Many years ago, I recall standing in long lines at the bank waiting to exchange our hard-earned, limited supply of U.S. dollars for pesos on our Cancun vacation. You had to get there early, if you showed up too late, you may hit “siesta” everything, including the banks closed down for a time each afternoon for siesta. Didn’t matter if you were in line or not..at the appropriate time of siesta, the “Cerrado” sign goes up.
Things have really evolved from those days, now we show up in Cancun with a few pesos left over from out last trip, a couple hundred U.S dollars, which includes a lot of smaller bills for tipping, bus and ferry fares, and our ATM card.
A couple of things on using your ATM card.
First, always notify your bank that you will traveling in Mexico and what dates you will be there and that you will be using your bank card.
Second, ask the bank what the fees will be to withdraw money from your account while you are in Mexico, (you don’t want any surprises) My bank charges me $2.50 every time we withdraw money at a Mexican ATM, we consider that a convenience fee. In the old days we brought all the cash for our vacation with us, and always worried about getting our money stolen or lost. Using an ATM, we just take out money as we need it. The ATM in Mexico will also charge you a small fee.
Third, put aside some of that cash you brought down and put it in a safe place, just in case for some reason the ATM isn’t working and you need money, you will have an emergency fund.
Here is a copy of one of our recent ATM receipts. It cost us $4.38us to make this withdrawal with all fees.
You may say, why pay all of those fees, isn’t it cheaper to go to the cambio, (money exchange booths) well yes, it can be. The cambio isn’t going to give as good of an exchange rate, but depending on the fees your bank charges it may just even out. Like I said above, the convenience is worth paying the fee to us.
The next question you may ask is, “can’t I just pay in dollars?” My answer, yes you can..in most places. When you get change back, you will get change in pesos, so you have to be on your toes paying attention to the different currencies, you also will pay more for goods than if you had exchanged your money into pesos and the best reason of all..you came to vacation in a foreign country, you should try to use their currency.
Rule #1 If you want to pay for things in U.S. currency…NO COINS! They cannot spend U.S. coins and they cannot exchange U.S. coins, they are worthless in Mexico.
Rule #2 Don’t expect to be able to pay in U.S. dollars everywhere you go, smaller shops and tiendas may require you to pay in pesos.
Rule #3 Don’t expect to get the bank exchange rate, most restaurants and people in the tourist industry will give you 10 pesos to 1us dollar exchange rate.
Currently, (2/10/2011 the bank exchange rate is 12.079 pesos to 1us dollar
Nervous about using your ATM card in Mexico? Ask your bank to set up a “vacation” ATM/debit card for you. You can put your vacation money in this account. If something happens to your ATM card, your entire account won’t be jeopardized. If you can bank online, make it so you can transfer more money to your vacation account just in case you spend more than you planned 🙂