by David Simmonds
When I first started traveling to Mexico about a thousand years ago, carrying money was an issue. Dollars were accepted in the border areas, but farther down you had to have pesos. These days you can spend gringo dollars in the major tourist towns throughout the country, but it is best to convert your money to Mexican pesos. That way you won’t be perceived as a rookie Mexico traveler (which increases the chance that you might get fleeced) and you don’t have to fake mental math calculations when they give you change in pesos (not recommended when paying your bar tab after slamming margaritas in a cantina). With local currency,when a six-pack of beer at a market is marked at 39 pesos you pay that amount in the local currency just like a local. If you pay with a $20 US bill, the clerk, if he accepts your $20, will give you change in pesos using a conversion scale to his liking. Most likely you will pay more for the brew than had you used pesos.
I always save my pesos from a trip so that I have will them available for the next time…usually around $50 – $100. That way, if I am flying in, I have pesos as soon as I land (I know there’s a cold cerveza around here somewhere). The airport may have a bank window or a casa de cambio (money exchange), but they aren’t always open when you land. The large airports (Mexico City, Guadalajara, PV) now have ATM’s, but many do not. I also carry a couple of $100 US bills in a safe place (not my wallet) for emergencies. Years ago everyone used travelers checks, which meant waiting in long, barely moving bank lines in order to cash them, which was a huge hassle. In the last seven years or so ATM’s have become very common all over Mexico, at least in any town large enough to have a bank. An ATM will offer you the best conversion rate and will leave you a legitimate paper trail. A case de cambio is the second best option, but that is for converting your US dollars into pesos, which requires that you carry cash. Why carry cash that you might lose when you can use plastic, getting enough cash every day for that day’s needs? The ATM’s also handle cash advances for Visa and Mastercard, although the greedy banks have started to add surcharges.