Wondering about exchanging money in Mexico? Tipping? ATMs? These Mexico money tips will demystify everything surrounding handling money in Mexico!
Airport currency exchange or bust!”
“Take only USD”
“Everywhere takes credit cards!”
There is a lot of differing advice out there about managing money in Mexico and a lot of it is BAD.
There’s a lot to know when it comes to managing money in a foreign country. It can be challenging figuring out how to use a foreign currency: from determining the best way to exchange money, avoiding ATM fees, and figuring out if you’re still on a budget while navigating an exchange rate… there’s a lot of mental gymnastics involved.
You probably have all kinds of questions about things like how much to tip, whether you should use dollars, how to keep your cash safe (especially if carrying a lot of it), and whether your credit card will work anywhere.
I put this article together to help you find clarity. Hopefully, these tips will help you plan the best way to manage your money in Mexico!
Traveling soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance for Mexico. Insurance gives you peace of mind, knowing you can get the help you need if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is the provider that I recommend.
What currency does Mexico use?
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican peso, and it is denoted with the $ sign and abbreviated as MXN.
Prices are displayed in MXN almost everywhere you go in Mexico, so don’t panic if everything seems to cost significantly more than expected. Beer does not cost $40 a bottle– the prices are in pesos! (It’s actually more like $2 USD.)
Occasionally, in super-touristy destinations like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, you might notice some prices listed in USD. It’s usually very apparent when this is the case, it’s generally safe to assume prices are listed in pesos.
The money of Mexico comes in the following denominations:
- 500 pesos
- 200 pesos
- 100 pesos
- 50 pesos
- 20 pesos
- 10 pesos
- 5 pesos
- 2 pesos
- 1 peso
- 50 centavos
- 20 centavos
- 10 centavos
Mexican peso to USD exchange rates
The exchange rate between MXN and USD fluctuates regularly. Over the past year, it has been hovering around 17 MXN to 1 USD.
Download a currency conversion app or bookmark Google’s currency conversion page so you can check the rate while you’re out and about in Mexico. This is especially important if you’re hoping to change American money in Mexico once you arrive.
Can you use US dollars in Mexico?
Sometimes restaurants or local vendors in touristy areas (like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta) will offer to accept USD in place of pesos, but they usually offer a terrible exchange rate. It’s always best to quickly look up the current dollar exchange rate to pesos in Mexico before agreeing to this.
Mexican pesos to Canadian dollars
Recently, the exchange rate between Mexican pesos to Canadian dollars (CAD) has been around 13 MXN to 1 CAD.
Again, exchange rates vary daily, so use a currency conversion app to keep track of the current rate.
Exchanging money in Mexico
Ideally, you can exchange a few thousand pesos with your bank at home ahead of your trip. This way, you’ll have cash for incidentals along the way. You don’t get the best exchange rate when you do this (more on this below), but it’s preferable to have some cash on hand when you arrive in Mexico, so plan to get a few thousand pesos before you leave home.
Avoid airport currency exchanges because they usually charge fees and offer a terrible rate. You’ll get a better rate directly from your bank. After that, pulling cash out of an ATM in Mexico will give you the best exchange rate (more on this below).
Exchanging money at your home bank
You can probably get a decent exchange rate for pesos at your home bank, but keep in mind that there are usually currency exchange fees tacked on top of the exchange rate. Even so, it’s nice to show up in Mexico with at least a little bit of local currency in your pocket, just in case you need it.
I’d try to get at least 4,000 pesos (around $200 USD) before you go. Make sure you request this cash a couple of weeks before your trip. Depending on where you live, your bank branch may not have the currency on hand, meaning they’ll have to order it for you.
Again, this isn’t the most cost-effective way to get pesos (you’ll get better rates through local ATMs in Mexico), but having cash in hand is key when you arrive. The last thing you need is to hit up an ATM at night on the way to your hotel.
Currency exchange services
You can change money at currency exchanges (casa de cambio, in Spanish) throughout Mexico. These are very prominent within international airports and tourist-oriented destinations like the Riviera Maya or Puerto Vallarta. I can’t say that I’ve noticed them in less tourist-centric cities, though I’m sure there are some.
You won’t get a very favorable rate at a money exchange in Mexico. There is usually a flat fee for exchanging money. Plus, the exchange rate offered can be as much as 15% worse than what you’d receive through your bank.
Using ATMs in Mexico: Can I withdraw money?
Yes. You can withdraw money from ATM machines in Mexico. In my experience, using local ATMs offers the most competitive exchange rate for pesos.
In some cases, you will pay a withdrawal fee to your bank and an additional fee to the Mexican bank. This probably isn’t a big deal if you do it a couple of times, but it’s definitely something you wouldn’t want to do repeatedly. Review your bank’s policy regarding withdrawing money abroad so you don’t face any surprises when you reach Mexico.
Consider opening a bank account that doesn’t charge foreign ATM withdrawal fees, just for your trip. It’s a good idea to have your travel fund separate from your primary bank account anyway, just in case your card becomes compromised.
Assuming your bank charges minimal fees, using the ATM at a local bank in Mexico is typically the cheapest way to get pesos.
ATMs with low fees
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 sure if the fees are different for banks in other countries.
Here are the Mexican ATMs 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 21 pesos
- Banamex – about 25 pesos
I avoid HSBC and BBVA Bancomer because the fees tend to be high– around 90 pesos. Also, Bancomer is a popular bank for Mexican nationals, and as such, it often has a long line (I really hate waiting in line).
Reject the proposed exchange rate when you withdraw money
Don’t feel bad if you fall victim to this practice a time or two. It still happens to me occasionally, and I’ve been aware of it for years.
When you withdraw money from a Mexican ATM, it might show a screen asking, “Do you accept this exchange rate?” with a summary of the transaction fees. You will have the option to accept or decline. Hit decline. Declining won’t cancel the transaction.
The transaction will proceed, and the exchange rate will be determined by your bank back home instead of by the Mexican bank you’re withdrawing cash from. You’ll get a much more favorable rate from your home bank.
ATM Safety Tips
Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when using ATMs throughout Mexico.
- Card skimming is an issue in Mexico and it can happen at ATMs. For the best chance of avoiding it, stick to ATMs located in supermarkets or banks. These ones are more closely monitored and have a lower likelihood of being compromised.
- Avoid ATMs around payday. Most people in Mexico get paid on the 15th and 30th of each month. Since the country is heavily cash-based, everyone immediately withdraws the majority of their paycheck to cover their bills and groceries. Since thieves know this, they’re on high alert following payday (quincena) because everyone has pockets full of cash. You’ll know it’s payday because every bank will have super long lines. Be really inconspicuous if you withdraw cash at this time.
- Only use ATMs in well-lit areas. Better yet, avoid withdrawing cash at night altogether!
How to avoid ATM fees & foreign transaction fees
Here are a few ideas for eliminating or reducing ATM and foreign transaction fees. This is especially key if you’re going to be in Mexico long-term.
Bank with Charles Schwab (US Only)
If you’re from the US, open a Charles Schwab checking account. This ATM card really is the best option for Americans in Mexico. There are no account fees, and Schwab refunds any ATM fees at the end of the month. They will also offer you the best exchange rate of the day when you withdraw money.
You will have to open a brokerage account when you open a checking account, but they are both free, and you can open with a deposit as small as $20 US dollars. I used a Schwab account the entire time I lived in Mexico, and it was fantastic.
The company also has excellent customer service if you run into any problems.
Bank with Wise
Another convenient way to secure the best rates is to use Wise (formerly known as Transferwise. Wise is a company that specializes in international money transfers. They also offer a multi-currency debit card, which enables you to spend money worldwide without incurring foreign transaction fees.
Wise is a great option for those living outside of the US and want an efficient way to access cash without paying excessive fees.
You can fund your Wise account from your bank account, and they always offer a very favorable exchange rate. Once you fund your account with your home currency, you can use your Wise debit card to buy things or withdraw cash at ATMs in Mexico.
Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
You will be able to use your credit card in many places, especially chain stores like Oxxo, Fasti, Chedraui, and MEGA, and in touristy areas like Playa del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta.
Due to high transaction fees, smaller establishments will always prefer cash, and many of them won’t accept credit cards at all.
Credit card companies typically offer a really good exchange rate, so it’s smart to use them wherever you can. Just make sure your card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
Most travel credit cards, such as a Capital One Venture card, don’t charge foreign transaction fees but always double-check so you don’t run into surprises.
Travel tip: It’s not totally uncommon for card processing machines to go down due to connectivity issues (this happened constantly when I lived in Playa del Carmen), so it’s best not to rely solely on cards for everyday purchases.
Is there sales tax in Mexico?
Yes, there is. The value-added tax in Mexico is referred to as IVA (impuesto al valor agregado) and the rate is 16%. Typically this rate is built into prices as they are listed, but some establishments choose to add it to the bill at the end.
Either way, it should be noted on your sales receipt as “IVA.”
Safety tips for handling money in Mexico
Here are some common-sense safety tips for managing your money in Mexico. While the chances that anything will go wrong are low, I always advocate for being prepared for the worst. Especially if you’re a solo traveler. A little bit of additional preparation and precaution will save you a lot of stress in an emergency.
Keep your trip funds in a separate account
Having a separate bank account for your trip funds provides a buffer in the unlikely event your account becomes compromised. You could use the Wise account I mentioned above, or simply open an additional checking account with your existing bank. Whatever you do, make sure it’s easy (and fast) to transfer funds in and out if you need to top it up mid-trip.
Carry an anti-theft purse
While I do think the chances that you’ll actually be pickpocketed are very low, it’s worth taking every precaution, especially if you’re traveling Mexico solo.
An anti-theft purse incorporates features like locking zippers, slash-proof fabric, and RFID blocking material to protect your valuables. I carry this one, but there are all kinds of different anti-theft purse styles out there!
Bring a back-up debit card
Carrying a spare ATM card is a lifesaver in the event that your card gets skimmed, swallowed by an ATM, or, more realistically, lost at the bar (just sayin’). Give yourself peace of mind and pack a spare card for use in emergencies.
Stash some extra cash somewhere discreet
Since Mexico is so cash-oriented, it’s always good to have some spare bills hidden away somewhere. This way if your purse gets stolen, you lose your debit card, or whatever else, you’ll have a small stash of funds to get you through until you solve the problem. I recommend stashing about 1,000 pesos somewhere in your luggage for emergencies.
If you carry large quantities of cash, break it up
In larger cities you can count on ATM access and the option to use your credit card, so it’s not necessary to carry large quantities of cash. However, if you’re headed to smaller towns or more rural areas, cash is essential.
Popular destinations like Tulum, Puerto Escondido, Sayulita, and other small coastal towns often only have one or two ATMs and it’s not unusual for them to run out of cash during the busy season.
If you’re headed to these areas, it’s wise to bring a healthy supply of cash…. just don’t keep it all in one place.
Protect your travel fund from prospective thieves by breaking it up into several smaller stashes. Hide them discretely in your room, in different areas.
Often thieves are in a hurry so they’ll snatch a backpack or a purse, so don’t leave your whole travel fund hidden somewhere obvious like that. Get creative.
General Mexico Money Tips
Always have change on hand
Mexico’s economy is very much cash-based, so it’s essential to keep some coins and small bills on hand when traveling.
You’ll need them for tipping, visiting public restrooms (often they charge a 5 peso fee), or making small purchases.
Many businesses in Mexico can’t (or won’t) make change for bills larger than 200 pesos, so always be prepared with smaller denominations.
Travel Tip: Carry coins and small bills to pay for taxis with exact change. It cuts down on price disputes and makes it quicker and easier to exit the vehicle at the end of the ride.
Tipping in Mexico
It’s customary to tip in restaurants in Mexico. Most Mexicans tip 10–20%, depending on the quality of service. I generally tip 15 or 20% unless the service is horrible.
Just like in Canada and the US, wait staff in Mexico don’t earn high wages, as employers assume tips will make up the rest of their wages. On top of that, the minimum wage in Mexico is around $208 MXN per day.
I don’t think it’s necessary to tip over 20%, but remember that a few pesos could make a big difference to your server.
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)
- Bathroom attendants ($5-$10 MXN)
- Tour guides ($50 MXN or more, depending on the cost of your tour)
For more on the ins and outs of tipping, check out my guide to tipping in Mexico.
Tip in pesos
Don’t tip in dollars in Mexico. There is a common misconception floating around, particularly in resort communities, that Mexican workers prefer tips in US dollars. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have yet to encounter a local who prefers US dollars to pesos.
When you tip in a foreign currency, workers must then visit a money exchange or exchange the currency through their bank, where they will surely have to pay 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 six days on and one day off. Don’t burden people with chores on their days off: tip in pesos!
Pay in pesos
The local currency (Mexican pesos) is always the best currency to use in Mexico.
When you pay with dollars, you are usually given a poor exchange rate in Mexico. Currently, $1 USD is worth about $20 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, and sometimes less!
Yes, it may cost a bit to exchange your native currency for pesos, but it will likely save you money in the long run.
Haggling isn’t as common as you might think
Many travelers 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 or taxi drivers 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 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.
Money in Mexico FAQs
- How much money should I take to Mexico? This depends on your budget and your travel plans, but generally I recommend that you start your trip with about 4,000 Mexican pesos. You can always withdraw more money from an ATM once you arrive.
- What is the most cost-effective way to exchange money for pesos? I’ve always found that taking cash from ATMs in Mexico offers the best exchange rate– you get the best rate for the day through your home bank. Just remember to hit “decline conversion rate” on the ATM when you take cash out in Mexico.
- How much is Mexican money worth? Exchange rates fluctuate daily. Use this website to check the current exchange rate for Mexico.
- Does Mexico take US dollars? You can use American money in some parts of Mexico, but you’ll receive a terrible exchange rate. It’s better to use Mexican pesos during your trip.
- Do I need pesos in Cancun? You can probably get by without exchanging money for a trip to Cancun, but it’s not recommended. Having some pesos on hand will save you money and make your transactions easier.
- Should you exchange money before going to Mexico? If you have time, try to get a few thousand pesos from your bank at home before your trip. Otherwise, just withdraw cash from an ATM in Mexico when you arrive.
I hope you found these tips for managing money in Mexico helpful! For more Mexico travel advice, check out my post on essential Mexico travel tips.
If you have any questions or additional tips to share, let me know in the comments!
Mexico Travel Planning Resources
🌡️ Do I need travel insurance?
Yes! Healthcare in Mexico is affordable for minor ailments, but travel insurance will give you peace of mind if an emergency arises. Plus, you can add coverage for trip interruption, theft, etc. Get a quote from SafetyWing.
🏨 What’s the best way to find accommodation in Mexico?
I use a mix of Booking, Airbnb, and Hostelworld.
💸 How should I exchange money in Mexico?
Use local ATMS to withdraw cash. US travelers should open a Charles Schwab bank account because they’ll refund ATM fees at the end of the month.
Travelers from outside the US should open a Wise account to secure the best currency exchange rates.
📱 Where can I buy a local SIM card in Mexico?
Pick up a Telcel SIM card at any convenience store. Or, buy an Airalo eSIM online so you’re connected as soon as you land.
🗣️ Do I need to speak Spanish in Mexico?
No, but it definitely helps you feel more confident and connected.
✈️ What’s the best way to find affordable flights?
I use Skyscanner because it makes it easy to compare rates across different travel days.
🚖 How do I find a safe airport transfer?
I recommend GetTransfer for airport transfers anywhere in Mexico.
🚗 What’s the best way to find rental cars in Mexico?
I recommend Discover Cars because they aggregate prices across rental car companies, making it easy to find competitive rates.
🚐 How do I book bus tickets online in Mexico?
🤿 How do I find cool activities and tours in Mexico?
🇲🇽 How can I experience Mexico like a local?
Solo female travelers can hire a local female guide through Greether. Greeters will tailor tours based on your interests— it’s basically like experiencing a destination with a local bestie!
🧳 What’s the best luggage for Mexico?
Unless you’re staying at a resort, a travel pack is recommended. I’ve used this one from Osprey for the last 8+ years.
👯♀️ How do I connect with fellow travelers in Mexico?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!