Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Friday, September 29, 2017
Hear me now, believe me later
Thursday, November 09, 2017
I didn’t know that

Buddy, do you have some change?
In all the years and all the columns that I’ve written, I don’t know how I could have passed up the subject of money exchanging. But lately, I’ve gotten a number of folks asking, so I guess that’s the genesis of this week’s subject.

If you’re coming to Mexico, is it a good idea to change dollars to pesos?

The answer is “yes.”

Using the “coin of the realm” is always a good idea, but especially now. With the dollar-to-peso exchange rate at 16 to 18 pesos to the dollar, you stretch your purchasing power by having a pocketful of pesos.

There’s more “bang for the buck” as you wander around buying t-shirts for the kids, a sombrero that will end up in a garage sale and another round of tequila against your better judgment.

Don’t get me wrong. U.S. dollars are really welcome down here and we love having you spend them, but pesos are just handy to have.

If you see the shrimp dinner costing 150 pesos, you don’t have to do the mental gymnastics to figure how many dollars that costs. It’s sure easier to figure out the 10-percent tip, too. It’s also easy math to calculate if you received the correct amount of change as well.

Additionally, many local businesses charge a little more for taking dollars. We accept them as a “convenience” for visitors like you, but it actually costs us to accept those dollars. So, there might be a small “visitor tax.”

Let me explain.

In order to deposit our earnings into the Mexican bank, we have to convert them to pesos. There’s a bank transaction fee attached, so Mexican businesses lose some money by doing that.

Additionally, some Mexican banks only allow a certain amount of dollars to be deposited by the week or month. If you have more than that, you have to hold onto it and sit on it.

For a business, money sitting there doing nothing is not doing anyone any good. Can’t pay bills. Can’t make payroll. Can’t purchase inventory with money that has to sit and, at some point, be accounted for.

So that begs the larger question for visitors. Where should I exchange my money?

Out-of-hand, I used to tell folks to change their money at the airport. You’re already there. It’s handy. They have plenty of money available. And the rates seemed about right for the market.


I didn’t realize that those exchange offices at the airport tack on huge “transaction fees” that pretty much erase any real pragmatic reason for using them. If you have to use them, use them. But, there are better places.

For one, there’s your bank at home. Start with them. You know them. They know you. You have an account or two with them. They won’t ding you so hard.

If you didn’t get it done before you left home and now you’re in-country, the next place I’d hit is the various money exchange houses around town. In tourist places like Cabo San Lucas or larger cities like Ensenada or Tijuana, you’ll find them all over.

Some are just little kiosks. Others have small offices.

But, they’re easy to find. And they’re competitive. Not just with the market rates, but against each other. The want your business. They want your dollars and are eager to hand you pesos.

Also in the larger tourist areas, they’re open all the time. You suddenly realize you’re out of pesos for a late-night taco run. Or, you know that no one will be able to accept or break your $100 bills, you can usually find someone to change your money.

If you’re in a smaller community like La Paz, where we live, or even smaller places, the money exchange houses will be harder to find and their hours will be more limited. But, they’re still there.

So, try to think ahead. If you need change after 5 p.m., you might be out of luck. They‘ll likely be closed.

However, secondary and tertiary options can be found.

If you’re at a larger hotel, they can often exchange smaller amounts at the front desk. For example, if you need to change $40 bucks that’s fine. If you’re trying to change $500 dollars, not so fine.

But it’s subject to them having dinero in the tiller. Don’t always count on the reception desk being able to make change or conversions. But it’s an option.

There are also larger grocery store chains that have “customer service desks” just like back home. They usually have more money on hand and offer pretty good exchange rates.

Just be aware that many places do not accept bills over $20 because of fear of counterfeit. So, bring five $20 bills. Don’t bring one $100 bill.

There are also ATM machines all over. Personally, I avoid them. There’s too many opportunities for fraud, especially in ATM’s on street corners or willy-nilly in markets or bars. If your card gets eaten by the machine, it’s not like you can ask the bartender to get it out for you.

If you have to use an ATM, use one at a bank. That way if there’s an issue, there’s bank personnel who can assist. The ATM’s will dispense 200 peso notes (about $11). And you’ll see a transaction fee on your next statement. But, in a pinch, it’s better than nothing!

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