Money & costs
Your dollar, euro or pound will go a long way in Mexico. Assuming the peso’s exchange rate against the US dollar remains fairly stable, you’ll find this is an affordable country to travel in. Midrange travelers can live pretty well in most parts of the country on US$75 to US$125 per person per day. Between US$40 and US$70 will get you a pleasant, clean and comfortable room for two people, with private bathroom and fan or air-conditioning, and you have the rest to pay for food (a full lunch or dinner in a decent restaurant typically costs US$15 to US$25), admission fees, transport, snacks, drinks and incidentals. Budget travelers staying in hostels can easily cover the cost of accommodation and two restaurant meals a day with US$40. Add in other costs and you’ll spend US$60 to US$80.
The main exceptions to this are the Caribbean coast, parts of Baja California and some Pacific resort towns, where rooms can easily cost 50% more than elsewhere.
Extra expenses such as internal airfares, car rentals and shopping push your expenses up, but if you have someone to share expenses with, basic costs per person drop considerably. Double rooms often cost only a few dollars more than singles, and triple or family rooms only a few dollars more than doubles. Rental cars start at around US$50 to US$60 per day, plus fuel, and cost no more for four people than for one.
At the top end of the scale are a few hotels and resorts that charge over US$200 for a room, and restaurants where you can pay US$50 per person. But you can also stay in smaller classy hotels for US$80 to US$120 a double and eat extremely well for US$40 to US$50 per person per day.
Mexico’s currency is the peso, usually denoted by the ‘M$’ sign. Any prices quoted in US dollars will normally be written ‘US$5’ or ‘5 USD’ to avoid misunderstanding. The peso is divided into 100 centavos. Coins come in denominations of 20 and 50 centavos and one, two, five, 10, 20 and 100 pesos. There are notes of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos.
The most convenient form of money in Mexico is a major international credit card or debit card – preferably two if you have them. Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards can be used to obtain cash easily from ATMs in Mexico, and are accepted for payment by most airlines, car-rental companies and travel agents, plus many upper midrange and top-end hotels, and some restaurants and stores. Occasionally there’s a surcharge for paying by card, or a discount for paying cash. Making a purchase by credit card normally gives you a more favorable exchange rate than exchanging money at a bank, and isn’t subject to commission, but you’ll normally have to pay your card issuer a ‘foreign exchange’ transaction fee of around 2.5%.
As a backup to credit or debit cards, it’s a good idea to take a little cash and a few traveler’s checks. US dollars are easily the most exchangeable foreign currency in Mexico. In tourist areas and many Mexican cities along the US border, you can often make some purchases in US dollars, though the exchange rate used will probably not be in your favor. Euros, British pounds and Canadian dollars, in cash or as traveler’s checks, are accepted by most banks and some casas de cambio (exchange houses), but acceptance is less certain if you’re away from main cities and tourist centers. Traveler’s checks should be a major brand, such as American Express or Visa.
ATMs (caja permanente or cajero automático) are plentiful in Mexico, and are the easiest source of cash. You can use major credit cards and some bank cards, such as those on the Cirrus and Plus systems, to withdraw pesos from ATMs. The exchange rate that banks use for ATM withdrawals is normally better than the ‘tourist rate’ for currency exchange, though that advantage may be negated by extra handling fees, interest charges and other methods that banks have of taking your money away from you.
To avoid the risk of ‘card cloning, ’ use ATMs only in secure indoor locations, not those in stand-alone booths. Card cloners obtain your card number and PIN by means of hidden cameras, then make a copy of your card and use it to withdraw cash from your account.