Money in Mexico: Banks, ATMs, cards & currency exchange

12.07.17
6 minute read

If you’re living, working, or investing in Mexico, you may have questions about money. Here you’ll find the essentials covered in this financial guide to Mexico. Read on to learn about currency, Mexico’s banking institutions, and accessing your money.

Currency in Mexico

Mexico’s official currency is the peso.

Although the peso is the main currency, American dollars are accepted in touristy areas. Some high-traffic tourist regions might also accept Euros, Canadian dollars and British pounds. However, it’s almost always more cost-efficient to pay with pesos.

Characteristics of the Mexican Peso (MXN)

| --- | -- |
| Names | pesos & centavos |
| How is 100 pesos written? | 100 MXN, MX$100, $100 MN |
| 1 MXN | There are one hundred centavos (cents) in one peso. |
| MXN coins | You'll find denominations for 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos. These coins are frequently used for small bills and tips. Mexico also mints centavos in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 pieces - although they’re not widely used since their value is so small. |
| MXN banknotes | Mexico prints banknotes in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 pesos. You’re likely to see MX$50, MX$100, and MX$200 used. |

Exchanging Currency

The best place to exchange currency in Mexico is at a large bank or select ATMs. Both options will use the ‘real’ exchange rate, also known as the mid-market exchange rate. It’s the midpoint between the buy and sell rate in global currency markets.

However, not all banks and ATMs will be equal, beyond using the interbank rate. Your home bank may partner with some banks abroad to waive fees. Other banks might build in a charge, or take a cut of your withdrawal.  

You may find that currency exchange kiosks are more convenient for you. They’ll be located in town, at your hotel, and at the airport. Beware though as these institutions often mark up the exchange rate. They also generally charge service fees and charges. If using an exchange bureau, ensure that your bills aren’t damaged or torn, otherwise merchants won’t accept them.

Some research prior to your trip could save you money. The fairest exchange rates might come from your home bank, and many banks will give you the best deal on currency exchange if given enough notice. In that case, convert to pesos ahead of arriving in Mexico. If you’re traveling to a remote part of Mexico, you’re not likely to find sophisticated financial infrastructure.

Traveller’s checks in Mexico

Before ATMs were commonly-used, traveller’s checks were a prevalent and safe way to carry currency abroad. These days, more efficient ways of getting cash are replacing the traveller’s check. Traveller’s checks require a manual verification process and they offer poor exchange rates. As a result, they simply aren’t the best way to exchange money.

Also, as fewer people use traveller’s checks, it becomes less cost-effective for banks to process them. You might have a difficult time finding a bank or exchange house that will accept your traveller’s checks.

Instead, opt for a prepaid debit card, or use your debit card at an ATM. These days, traveller’s checks aren’t worth the hassle of using them.

Using credit cards and debit cards in Mexico

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are the most commonly accepted credit cards in Mexico. You shouldn’t have a problem using any of these major cards, especially in larger cities or tourist destinations. Fewer vendors will honour cards provided by smaller companies, so do your research ahead of time.

It’s always a good idea to carry some cash on you as well, but don’t carry around more than you plan to spend on any given day. You risk being unsafe, otherwise.  

One of the bigger fees you’ll come across will be from your bank or credit card company. Many banks charge foreign transaction fees every time you pay for something. It’s common practice for credit card companies to charge one percent on all foreign transactions. Still, you’re better off using your credit card for large purposes; the fees will be smaller than for cash transactions.

To minimise inconvenience, tell your bank or card issuer that you’re going abroad. This will stop them from freezing your card for potential fraud when you’re using it in Mexico.  

ATMs in Mexico

ATMs are common in Mexico, since the country attracts many tourists. You can use global ATM locators for Mastercard, American Express,  Maestro, and Visa to find your preferred ATMs in Mexico.

You’re better off using ATMs owned by the large banks: Banamex, Banco Santander (part-owned by Bank of America), Banorte, and HSBC. Otherwise, smaller vendors may charge you liberally for your transaction.

In the worst-case scenario, you'll be charged an ATM fee, an international withdrawal fee, and a currency exchange fee at an ATM. Some ATMs might charge an exchange fee, and waive the withdrawal fee. But expect a lot of variation in your fees and charges if you don’t plan ahead.

Most ATMs in Mexico only accept 4 digit PINs for debit and credit cards. If you don’t have a 4 digit pin number, speak with your bank before traveling.

In Mexico, always choose to be charged in pesos, as opposed to withdrawing in your home currency. Otherwise, the ATM has license to mark up the exchange rate you’re getting. This is known as ‘Dynamic Currency Conversion’, and it usually means extra charges are placed on you, the customer.

Note that safety is always a concern for foreigners in Mexico. Petty theft is a problem in large cities, and ATMs are frequently targeted by hijackers. Don’t withdraw or carry large amounts of money. Carry what you plan to spend, and keep the rest securely stored. Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings.

Banks in Mexico

While it wasn’t always the case, today modern banks are prevalent throughout Mexico. You’ll find a range of financial services for residents, expatriates, and visitors. Banking services have steadily improved over the last decade.

The credit card market in Mexico has taken off over the past 20 years. Yet, interest rates on Mexican credit cards are high by US or European standards. It's common to have a 50% per year interest rate on a card.

If you bank with a global bank, chances are you’ll find a branch or a partner bank in Mexico. Check with your home bank before you go.

The following are the principal banks with retail operations in Mexico:

Major retail banks in Mexico

| --- | --- |
| BBVA Bancomer Mexico | Mexico’s largest bank. U.S. based bank Wells-Fargo has ties with the entity. |
| Banamex (owned by Citigroup) | Mexico’s second-largest banking group, Banamex, is a Citigroup subsidiary. If you bank with Citigroup, you can withdraw from Banamex ATMs for free. |
| Banorte (merged with IXE) | Banorte is among the most populous in terms of ATMs and local branches in Mexico. Capital One’s debit card allows free withdrawals at Banorte ATMs of up to 3,000 pesos a day. |
| Santander Mexico | Use the branch locator to find Santander branches and atm's. Be aware that fees maybe apply. To avoid your card getting blocked you should notify your bank that you'll be traveling. |
| HSBC Mexico | HSBC Mexico operates 1,400 branches and 5,200 ATMs across Mexico. If you bank with HSBC at home, expect free ATM withdrawals at HSBC ATMs.
| Banco Inbursa | Banco Inbursa is a local Mexican bank owned by Mexico’s famous billionaire Carlos Slim. |

The following foreign banks maintain branches in Mexico:

International banks operating in Mexico

Alternatively, for simple access to the money you need while you’re abroad - and an even better deal - use TransferWise.

If you have a bank account in Mexico, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between bank accounts using the real mid-market exchange rate. It's a convenient way to get your cash, with no hidden fees.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more