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Costs, Money And Banks in Mexico: Currency exchange

The easiest kind of foreign currency to change in Mexico is US dollars cash. US dollar travellers' cheques come second; Canadian dollars and other major international currencies such as pounds sterling, yen and deutschmarks are a poor third, and you'll find it hard to change travellers' cheques in those currencies. Quetzales and Belize dollars are best got rid of before entering Mexico (otherwise, your best bet for changing them is with tourists heading the other way).

Correspondingly, you'll get the best rates for cash dollars, slightly lower rates for dollar travellers' cheques, and rates lower still for other currencies: indeed, it is a good idea to change other currencies into US dollars at home before coming to Mexico, since the difference in the exchange rate more than outweighs the amount you lose in changing your money twice.

Although the banks have all been nationalized, each is run differently. The Banco Nacional de Mexico (known as Banamex) is probably the most efficient; Bancomer, almost as widespread, is also good, as is the smaller Banco del Atlantico. Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 9.30am until 5pm, though often with shorter hours for exchange. The commission charged varies from bank to bank, while the exchange rate, in theory, is the same - fixed daily by the government. Generally, only larger branches of the big banks, plus some in tourist resorts, are prepared to change currencies other than dollars - and even then often at worse rates than you would get for the dollar equivalent. ATM cash dispenser machines are now ubiquitous in Mexico, and make a useful alternative.

Casas de cambio (exchange offices) are open longer hours and at weekends, and have varying exchange rates and commission charges; they also tend to have shorter queues and less bureaucratic procedures. They usually give better rates than banks, but it's always worth checking, especially if you're changing travellers' cheques. Occasionally, casas de cambio give rates for Canadian dollars, sterling and other currencies that are as good as those they give for US dollars, so again it's worth shopping around, especially if you intend to change a large sum.

If you're desperate, many hotels, shops and restaurants that are used to tourists are prepared to change dollars or accept them as payment, but rates will be very low. There isn't much of a black market in Mexico since exchange regulations are relatively loose, and it's not really worth bothering with unless it comes about through personal contacts or you want to do someone a favour.

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