Money Exchange In Mexico
…pesos or dollars in Playa Del Carmen…
Before you read this page, repeat the following aloud 3 times:
DO NOT THINK RESTAURANTS, BARS, CLUBS, SHOPS, ETC. ARE DOING YOU A FAVOR BECAUSE THEY ACCEPT U.S. DOLLARS!!!
Really, don’t EVER forget this because 99% of the time they are ripping you off by 20-30%!!!
I am often asked by travelers whether they should use pesos or US dollars when traveling to Playa Del Carmen.
The answer is not nearly as difficult as most people assume.
The truth is that you can exchange your money at banks, ATMs, local exchangers, and even at large hotels – but not all of these places are created equal.
A few minutes of learning can save you a considerable amount of time, money, and frustration.
- Mexican pesos are the national currency, so there’s a natural bias and desire to navigate people towards using them. Mexicans hate when their currency is devalued – especially against the dollar. And, as of late, this has dramatically changed the buying power of both locals and people from the rest of the country.
- Second, many of the Mexican drug cartels prefer US dollars over pesos because of the constant fluctuation in value. The government doesn’t want to see the cartels reserving USD because the wealth of the cartels would increase when the USD rises.
- Third, although a “pesos-only” approach to currency might sound good, casual currency exchanges create a hidden source of national revenue that eventually makes its way into the tax system. I’ve always said this, and I’ll say it again. THE BIGGEST SCAM FOR TOURISTS VISITING MEXICO IS THE CASUAL DOLLAR/PESO EXCHANGE. This usually happens at restaurants/vendors/bars/clubs/etc where providers give FAR LESS than the actual value of the dollars they accept. “Do you accept dollars?” is a phrase I hear constantly from grinning tourists. Most don’t know, care, or understand why vendors are so willing to accept USD. (HINT: THE VENDORS EXCHANGE FOR 10-30% ABOVE THE RATE THEY GIVE YOU AND POCKET THE DIFFERENCE.)
- American tourists spend A LOT OF MONEY IN MEXICO!!! Around 60% of the international tourists flying into Mexico (Mexican governement site) are from the US, and believe me, Americans spend a HELL OF A LOT MORE MONEY (on average) than Argentineans or Chileans!
For the reasons mentioned above – and others – the government would prefer their own currency as the primary means of value exchange in Playa Del Carmen but also accept dollars (albeit, grudgingly) as an inevitable source of revenue.
Retail and entertainment establishments, on the other hand, find it most expedient to accept both currencies. They make money on both the service that they off AND by playing games with the exchange rate they provide.
Consequently, you will likely find prices in both pesos and dollars throughout your trip.
Most of the fun activities and adventure trips will be priced in dollars. (NOTE: THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT PAY IN PESOS.)
However, nearly all of the restaurants and bars will list prices as pesos.
For many travelers, this is confusing–understandably so!
In essence, you can get by using either of them. However, I strongly recommend that you exclusively use pesos.
FOUR FOR IDIOT’S
IMPORTANT: I cannot stress enough how important it is that you understand the relationship between the peso and the dollar.
DO NOT USE DOLLARS AT RESTAURANTS, BARS, & SHOPS.
You will get ripped off.
You will lose 15-35%+ on every transaction.
For me, it is about respect.
When Mexicans steal from you, they have no respect for you.
It’s hard to be respectful towards someone you steal from.
Ever since the Trump election, the MX peso has plummeted.
The people here are envious.
They are looking for payback and your money is the easiest thing they can get.
DON’T LET THEM SCREW YOU OVER—especially when it’s so easy to avoid!!!
The problems that Mexico has are nobody’s fault but Mexico’s and definitely not yours.
You don’t owe the people here anything; they wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for tourism.
You’re helping them just by going on vacation here.
Mexicans need to fix the anomalies at home before they go pointing fingers at other people.
“He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” – Proverb of unknown origin
The fact of the matter is that Mexico had some major house-cleaning to do LONG before Trump came along.
Trump would never have had one leg to stand on if Mexico had been a more self-sufficient economy.
MY ADVICE TO MEXICANS:
- Fix your country so that a guy like Donald Trump is powerless against you.
- Before blaming American presidents for your problems, take a long hard look at YOUR OWN president(s). What have they ever done for you?
Tip Number One – Know the exchange rate
The fact of the matter is that businesses in Playa Del Carmen simply want to make money–and by extension, extend to travelers the easiest means of paying them.
Instead of going into the nuances of why a person or business would want to be paid in one currency or the other, I would simply recommend that you spend a few minutes understanding the relative values of each so that you are comfortable using Mexican pesos.
For example, if you visit a restaurant with dollars, it may ask for payment in pesos. Moreover, if you use your US dollars, the exchange rate they give you will be horrible.
It is advantageous for you to know the exchange rate to ensure that you are treated fairly.
Most businessmen and businesswomen in Mexico don’t see anything wrong with overcharging foreigners.
To them, it’s not a moral question.
My point: get to know the basics of the exchange rate so you can completely relax during your trip!
Moreover, even if you do pay in dollars, you will likely receive change in pesos.
However, be forewarned–there are MANY bad apples in Mexico who love to try and steal from Americans and other tourists.
Trying to excessively jack up prices on tourists is unfortunately part of the Mexican tourism culture.
Mexicans think it’s okay–or simply don’t care.
I’m not Mexican, so I’ll never understand why.
Tip Number Two – Know the best places to exchange your own currencyNo matter what you do, you will always suffer some sort of loss (5 to 10%) when you do an exchange from one currency to another.
This is because the banks and financial institutions of any country BUY money from customers at one price and SELL it for another.
Consequently, the more important question is where can you get the best exchange rate when you do decide to convert your dollars to pesos or pesos to dollars.
I have talked to many travelers and ex-pats living in Playa Del Carmen.
Nearly all of them agree that the best place to exchange money from their native currency to pesos is through an ATM machine. BUT ONLY THE ATM MACHINES INSIDE OF OR ASSOCIATED WITH A REPUTABLE BANK.
The reputable banks in town are HSBC, ScotiaBank, Santander, Bancomer, Banorte, and Banamex. That’s it. Don’t trust any others.
Do NOT use the ATM machines at your resort, hotel, on 5th Ave, etc. They are “automated ripoff machines.”
Bank-associated ATM machines will automatically convert your currency, be it dollars, pounds, Canadian dollars, or Euros to pesos at the best rates you will likely find.
Large banks have a lot of negotiating power when it comes to currency exchanges and usually give the best rates.
So, when it comes to exchanging your currency to pesos, it is best to do so automatically through a bank-associated ATM machine or directly through a bank.
CAVEAT: Some banks – not all – charge a fee when you use your ATM card in a foreign country. While the fee is usually not very large ($3-$5) it can add up if you take a small amount out of the ATM machine again and again!
This leads to my third point –
Tip Number Three – Take out as much money as you feel comfortable with, but not more money than you will need
With the help of this website and the reservations that you have probably already made, you should be able to easily plan your vacation and have a rough estimate of how much money you will likely spend throughout the entirety of your vacation in Playa Del Carmen.
A lot of this will depend on whether you are staying at an all-inclusive resort or whether it is an independent hotel where you must go elsewhere for your meals/drinks.
Of course you may want to deviate from your original plans upon arrival. However, I strongly recommend that you maintain some personal guidelines that you have decided on before arriving.
This will help you in several ways:
- First, because you have a budget, you will be more likely to stick to it and not return to your home country having spent more than you wanted to.
- Second, because many financial institutions, as mentioned above, charge a small flat fee when using an ATM card in foreign countries. To keep this fee to a minimum percentage of the total, you should take out as much money as you feel comfortable carrying. The larger amount of money that you take from the ATM, the smaller percentage of the total amount this fee becomes.
- Third, by only withdrawing the amount that you will need, you will not have a lot of left over pesos at the end of your trip. This will save you from having to exchange Mexican pesos back into dollars or other currencies. Thus, you will avoid paying a second exchange fee.
- Last, but not least, you will probably feel safer with less money in your pocket to lose!
Nonetheless, to avoid any untimely hassles during your vacation, do the following:
- Know the actual exchange rate
- Know the best places to exchange dollars to pesos
- Only take out as much money as you need from an ATM
See you here soon, and don’t let exchanging money get in the way of enjoying your vacation…
Lots of love,
Do you have any tips or tricks for exchanging money in Playa Del Carmen? Please leave a comment below.
Can you use peso to get into the nightclubs?
Twenty-four Carat T,
Absolutely. In fact, I would ONLY use MX pesos. Because if you use US Dollars, you can bet your @$$ that they’ll give you a horrendous USD/MXN exchange rate!
Don’t (for even one second) think that businesses here are doing you a “favor” by accepting USD. I’ve seen businesses give tourists as little as 12 pesos to the US dollar when the actual rate was 18.5 or more! It’s the most common scam in this city – & all of Mexico!
Mexicans can’t stand the fact that their currency has lost so much value over the last 2 years – especially to the US dollar! This is a sneaky way to steal from tourists all day long in broad daylight. They ought to be ashamed of themselves for this blatant thievery, but they’re not.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds, right? Tourism definitely feeds this city, and the USD is the most important currency after the MX peso. Unfortunately some vendors don’t think long-term and instead are trying to make a quick buck.
BEST ADVICE: Pay for EVERYTHING in pesos or lose 20% – 35% of your money’s value.
Hope that helps.
your advice on money matters make more sense than hundreds of posts i have read on other sites and tripadvisor!
will put it to use soon.
Thank you so much! I am glad that you are using the information.
Take care, and I hope to see you here soon…
I would assume that the same rules would apply For Puerto Vallarta. Thanks for this advice, Bob
I’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta, but I would guarantee it is the same – touristy, various high seasons/low seasons, and a corrupt/free-wheeling government that does not care about tourists except for the money they bring.
Although Playa Del Carmen is an absolutely amazing place, I can only imagine how much better it would be if there were showers on the beach, the taxi drivers were audited by “secret shoppers” who made sure they were not trying to overcharge tourists, and businesses were required to give a fair/updated exchange rate.
This country has A LOT of improvements to make. Things are coming along, but just not fast enough.
Thanks for the comment, and enjoy your trip whether it’s to Playa Del Carmen or PV.
Talk to you soon….
Hi. This has been very helpful. So to be clear, there really isn’t a need to bring dollars to Playa del Carmen. Just some pesos and then I can get more from the hotel atm? I mean aside from a few dollars for the airport maybe. Thanks!
That’s correct. However, where are you going to get pesos that you come here with (as mentioned in your comment)? DO NOT get them at the airport; they offer ridiculous exchange rates.
Usually the best way to exchange money is at a BANK ATM. There are banks all around town (HSBC, ScotiaBank, Santander, Bancomer, Banorte, and Bananex). DO NOT use the generic ATMs around town, in your hotel/resort, on 5th Ave., etc!!! They are there to serve as automated “tourist ripoff machines.”
There is a good ATM machine that I often use on the north-east corner of the Municipal Palace. It is an HSBC machine and has 24/7 security nearby. Here is a link to the EXACT location:
BONUS: While you’re at the Municipal Palace, be sure to go INSIDE because there is a beautiful painted atrium that is worth seeing. The atrium is open 24/7.
Also make sure you notify your bank that you’re traveling here. Verify that your card won’t get blocked.
It won’t hurt to bring some dollars as well, just in case there is a problem with your card. If you need to exchange the dollars, do it at one of the many exchanges around town. Although their rates are not as good as at ATMs, it will still be better than at businesses.
Hope this helps!!
Lots of love,
Excellent input and advice. Thanks for the bottom line, minus the sugar coating. I am all about no-nonsense and keeping it simple.
I am flying into CUN and want to take the ADO bus to the PDC terminal on Juarez. When I land (Southwest Air, likely Terminal 4), how should I handle arranging and payment of the ADO bus ride? Seems to me that paying for a bus ticket in USD is dopey, at best. But, if I arrive with nothing but USD, should I suck it up and use the airport ATM?
I’m really happy to hear that you appreciate the article. I made it for people like you who want to hear the truth without anything else on top of it.
I wouldn’t recommend using the airport ATM. Anything in regard to the airport is expensive because of the high rents that companies pay there.
I would just suck it up, like you say, and pay in USD. It’s only about $10 USD per person one way. Once you get here, use your debit card at one of the BANK ATM machines, and you’ll be fine (don’t use the ATMs that are not bank-associated). Just make sure that you’ve let your bank know that you’re traveling so that they do not try to block the card.
Enjoy your trip.
This explanation is just flawless.
Where could I find information about what would be a fair exchange USD-Peso in “tourism money” terms?
Thank you so much for the comment and feedback. I’m sure you’re going to have a great vacation here. The fact that you are educating yourself before arrival makes me believe that.
There really is no hard and fast rule for this. However, I usually calculate the best local exchange rate as ONE WHOLE NUMBER LOWER THAN WHAT YOU SEE ON GOOGLE.
For example, if I type in “USD to MXN” in Google, today’s exchange rate is 19.14. From that number, I can realistically expect to get around 18.14 (i.e. 19.14 minus one whole number equals 18.14).
NOTE: THE EXCHANGE RATE FLUCTUATES DAILY. YOU WILL NOT GET 19.14 WHEN YOU PERFORM THE SAME SEARCH.
The exchange rate will be a little better in large American-based retailers like Walmart, but the above is a good rule of thumb for planning.
Hope this helps!!!
Lots of love,
I’m curious why the exchange rate in the Mexican casas de cambio is so bad.
Today’s mid-market spot rate is about 19.05. Shopping around, here are the actual rates I found:
17.90: best rate at a casa de cambio, no passport required
17.00-17.60: all other casas de cambio, passport required
17.20-17.40: the only banks changing USD for pesos
15-17: rates in stores
18.90: several small pharmacies
These rates raise lots of questions.
– Why do casas de cambio sell pesos at 6-12% worse than the true spot rate? In countries with efficient exchange markets (e.g., Peru, Chile), spreads are 0.5% to 2.0%. With Mexico, I can’t find any government regulations or taxes on foreign exchange, so it doesn’t make sense otherwse why competition doesn’t drive spreads down to 1-2%.
– It’s curious that stores offer better exchange rates for dollars. Obviously the stores want customers to spend money at the store, so they offer a good rate. Also, at 1-3% spread over the spot rate, the rate they offer is still profitable for them. But still… very strange that stores offer 4-10% better than casas de cambio.
– What is the regulation about passports for foreign exchange? Many casas de cambio claim that the passport copy is required by law. But several casas de cambio in Cancun, PdC, etc, don’t ask for passports. And Walmart and Mega clearly don’t require passports when customers pay with dollars.
What do you think? I’d be curious what you’ve heard.
I am to pay rent when I arrive in PDC, the amount is already set in $US so would it be beneficial to me to pay in pesos or just write her a check? Same question when booked at a hotel via online-does it save money to come in and pay in pesos.
The same principle is going to apply no matter what kind of business you engage in. First of all, if you are paying rent on an apartment, condo, or house in US Dollars, you are probably paying tourist prices. Mexico’s national currency is the peso, so when you see prices in US dollars, those prices are meant for tourist consumption.
You are probably overpaying for your apartment.
As I stated in the article, prices for almost everything here are HIGHER for tourists than for locals. It’s completely unfair. If we scammed Mexicans in the US as bad as they try to scam us, it would make international headlines, and they would call us “racists.” You can protect yourself by following my advice and being aware.
Consequently, when you pay your rent, make sure that you ask your landlord what the price is in both US Dollars and pesos. Find out where you can get the best exchange rate possible and pay the lesser amount via that exchange. If it is more beneficial to pay in dollars, then you should use dollars. If it is more beneficial to pay in pesos, use pesos.
I have had a lot of experience working with local Mexicans. With very few exceptions, they ALL want to take advantage of tourists. Shop owners, tour providers, and apartment agents all try to pull the same nonsense. They will never err in your favor.
How? They will give you a price in US Dollars–based on THEIR arbitrary exchange rates.
In regard to your hotel/resort price, the same principles apply:
1.) Ask for the price in both pesos and dollars
2.) Check the current exchange rate
3.) Find the best place to get a good exchange rate
4.) Compare that to the price that the business is offering you
5.) Pay the lesser amount
Simple and easy.
Unfortunately, most Americans are not aware of this. Because the US Dollar is the official international reserve currency, we are used to paying for things in US Dollars.
Print the following on your forehead before coming on vacation here; NOBODY IS DOING YOU A FAVOR BY OFFERING PRICES IN US DOLLARS.
Also, checks are not an acceptable form of payment here.
This should make your life easier–and hopefully save you some money!!!!
See you here soon……
This is BS. Since when is the U s been the “world currency”. …….only in their dreams!!!
In Canada, you have to use Canadian $,. The same for Euros!!
Didn’t say it was the “world’s currency.” Said it was the world’s RESERVE currency.
You are worth a mint!!!
My question, do most touristy places in Playa del Carmen take visa? If so (ignorant) question, do the transaction pay out in pesos? And if so would you recommend using prepaid cards?
Appreciate all of your info and thanks in advance for feedback on this question.
Be there in April
Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate your feedback!
Yes, most of the touristy places here will accept Visa. I don’t think there’s any need to use prepaid cards.
First of all, there’s a rather slim chance of having your card charged without your authorization. If you want to be extra careful about this, simply keep your card in plain sight when you use it. Most of the bars and restaurants now use the wifi-enabled credit card machines. They usually bring them right to your table, so the waiter or waitress is not walking off with your credit card and returning 10 minutes later. In regards to the shops, just keep an eye on them there as well.
Secondly, Mexico uses credit card PIN numbers (which is actually your ATM pin number) for most purchases, so it is often more secure here than in the states. It’s rather difficult to use a credit card here in an unauthorized fashion nowadays.
Finally, the reason I would not recommend using prepaid cards is because they are very difficult to reverse. Prepaid cards and debit cards make it extremely hard for consumers to reverse unauthorized charges. Credit cards, on the other hand, are very easy to reverse if there is an unauthorized charge.
Hope this helps…
Thank you for your response.
Do you have to specify that you want your credit card transactions in pesos versus US dollars?
Does your credit card receipt that they give you specify whether the transaction was done in pesos or US dollars?
Only five days away!
Try to pay in pesos whenever possible. Or at least check to see if the price is the same (rarely).