ATMs in a Mexico airport

Using The ATM In Mexico: Banks, Fees, Exchange Rates & Safety

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Mexico is a large country with the 14th largest economy in the world. The banking system is highly integrated with the global financial system and it is easy to acquire pesos, the local currency. An ATM in Mexico can have a very different cost depending on which one you choose.

Some people will exchange foreign currency for pesos at an exchange house but ATMs almost always offer a better rate when buying pesos. 

If this is your first time visiting Mexico, I want to help you find the safest ATM machines that offer the best exchange rate. I have lived in Mexico since 2009 and I am always looking for the cheapest way to acquire pesos. Traveler’s checks are no longer convenient when traveling to a foreign country like Mexico because of the long lines at the bank. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Mexico is famous for money laundering. There are multinational organizations with duffle bags full of illicit cash that want to put that money into the financial system.

The Mexican government has regulations to fight money laundering. There are limits on the anonymous exchange of large sums of cash at banks. The exchange houses are supposed to enforce the same limits but in reality, they rarely do. There are different markets each with their own exchange rates. 

When it comes to buying Mexican pesos with foreign currency, the official banking system is the cheapest way to do so. If you have Mexican pesos and want to buy US dollars, the exchange houses typically sell dollars cheaper than the banks do. Remember those duffle bags full of cash trying to make their way into the financial system? It is basic economics that the surplus trades at a discount. 

If you saw the first episode of the highly popular series La Reina del Sur, that grey-market money exchange center in Culiacan, Sinaloa is real. There are lots of dollars in Culiacan that need to be changed into Mexican currency. Calle Benito Juarez in Downtown Culiacán is one of the cheapest places to buy dollars in all of Mexico. 

Using The ATM In Mexico: An Overview

There are a couple of things that we need to keep in mind when using the ATM in Mexico. There is an international transaction fee, a local withdrawal fee, dynamic currency conversion rates, and a significant amount of ATM fraud. We need to take all of these issues into account to choose the best ATM for our needs. 

Before you even arrive in Mexico it is important to talk with your local financial institution about the foreign transaction fees. Some ATM cards charge large amounts to use Mexican ATMs while others have free ATM withdrawals. If you have a US$5 international transaction fee it is best to take out a large sum. 

I hear that Charles Schwab is the best card to carry because they don’t have foreign transaction fees and will even reimburse local ATM fees. I have been meaning to set up an account with them. 

Secondly, you want to know what limits your bank places on ATM withdrawals. I prefer to take out the maximum so that I don’t have to use the ATM regularly and that I have enough pesos to pay my rent. Because this limit is denominated in US dollars the number of pesos that you can withdraw will fluctuate with the exchange rate. 

Banorte ATM fee

ATM fees in Mexico

The ATM fees will vary across different parts of Mexico. Airports typically have expensive ATM fees. They can be hard to find in rural areas. From bank to bank, the local ATM fees can vary widely. 

BBVA ATM in Mexico charges $174 pesos

BBVA is widely regarded as having some of the most expensive ATM fees for foreign account holders. BBVA is one of the best banks if you want to get a Mexican bank account but their ATMs have a very high usage fee for foreign cards. 

Inbursa ATM in Mexico charges $17 pesos

Inbursa has one of the lowest ATM fees in Mexico. Their ATMs are old and slow but I have never had a problem getting money out. You will notice a huge difference between the BBVA and the Inbursa ATMs. 

Banamex ATM in Mexico charges $30 pesos

Personally, I like using Banamex ATMs. The ATM fee is not the cheapest but MX$30 pesos is on the lower end. Many of the Banamex ATMs give a variety of pesos notes rather than just spitting out all $500 peso notes. I hear people complaining all the time about not being able to change a $500 peso bill for an inexpensive item. 

The other reason that I like using Banamex is the bank parking lot. I use Banamex ATMs across the country and it is easy to cross the border, find a bank, park, and get cash. Not every bank has parking but many of the Banamex locations have large parking lots. 

Exchange rates in Mexico

Santander bank ATM currency conversion chart

As we mentioned earlier, there are a number of different exchange rates in Mexico. The ATM will often offer a local conversion rate. In almost all instances, the dynamic currency conversion rate set by your bank back home will beat this rate by more than 5%. 

How to get the best exchange rate at an ATM in Mexico

You will go through the process of putting your card in the machine, entering your PIN number, selecting the account to withdraw funds from, and after agreeing to the ATM fee you will be asked about a rate of conversion. 

It will say something like:

Withdrawal amount: Retiro
ATM usage fee: Comisión
Total in MXN: Monto Total
Exchange rate: Tipo de cambio
Total Converted: Total convertido
Accept or Decline: Aceptar Conversión o Declinar Conversión

HSBC ATM currency conversion chart

The best option is to decline the conversion. This will NOT decline the transaction but will allow your home institution to set the dynamic currency conversion rate which is almost always better than the local rate.  

I have never seen the local rate better than the rate of my home bank. The local rate is usually 5% to 10% more expensive than my dynamic currency conversion rate. That is a terrible exchange rate. 

I really don’t like that the banks do this. It feels like they are trying to trick you with an abusive rate. Put in another way, they are asking if you would like to donate 30 dollars to wealthy bank owners. I don’t think that is necessary.

I recommend always declining the local conversion

Banorte Bank ATM currency conversion details

ATM Safety in Mexico

There is a quarterly survey of people in Mexico done by the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI) that asks about safety. The ATM is one of the most common places where people feel unsafe. And for good reason.

Criminals know that many of the people leaving the bank have a significant sum of cash on their person. It is important to take precautions.

I live in Guadalajara which is an amazing city but isn’t the safest place in Mexico. There are hold-ups at the ATM in Mexico City and Tijuana all the time.

ATM Safety & Travel Tips. 

  1. Don’t use the ATM at night. Crime is much more common when there are fewer people on the street. 
  2. Use official bank branch ATMs located at the bank. There are sophisticated card skimmers that criminal organizations place on ATMs to steal your card and PIN information. Card skimmers are less likely on official bank ATMs than they are on an ATM in front of a liquor store. Bank employees regularly check their ATMs for card skimmers while an ATM on the street doesn’t get the same attention. 
  3. Don’t get in the habit of using the same ATM at regular intervals. When buying big-ticket items like a car that require lots of ATM visits make sure to change up the routine. Using the same ATM every day for a month might catch the attention of a criminal.
  4. The Spanish term for a spotter is a “halcon” or a hawk who is always watching. The pirate street parking attendants (franileros or viene-vienes) are also known to associate with criminals.
  5. There are stories of victims of theft accusing the bank tellers of working as a halcon and tipping off a criminal waiting outside who is leaving with a large sum of cash.
  6. Change up your routine. Don’t set patterns that are easily identifiable. 
  7. Once you have your pesos, try not to carry your debit card around or lots of cash. 
  8. Don’t fight back. If someone has a gun. Give them your money. It isn’t worth risking your life for 500 bucks. 
  9. Do not accept help from anybody while you are using the ATM. There are thieves in Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel de Allende that have magician-level sleight-of-hand skills that will offer to “help” you. Do not let strangers help you or touch your atm card.  
  10. Avoid “Quincenas” Payday in Mexico is the 15th and the 30th when banks are very crowded. Visit the ATM when the bank isn’t so crowded.

Using the ATM in Mexico FAQs

These are the most commonly asked questions that I see in the Mexico expat groups.

What are ATMs called in Mexico?

ATMs are called cajeros in Mexican Spanish. The full name is cajero automático but it is not necessary to use the full name. Imagine someone asking you for the automated teller machine rather than saying ATM.

Where can I take out money in Mexico?

ATMs are the most common place to take out money in Mexico. Under some circumstances, a hotel might allow you to take out money from a debit card but it is not normal.

Who has the lowest ATM fees in Mexico?

The lowest ATM fees are at Bansefi but they don’t have a lot of ATMs. I have never seen one.

Cheapest ATM fees in Mexico

Mexican ATMs with the lowest fees:

  • Inbursa $15 pesos
  • CI Banco $25 pesos
  • BanCoppel $12.93 pesos
  • Banca Mifel $14.50 pesos
  • Banjercito $16 pesos (get cash at the ATM when you get your temporary vehicle import permit)
New Banamex ATM in Mexico

Best Bank to withdraw money in Mexico?

I like to use Banamex. They don’t try and offer you that terrible exchange rate like the other banks do. Their bank fee is usually around $30 pesos which is fair and they often dispense a variety of denominations. Plus, they usually have safe parking.

For me, Banamex is the best bank to withdraw money from in Mexico.

Is it better to exchange money or use an ATM in Mexico?

I think it is better to use the ATM in Mexico to maximize your money. Changing dollars to pesos at an exchange house (casa de cambio) is more expensive than using an ATM.

Make sure to choose an ATM with a low service fee and decline the local exchange rate if you are asked. The dynamic conversion rate that the international monetary system and your local banking institution use is almost always better than the local rate the bank is asking for.

How much does it cost to use the ATM in Mexico?

If you choose a responsible bank, it should cost nor more than $40 pesos or a little over $2 US dollars to use the ATM in Mexico.

Try to avoid BBVA because they have the most expensive ATM fees in Mexico and want to charge $10 US dollars.

Additionally, ATMs in the airport can have more expensive rates.

Can I use my ATM card in Mexico?

Yes, nearly every ATM card that is valid in the US or Canada is also valid in Mexico.

Final Thoughts On Using The ATM In Mexico

Whether you are visiting Mexico for the first time or a resident, the ATM will be a bit part of your life. Maximizing your return is an important part of financial literacy. It is easy for the banks to trick you into paying more than you need to.

Also, ATM safety is important. Many people relocating to Mexico have never seen the scams that occur in the tourist neighborhoods of Puerto Vallarta. They are easy to avoid if you are aware of them.

I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading and I will see you next time.

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