Managing your money in Mexico is an important consideration whether you are coming here on vacation or whether you are relocating here on a more permanent basis. You need to understand the currency used in Mexico (pesos), the best way to exchange currency, and any fees your credit and debit cards charge for international transactions and withdrawals.
You are in good hands here because I have been living in Mexico (in Merida in the Yucatan) for the past two years. Not only am I accustomed to existing in pesos, but I have also been through lots of stressful things here like opening a local bank account, and transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mexico so that I could purchase property here.
In this post, we will run through everything that you need to know about managing your money in Mexico. Then, if you have any additional questions or concerns at the end, you are more than welcome to reach out to me.
Money in Mexico
The Mexican nuevo peso is the local currency in Mexico and it is the only official legal tender here. Pesos have been in circulation since way back in 1863 and despite technological progressions, cash is still very much king in Mexico.
I am constantly hearing people ask whether they can use dollars, euros or other currencies in Mexico. The reality is that some tourist businesses in resort areas that are popular with Americans (like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Cancun and Tulum) do accept dollars but people may try and trick you on the exchange rate (or simply not give you the best rate) so I would strongly advise using pesos in Mexico.
In rural areas, many little shops and restaurants will be cash-only and sometimes it is alarming how many “serious” business transactions are conducted in cash in Mexico. (Even when I bought a house in Mexico, I paid part of the deposit and my legal fees in cash!)
In major cities, most people have a POS (point of sale) device and accept credit/debit card payments. Machines that accept contactless payments are the norm, and a lot of modern businesses are starting to accept Apple Pay.
Sometimes, some restaurants, hotels, etc will also accept payments by bank transfer, however, that is much easier if you have a local account.
The Mexican peso is the official currency in Mexico. It is often written as MXN or with a dollar symbol ($) as you would use for US dollars, Canadian dollars, Australian dollars, etc.
Mexican pesos come in note denominations of 1000 (circa $50), 500 (circa $25), 200 (circa $12), 100 (circa $5), 50 (circa $2.50), and 20 (circa $1). Coins also come in denominations of 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 peso.
Generally, when you exchange money for Mexican pesos or you use an ATM, you will not be given currency in denominations of more than 500 pesos. 1,000 peso notes are very rare and difficult to use to make smaller purchases.
In my two years in Mexico, I have honestly never seen a $1,000 MXN peso note, even when I had to go and withdraw a whopping $110,000 MXN in cash from my bank to pay for a deposit on my house.
It is better not to carry wads of cash around with you so I would say around $4,000 to $4,500 MXN is the maximum you want to have on you at any given time and this should be plenty to last you a couple of days, even in pricier tourist areas.
Since things in Mexico typically cost a lot less than what you may be used to in the US, Canada, the UK, or elsewhere, it is important to make sure that you always have plenty of small denomination notes. Small vendors may struggle to give change for 500 peso bills.
Try to make sure you always have plenty of coins and notes with a value of 100 pesos and below.
Currency in Mexico exchange rates
The exchange rates for Mexican pesos vs other currencies fluctuate constantly throughout the year just like any other currency. However, a major topic of conversation in recent months has been how the Mexican peso is becoming stronger, meaning that you essentially get less bang for your buck when converting dollars into pesos.
This is thanks to various factors, including a nearshoring boom which has seen a lot of Canadian and US companies move their production and manufacturing businesses from China and the Far East to Mexico, thus investing millions of dollars into Mexico.
A year ago, one US dollar bought you around 20.4 pesos and for a long period, the exchange rate would bounce around between 18-20 pesos per dollar.
In summer 2023, the Mexican peso reached its strongest level since 2015, with an exchange rate of $1USD = 17MXN. BBVA, the largest Mexican bank predicted that 2023 would end with an exchange rate of around 19.5 pesos per dollar but that remains to be seen yet.
Because of the strengthening peso, travelling in Mexico and investing in real estate here is becoming more expensive.
To share just how much the peso has fluctuated over time, below, you will find the currency in Mexico exchange rates versus several other global currencies in January 2023 and November 2023.
January vs November 2023 currency in Mexico exchange rates
|Currency||January 2023 exchange rate||November 2023 exchange rate|
|$1 USD||18.93 MXN||17.76 MXN|
|$1 AUD||13.08 MXN||11.41 MXN|
|£1 GBP||23.33 MXN||21.64 MXN|
|$1 CAD||14.02 MXN||12.84 MXN|
|€1 EUR||20.43 MXN||18.81 MXN|
|$1 NZD||12.16 MXN||10.44 MXN|
Exchanging money into Mexican pesos
It is always handy to purchase a small number of Mexican pesos before your trip to Mexico. That way, you aren’t scrambling around trying to find an ATM as soon as you arrive.
Consider exchanging a small number of pesos before your trip and then using an ATM to withdraw more money on arrival. Shop around as the exact exchange rate you are given can vary a lot from place to place.
Xe.com gives you the market rate but you might not get such a competitive rate when you exchange your money. Banks tend to offer the most competitive exchange rates rather than travel agents and ATMs.
If you decide to go to a currency exchange, look for a place that does not charge a commission. Never use a currency exchange at the airport as they will not only not be competitive, they are likely to be the worst you encounter.
Rates in currency exchange centres in touristy areas (e.g. Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta or the hotel zone in Cancun) are a close second in terms of terrible exchange rates. It is better to exchange just a small amount of money into pesos before your trip and then use your ATM card to make a withdrawal once you arrive in Mexico.
Key tips for managing your money in Mexico
As a tourist, some of the main things you ought to consider when it comes to managing your money in Mexico are as per the below. A lot of these things are common sense but are worth reiterating here.
- Open a borderless bank account to cut down on ATM and foreign conversion fees while abroad. (E.g. Charles Schwab in the US or Revolut/Wise). $2 here or $3 there might not seem much initially but small fees quickly add up
- Use ATMs at banks or in malls rather than standalone machines as they are less likely to have been tampered with
- Opening a Mexican bank account isn’t really necessary unless you are moving here or plan on purchasing real estate/investing in something
- Don’t carry too much cash with you. $4,000-$4,500 MXN pesos should be the maximum you carry. Ideally separate your money out into a wallet that contains most of your money, and a little coin purse that has what you need for the day. That way, you dont flash tons of cash every time you buy something
- Keep a spare $50 USD or so of cash and a backup debit/credit card in your suitcase or hotel safe just in case
- Always check your surroundings when using ATMs and never make withdrawals at night or in dark, secluded places
- Never accept the exchange rate on the screen at a Mexican ATM, it will not be competitive
- Monitor your bank account activity while travelling and ideally, have a banking app set up on your phone so you notice right away if anything is untoward
- Notify your bank and credit card companies before you travel so they dont note your trip to Mexico as suspicious activity and block your card.
Using ATMs in Mexico
You will find plenty of ATMs scattered around Mexico. Various Mexican and international banks operate here.
The most common bank ATMs that you are likely to see are Santander, Citi Banamex, BBVA, Banco Azteca, Banorte·, and HSBC. ATMs in malls, airports, bus stations, etc often charge ludicrously high fees.
Most of the time if you have an international bank card and you try to make a withdrawal at a Mexican ATM, the machine will charge you for the transaction anyway. However, in an official bank, this is often only around 40 pesos (circa USD 2).
Some standalone machines can charge anywhere between 100 and 180 pesos. That is between USD 5.50 and USD 9.50 and not exactly a small amount to lose!
Then, depending on what bank card you are using, your own bank may charge you a fee for using your card internationally. Don’t assume that if you bank with a certain bank in your home country, that means that you will have favourable treatment for using the ATMs of that bank in Mexico.
For instance, HSBC ATMs often charge some of the highest withdrawal and foreign transaction fees. Even if you have an HSBC US or UK account, you may find it better to use an alternative ATM.
Making a withdrawal at an ATM in Mexico
Virtually all ATMs in Mexico show their displays in Spanish and English. Sometimes other languages are available too.
Remember that the rate will be displayed in pesos along with the “$” sign. So don’t panic when it looks like the machine is asking if you want to withdraw values of 3,000 or 4,000 dollars – the amount is in pesos!
Keep in mind that any withdrawal limits that are in place on your card in your home country will apply in Mexico too. It is important to find the balance between drawing out enough cash so that you are not constantly having to go back and forth to the ATM and incur extra fees, and not drawing out too much that you feel uneasy carrying it.
Money in Mexico FAQs
Do you have any further questions or concerns about managing or getting money in Mexico? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for there. If not, feel free to reach out to me.
How much is $1 USD in Mexico?
As of the 1st November 2023, $1 USD converts to 17.76 Mexican pesos. It is important to check these conversions in real time because the peso has been bouncing around a lot lately.
Historically, $1 USD was always around 20 pesos but the peso has strengthened significantly in recent years.
Is $100 a lot of money in Mexico?
Yes. $100 USD goes a lot further in Mexico than in the United States and in other Western currencies. You could effectively live off this for several days in some parts of the country. Meals are often available for as little as $5, and budget hotels, even in popular areas like Valladolid or Izamal, can be purchased for just $30 USD a night.
What is the best currency to use in Mexico?
Mexican pesos (MXN) are the best currency to use in Mexico. This is the national currency and official legal tender.
Some tourist places may accept US dollars but it is better not to depend on that happening.
Is it better to tip in pesos or dollars in Mexico?
When it comes to tipping in Mexico, it is preferable to tip in pesos. This is the local currency and it will be much easier for the person that you are tipping to use.
If you tip in US dollars or another form of currency, they will have to exchange it to be able to use it.
How much is $100 Mexican pesos?
As of November 1st 2023, $100 Mexican pesos works out at about $5.63 USD or £4.62. However, do keep in mind that global exchange rates are constantly fluctuating.
Is it better to have cash or a card in Mexico?
It is better to carry a small amount of cash with you at all times in Mexico just to be safe as many small stores, street food vendors and public transport operators only accept cash. You should also make sure that you carry one or two cards.
(It is good to take two just in case one is locked overseas or you lose it).
Should I get pesos at the airport in Mexico?
Absolutely not. Airports across the globe are renowned for providing the absolute worst exchange rates.
Use them at your peril. (Ok that’s a bit dramatic).
Exchanging money at an airport exchange office with an uncompetitive rate can mean that you actually lose a lot of money. The only time that you should even consider this option is if you arrive and you don’t have any cash whatsoever, and you just want to change a very small amount to get to where you are going. ($20 to $30 USD or so)
Can I pay with US dollars in Mexico?
US dollars are sometimes accepted in touristy parts of Mexico, like Cancun airport hotels, downtown Puerto Vallarta and Mahahual on the Mexican Caribbean coast. There are even some ATMs in the Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta that allow you to withdraw US Dollars.
However, you will usually get a better rate if you pay in pesos and since US dollars are not widely accepted everywhere you go, it is better to use the local currency if you can.
Final thoughts on managing money in Mexico
Hopefully, this article will give you some peace of mind about managing and getting money in Mexico. If this is your first time travelling to Mexico, you might also enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips.
I have been living in the Yucatan capital of Merida for over a year now. So I am well-versed in managing money in Mexico and I am here if you need to contact me with any questions
Have a wonderful trip and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo