When driving to Mexico, you'll need to pay for food, fuel and hotels, whatever your budget for recreational spending. So how will you make that happen? Carrying lots of cash on your person or in your car is always risky, and traveler's checks aren't easy to get accepted in Mexico. So what should you expect when you whip out that good old plastic credit card south of the border?
Well, we'll tell you. But first, take care of an important transaction while you're still in the U.S. Buy Mexican car insurance. It's a critical part of planning ahead. Auto insurance for Mexico is required by law. And the easiest way to purchase your Mexican insurance policy is by taking care of it online before you leave home. You can get a quote and purchase & print your Mexican auto insurance policy from our website.
Carrying US Dollars or Mexican Pesos?
Like many Americans, you're probably in the habit of doing business with debit and credit cards. This is easy enough in the areas of Mexico that receive a steady stream of U.S. tourists, although you should be aware of a few differences.
Even in Baja California, Mexico's official currency is the peso, not the dollar. Confusingly, the peso symbol is $ or M$. The U.S.-Mexico exchange rate varies daily, but as a rule of thumb one peso equals roughly 10-15 cents. Mexican ATMs dispense 100- and 200-peso notes because they're easiest to spend in places where vendors can't give change (which happens more frequently in Mexico than in the U.S.).
ATMs are identified by a sign that reads "Cajero Permanente." For your financial and personal safety, be careful about which ones you use. You can't go wrong with these nationally recognized banks:
- Banamex (owned by Citigroup, USA)
- Banco Santander (part-owned by Bank of America)
- Bancomer (owned by BBVA, Spain)
- Banorte (Mexican-owned)
- HSBC (British-based)
Whenever possible, use machines inside banks or upscale hotel lobbies, airport concourses, or any well-lit environment with visible security. Be aware of your surroundings in every case.
Charge it, please
When you're making a bigger purchase, Visa, MasterCard and American Express are the most commonly accepted credit cards in Mexico. While using your debit card often gives you the best exchange rate, most credit card transactions in Mexico cost an extra 2-6%, depending on which bank issued the card and which vendor you're patronizing. Research rates and fees beforehand.
It's a good idea to keep your card in sight at all times, thanks to the current global epidemic of credit card cloning. Instead of letting your waiter take your plastic away from the table and assuming all will be well, take it directly to the cashier whenever possible. Fraudulent charges to your account are never fun, and it's complicated when they happen outside of the U.S.
The last resort
If you lose your money (or have too much expensive fun), the U.S. embassy can help you arrange a funds transfer from your family, bank or employer. Of course, no one really wants to end up in this position, but it's good to know that if you're driving to Mexico, you won't have to hock your car to get back to the States.