Using ATMs in Mexico

Lots of people who live in Mexico don’t have a Mexican bank account.  Instead, they pay everything via cash or credit card and for larger purchases, via PayPal, wire transfers or ACH (which is like a bank transfer, but generally much less expensive and faster).  When they want pesos, they use their debit card at a Mexican ATM machine.

Which card you use can make a very big difference.  Consider these features:

Exchange rate.  Like above, the exchange rate can matter a lot.  Find out which exchange rate your debit card uses.  The Capital One card I use exchanges dollars from my US account to pesos at the ATM I stand at in Mexico at using pretty much the same rate as I see on the Internet.  (I checked.)  I’m sure there are other cards like mine, but there are lots of other cards that are not and use a terrible exchange rate, like the card I used to use.  Here’s a bonus tip: when you’re standing in front of the ATM in Mexico and it asks you if you accept the exchange rate, choose “Decline.”  Doing so will cause the ATM to use your financial institution’s rate, which is usually LOTS better.  On a recent withdrawal, this saved me about USD $30.

How much the Mexican ATM machine charges for each withdrawal.  When I use my Capital One card at CI Banco, they charge me less than 18 pesos per withdrawal, which is less than one US dollar. I can definitely live with that.  There are many (like that other card in my wallet) that charge a lot more.  I have been told that some cards charge even less, so that whatever fees the bank ATM in Mexico charged, that US bank removes entirely.

How much you can withdraw at one time With some cards, you can only withdraw 3,000 pesos at one time.  With others (like my favorite), you can take 10,000 pesos at one time.

Check the deal for your card and if you need another one, get it well before you leave the US or Canada.

After putting this into practice for ATM cards (and credit cards, too, above), what would you do if one expired and it didn’t work any longer, or one got stolen, or you lost it, or the magnetic strip just stopped working?  You’re not in the US or Canada any more, so you would have to do without your card for probably quite some time.  Maybe that means you can’t get cash or you can’t charge on your credit card.  Not a good plan. The easiest way to get around this is to have at least two ATM cards from different banking institutions and if you have a partner like I do, get separate cards for your wife or husband.  That way, you’re covered in two directions.

This brings me to an overall recommendation.  Like with so many other things in life (and especially in Mexico), it’s always good to have backups.  Just like in the moving business, when living in Mexico, I always think, “What could go wrong?”  Then, I plan for it, so if things do go wrong, I don’t get too upset, because I have a Plan B and many times, a Plan C. This easy way of advance planning and life in general will reduce your related stress and anxiety and the actions needed if things go wrong, to close to zero.  Then, you can just enjoy yourself.

  • For each card, check the exchange rate, transaction fee and withdrawal limit. If you’re not happy with any of them, establish a relationship with a different bank that offers a better deal.
  • Just like with your credit cards (above), make sure that you have replicates of each card, for yourself, and if you’re moving with someone else, for that person, too