounter who expect a tip:
- Individuals who help you with your luggage (a few pesos is customary)
- Cleaning staff in hotels ($50 – 100 MXN per day)
- Baggers in grocery stores ($5 – $10 MXN)
- Shuttle drivers, but only if they help with your luggage ($20 – $50 MXN)
It is not expected that you will tip Taxi drivers. In Canada the taxi drivers all seem to expect a tip, but in Mexico that is just not the case.
Tip in pesos
There is a common misconception floating around, particularly in resort communities, that Mexican workers prefer to be tipped in US dollars. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have yet to encounter a local who prefers US dollars to pesos. A common justification given for tipping in US dollars is that they are worth more… but it seems easy enough to just tip a comparable number of pesos. Where you would tip $1 US, instead tip $20 MXN. Easy peasy!
When you tip a local in a foreign currency they are then forced to visit a money exchange or exchange the currency in their bank, where they will usually be charged a conversion fee. Not to mention, they’ll have to spend their precious free time waiting in line at the bank when they’d surely rather be spending time with their family and friends. A typical work week in Mexico is 6 days on and one day off. Don’t burden these locals with chores on their days off!
Pay in pesos
I’ve seen many people online asking what currency to bring to Mexico. It boggles my mind that anyone would say anything different than Mexican pesos. Many people seem to suggest that US dollars are the ideal currency, and I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. The local currency (Mexican pesos) is always the best currency to use.
When you pay in dollars in resort towns you are usually given a poor exchange rate. Currently, $1 USD is worth about $19 MXN, but when you use American dollars in shops and restaurants you’re often given an exchange rate of 15 or 16 pesos to the dollar. Yes, it may cost a bit to exchange your native currency to pesos, but it will likely save you money in the long run.
Haggling isn’t common in Mexico
Many people seem to believe that haggling is the name of the game when it comes to shopping in Mexico, but in my experience this just isn’t the case. More often than not prices are as marked and there’s not much you can do about it.
Occasionally vendors may invite you to haggle, particularly in very touristy zones where they’re accustomed to doing it, but it’s not a big part of the culture.
On top of that, some locals even find it offensive (myself included). I understand the desire to pay a fair price in exchange for whatever you’re buying, but I’ve witnessed many tourists simply trying to drive the price down as low as possible. Always remember, the person selling to you probably has a family to feed. In my experience, prices in Mexico are low enough already. If you’re not content with what something costs you’re better off looking for a different option.
On that note, avoid doing your souvenir shopping in the heart of the tourist zones where rent is high. If you venture a couple of blocks away you’ll often find the same items at a fraction of the cost.
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