San Pancho Living

Money in Mexico: Before You Leave & When You’re There

Mexican paper currency and coins

Mexico is largely a cash society and its currency is the Mexican peso. You’ll want a steady supply of pesos for purchases and tips while you’re here.

Paper currency comes in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 pesos. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 pesos (and the teensy 20 and 50 centavos—100 centavos equals 1 peso).

Note! Mexico uses the “$” symbol for its currency and pricing

To avoid confusion, prices are sometimes written as “MX$100” or “$100 MN.” The MN stands for Moneda Nacional, meaning National Currency. When you’re in Mexico, assume the pricing is in pesos. However, there’s no harm in asking.

Important! Before you leave home

  • Call your credit card companies and your ATM card bank to tell them the dates you’ll be in Mexico. THIS IS IMPORTANT, or you risk having your cards disabled by your home bank or your ATM card withheld and destroyed by the Mexican bank.
  • Ask your credit card company and bank about any foreign transaction fees and ATM fees. Some credit cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
  • Ask your ATM bank for your cash withdrawal limit per day. That will influence how many pesos you can withdraw at a time, although many ATMs limit withdrawals to 5,000 pesos per login.
  • Download a currency conversion app on your smart phone. We use the XE Currency App for iPhone and Android.

Pay people in pesos, por favor

Many Mexicans don’t have bank accounts. If you pay a vendor or tip a worker with dollars, euros or other foreign currency, they can’t easily convert it to pesos or get a favorable exchange rate. Por favor, pay in pesos.

ATMs at the Puerto Vallarta airport

If you have checked bags, or will be using a car service, taxi or Gecko Rent A Car, you’ll need pesos to tip your porter or driver.

There are ATMs at Puerto Vallarta airport. After you exit the Customs area, and then the time share sales room, turn to your right. Go past the car rental agencies booths, and look for the ATMs. 

How to use ATMs in Mexico

Take the usual ATM precautions.

Enter your card and look for the “English” option. Shield the keypad with your hand or hat as you enter your PIN. Follow the menu prompts.

Depending on your bank’s cash withdrawal limit and the ATM bank, you may be able to withdraw up to 8,000 pesos (about US$450 at a 17.5:1 exchange rate). Banamex ATMs generally allow larger withdrawals.

However, many ATMs in Mexico limit withdrawals to 5,000 pesos. Also, sometimes the ATMs run low on cash, and the withdrawal amount is limited. If your desired withdrawal amount is reduced, make a second withdrawal. Just enter your card again, and start over.

Remember, when you enter the amount you want to withdraw, enter the number of pesos you want. It may feel alarming to enter 5000.00, but at an exchange rate of 17.5:1, that’s US$286.

IMPORTANT: ATMs in Mexico can run out of cash, especially during Mexican holidays.

Banks

There are no banks in San Pancho. However, there are several ATMs. We use the one inside El Indio market on Av. America Latina, which is open seven days a week. We also use the Banorte ATM near the hospital entrance on Calle Africa.

The nearest bank (Intercam) is in Sayulita, about a 12-minute drive south of San Pancho. More are located in Bucerias, about a 25-minute drive south. If you want to make a cash withdrawal from a bank teller, you must show your passport.

Cash or credit card?

Some restaurants and shops accept credit cards. If you venture to La Comer, Mega, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco or any other large store or restaurant, credit card payments are fine.

Vendors at the weekly markets, small restaurants, coffee bistros, malecon and beach vendors, taxi drivers, and tour or fishing guides want cash payment.

When in doubt, count on paying in pesos. If you pay your restaurant tab with a credit card, don’t add the tip. Tip your food server in cash pesos. Experienced Mexico travelers hand their tip directly to their food server instead of leaving it on the table.

Hoard small bills and change

ATMs will spit out 500, 200 and 100 peso bills. Smart travelers quickly learn to break the 500 peso bills with payments at larger restaurants and shops to collect change in smaller bills.

You’ll need 20, 50 and 100 peso bills—plus 20, 10 and 5 peso coins—for small purchases and tips. For mysterious reasons, change is scarce in Mexico. If you need to pay a 35 peso tab with a 500 peso bill, you may not be able to get the full amount of change.

Be discrete with your cash

Remember, Mexican salaries and wages are much lower than they are in the U.S. and Canada. Don’t tempt fate by flashing a wad of bills as you count out your stash. Keep some pesos in your wallet, some in a front pocket, and leave some secured in your room.

Don’t miss Tipping Guidelines: Who and How Much to Tip

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