The People's Guide To Mexico

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Packing Up

Money in Mexico

by Carl Franz

Published March 08

First Things First

Among the most important questions to ask yourself while packing up and making your pre-trip preparations, is "what about money? "Will you carry cash and/or traveler's checks in Mexico, and when it runs out, as it always does, how will you get more? What about credit cards? These are questions that need to be settled well before you leave, rather than at the last minute..

ATM or Credit Card

First of all, unless you are absolutely opposed to carrying a credit card or ATM card, forget about traveler's checks. There have been so many clever traveler's checks scams over the years that many merchants simply won't accept them. Even banks may balk at traveler's checks or require you to stand in yet another line to get authorization from a head teller or manager. If you're going to have to go through this kind of grief to get your hands on more cash, why not just make a charge against your ATM or credit card?

Lorena and I have been using ATM cards in Latin America for many years. We've never had a problem with fraud (unless you count the recent scandal over Visa's inflated peso/dollar exchange fees). The only problem we've had with ATM withdrawals in Mexico, in fact, happened many years ago, when an ATM in San Miguel de Allende ate Lorena's card on a Friday evening. We had to wait until Monday morning for the bank to force the machine to regurgitate her card, an inconvenience, for sure, but nothing more.

In the summer of 2007, I was in San Salvador, out of cash, with nothing in my pocket but second-party traveler's checks and a credit card. A friend had signed these checks over to me and asked that I cash them for a non-profit group in El Salvador. I had my passport as well as a local person for a reference, but cashing those checks was impossible. In the end, a friendly bank manager allowed me to make a charge against my credit card equivalent to the value of the traveler's checks, plus “walking around” money for me. I ended up carrying those traveler's checks home, where I finally managed to cash them at my own bank.

There's a lot more about money in The People's Guide To Mexico, but I think you get the point - carry enough cash to tide you over for 3 or 4 days, then replenish that cash at a bank or ATM kiosk as you travel. Kiosks are springing up left and right in Latin America, especially in airports, bus terminals, large supermarkets and shopping malls.

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