August 14, 2022

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Why you should check your cash when traveling in Mexico

3 min read
If you’re headed to Mexico anytime soon, generally people will warn you about something you...

If you’re headed to Mexico anytime soon, generally people will warn you about something you already know, like, for instance, not to drink the tap water. Or maybe they’ll add in a bonus tip like, “And don’t get ice in your drinks!”

Others might advise you not to trip on the sinking sidewalks, which, it turns out, is worth keeping in mind.
 
But something no one mentions — but can be a legitimate pain during your travels in Mexico — concerns the currency you receive while there. Because if it is torn, taped or slightly mutilated, this can become a real issue.

As in, no one will take it.


As an inexperienced traveler, I had no idea about this when I landed in Mexico City. People recommended I get $100 in pesos at the airport. So I dutifully headed straight to the money exchange across from the baggage claim.
 
With four men in matching uniforms worked diligently under an official-looking sign, it seemed to be a trustworthy operation. Granted, the exchange rate was not good, but everything is overpriced in airports, so why wouldn’t the money be?

But what I did not expect was that close to half of the money they handed me would turn out to be utterly useless.

I found this out almost immediately. The next morning, I attempted to pay a cab driver a 250 peso fare with a 500 peso note. The bill was quickly inspected and rejected as the driver pointed to a small rip. Once I could actually see what he was talking about — since I couldn’t understand what he was saying — I then pulled out a 200 peso note along with some coins. It too was rejected.

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Was this driver just a finicky but isolated pain? Apparently not, because a half hour later I tried to pay for some tacos with the same slightly torn 200 peso note. It was quickly tossed right back at me, along with a serious glare, by the server.

Such close inspection was anything but an exception; every single restaurant, store, taxi or museum I did business with in Mexico closely checked each bill I handed them. 

The website Mexperience describes the money situation like a card game: “A damaged banknote becomes like the joker in the card game where the object is to avoid taking the joker from another player, and if you do get it, surreptitiously hand it off to another.”

True enough. And what better target for sloughing off the bad money than the unwitting tourist. This is what happened to at the Leon Trotsky House Museum where the cashier tried to slough off a 200-peso note off on me. But I, now a wizened traveler, handed it back and requested an untorn note.

Instead, she stuck a piece of scotch tape on the torn note and handed it back to me. My move. Unfortunately, it’s tough to argue when you can’t speak the language. I took the useless bill and entered the museum.

What is good to know is that banks in Mexico do accept torn or taped bills and will let you exchange them for usable money. So then why are people so adamant about not accepting these bills? Because perhaps no one wants to be bothered. 

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Including me, apparently. I never turned in any of my torn or taped bills. Instead they’re just living in my dresser, reminding me of my rookie tourist mistakes every time I pull out a pair of socks.



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