Every place in Mexico is different, but it’s a question we see over and over. If you’re visiting the country, you may want to know if you should use pesos or dollars in Mexico. To give the shortest answer possible, here it is: Use pesos. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Can You Use US Dollars in Mexico?
It depends on the part of Mexico you are visiting. As we are here in Playa del Carmen, we’re going to mostly be covering our experience here. However, we have traveled across Mexico so will do our best to speak in a general fashion.
Many places in Mexico will take your US Dollars, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should use them (more on this in a moment). Places like hotels will almost always accept foreign currencies. Similarly, many activities, excursions, and tours will accept US Dollars.
However, smaller local places won’t be likely to take US Dollars. Street vendors may not take US Dollars, small shops may not want them, and you may find yourself without a way to pay. In fact, many of the best taco places on our list at The Best Tacos in Playa del Carmen only take cash. So although places do take foreign currencies, it’s best to always have some pesos on you.
Should I Convert Dollars to Pesos Before Going to Mexico?
You can certainly exchange your dollars for pesos either in the United States or here in Mexico. If you’re traveling here from the States, it can be a good idea to have some pesos on hand. You never know how fast you’ll need them when you arrive!
There are of course many opportunities to exchange money here in Mexico as well. There are cash exchanges all over town, and big and reputable banks who will gladly exchange your dollars for pesos.
As the 10th most traded currency in the world according to Wikipedia, the peso is almost always available at banks. If they don’t have it in, they can order some for you. Be sure to prepare ahead of time by talking to your bank a few weeks before your travel.
Why You Should Always Use Pesos
So here’s the bottom line. If you use American Dollars in Mexico, you’re going to simply lose money. This isn’t because anybody is out to get you. It’s just the way it is when you use your currency in this country. I’ll give you an example of how it works.
Let’s say that in this situation, the exchange rate is exactly 20 pesos to the US Dollar (just to make the math easy). You get your bill. There will be a price listed in Mexican Pesos and US Dollars. To pay in pesos, it is exactly 1,000. To pay in dollars, it is $58.82. So far, nothing may seem too strange. However, upon closer examination you’re paying an extra $8.82 just for paying in USD.
Although this may not be a huge deal for a single small purchase, it adds up. Especially if you are living in Playa, these additional costs make a difference. Even if you’re just here for a week, you can save a fair amount of money by using pesos. This is especially true for bigger purchases like long-term rentals.
Other Currencies in Mexico
Although we are writing about U.S. dollars, much of this holds true for other currencies. As the US dollar is the most traded currency in the world and the cornerstone of the world economy, you’ll generally get the best rate with dollars. Potential issues become worse with smaller currencies like the Euro, Pound, Franc, Canadian Dollar, etc.
Credit and Debit Cards
As mentioned, it’s preferable to pay in pesos. Depending on your debit or credit card, you may be charged differently. As a general rule, the restaurant or business will just charge your card in US dollars using their poor exchange rate. If they do charge it in pesos to your card, you’ll get your bank’s exchange rate which is usually better. However, some cards have extra fees for charges in foreign currencies. It’s best to check with your bank and card.
ATMs and Withdrawing Money
If you do decide to take money out, which is how we recommend to spend money, you have to be careful. There are tons of ATM scams in Playa del Carmen, and around Mexico. Skimmers are quite common, so you have to choose your ATM’s wisely. We live here, and have never once (yet) had our card compromised in any way. Here’s how…
Only use machines from legitimate banks with cameras. That is, don’t use freestanding ATMs, especially on Fifth Avenue. Stick with the major banks here like Banorte, Santander, CIBanco, Banamex, and HSBC. These banks have ATM’s inside that are secure. Use these machines to withdraw your money, and leave the worry behind.
Checking Exchange Rates
You can always Google the current exchange rate, or find it here. The rate fluctuates quite a bit, so it can be useful to know what rate you will be getting with your bank. You can also check your individual banks to see which one is offering the best rate.
Living here, we tend to take a lot of cash out when the rate is in our favor as it ends up saving us a few hundred dollars along the way. These little losses from exchanging money can add up, and there’s no use wasting money!