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.
The Mexican government has been pushing for tourists to rely primarily on pesos, but have maintained a “wishy-washy” policy about enforcing this because the USD both benefits and harms Mexico. Here are a few reasons:
- 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 (DEAD LINK – 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.
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 currency
No 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!
Believe me when I say that exchanging money in Mexico is not nearly as difficult as it sounds.
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.