Why you should watch your cash when traveling in Mexico

Generally, if you’re going to be traveling to Mexico anytime soon, you’ll be warned about something you already know, like not drinking tap water. Or maybe they’ll add a bonus tip like, “And don’t put ice in your drinks!”

Others might advise you not to trip over the sinking sidewalks, which it turns out is something to keep in mind.

But something no one mentions — but which can be a legitimate pain during your travels in Mexico — concerns the currency you get there. Because if it’s torn, stuck together, or slightly mutilated, it can become a real problem.

As in, no one will take it.

As an inexperienced traveler, I had no idea when I landed in Mexico City. People advised me to get $100 in pesos at the airport. So I dutifully went straight to the money exchange opposite the baggage claim.

With four men in matching uniforms working diligently under an official-looking shield, it seemed like a trustworthy operation. Admittedly, the exchange rate wasn’t great, but everything is overpriced in airports, so why not the money?

But what I didn’t expect was that almost half the money they gave me would turn out to be completely useless.

I found that out almost immediately. The next morning I tried to pay a cab driver a 250 peso fare with a 500 peso note. The bill was quickly checked and rejected when the driver pointed out a small crack. When 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 bill along with some coins. That too was rejected.

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

Such scrutiny was anything but exceptional; Every single restaurant, store, taxi, or museum I’ve done business with in Mexico has double-checked every bill I’ve given them.

Image of a Mexican 20 peso note in Mexico City on June 2, 2022.

Image of a Mexican 20 peso note in Mexico City on June 2, 2022.

PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

The website Mexperience describes the money situation like a deck of cards: “A damaged banknote becomes a joker in a deck of cards, which is about not taking the joker from another player and when you get it, secretly passing it to someone else.”

true enough And what better target to shake off the bad money than the unknowing tourist. That’s what happened at the Leo Trotsky House Museum, where the teller tried to strip me of a 200 peso bill. But I, now a wizened traveler, returned it and asked for 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 hard to argue if you don’t speak the language. I took the useless bill and entered the museum.

Good to know, banks in Mexico will accept torn or taped bills and let you exchange them for usable money. Then why are people so adamant about not accepting these bills? Because maybe nobody wants to be disturbed.

Including me apparently. I have never handed in any of my torn or taped bills. Instead, they just live in my dresser, reminding me of my novice tourist mistakes every time I pull out a pair of socks.