Travelers planning a trip south of the border to Mexico should consider exchanging at least some of their money beforehand. Although some resorts that cater to American tourists may take USD, play it safe by making sure you have Mexican pesos in your wallet. Exchanging U.S. dollars to Mexican pesos is just as easy as exchanging USD into any other foreign currency.
Why You’ll Need Pesos
Though you can use a debit or credit card at some restaurants and shops in Mexico, at many places, it’s cash-only, specifically, Mexican pesos. Street food vendors, taxis, open-air markets, some restaurants, as well as vendors selling items on the beach most likely will only take cash, so have it available while traveling in Mexico.
Exchange Money at the Airport
The easiest way to exchange money from USD into Mexican pesos is at an international airport. However, not all international airports, especially if they’re small, have places to exchange currency. So check to see if the airport you’re departing from or arriving at in Mexico has a currency exchange available.
When exchanging at the airport, browse the different companies to see which is offering the best rate. Otherwise, you can lose a lot on the exchange as well as on the commission. If you wait to exchange your money until after you arrive in Mexico, you may have difficulty paying for a taxi, water or food upon landing. So exchange at least some money before your trip.
Exchange Money at the Bank
Before departing for a trip Mexico, visit the branch of a larger bank to find out if they offer currency exchange services. After finding a bank that exchanges money, simply bring the amount of USD you want to exchange, and the teller will hand you the equivalent (minus whatever charges they apply) in Mexican pesos.
Exchange Money Using Travelex or AAA
Travelex is a company that specializes in exchanging currency for travelers. By going through them, it’s easy to exchange USD to pesos by ordering the amount you need online. Then just decide whether to pick up the pesos at the store or have the money delivered to your home.
You can also buy currency directly through AAA. Just visit the AAA website, select the currency you want and how much, and receive it either in cash or on a Travelex money card provided through AAA.
Exchange Money at a Currency Exchange Booth in Mexico
If the airport or another place is charging high rates for a basic exchange, then you can exchange money once you get to Mexico. You can do this at some banks in Mexico or at a currency exchange booth in the city you’ll be visiting. In most touristy areas of Mexico, currency exchange booths are available that will exchange USD into Mexican pesos.
Use the ATM in Mexico
ATMs are another option for getting local currency while abroad. If you’re afraid you might lose a lot of money on a physical exchange, you can always use an ATM in Mexico to get pesos directly. Travelers who plan to use their debit or credit card abroad should notify their bank before departure so that charges don’t appear as a fraudulent transaction. Find a secure ATM, perhaps at the airport, the hotel or a bank, use your card, and the money will automatically come out in pesos.
The only problem with using an American debit card at a Mexican ATM is that you will likely be charged a foreign transaction fee. Of course, by taking out a large sum at once, you can avoid paying fees each time, because, for some banks, that fee can be quite high. Despite all this, it’s likely that the fee you’ll be charged on an ATM transaction is still less than the money you’d lose on doing an exchange at the airport, bank or at a currency exchange booth.
To avoid the fee altogether, consider opening an account at a bank that has branches in both the U.S. and Mexico, such as Santander. If you visit Santander in Mexico, you can withdraw money at the ATM using your American Santander card, without being charged any fees.