No money. Sometimes that is a reality when trying to withdraw cash in Mexico. While it has never happened to me, my sister ran into this problem in March and I know of others who have encountered this annoyance.

It seems so odd when so much commerce is based on cash transactions. One would think the banks would have enough supply so business does not grind to a halt. Many places don’t take credit cards. Some credit cards charge an exchange fee; mine doesn’t.

It’s a good idea to have plenty of pesos on hand in Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The threat of no dinero has me going to the bank usually monthly to make sure I have a little stash on hand. Fortunately, my U.S. bank reimburses me for ATM fees. I’m allowed to withdraw $1,000 a day, but I can only take $500 at a time. It’s OK, though, to do back-to-back transactions. Apparently, it’s not just Mexico banks that have screwy rules. I’m able to choose between taking out dollars or pesos. I always get pesos because that is the currency of the country. Even though some businesses take dollars, it’s a better deal to use pesos.

Paying attention to the exchange rate is important. It’s what led me to take out more pesos than usual in June. The exchange rate was $1 equaling 19+ pesos. Taking out 19,000 pesos would be about $1,000. If the rate were $1 for 17 pesos and I were to have taken out $1,000, that would be 17,000 pesos. So, better to withdraw pesos when the exchange rate is higher.

Most of the time the ATM spits out 500 peso bills. Paper pesos come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 denominations. Peso coins are 1, 2, 5 and 10. Oddly, many smaller businesses don’t have change for a 500 peso bill. That is why it’s important to cash those whenever possible to get change; like at a gas station or larger store. (That 500 is roughly $25, so it’s not a ton of money by U.S. standards.) Still, at a place like the produce stand where I often go, last month they couldn’t break a 500. I owed 60 pesos. They let me go with my goods; I reimbursed them the next time I was there.

It’s possible for U.S. citizens to have a bank account in Mexico. It’s also possible to have accounts in pesos and dollars. When the exchange rates favor one currency over the other people can transfer cash between the accounts.

Large purchases like a vehicle or home improvements are when it would be advantageous to have a Mexican bank account. It would take several days to get the cash in hand. I don’t know if withdrawing a large sum from the ATM over multiple days would trigger an alarm, so to speak. After all, the laws in both the United States and Mexico only allow for $10,000 to be brought into either country at a time without declaring it. I’m not in that league.

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