Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency (unless rates are given in U.S. dollars). However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
In general, the southern region of Mexico is considerably cheaper than not just most U.S. and European destinations but also many other parts of Mexico, although prices vary significantly depending on the specific location. The most expensive destinations are those with the largest number of foreign visitors, such as Cancún and Los Cabos. The least expensive are those off the beaten path and in small rural villages, particularly in the poorer states. In the major cities, prices vary greatly depending on the neighborhood. As you might imagine, tourist zones tend to be more expensive.
The currency in Mexico is the peso. Paper currency comes in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 pesos. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 pesos, and 20 and 50 centavos (100 centavos = 1 peso). The current exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, and the one used in this guide, is 12 pesos; at that rate, an item that costs 12 pesos would be equivalent to $1.
Many establishments that deal with tourists, especially in coastal resort areas, quote prices in U.S. dollars. To avoid confusion, they use the abbreviations DLLS. for dollars and M.N. (moneda nacional, or national currency) or M.X.P. for Mexican Pesos. Note: Establishments that quote their prices primarily in U.S. dollars are listed in this guide with U.S. dollars.
Getting change is a problem. Small-denomination bills and coins are hard to come by, so start collecting them early in your trip. Shopkeepers and taxi drivers everywhere always seem to be out of change and small bills; that's doubly true in markets. There seems to be an expectation that the customer should provide appropriate change, rather than the other way around.
Don't forget to have enough pesos to carry you over a weekend or Mexican holiday, when banks are closed. Because small bills and coins in pesos are hard to come by in Mexico, the $1 bill is very useful for tipping. Note: A tip of U.S. coins, which cannot be exchanged into Mexican currency, is of no value to the service provider.
Casas de cambio (exchange houses) are generally more convenient than banks for money exchange because they have more locations and longer hours; the rate of exchange may be the same as at a bank or slightly lower. Before leaving a bank or exchange-house window, count your change in front of the teller before the next client steps up. Also, most major hotels will change money for you.
Large airports have currency-exchange counters that often stay open whenever flights are operating. Though convenient, they generally do not offer the most favorable rates. The bottom line on exchanging money: Ask first, and shop around. Banks generally pay the top rates.
Banks in Mexico have expanded and improved services. Except in the smallest towns, they tend to be open weekdays from 9am until 5pm, and often for at least a half day on Saturday. In larger resorts and cities, they can generally accommodate the exchange of dollars (which used to stop at noon) anytime during business hours. Some, but not all, banks charge a 1% fee to exchange traveler's checks. But you can pay for most purchases directly with traveler's checks at the establishment's stated exchange rate. Don't bother with personal checks drawn on a U.S. bank -- the bank will wait for your check to clear, which can take weeks, before giving you your money.
Travelers to Mexico can easily withdraw money from ATMs, called cajeras, in most major cities and resort areas. The U.S. Department of State recommends caution when you're using ATMs in Mexico, stating that they should only be used during business hours and in large protected facilities, but this pertains primarily to Mexico City, where crime remains a significant problem. In most resorts in Mexico, the use of ATMs is perfectly safe -- just use the same precautions you would at any ATM. However, beware of using ATMs in dubious locations as there have been reports of people having their card numbers "skimmed" (where information is copied and monies stolen or cards fraudulently charged). The ATM exchange rate is generally more favorable than at casas de cambio. Most machines offer Spanish/English menus and dispense pesos, but some offer the option of withdrawing dollars.
In Mexico, Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are the most accepted cards. You'll be able to charge most hotel, restaurant, and store purchases, as well as almost all airline tickets, on your credit card. Most Pemex gas stations now accept credit card purchases for gasoline, though this option may not be available everywhere and often not at night -- check before you pump. Generally you receive the favorable bank rate when paying by credit card. However, be aware that some establishments in Mexico add a 5% to 7% surcharge when you pay with a credit card. This is especially true when using American Express. Many times, advertised discounts will not apply if you pay with a credit card.
Beware of hidden credit-card fees while traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions. Recent reform legislation in the U.S., for example, has curbed some exploitative lending practices. But many banks have responded by increasing fees in other areas, including fees for customers who use credit and debit cards while out of the country -- even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars. Fees can amount to 3% or more of the purchase price. Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.
For help with currency conversions, tip calculations, and more, download Frommer's convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the "Travel Tools" icon.
A Few Words About Prices -- Many hotels in Mexico -- except places that receive little foreign tourism -- quote prices in U.S. dollars or in both dollars and pesos. Thus, currency fluctuations are unlikely to affect the prices most hotels charge.
Money Matters -- The universal currency sign ($) is sometimes used to indicate pesos in Mexico. The use of this symbol in this guide, however, denotes U.S. currency.
What Things Cost in Mexican Pesos (US$ where indicated)
Cancún beachfront double room, moderate US$120
Puerto Vallarta beachfront double room, expensive US$250
Mexico City dinner for one, expensive 300-400
Merida dinner for one, moderate 100-150
Tacos from market or street vendor 20-30
Cozumel two-tank scuba dive US$70
Admission to most archaeological sites 50
Night dancing in Cancún US$40
Night dancing in Mazatlan US$20