How to get Pesos, exchange rates, Cambios, and more
US dollars may be used throughout Playa del Carmen but the exchange rate will be very poor. The locals are very aware of the exchange rate and are good at this game. The best place to use your credit card is at the large supermarkets. Chedraui, Walmart, and Soriana will give you the best exchange rate.
If you are staying for more than a couple of days and are planning to do some shopping and eating out, it's best to convert to Pesos. There are two ways of doing that.
1. Convert your cash to pesos at a Cambio.
2. Get pesos from an ATM. But only use those in the lobby of a bank. There is much less chance of the machine being tampered with. This means you need to plan to go during business hours.
If you are traveling outside of the tourist areas, you will need pesos. Here are some examples:
- Most Mayan ruin sites will only take Pesos
- Toll roads. This is important to remember if driving around. There are often no banks or ATM machines on the toll and after you get to a tollbooth you must pay. We often see tourist that have no Pesos or think they can pay with credit card. They have to pull over and ask people to borrow money or exchange money. Be prepared and avoid this.
- Outside of tourist areas it is hard for people to exchange money or even keep up with the current exchange rate. So small stores and restaurants usually will not accept Dollars
You may have heard about the cap on the exchange of US dollars and Pesos. This is not an issue for tourists unless you're purchasing big ticket items such as a home.
I recommend you bring some small US bills, i.e. $1's and 5's, for tips and use an ATM in Playa to acquire pesos
When using an ATM , apply the normal precautions. Cover your hand when entering your PIN and check the machine to make sure there was no tampering. A loose card scanner is something to always avoid. I personally use HSBC on 10th Ave and Juarez. They are on the SW corner (see photo below). They have 3 machines in the lobby. Don't waste your time going to a bank teller to exchange money. Many will not provide the service unless you're a patron.
Another good way to protect yourself is to ask your bank to add a separate bank account with a debit card. I call mine my travel account, but I use it all the time. I don't even have a debit card for my primary account. If you're like me, you're electronically paying your bills from your bank account. There's money going in and out all of the time. I can't afford to have the account compromised. So my bank suggested this separate account. I keep a small amount of money in there and replenish it as needed with an electronic transfer from the prime account. But, I only use secure WIFI when transferring (Use the wifi in the condo; it's secure). This has been such an easy way to safeguard my bank account. And it is usually FREE. The bank encourages this practice to reduce their risk.
Here are some tips for exchanging money in Playa Del Carmen
- Most ATMS have an English option on the screen
- Try to avoid using the ATMs on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. The locals get paid on Fridays and the lines will be long.
- Don't do multiple little withdrawals because you will pay more in fees. Many of them use a flat fee and allow you to withdraw up to 7000 pesos for the same fee (35 pesos).
- Don't be intimidated by the number. Remember the exchange rate is about 19:1. 7000 pesos is about $365 US
- Tell your bank and credit card companies to put a travel alert on your card. This will prevent you from being denied in Mexico.
- Check to see if your home bank has a relationship with a bank here in Mexico. You can save some fees this way. For example Citi Bank has a relationship with Banamex. And HSBC has banks internationally.
- If you exchange at a Cambio, take your passport with you, most require it.
- When bringing currency to exchange at the Cambio, make sure it is in good condition; no markings, rips or tears, or excessively worn. They will refuse to take money that is damaged, even slightly.
- If you exchange at a Cambio, ask for small bills. 500 pesos notes can be hard to get change for if you are buying something small. Don’t even think about trying to spend a 1000 peso note in Mexico. Most places don’t have change. It is a good thing these notes are not that popular.
- Cambio's do not charge commission, they make money by giving a lower rate to you then the official rate. So you can exchange small amounts and it does not matter because you are not paying a fee each time. This may work for you if you are not sure how much you want you will need.
- The Cambio will give you a little slip of paper showing the amount you are exchanging, the rate, and the number of pesos you will get in return. Count your money before leaving and make sure it matches the number on the slip of paper. Don't accept any torn bills; if they give you any ask them for good condition currency. Why should you get stuck with it?
- Try to avoid any ATM on 5th Avenue. You have a much greater chance of having issues with card cloning.
Below is more important information on using ATMS in foreign countries (not just Mexico) that might be costing you money. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC charges) by following these instructions. If you've shopped around and found that the bank issuing your credit card gives the best exchange rate, this is definitely for you.