Looking for advice about getting and spending money while in Mexico.
June 24, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico next week. Looking for advice and information about money while I'm there.

A friend and I will be spending some time in Oaxaca, Mexico in July. We are wondering about how to get and spend money while we're there. Specifically, whether or not it is better to bring dollars in, or go to ATMs once we arrive. Why? How do conversion rates work? Should we get pesos too? What ratio of dollars-to-pesos should we have? Where is our bargaining power and when is it most effective to offer to pay with dollars versus pesos? Any other monetary info welcome as well. Thanks!
posted by iamkimiam to Travel & Transportation around Oaxaca, Mexico (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i last traveled through mexico seven years ago, and i just came with about $100 in pesos in hand and then used the ATM after that. i found that it was always good to have a stash of dollars on hand, in case there wasn't an ATM around. $50 will be more than enough.

with the ATM is that you get the most current conversion rate--a benefit if the peso is falling, a detriment if the dollar is falling. but since you will be using foreign banks, you'll be paying a $1-$5 convenience fee for each transaction, which would probably offset any daily wobble in the value of either currency.

however, the benefit is that you don't have to keep a lot of cash on hand, which minimizes your losses if you get robbed or pickpocketed. (of course you will disperse your money about your person and carry your ATM card separately from your wallet, plus leaving some hidden among your belongings back at your hotel, right? right.)

also, just fyi, pesos are also marked with the $ sign, so don't get confused!
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2008

I was just at the Jalisco / Nayarit state line a couple of months ago, and though I did buy some pesos while I was there and most everyone accepted USD at a flat ten to one I put as much as I could on my American Express card because the Amex currency conversion rate was better than anything I could get from an ATM or exchange booth.

"Where is our bargaining power and when is it most effective to offer to pay with dollars versus pesos?"

Dollars and pesos were used interchangably while I was there. I got USD change from a peso transaction and vice versa. Your bargaining power comes in learning to haggle, not waving your currency around. Unless you're doing some very large transactions, you'll be fine with whatever you have in your pocket.
posted by majick at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2008

You'll need pesos in Oaxaca. I haven't been there in a few years, and it's definitely become a US tourist (read: white) destination, but that deep in Mexico you'll still be way better carrying pesos than dollars.

You can exchange them at the airport. Not sure about around town - although I'm sure any tour book will provide suggestions.

You should carry a money belt or some other type of concealed wallet. Friend-of-a-friend was mugged in Oaxaca a few years back. They took his wallet, but since his girlfriend had their reserve money and passports in her money belt the avoided major disaster.
posted by wfrgms at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2008

Seconding pretty much everything above: Pesos are better than dollars; ATMs are fine if you're okay with the $3-5 "convenience" fee; muggings are indeed your biggest concern, and credit cards are probably better than all of the above. $100 ($1000 pesos) will be enough walking around money for cafes and drinks and such.
posted by rokusan at 3:37 PM on June 24, 2008

We changed our money at the airport but had to visit an ATM once or twice. I was surprised at how high prices were in the tourist area of Villahermosa in Tabasco. Off the beaten path is where you really find that beneficial price gap.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:52 PM on June 24, 2008

if you have a Bank of America debit card you can use it w/o the $5 fee at Santender ATMs in Mexico. When I go to Mexico I bring I'm $100usd and hit the ATM at the airport when I land.

The farther from the tourist places the better it is to have pesos. Make sure you keep smaller bills since a lot of smaller places will have a hard time with change.
posted by birdherder at 4:05 PM on June 24, 2008

I was just in Oaxaca last month. It didn't feel particularly touristy... I don't think many people are traveling. I think they would have laughed if you tried to use dollars, but YMMV. There are plenty of ATMs and usually I saw fees of 7 pesos or so. The only ones I got shafted on were the HSBC ATMs... I think there was something in that Spanish I agreed to that was not good.

Also, you may want to check whether the protesters are still blockading the road to the airport. Presumably there's some way around that, but I didn't use the airport so I don't know.
posted by smackfu at 4:20 PM on June 24, 2008

Get pesos...you'll need 'em.

A "rounded" rate may be available in dollars, especially in bigger stores, like a large grocery store, or, um, WalMart. Also restaurants trying super-super hard to be comfortable and nonscary for tourists who would rather carry large sums of American dollars than just go to the ATM...
posted by desuetude at 7:48 PM on June 24, 2008

Thanks for all of the suggestions and info above! Here's what I learned (in case somebody else is seeking answers to their upcoming trip)...

• Exchange rate was 10 to 1. Banks were difficult to go to in the mornings, especially Mondays and Fridays, when lines were around the blocks.

• Travelers checks were completely useless.

• I paid for everything in pesos. Dollars were difficult to spend, especially in smaller villages and poorer areas.

• The way the denominations go, I seemed to always have big-bill pesos and small ones–rarely stuff in between. The people there LOATHE breaking the big bills. I spent a lot of time carefully organizing my outings so that I could break change when and where I needed to. If you don't have small bills, often times you can't buy things. And you feel like an ass. A little planning and everybody was happy.

• I went to ATMs and withdrew money, large amounts at a time. But I was strategic about it...if I needed ~2000 pesos, I made sure to key in something like $1,727 pesos...that way I'd wind up with one 1-thousand peso bill, one 500 bill, one 200 bill, one 20 bill, one 5 bill, and one 2 bill–instead of two 1-thousand bills that I couldn't break anywhere but a bank.

That just about covers all the things I can think of. Thanks again for all the help everybody!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:02 PM on July 28, 2008

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