NOTES: Prices in Mexico either use the dollar sign or M.N. – as in $110 or 110 M.N. The latter means moneda nacional, in other words, Mexican money. Now the “$” here means pesos, so don’t freak out when you see your breakfast costs $120. As the rate is close enough to 20 to the dollar – you divide by 2 and take a zero away. Your breakfast cost 6 bucks, mas o menos. Out of respect for not having your head blow up, we will just write out pesos in this article, but prepare for the new meaning of $.
As of early 2018 many businesses in Mexico do not accept Debit Cards. Mexico is still largely cash-based. Also card fraud is rampant in Mexico, and for arcane banking reasons Debit Cards are problems. Credit Cards, however, are accepted in many places. Interestingly your Debit Card DOES work in the ATM machines (cajero automatico). Problem is finding the machines, but we will get to that.
First, call your bank right now. Do it, we will wait. If you don’t tell them when you will be abroad you may find your card shut off. So call them, give them the dates of your trip, and further, get their Fraud Department phone number and save it. This is key, because even when you tell your bank, your card may automatically be blocked. So you’re needing to pay the taxi at ten at night and your card isn’t working in the ATM and your bank is closed. The Fraud Department is open. They can unblock your card right at that moment.
If you think about it, when you get to Mexico, you don’t really need your wallet. You only use your Debit Card at the ATM, and only use your Credit Card when you know you are going shopping that day. You never need to show your license, or need your zoo membership. So, put your kids’ pictures on your phone, find a safe place to hide your wallet, and just carry cash. If you lose a few hundred pesos, that sucks. If you lose your wallet – that’s a freaking nightmare.
Okay where is all the effectivo (cash) in San Miguel? Chances are you will be staying near the Centro and there is a machine right on the Jardin. There are also machines up the hill from the Jardin. Every bank downtown has a big sign and they all have a machine. In the good old days they didn’t charge! But now the banks have smartened up and there are charges from 23 pesos all the way to 52 pesos. There is a financial business of some sort called CIBanco at San Francisco 19, corner of Juarez that has a machine with a real cheap fee, and a good exchange rate.
Another caution: older ATM’s suck your card in, and don’t release it until you retrieve your money. Not only is this ridiculously under-thought out, in your tourist haze of excitement, unfamiliar territory and cerveza, you may walk away without taking you card. If this happens, run back to the bank before they destroy the card.
Further from the Centro, there is a convenient ATM at the Hotel Real de Minas on Sterling Dickinson. This is great because if you are out and about, you won’t have to go into crowded Centro to get more cash. You do pay for the convenience, it has a hefty fee (46 pesos right now) and a poor exchange rate.
Finally, further out still, toward Celaya, there is a traffic circle (glorieta) that features a Walmart-type mega-store, Comer. Here you can get tequila at a good price, pay utility bills if you are an ex-pat, and they have three different ATM’s there. In addition there are more machines on the other three corners of the traffic circle. Corners on circles? Welcome to Mexico.
PS Mexico brims with creativity and style. On some 100 peso notes is pictured a gentleman named Nezahualcoyotl (Fasting Coyote), philosopher/poet from the 1400s. In tiny script at the bottom of the note is an excerpt:
Amo el canto del zentzontle Pajaro de cuatrocientos voces; Amo el color de jade, Y el enervante perume de las flores, Pero amo mas mi hermano, el hombre.
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices;
I love the color of jade
And the enervating perfume of flowers;
But I love my brother, mankind, more.